My therapist quickly discovered the one thing we could talk about: Philip, my favorite mutt. If she tried to get me to open up about anything else–the first time my dad left, my five moves to three different states, my depression, my unplanned gap year (due to dropping out of college because of that depression), the second time my dad left–I would snap at her and completely close off. So she’d ask me about Philip. Philip and I were in training to become a certified therapy dog team, which provided enough of a conversation for the therapist to feel like we were connecting. I was grateful for this, and quickly realized that it wasn’t the first time I was grateful for my pup.
My dad moved back in with my mom and me when I was in seventh grade. It didn’t work out. Screaming matches occurred at least three times a week, and with both my sisters at college, I hid in my room until somebody stormed off and left. It wasn’t just me who was uncomfortable. Philip would run upstairs and leap on my bed. He’d put his head on my lap and keep it there until it was over.
One year after that, my family had Thanksgiving all together for the last time. On Friday, my oldest sister left to return to her post-college, successful life. On Saturday, my other sister left to go back to college. And on Sunday, my dad left. For a new apartment elsewhere. As I helped my mom cope, Philip stayed by my side, only leaving to cuddle up with my mom.
And five years after that, my mom and my dad (who eventually learned to work together) helped me leave. I packed up and headed to college, only to find high anxiety and depression after a horrible and experience. My confidence was shot and my social skills drastically dropped. Once safe and home again, conversations were hard, and eye contact became a “pre-college” phenomenon. But Philip let me cry and babble to him, and looking in his eyes wasn’t that scary.
The year before I went to college (and stayed there this time), Philip and I, as a successful therapy certified team, went around to schools teaching about animal rescues and shelters. We showed students that a rescued, mixed-breed dog can do anything a purebred can do, including giving everyone a high five. But Philip has shown me more. He has shown me a friend in hard times, and kept me surviving the impossible ones.