The pooch that saved me

Last night at 1 am I found myself in the middle of a full conversation.

With my dog.

I had recently arrived home from work after a grueling 13 hour day. My mind was sore and my legs were aching and all I wanted was to crash into bed, and miraculously fall asleep as my head hit the pillow – like main characters do in movies or novels. Instead I was busy explaining to my dog what I still had to do, why we couldn’t yet go to sleep, and why I was leaving the room for a few minutes. (I was thirsty.)

For as long as I can remember my mother refused to get a dog. She claimed we didn’t have room in our house, that a dog required too much effort, and that she would wind up with all the responsibility for a pet she didn’t even want.  My older sister begged my parents for a dog. I never really had an opinion on the subject; some dogs were cute but they mostly made me nervous and I was never passionate like my sister had been, to bring one into our home.

Fast forward to May 2009. I had recently emerged from a month’s stay at an inpatient eating disorder facility in Philadelphia. I attended an outpatient program in Manhattan and felt overworked, exhausted, ashamed, and still very much in the mindset of Anorexia. I did not see friends, I did not have hobbies; I lived and breathed numbers and mirrors.

My therapist had mentioned to my parents that she thought a dog would help in my recovery. I needed the responsibility, I needed a hobby, and I needed to start nurturing something again. My mother was still hesitant but after much encouragement from my therapist, father, and (of course) sister, she agreed.

By September we did some research and found that the poodle breed would best fit our lifestyle. They’re hypoallergenic, they’re adorable (when they’re not groomed to look like hairless robots), and the toy breed was the right size for our cozy home. My parents and I traveled to Central Jersey to meet a kind breeder who had told my father that she had 3 puppies available.

I was not thrilled.

I did not want a dog.

I could barely take care of myself let alone another living thing. I was filled with self-loathing and fear and desperation and the idea of dealing with a dog’s poop and teaching it to sit was not ideal in my mind.

But I went along.

As we pulled up my father told me that I needed to smile; if I didn’t look excited or loving the breeder wouldn’t want to give me a dog. At that time in my life I never smiled. In fact, when I began to emerge from my eating disorder my mother once cried exclaiming, “I forgot what your teeth looked like!” So to be told to smile already made me dread my future puppy.

We walked into the home and the breeder told us that she would bring the 3 puppies out for me to meet. She explained that I should let the dog choose me. Right, sure.

They were each white and black and less than a month old. Translation: they were tiny, fluffy, and adorable. One puppy proceeded directly to the breeder, the second ran to the corner chasing her tail and the final puppy approached me slowly. She hopped onto my lap, sniffed me, and just lay down comfortably. I was chosen.

I named her Ferdie after a character in a very old Casper cartoon.(Watch it. Disclaimer: you will cry.) There was symbolism and nostalgia in the name, and I thought she looked like a Ferdie. We brought her home one month later and so began my realization that I was not prepared to own a dog.

I wrapped her in a towel and held her many hours of the day. She cried for hours at night and I had to lie on the floor next to her, holding her paw. I was confused, exhausted, and honestly unhappy. In the first few weeks I asked my father many times if we could “return” her.

Then one day it all changed.

I had just eaten what I considered at the time to be a difficult dinner. I was full, and annoyed and I went downstairs to where Ferdie was resting. I sat down next to her and began to cry. She approached me slowly, got onto my lap and began to lick away the tears that were falling. I looked down at her hopeful eyes and realized: hey, you’re pretty cute!

Ferdie was an essential part of my recovery. She not only taught me how to love and care for something, but showed me endless love as well. It didn’t matter how I looked or how much I exercised or how much weight I gained, this little furry ball of cuteness was always excited to see me. I relearned responsibility, I began to emerge out into the world again – I took her for walks and did not shy away when people began to approach me. I was able to cry and not feel judged. Ferdie reminded me why I needed to rebuild my relationships. I saw that if Ferdie could love me, then others could as well.

I highly recommend a pet of some sort to those who suffer from feelings of loneliness, depression, or perhaps an eating disorder. The notion that something will always care, and was constantly happy to see me gave me my smile back. This little fury friend was not simply something to be looked after, that one needs to train and fret over; rather, my dog began to look after me and taught me courage and strength.

At the breeder
At the breeder


About the Author
Temimah Zucker, LMSW is a primary therapist at Monte Nido Manhattan and also works in private practice in the fields of eating disorders, self-esteem, and mental health. Temimah writes and publicly speaking on these subjects and is also an adjunct professor in NYC teaching on the subject of the treatment of eating disorders. For information or inquiries please see her website.
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