I’ve been lucky enough to have two dogs in my life thus far. When I was a child, my first dog was a Chow-Chow named Baby-Baby Boom-Boom Bear (we called her Baby for short). I still remember the first encounter I had with her. I was only a toddler, still in diapers. Baby heard me squeal in delight and began to run toward me. I became terrified of this big fluffy bearlike animal and screamed for my mother. Baby made it to me before my mom and knocked me down. She took a seat beside me, smiling and panting.

Soon I would learn that Baby was never there to terrify me. I was only three at the time, but I remember it all so vividly. There were times that my father would come home in a drunken rage and Baby would step in and dissuade him from us. And if he made it past her the first time, she charged him with a ferocious bark or bite. Baby never backed down from my father. Even when he chained her up outside, which he often did, she would exhaust herself trying to break free and be the fierce protector she was. Baby knew exactly what would happen if she continued to protect us.

Nevertheless, she persisted. 

I’ve never shared Baby publicly because it’s painful. She should’ve been loved and protected by all members of our family, but some people only know how to inflict pain. Hurt people, hurt people. And in our home, my father hurt innocent animals too.

One evening, after months of thoughtful planning, my mom packed us up to leave my father for good. It wasn't our first attempt but somehow, on this night, we managed to escape. The dog I once ran from was the only thing I wanted to take with me. But with tears in my eyes, I knew we couldn’t. Not long after we left my father, Baby died. She was still very young in age when she passed.

I try not to think about it but when I do, I realize Baby sacrificed her life and well-being time and time again to protect us. Had we not left when we did, I’m not sure what the outcome might have been.

We got a little place of our own and made a new home. Every birthday, Easter and Christmas I would ask for a dog, but it wasn’t practical for our family at the time. Growing up we had birds, pet mice and a cat, but nothing compares to a dog!

My hopes for a canine companion followed me into college. Pets were not allowed in the dorms so I waited until my sophomore year at Cal. I was also a student-athlete at the time and wanted to make sure I had enough money saved for toys, vaccines and emergencies. I saved up my soccer per-diem (the allowance you’re given for meals and snacks when you play out of town) and it was only a matter of weeks. In the off-season, I worked part-time at a vet clinic to learn more about caring for animals. The moment I met Irish, we bonded. Perhaps it was his resemblance to Baby with his soft coat and fluffy ears, big smile and bearlike features. Little did I know this adorable ball of fur would also save my life.

I reluctantly told my mom and stepdad and they were not happy. Several other teammates had decided to get dogs but sent them home after a couple months. It is not easy to balance schoolwork, soccer, puppy potty-training and vet bills. My parents made it very clear that owning a dog is much like having a baby. You need to feed it, nourish it, train it and provide a stable and loving home.

Getting a dog in college is not the best idea. In fact it’s a terrible idea if you go out often, dislike responsibility or attend a University that doesn’t allow dogs in class. For me, it was the best decision. I had just been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and on medications that didn’t allow me to "party" and Cal allowed dogs in most lecture halls. Luckily for me, Irish was the perfect companion.

There were days I didn’t want to get out of bed because my body hurt from soccer practice or weight training or my depression. But because I had Irish, I had to get outside several times a day, rain or shine. And because he's part Siberian Husky, a walk is more like a run. Irish trained with me for marathons. After 16-mile runs, he would continue to pull me like a sled dog. He has been relentless in keeping me occupied and active. And on days my depression hit harder, he curled up next to me to remind me I was never alone.

As I have discussed publicly in my previous blogs, my depression nearly took my life. Irish was right there next to me when my internal light began to fade.

Nevertheless, he persisted.

The love of Baby and Irish brought me closer to my higher source, God. The unconditional love I feel will never leave me and I believe these creatures exist to teach us how to love better. I’ve shared this quote by one of my favorite writers, Glennon Doyle Melton and it seems appropriate to share again:

“Loving people and animals makes us stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die, they leave us better. So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us and changes us.”

Next month, Irish will be 12. I know my years with him are becoming numbered. Both he and Baby have made an imprint on my heart that will last a lifetime. Have you experienced a love so unconditional and pure?

According to the Chinese Zodiac, 2018 is the year of the Dog and its characteristic word is action. May we use this fresh start to live in the moment, overcome fear with love, play every day and love unconditionally.

It is our duty to protect animals and children. If someone is mistreating an animal, inflicting pain or cruelty, report it. A person who hurts animals, preys on vulnerability. There is often a link between those who abuse animals and children. Be vigilant. Take action.

You can report in your area by calling your local ASPCA or visiting

https://www.aspca.org/take-action/report-animal-cruelty

If you suspect a child is being abused or neglected, contact your local child protective services office or law enforcement agency. Many States have a toll-free number to call to report suspected child abuse or neglect. You can also visit

https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/reporting/how/

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