I’ve been told that when I was a baby I would crawl to anything with four-legs and fur. I don’t have many memories from my childhood. I struggle to recall pretty much all of it but of the memories I can recall my dogs are be my side.
Growing up I had two Siberian Huskies – Munchkin and Nala. We got Munchkin when I was 7 years old. Nala joined the family 8 years later. Things got really bad at home during Munchkin’s first year with us. My mother and father started the process of divorce that year. I am now 33 years old and the divorce is still not final. To say it was contentious is an understatement. My household was hectic, scary, and fraught with incidences of verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. The police in my neighborhood knew my brother and I by our first names. They were at our house so frequently that Munchkin eventually got to know them too. She would greet them at the door – with a smile and her tail wagging.
Munchkin and Nala were my safety. I relied on them in a way that perhaps wasn’t normal. They taught me things about relationships and responsibility that my parents couldn’t. They were there to comfort me when my Mom wasn’t able to. I knew that they had to be walked, fed, bathed and taught things. I knew that if I provided them, as best I could, with all the things that they needed to be happy and healthy, then they would, in return, provide me with protection, affection, and companionship.
I found myself relying on dogs as an adult too.
I got a dog with my ex. He used my love for that dog, as well as many other psychologically abusive tactics, to control and dominate me. We got Cassie after being together for about three years. At this point in our relationship, we had just moved to Vermont after living off of a motorcycle for over five months. We had traveled over 20,000 miles on that bike and lived in a tent. He was ready to settle again so we went to his family’s second home located in small mountain town on over 200 acres of woods. I had no belongings of my own, no car, and I no access to other people unless he drove me.
I had tried leaving him before we got to Vermont. In fact, I had tried four times previously. The night before I left him for the fifth time he had ripped the television cord from the wall, stormed over to me and bent over the couch to scream profanities and disparaging remarks two inches from my face. I took our six-month-old Australian Shepherd puppy in my arms and ran to the guest room. I locked the door and pushed the large arm chair in the room up against it for added protection. I held Cassie in my arms on the bed and we stayed there with the light on until morning. I knew that when I opened that door I needed to pack quickly. I also knew that I needed him to drive me to the train station, so I had to appease. I had to be nice, be quiet and be quick. He told me that if I left him he would kill himself. I kept packing. He said that if I dared to take my dog with me I would regret it. I kept packing. He then said he would kill himself without Cassie. That he would be alone in these woods without me and he couldn’t fathom that. I felt bad. I said I would call when I got to my Mom’s in Florida and to take care. I kissed my dog goodbye. While I was on the train he sent me a message about organizing his affairs and that he would take care of me in his will. I immediately sent a message to his mother to tell her she needed to check on him.
I returned to that relationship and stayed in it for another year. This time, though, I also got an apartment near Boston. I would spend the week in Boston – closer to my work managing a child abuse prevention program I run in Massachusetts and nationwide. I went to Vermont on the weekends. I got a car too. I was terrified of driving, but I knew I needed a car if I was going back to that house. I needed to be able to escape quickly and, on my terms, without needing him to drive me. What I realize now, having finally broken free from that relationship for good, is that one of the reasons I returned was to be with my dog. The thought of taking her never even crossed my mind. I was too afraid he would commit suicide and I couldn’t bear the burden of being responsible for that.
The last memory I have of Cassie is her chasing my car as I fled from that home, and him, once again… This time I never went back. I ended up getting another dog a few months later. I had been training Cassie to be a service dog for myself and realized I still needed that support, now more than ever. When my ex found out I was getting another dog he knew I wasn’t going to come back again. He unleashed his final punishment. The grand finale, I like to say – when they let the mask fall and you finally get to see the true monster in its full glory. Over the phone he tried to convince me that I had nothing left to live for. He told me I should kill myself.
Thankfully, I hung up. The police got involved and I was told to contact my local domestic violence advocate. Since then I have been in treatment for PTSD with dissociation. I lost my mind, my memory, my reality, and my identity. For a period of time I was too scared to even go outside. I ended up in an intensive outpatient program for women who have experienced trauma. I learned skills to cope with my distress. I slowly started to gain back the nearly 40lbs I had lost since leaving my abusive ex. I also got strong enough to start training Rae, my puppy and soon to be service dog. My relationship with Rae saved my life. I got strong for her. I got strong enough to go back outside because I had to walk her. I had to give her access to the world. Rae reminded me that when you give of yourself to raise and support another, you open your world up to possibility and connection, allowing for moments of good, joy, and laughter. Rae makes me laugh every day.
I miss Cassie and always will. She is still in Vermont. She also still plays a part in my nightmares – the one’s that steal my sleep and sometimes my sanity. Recovery from any trauma is not a straight path upward. There are peaks and valleys. l continues to work as hard as I can to hold onto the good memories I have of Cassie. I will also never take for granted the fact that I am alive today to make new memories with Rae.
And for that, I am thankful.
I am thankful and forever grateful for all the furry friends I’ve had that helped to give me the strength and understanding I needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other – to go back outside again.