This I Believe

Gillian - Flagstaff, Arizona
Entered on February 9, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I believe in dogs.

I believe that walking them is a form of therapy, and that being in the company of dogs, especially my own, offers me opportunities for joy even when life brings me to my knees.

Last year, my husband, Keith, was badly injured in a violent accident on the Colorado River. He broke his scapula, shattered his fibula and his tibia snapped in two. He’s lucky he didn’t drown. When Keith finally left the hospital, his doctor said, “Watch out for drunks and dogs…they send surgery patients back here faster than anything.”

Our dog, Hula, was only a puppy at the time. I was terrified she’d jump on Keith and re-break everything the doctors just put back together. Keith was worried she’d lose interest in him because wouldn’t be able to walk her for close to a year.

Hula hadn’t seen Keith in almost a month when he rolled through the front door in his wheelchair. I watched her excitement quickly turn into a type of calm. She bowed down low on the floor, sniffed his bandaged leg and circled his wheelchair. Then she crawled underneath it and fell asleep. During those first few weeks, Hula walked alongside Keith’s wheelchair when he rolled around the house. She used herself as a soft barrier between his broken leg and any obstacles. She became protective of the house and barked when neighborhood kids, the UPS guy or elk came into our front yard. When Keith napped on the couch, Hula slept on the floor underneath his dangling arm.

Friends stopped by almost everyday. They brought food and DVD’s, a variety of pillows and their own war stories about blown-out ACL’s and ruptured discs. They also took Hula on walks in the woods with their dogs. Sometimes, our visitors were so many that Hula went on four or five walks a day.

During this same time, one of my best friends was losing the love of her life to cancer. She tried a 12-step support group for cancer survivors, but said it was way too sad. She needed something more uplifting. So, we formed our own support group. We called it a “4-step/8-paw program”…just the two of us and our dogs in the forest. We met often and hiked hard. We swore and cried and ranted about what was happening to our men. But, thanks to our dogs, we also laughed. Every time they ran after squirrels, or threw themselves into snow drifts at mock-speed we’d crack up…which feels really good when you think you might never do it again. And for a moment, everything was light, and funny and normal. I know those walks helped save our lives. I just wish they could’ve saved one more.

I believe in my friends and their dogs. I believe in E-2, Sweetpea, Scout, Fly, Hatchet, Benny, Winslow, Bain, Angel and my own sweet Hula-girl. Without them, the sharp edges of broken bones and broken hearts would’ve cut much deeper.