How a Rescue Dog Helped Heal My Lonely, Longing Heart

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How a Rescue Dog Helped Heal My Lonely, Longing Heart

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“Maybe it’s time for the fighter to be fought for, the holder to be held, and the lover to be loved.” ~Unknown

There’s this cheesy saying I heard once—“Dog, when spelled backwards, is god.” As a companion to my dog, I can honestly say this is truer than you might ever imagine it to be.

There is something special about dogs or perhaps animals in general. They are not plugged into the matrix of human dramas and suffering the way we are entrenched in it. And because they are out of that cycle, in a way, they become our bodhisattvas.

I Was Blessed with a Runway Before Takeoff

It all started when I moved into a shared home with four other strangers. One of them had an eight-year-old pit bull named Kima.

Until this point, I never thought I could live with a dog. They’re dirty, they shed everywhere, it’s too much work, it’s too expensive, and it’s a lot of commitment. Essentially, dogs would ruin my independence and make my pristine little life very inconvenient. But that’s exactly what I needed—I needed stability, and I needed someone to shake up my self-centered world.

Basically, all the things I needed in my life were the very things I resisted. Don’t we all do this?

Kima taught me every day that life with a dog wasn’t so bad. Her wiggly butt, her tendency to contort herself into a tiny ball to fit into my 5’2’’ sitting frame, and her awoooo howls were things I looked forward to every day.

Things like shedding, smells, and minor annoyances didn’t seem to bother me as much as I thought they would. So naturally, when I moved out of that shared house and into my gorgeous loft, I started fostering dogs.

Sometimes we become the very people we thought we would never be, and that can be a good thing.

Keep in mind I was still very commitment phobic. So fostering puppies was perfect—love them, train them, and give them away. To say that fostering was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done is an understatement. It triggered my nervousness, anxiety, anger, shame, low self-esteem, and guilt—all the things I thought I had “fixed” in myself.

If they peed on my rug, I’d be blinded with rage on the inside. If they got sick, I thought I had failed as a human. If they were fearful of a leaf, I thought it was because I didn’t make them feel safe. I made all their problems a reflection of myself—no surprise here; it’s a tendency I’ve had my whole life.

Serendipity Moves In

Three foster dogs later, I was waiting for my fourth foster to arrive. He was a puppy being driven to Seattle from California. Except the driver’s car kept having issues and breaking down. I was getting impatient. I had been waiting for this foster to arrive for over a week. So I asked my case manager to assign me to another foster, and she in turn asked me to pick a foster from the dogs in line.

I looked online and saw this beautiful caramel-brindled, light-brownish gold gentle-eyed soul named Cappuccino. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t picked up to foster yet. Yet I didn’t sign up to foster immediately. Looking back, it was fear. But in the moment, I thought it would be good to wait for my assigned foster instead. I thought I should be patient and just wait.

How our mind rationalizes things away to keep us from really feeling our feelings, eh?

I kept checking the website trying to see if Cappuccino had been picked up to foster. Subconsciously, though, I was waiting for an excuse not to foster him. “See? Someone else fostered him, so now I have no choice but to wait for my assigned foster.”

Isn’t it interesting how sometimes we wait for the universe to decide for us so we can avoid taking responsibility for our big feelings and our big destiny?

I don’t know what came over me, but one day, before I knew it, I had signed up to take Cappuccino instead.

The Gentleman Monk Arrives

As soon as Cappuccino arrived, I fell in love with him. He was everything my intuition had picked up on when I first saw his picture online—he was a gentleman monk. But I was very clear that I was going to enjoy being with him, train him, and then give him away.

Within the first few days of his arrival, it was clear he had a gut infection, which led to bloody diarrhea. He was uncomfortable all the time. He pooped on my carpet. He was terrified of everything, from cars to the wind. He tripped me a few times from getting spooked by nothing. And worst of all, he didn’t seem to like me. He didn’t wag his tail at me. He never seemed excited to see me. In short, he triggered every wound in my heart.

When the time came to write his bio for his adoption profile, I just couldn’t do it. I wanted to keep him just a little while longer, so I did. But then “a little while longer” came and went. That’s when I started panic-calling everyone I knew. My secret desire was for them to tell me why I would be a good human companion for a dog. In short, I was asking for validation and for permission to adopt him.

Most people I called did validate me, but it fell on deaf ears. It’s just that I couldn’t believe them. The permission I was seeking came in an unexpected way.

One friend said, “If it doesn’t work out, you can always give him back up for adoption.” That thought entered my body like a frozen icicle. I would never, ever give him up, no matter what. My passionate commitment came as a surprise to me.

Another friend said, “You know having a dog is a big responsibility. It’s really tough. They’re expensive too. And you don’t want to be tied down.” These were my own inner thoughts being reflected to me through someone else’s mouth. I heard my own inherent fear and doubt hidden in those rational statements. And I found them to be silly.

In February 2022, I made the decision to adopt Cappuccino. I named him Azar—a variation of the word Atar, which in Avestan (Zoroastrian) means holy fire, son of god, light, or the visible presence of the divine. Because that is who he is to me.

Adopting a rescue dog is a heroine’s/hero’s journey, a quest, and an activation.

A lot of us single people are hurting.

We don’t feel well-met by the world, we cannot find partners, we start self-obsessing (in the form of self-doubt, self-criticism, etc.), and we can’t find anything about ourselves that we love. The vicious cycle is that, for a lot of us, the longer we stay single, the more entrenched we get in this state of loneliness, longing, and heart emptiness. And the longer we stay in this space devoid of intimate, reciprocal love, the longer we stay single.

A dog companion can start to chip away at our loneliness, longing, and heart emptiness. And that chipping away begins a whole new life for us.

Having our dog by our side gives us safety in relationship.

For many of us, our relationship with our dog may very well be the first relationship we’ve ever felt safe in. It doesn’t matter if it’s not a human one. What matters is that it’s one relationship that just gives to you and feeds your heart.

Azar taught me that I’m just a much better person when I’m around people who are self-assured, sensitive, playful, goofy, and at peace.

When I’m around Azar, I don’t feel put upon or burdened by his state of being. He taught me that any other qualities were just not as important to me as I thought they were—qualities like intelligence, ambition, and edginess. I began to prioritize my relationships based on whether they made me feel a similar way Azar did.

Having our dog by our side challenges us in safe ways to explore our shadows and wounds. 

Dogs are so forgiving and accepting. They don’t hold mistakes against you. You see all your own shadowy crevices as soon as you begin to take care of a dog. At first, this process is uncomfortable, like all growth is. The purity of their mirror reflects you in your entirety. You’re motivated to address your shadows more than ever before and in a much gentler, more self-accepting way.

Azar challenged me to address my rage. He’s such a sensitive and fearful dog that the slightest irritation in my mood makes him shake. I didn’t want him to feel that way. So I began to figure out what techniques work for me to address my rage and channel it productively.

Having our dog by our side combats our strong, independent person archetype.

This archetype is mostly a mask for how hurt we have been in relationships. We take on hyper-independence to avoid hurting and being betrayed. Our dogs give us stability in the form of something reliable we can commit to. We begin to be happily interdependent with another being.

With Azar, I found myself more ready and willing to ask for help. I no longer see asking for help as weakness. I see it as a mandatory part of being healthy in this world. On the flip side, I also feel more ready and able to help others. My cup is so full now that I’m no longer guarding what few drops are left in an almost empty vessel.

Having our dog by our side enhances our understanding of true commitment.

We begin to see that true commitment sets us free on the inside. That is the feeling we were looking for all along anyway. It doesn’t matter anymore if we’re not able to go certain places or do certain things. Because those things cease being important to us. We’ve reversed our relationship to freedom. Instead of looking for it on the outside to give us the liberation on the inside, we’ve now felt it on the inside and it spills out on the outside.

For example, if you told me even one year ago that I would drive hundreds of miles doing the nomad life with just me, my dog, and my two-door Honda, I would have said you didn’t know me at all.

You see, I used to detest driving. I used to feel insecure with the thought of having no home. I used to be terrified of all the potential obstacles of such a risky lifestyle. Yet Azar by my side freed me up to think of the wide-open road as a friend and as a guide.

I’ll leave you with this: 

You have much to give. You just need a chance to give it in your own special way. Dogs will learn your love language just as much as you will learn theirs.

I’m not saying go out and buy a dog just so you will feel better. I am saying that if or when the opportunity arises to have a fur baby by your side, just do it.

You don’t have to commit to a lifelong dog companion. Maybe all you do is foster. Or maybe all you do is volunteer at a dog shelter to take dogs on walks. Or maybe you pet sit for a friend.

Don’t be afraid. Start slow. Walk a dog. Play fetch. And watch how your presence alone is enough to give a being peace and joy.

Much love to you on this journey.



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