Written by: Jon Davis
I have met a lot of amazing and inspiring people during my brief time being involved in the Chicago animal rescue community. These people tend to have a lot of traits in common: driven, dedicated, a bit weird, and a history of special relationships with animals. As I began to talk with some of these people, I realized that many of their lives have been saved by their pets, just as mine has been.
I began showing signs of seasonal depression around the age of 7 and by the age of 9 I began regular therapy and antidepressants. A year later I wrote a letter to my parents pleading for a dog. My entire family was allergic and had very little experience with animals. I barely had any exposure to them, but for some reason I got it in my head that a dog is what I needed. In it I wrote “one of the main reasons is that I am always lonely, the dog would help cheer me up and keep me company. Also, instead of sitting around the house, I could give my dog a bath or something. I hate being lonely.”
I may not have given my dog many baths back then or my current dog now, but this was one of the most important thoughts I’ve ever had. We adopted Licorice from Orphans of the Storm on May 7, 1995, about a month before my 11 th birthday. At about 10 months old, this black lab mix would play a significant role in how much of my family would cope with things over the next 11 years. He also might have saved my life. My depression would worsen and I hit my lowest point probably a couple of years later. One evening when I was home alone, I found myself in the kitchen. Sad, frustrated, angry, and depressed, I looked at a set of kitchen knives and had the closest moment I’ve ever had to really considering taking my own life. This only lasted a few seconds, thankfully.
Licorice was a very empathetic dog who was different things to different family members. He also stood on the couch looking out the window when everyone would come home. He knew when my school bus would pull up in the afternoon and his happy face was always there to greet me as I walked up the driveway. In my lowest moment staring at the kitchen knives, I almost immediately though of my sweet Licorice looking out the window as the school bus pulled up, only for me to not step out and never come home. This thought destroyed me and still does. I’ve dealt with depression, anxiety, and, more recently, food addiction nearly my entire life. I’m very shy and even more awkward. I don’t know what I would have done without Licorice. I adopted Lakeside in 2009 and I don’t know how I would have survived my 20s without her. She continues to play a huge role in my overall well-being and happiness. I don’t know why I thought a dog would save me but I was right. I never knew that there were other people who have experienced this same thing. I do now. Not just some people, but A LOT of people. The rescue community seems to be filled with people like me.
I’m frustrated that I and so many other people had to figure out the mental health benefits of having a pet on our own. I’m also very excited by the possibilities of tapping into this widely shared experience to create something big, something that can both help us and so many others who have yet to come to this realization and experience the transformative love and purpose given by having a pet. Thousands of dogs and cats are euthanized in the United States every day. Many millions of people suffer from mental health issues, some to a debilitating degree. The love between a human and animal can be a life-saving presence for both.
I’m starting the Empawthy Project to begin this conversation. I may not know where this will go, but I do know that there are a lot of people who feel this way. We feel isolated and weird, but what if we knew just how common this was? What if we worked together to let other people know just how much this relationship can help, not only to provide a purpose but also a way to connect with others and do something to help the millions of animals and humans who are currently suffering?
Stay tuned for events. In the meantime, please follow the Empawthy Project on Facebook and Instagram. And if you have any ideas, connections, or just want to share your story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jon Davis starting volunteering at One Tail at a Time during the summer of 2017 after seeing their social media presence and hearing about them on Sarah Lauch’s podcast, Raise the Woof. He is also now on their associate board and running team.