They say dogs have a way of finding the person that needs them the most. Little did I know when I first heard that statement how very true it was.
I believe animals – especially dogs, have the capacity to offer hope where there is nothing but darkness and despair. Whether it be addiction, mental health, homelessness, or any other of life’s challenges, dogs have an ability to make you feel loved and cared for when you are completely alone and incapable of loving yourself.
My first experience of this was fifteen years ago. A five-week-old Yorkshire terrier entered my life. Like so many others, he was a victim of the insidious puppy farm industry which runs rampant in this country. Taken from his mother too soon, his little life was plagued with difficulties & health problems. Yet, despite that, he gave me so much, he taught me how to be courageous and strong, he taught me never to give up in the face of adversity. I truly believe he is one of the reasons I am still here today.There have been several times in my life that I have felt unable to face another day. During those times, my dog sat by my side unwaveringly hour after hour, day after day. When, despite interventions from family, friends, and professionals I could not see a way out, when I no longer had the strength to fight, his presence and knowing that I had to find a way to get out of bed, to feed him, to walk him – that kept me alive for just one more day.
For some, help and support comes in the form of people, hospitals and institutions. But what about those who have lost the ability to trust? Or those who through addiction or homelessness have lost contact with people who may have once offered them kindliness? What about those who have lost all hope that anyone can help them?
From Darkness to Light
Some say all you need in your corner is one other. What if that one other had four legs and a capacity for love & compassion that could help you through even the darkest of times? I was fortunate enough to have my dog in my life, many are not so lucky. He was a bridge for me, he kept me from drowning and gave me a sense of purpose.
We have an epidemic of people and animals in this country who are suffering. Rescue centres and homeless shelters are overrun. Dogs and humans are struggling alone, and many are losing their battles. What if we could combine the two? Offer a dog who has no-one, a loving owner who also feels lost, alone, and at the point of giving up? What if there was a way to provide a home for the homeless, and provide shelter for a dog in need, giving the two an opportunity to develop a connection, a relationship. Helping both learn skills such as empathy, compassion and responsibility. Allowing both to heal and rebuild shattered self-esteem and self-confidence. Awakening a sense hope and a belief that there is light amidst the darkness.
If you have ever reached a point in your life when you cannot look another in the eye, when you have lost all sense of self-worth, and when your only hope is that this day will be your last. The power an animal has to reach you when you are engulfed by that darkness, is something I still struggle to describe.
I know of a woman, who once sat cold, alone and hopeless on a clifftop. As she slowly made her way closer and closer to the edge, she was interrupted. A small wire-haired little terrier was approaching her. When he reached her, he looked her straight in the eyes with nothing but warmth and kindness. He lay his head gently on her knee and licked her hand. When asked about this moment, she said the following; “I don’t know how long we sat there, but in those few moments I felt loved, I felt what I believe was a shred of hope. He gave me just enough strength to get up, walk away from the edge and ask for help. That dog gave me something in that moment that I don’t think words, or any other human being could have given me. I climbed down from that cliff & today I am five months clean, sober and in recovery from addiction. I have a bed to sleep in and just for today, I believe that it is going to be ok.”
I wholeheartedly believe that every person, despite the darkness they may feel, can rediscover a sense of hope. I also believe that dogs have the power to help and to heal that is untapped and should be cherished.
Last year my own dog lost his battle. While this past year he has not been by my side, he continues to help me get through each day. Being able to share some of my journey with him makes me smile, even during the difficult times. He instilled in me a sense of hope that I can get through another day, and perhaps in doing so, I may be able to help another – whether that be a dog or a human. I believe everyone deserves to have this opportunity, to have a connection, to rediscover hope, and to feel a sense of worth. Dogs and humans walking side by side helping each other may just be one way to alleviate some of the sufferings in this world and offer a glimmer of light to all involved.