Last night I used the ears of my seven-year-old beagle as a tissue. This is the kind of gross and unsanitary relationship I’ve developed with a creature who has been my roommate for the last year. But he’s more than a walking, snoring tissue. He’s my service dog. He can’t keep me out of traffic, he would probably run towards it if he saw a squirrel, and he can’t detect seizures. He’s not even licensed as an emotional support animal, but he is a support animal. He has saved me in the way that can only be done by a small, furry creature.
Peanut came into my life the way most things do — through bargaining, groveling, and tears. My father made it clear that as long as I lived in his house there would be no more dogs. We had our share of pets over the years but they yielded the kind of anecdotes that make memoirs like “Marley and Me” bestsellers. Then the breakup happened.
The end of my first love conveniently coincided with the crushing doubt of life post-college. I was living at home, unemployed, and while I wouldn’t label what I was going through as a “depression,” I will say that I was guilty of aimlessly floating through my life. Unable to stand my misery my mother advocated on my behalf and decided the care of an animal would snap me back to life, and it did.
Because you can no longer sleep till noon or spend a whole day in bed watching Gilmore Girls reruns when a living, breathing creature requires your attention. Well, you can but you’ll feel guilty about it. Instead, I suddenly had a schedule to keep. The wake-up call begins somewhere after 8 AM. Peanut’s paw pulls me from the sleeping world and brings me face to face with his rancid dog breath. When ignored he begins to scratch at my body repeatedly until there is no other choice but to rise and meet his wishes.
He goes to the bathroom, gets fed and while I’m up I might as well do the same. I wait around for the coffee and Peanut waits around for me because he has learned the dog commandment of, “thou shalt not bother human until liquid brown finished.” As soon as I set my mug down he is back to the incessant scratching and so we walk. He needs it to get out his energy and I need it as an excuse to emerge from the dark rooms in my house and to escape the even darker thoughts that bounce around my mind.
Some days have been harder than others. Those are the days where my bed feels like a magnet and its unyielding force keeps me pinned in place. There are some mornings where it seems like it simply would be too difficult to face the day, but even at my worse Peanut is still here, and he pulls the world into focus. He brings me his fox toy and baits me to move, to grab the tail and play.
And when a beagle with droopy eyes walks into your bedroom it becomes impossible to say no to playtime. Those were the eyes that had the power to get him adopted in the first place, and after a year it seems those eyes could con me into anything. This overweight beagle depends on me and he deserves my attention, he deserves love.
My father likes to joke that he has trained me well, and he isn’t wrong. I’ve adapted to our life almost seamlessly now. Sometimes without thinking I reach out and pull him into a hug, or place my forehead on the top of his head. With my face close to his I can hear a rumble in the back of his throat that signals he could do without all the hugging and petting, but he allows it just the same.
I breathe him in and the scent doesn’t remind me of a typical dog. It’s just, Peanut. It must be a mix of grass, dry dog food, and all the scents of my house condensed into one thing that makes you think of home. Whatever it is I know that I’ve been saved.