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The Black Dog That Chased Me Out of Depression

We are all given this life, this gift of life, they call it, which sometimes feels an affliction. A disease almost. But we are also given the means to cure this disease. The challenge is to recognize that cure. Which may exist right under our noses — as the doc leaf dwells alongside the nettle.

The cures of the rain forest were sung to the Shamans at night time, in the forest of their dreams, the plants came to them and told them — which cure for which ill. And so they knew.

I knew I wanted a dog — a deep, restless yearning, my ancient retriever having snuffled off his mortal coil. It was because I was broody, my former husband informed me. Likely he was right. I would no longer be breeding personally, but I still craved a baby, to nurture and to hold. A fur baby. Although she was fully grown when she came to us, a gift from the Irish Guide Dogs, a twelve month old black Labrador, newly completed her puppy training, now a fully fledged brood-bitch.

How overjoyed I was with this vibrant canine crusader, fur so shiny I could almost see my own reflection.

But then.

The dismay.

The runner on the stairs, ripped up with ruthless, remorseless, tool-like teeth. The curtains that were a wedding present, shredded with frantic claws ,one moonlit night while trying to get at a fox. Not to mention the madcap forays into neighbouring gardens. The casual reappearances, tail all a-wag, the lap-lap-lapping at the water bowl.

I was already hanging over the precipice at this time. She pushed me over the edge with one nudge from her wet, black nose. And I fell.

I’d often heard of depression being likened to a black dog but had never known how literal that could be. The effect was so dramatic because I’d held out such hope for her — that she would make everything okay. No pressure then.

But in time. She kind of did.

By then my marriage was irretrievably broken. Irretrievable. Now there’s a word. Question: How do you know when you reach that point?

Answer: You just do.

And Giselle (laughably named — nothing petite and delicate about this dog), was always there. I mean always. She didn’t have a job or go to school or go on play-dates or sleepovers. She never even went to the shops. And at night-time on the couch — that she wasn’t allowed up on — always ready with a doggy hug. Warm muzzle on cold lap. Nuzzle. Reassuring rhythmic breaths. Still alive.

She took me on lots of walks, as part of my recovery, and together we watched the countryside come alive. Bluebells crowding the woodland floor, rivers running clear. Her first swim, snorting back to me, legs pedalling wildly. A thorough soaking for both of us. And many unwanted tongue baths to my face, whenever she got close enough. Wanted. I forgave her for the carpet and the curtain and all the other numerous chewed objects. Even the books.

There came the day when Giselle was ready to fulfil her purpose in life. Would that all our life purposes were so clearly defined. Hers? To have sex and puppies. In that order.

Hers was an arranged marriage, down in County Cork. The union was a successful one and almost too productive. Eleven puppies. Born to my terror and delight.

They lay first like tiny hippos, golden and black, sightless and soundless, their only motion occurring several times a day, wriggling and squirming to their mother’s swollen teats. We held the runt on for dear life, taking turns at night time. We wouldn’t loose her. We did not.

They would slip off when fully satiated, inert and bloated like ticks full of blood. And lie there motionless once more. Until the next time.

And so they grew. And grew. One by one, twenty-two eyes took their first view of their tiny world. They found their wobbly feet, wagged their waggedy tails and barked their first sweet barks, fiercely at one another, already asserting dominance, like their wolfish ancestors before them.

Then there came the solid food, swiftly followed by the poo. Oh the poo! Such staggering amounts. Lucky for them they were cute enough to get away with it.

Until they were seven weeks old. A variety of volunteers brought them to their puppy-walking homes. I knew at first hand the delight that they would bring with them. Eleven ecstatic homes transformed that very evening. While my children shed a few tears, their experience having been one hundred per cent cuddles and zero per cent poo.

So has it been worth it? The carpet and the curtain, the terror and the excrement. Hell yes! The puppies heading into the world to fulfil their own destinies. What could be better than playing a part in such a glorious scheme.

So just me and her again. We resume our forest walks, companioned by the trees, no greater examples of mindfulness existing in this world. Just me, the trees and the black dog that chased me out of depression.