Billie / Micah baldwin

Slightly Dog Obsessed

A lot of people that know me, or follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, know that I am slightly obsessed with my animals.

How many animals? Well, I have three cats, Winston, Calin and Max; and two dogs, Billie and Taylor. Yes, it’s ok to be surprised, maybe even slightly shocked. Perhaps you think a single man has no place owning that many pets, or maybe you are thinking about the upkeep, the amount of food, the restrictions, the requirements, the limitations, even the eventual heartache.

You aren’t alone. I think of those things all the time.

And while someday I will talk about why and when I got each animal, this story is centered on Billie, my first dog.

I had been seeing my therapist for about a year. “You should get a dog,” he said. “Why? I have three cats.”

“You need to go on walks, and a dog will give you a reason.”

For the past six months or so, I was battling a weird paralysis in my right leg. It had happened suddenly, while sitting on the couch. My foot fell asleep, and just never woke up.

It happened about two years in the midst of a pretty bad drug addiction. My leg had taken the easy way out.

“I can barely walk now. I stumble around like I’m drunk.”

“Get a dog.”

I remember taking a day or two to sober up before going into the ER. I was rather shaky, and having the ER nurse tell me it was possible that I had MS didn’t reduce my jitters.

“Maybe. It seems a lot to take care of. I can barely take care of myself.”

“You might be surprised.”

I sat in the car before going in for the MRI ripping lines, in hope it would calm me down. When I barely fit in the machine, I realized what a mistake that was.

“I’ve never much liked dogs.”

“You’ll get over it.”

The doctor seemed rather matter of fact when he told me that I would probably end up in a wheelchair by the time I was 50 if I didn’t lose significant weight. “50?” I thought to myself. “I’ll be surprised if I am around next week.”

“Maybe I will just go look at dogs.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

So I got a dog. I named her Billie. Not sure why. I think it’s because I like boy names for girls, but mostly it was because it was unquestionably her name.

She was the perfect dog for me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that having someone that didn’t judge, didn’t look at me in the awful, disappointed way I looked at myself, made me hopeful.

Soon after getting Billie, I noticed that she limped. Badly.

It turns out that both of her hips were malformed at birth. Her left hip didn’t even have a socket to sit in. I was crushed. I didn’t know what to do. Here I was barely hanging on as a human being. Lying to the world about my desire to be alive, and this perfect little dog was in pain.

For the next couple of months, as I waited for Billie to turn one year old so we could do a hip replacement, I spent more and more time thinking about my life.

There wasn’t a pivotal moment. There wasn’t a specific reason. I just started to gain some introspection after so many years of working hard to avoid the deep morass of dark thoughts that smashed and broke me apart, leaving me full of little but pain and anger.

When she was old enough, I took her to the vet. She trusted me completely. I loved her absolutely. She embodied the hope that I remember feeling and that was slowly, in minute amounts, finding ways to break through my dark muddled brain.

After the surgery, I brought her home.

For weeks, I tended to her. I stopped thinking of only me. Billie’s health and happiness is what mattered. She was relying on me. For the first time, my giving was not met with taking. She just wanted to be well. I just wanted her to be happy.

And, over time, she got better. She was happy again, and could run and smile. And, over time, I got better. My smile joined hers. I found my hope. And on, April 1, 2006, I found my sobriety.

Billie didn’t do anything specific to make that happen. She just did what we as humans should do naturally: She gave without requiring taking, and she loved without expectation.

I am obsessed about my animals. All five of them. And while it may sound a bit melodramatic to say I can’t live without them, its certainly a truth that I wouldn’t be alive without them.