The sun peeked through the blackout curtains of my allegedly-one-bedroom-but-really-a-studio apartment, and I groaned and rolled over, trying to block the light out with my pillow. Just one more hour, I promised myself. But then, the bed moved. Suddenly, a cold nose was an inch away from mine.
My dog Milo could tell that I was awake, and he was ready for playtime. I groaned again, but this time it wasn’t genuine. I rolled over and petted him, and he pressed his furry head into my stomach.
It had only been three months since I’d picked up Milo from the shelter, but in that short time, he had helped ease my anxiety and depression more than I’d thought possible. Dogs really can sense what you’re feeling and match your emotions with their energy. When I was feeling positive and happy, Milo would play with me; when I was upset and need to relax, he’d curl up to me.
Milo also helped give me a reason to get out of bed in the morning. While his needs are minimal, he does have them—he relies on me to take him on walks, give him food and water, and play with him. Even on my most depressed days, having him around helped me plop my feet over the bed and on the floor. Prior to my life with Milo, I’d spent entire weekends not leaving the house (and barely leaving the bed), but now I wanted to get outside and take him to the park. He helped me create routine, and brought a renewed sense of purpose to my life.
A few months later, I met my partner, and at the end of the summer, we moved across the country from California to New York. We knew we wanted another dog, but we thought we’d be a little more settled when we adopted again—however, soon after we had moved to Brooklyn, we got Lily. Was it risky? A little. I was still looking for a job at the time of her adoption, but when we saw her on the adoption website, we fell in love, and that was that.
In between applying for positions online, Lily and I would take naps together on the guestroom bed, her little head resting in the crook of my neck. It was hard to be so far away from family and looking for jobs in a new city, all while trying to make new friends. Lily was a compassionate new companion, licking my tears and by my side while I wrote cover letters in bed. It felt like we were figuring it out together.
Moving to New York was ultimately the best decision for me, and I began addressing my depression and anxiety head on. It would be a new start for me, and while that was a good thing in the long run, I was flooded by emotions that affected my energy and my ability to explore the city and make friends. While I began developing some means of coping (including medication and a support group), my dogs helped immensely—maybe more than anything else. They calm me down and make me feel loved and accepted. Without them, on my worst days, I might have gone back to not getting out of bed. But the small tasks I need to do for them are just enough to get me up and moving. Having a routine, albeit a small one, makes me feel normal again.
It’s in between these routine moments, when we can all just be, that I see and appreciate Milo and Lily’s acceptance of me the most. When I’m feeling good and energetic, they’re happy to go on long walks with me, or—their favorite—to the dog park. When I’m feeling sad or anxious, I get in bed and spoon Lily, and Milo curls up at the base of my feet or pushes his body into my back. Lily takes these deep sighs, like she’s telling me it’s OK to breathe. Milo always, inevitably, rolls over onto his back with his little paws up in the air. No matter what I’m feeling, they’re happy to meet me where I am and tell me in their little ways that it’s OK, or at the very least, will be.
The thing about cliches is that they become part of the lexicon because so many people identify with them, and the one about dogs saving you as much as you save them—now a slogan you see on bumper stickers—is no different. When we decide to take home an animal, the line between rescuer and rescued often becomes blurred; our animals are capable of providing something amazing: unconditional love. They wait for us while we go about our busy lives, always trusting that we’ll come back. They press their furry faces into our bodies, nudging us to feel better, simply because they care. Over time, Milo and Lily have helped ease my depression and anxiety simply by existing.