Alissa And Moon

Moon: the Unexpected “Therapy Dog”

Guest article by Alissa Dicaire

For years I have suffered on and off with anxiety. A year ago, the anxiety I was experiencing was the worst I’ve ever dealt with, and for a while, it took over my life. There was a lot happening in my personal life and I couldn’t handle the changes, good or bad. As a result, I had terrible insomnia (which lead to increased anxiety and exhaustion), rapid heart rates that lasted for days, stress sweating, the inability to concentrate or enjoy life and I had a desperate sense of feeling like I’d never be myself again. I was losing my mind. I talked to my doctor and he prescribed me different per-use prescription medications. I tried holistic alternatives to help me relax and sleep and I went to see a therapist. Nothing really worked in “curing me” and eventually with time I just got better at “managing” it and hoped that it would eventually run its course.

Moon is taking a rest

How Adopting a Dog Virtually Cured My Anxiety?

Despite having a great relationship with my boyfriend Chris, a well-paying job in my field of study that I love, a new house, and supportive family and friends, I wasn’t as content as I should have been. There was something else that was missing in my life. I needed something that could help me distract myself from my own inner struggles and anyone who knew me well enough knew that getting a dog would be just the ticket.

For as long as I can remember (probably from the age of 3 or 4), I wanted a dog. I begged my parents to get one but to no avail. Chris on the other hand grew up with dogs and his Samoyed Echo became my adoptive pet. But unfortunately around the same time, Chris and I bought our house, we sadly had to put Echo down due to health problems. We both decided that once we settled into our new home and enough time had passed since Echo’s passing, we would adopt a dog.

I found Free Korean Dogs after simply googling something like “adopt dog meat dogs into Canada” and I submitted an application. Soon after we were matched with a dog named Moonsae, a Jindo mix approximately a year and a half old, from a dog meat farm in Paju. He was described as goofy, friendly, playful, submissive and he had a floppy ear. He sounded like the perfect dog for us. At that time, everything made me anxious but the idea of owning a dog did not. I was actually quite calmed by it. If there was anything in my life that made sense, it was adopting a dog.

Moon's car ride with his family.

The night before we picked up Moon I slept like a baby in our hotel in Toronto. This was a huge deal for me as I had had insomnia for months because of the most ridiculous things. That morning, it was a bright and sunny April day and the weather could not have mirrored my feelings better, especially after a long and cold winter. I was filled with excitement when Moon came out of the arrivals terminal and I was desperate to bring him home. Unfortunately, we live 4 hours away from Toronto so Moon had to remain in his crate for longer than most dogs arriving in Canada.

We arrived home late that afternoon and brought Moon into our house. He walked out of his crate within 5 seconds, stretched and proceeded to sniff and inspect everything inside our house and in the backyard. That evening was so exciting. Moon ate his food, explored the yard and even played with his new blanket! I was still in a total honeymoon phase about the adoption. I finally owned my own dog! It wasn’t until 2 days later when Chris went to work that my anxiety was hell.

I had a romanticized idea of rescuing a dog and I had taken a week off work to be with him thinking we’d go for long nature walks and he’d love me right away… joke was on me. The first week went like this: Moon pooped and peed in the house (filling 3 poop bags and ruining our rug) and he kept escaping our baby gates when left alone. I had to set up my iPad on record before I left the house to see how he was getting out (I was convinced he was jumping over) but I learned after watching the video that he would crawl under the 4-inch gap! He’s 50 pounds! He barked at everything every 20 minutes day and night and he was terrified of and refused to use stairs (this went on for 3 weeks). One morning he jumped down the entire flight of stairs, ending in a loud bang. Chris and I were horrified but he was ok. Moon wouldn’t let us go near him (let alone touch him), and our neighbor’s dog scared him so he wouldn’t go outside (and therefore, he wouldn’t go to the washroom). Later in the week, he spent an entire night staring at himself in the mirror, he escaped our house on the 5th day, and he had penal discharge so we had to take him to the vet 7 days after bringing him home (he was fine, it was just stress related). He was also quite thin, skittish, and traumatized. Poor boy.

I was completely stressed out. I was at my wits end, wondering if I had rushed into this too quickly knowing my anxiety makes any less-than-perfect situation worse. But I absolutely loved Moon and my logical brain was telling me everything would work out in time. The week after we brought Moon home I started to relax, as he became more comfortable. How I was feeling was nothing compared to the stress he was experiencing. I started to see changes in Moon after the first week, and I saw that he was adjusting well so I eased the pressure off myself, knowing the hardest part was coming to an end.

It’s now been over 5 months since we brought Moon home and I can report that I am feeling almost 100% myself again and Moon is doing absolutely amazing. Having Moon in our lives has affected us for the better more than we could have ever imagined. Instead of coming home and feeling lost with nothing to really occupy my time, I have a job to do. Moon needs to be fed, walked, and given some love and attention, so I don’t have time to wallow in self-pity. I haven’t had insomnia since adopting Moon and I no longer have the horrible symptoms of anxiety that plagued me for months. I never thought I’d feel normal again but having Moon has taught me that although times get tough, nothing lasts forever and I can pull out of it. I’m not saying that getting a dog is the answer for everyone but for me, it was exactly what I needed at this point in my life.

I love taking him for walks and bringing him for hikes in the woods. He’s learned his name and will come when called (except at dog parks, we don’t exist there). He makes us laugh so much when he plays with his stuffed toys and more recently his squeaker ball. His favorite thing in the world (besides chicken) is going to dog parks to play with his friends. He has a fascination with small dogs and puppies too, he thinks they’re just the best thing ever. He has also never damaged our house, or had an accident since the first week and we can leave him home alone for 8 hours without incident. And every day after work, when I walk up the driveway, he’s sitting at the window waiting for us to come home and he does his happy dance when he sees us. If he’s tired he’ll go upstairs to bed by himself while Chris and I stay up and he’s rarely woken us up early on weekends to eat or go for his morning walk. If anything, he’s the last out of bed. He is less shy with friends and family who enter our house and he only ever barks when the doorbell rings. Not to mention his amazing intelligence and memory. I’ve never met a dog so smart! It’s amazing to see the gradual strengthening of trust he has for us. The moment I knew we won him over was when he came and laid himself down next to me in the sand at the park and my heart just about exploded.

That’s not to say Moon doesn’t test our patience. He is extremely stubborn and he can be a picky eater, going on a few hunger strikes until we make his food extra delicious. Then there is the issue with him becoming hyper on walks when he sees other dogs and his protests when we bring him home after a walk (he will just stop walking and refuse to go further when he sees our house even after an hour). But the cherry on top was when he caught a rabbit in our backyard and almost killed it. To this day, I’ve never seen him so happy.

But regardless, I cannot imagine our life without him. Owning a dog has taught me that the responsibility of taking care of something isn’t as scary as I thought it would be and that I don’t get anxious now over things I can’t control. And it is very liberating to feel like that again. I feel more calm and peaceful in my daily life. Seeing him comfortable, happy, and enjoying life, despite everything he has gone through, gives me the ability to do the same and I am more of the person I used to be before I had anxiety, in large part because of him. And if down the road, anxiety rears its ugly head again, I have Moon to help me through it.

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