Never did I imagine that I would become a dog person. As a young child I remember my sister constantly asking my parents for a dog, and their constant refusal. I had always been somewhat afraid of dogs and never really cared if we got a dog either way. Now, anyone who knows me well knows that I adore canines.
In the fall of 2009, when I was 19 years old and still struggling with my anorexia, my therapist recommended that I get a dog. She actually recommended that I get a dog about six months earlier, but my mother strongly refused; I don’t think she wanted to deal with the stress and dirtiness that a dog might bring into the house.
My therapist at the time, Dr. Ellen Haimoff, who specializes in the eating disorders, told me that she felt a dog would bring light into my life. At the time, I was stuck in a hopeless rut in my journey toward recovery. After much discussion, my parents decided that we would do some research and look into buying a pet.
I was still somewhat uninterested. I felt that a dog would bring too much worry into my life. I had been pre-occupied with my illness and did not believe that anything, especially a dog—something I knew nothing about—would be able to help in any way.
After making some phone calls my parents and I went to a breeder in southern New Jersey to look at some Toy Poodles, a breed that would fit our lifestyles (small, hypo-allergenic, cute). I recall my parents telling me that I would need to act “happy,” otherwise the breeder would not feel comfortable giving us a pet. At the time, I was clinically depressed and somewhat hopeless, yet I tried to put a smile on my face and act friendly, a task that was incredibly difficult for me.
The breeder had us sit down and told us that she had three puppies for us to look at, and that she would bring them out and I should “let the dog choose me.” The tiny dogs ran out and one immediately ran to the breeder, one began chasing her tail in the corner, and the final dog approached me slowly and then planted herself on my lap. I knew which one I wanted. I named her Ferdie, after a character from an old Casper cartoon, as I hoped she’d be as loyal as the fox in the short film (feel free to search for it on YouTube, “Casper and Ferdie”).
We brought her home two months later and I was clueless. I rocked her at night because she cried the first week, and I cried because I was scared, stressed, and unsure if I even wanted a dog. I remember having to put her down when I ate meals and feeling uneasy when I had to feed her because of the confusion I felt surrounding food.
Two months went by and I was still not sold. Then, one night, everything changed; I had just eaten dinner with my parents and was feeling upset—my general mood back then. I went downstairs to where Ferdie was resting. She sat on my lap, nuzzled her head against me, and began to lick the tears that had fallen. I could not control my smile and I realized then just how much I had needed her.
Ferdie gave me a source of comfort and joy in a time when I felt lost and alone. While I was worried about my appearance and factors contributing to my anorexia and depression, she reminded me that I could be loved regardless of my appearance. I learned to feed another being and feel concerned when she was not hungry, and tried to apply this to myself. When I felt trapped, lonely, or simply exhausted by the disorder, I could hold Ferdie and feel myself instantly calming down, talking to her as if she could understand.
People often approach me and ask what I feel contributed to my recovery. In my mind it looks somewhat like a staircase; there was no one factor, it was a series of steps up and down and different major and minor influences. I can assuredly profess that Ferdie was one step up. She taught me responsibility at a time when I hardly left the house and showed me that I could provide endless love and support to another, even if I did not feel wonderful about myself.
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 always cares, and is constantly happy to see me gave me my smile back. This little fury friend is 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. While this may sound somewhat far-fetched, it is the absolute truth. My dog gave me the ability to climb one more step on my road to recovery and continues to make me smile and show me that no matter how I look or feel, she will always be there for me.
By Temimah Zucker