Pet Diaries: The Blind Dog That Taught Me to Live Life One Small Step at a Time

Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons learned from our pets. This 12-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®,...

Introducing Pet Diaries: Life lessons learned from our pets. This 9-part series is brought to you by GOOD, in partnership with Purina ONE®, and explores how having a pet can change your place in your neighborhood, community, and beyond. Check out more stories at the GOOD Pets hub.

In early 2011, I went from being a high-powered advertising executive with an active social life to spending my days in bed on medical leave, hiding my illness from most of my family members. I had become chronically ill in a matter of months. While I felt completely broken and without much hope of ever getting better, my husband stayed with me throughout, and never gave up on me.

After more than a year of searching for answers and talking to more than 20 doctors, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain throughout the body, along with two severe sleep disorders. All of this caused me to wake up 27 times an hour and experience constant pain. The lack of rest had taken a huge toll on me, preventing my body and mind from ever being able to heal properly.

My doctors said that going back to a nine to five job was not an option, so I reluctantly said goodbye to the career that I had worked so hard for. I wallowed in self-pity for a while, but my husband and therapist insisted that I start doing something—anything—with my time. Since I have always been a dog lover, I began volunteering for a local, renowned dog rescue called the Bill Foundation.

I dove headfirst into rescue, and it quickly consumed me. Not only was I saving lives, but also educating the public through a Facebook page I created. In a matter of months, I built an online community of more than 35,000 people who were vested in the daily happenings of Bill Foundation. I was also named the organization’s executive director. It felt like I had found my life’s purpose.

Then I met Tessa, a Havanese mix who had been left at the shelter by her owner after she suddenly went blind. I knew she needed more than I could ask any foster to take on, so I brought her home to stay with me for five months. Tessa and I went from doctor to doctor and ultimately received the grim diagnosis that she had hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid in her brain) and hyperactive nerves in her eyes that caused limited vision. They thought she would never regain her sight or walk again. But Tessa needed someone to believe in her, just like my husband had believed in me, and I was ready to pay it forward.

Reinvigorated, I assembled a group of doctors, and together, we took a leap of faith on Tessa, creating a “Hail Mary” cocktail of medications. But she was also having issues that medications could not fix and they believed her inability to walk stemmed from a lack of confidence. Tessa needed an endless amount of love, encouragement and patience if she was going to stand a chance at ever walking again.

My days were suddenly dedicated to working with Tessa and helping her feel more secure. I began by setting small but important goals for Tessa, starting with simply teaching her that she could stand up. Then I encouraged her to take just one step. I wrote daily on Facebook about what Tessa and I were doing throughout the day and found support in the online “village” I had created. With each progressive step Tessa took, our village cheered us on.

When I created a video detailing Tessa’s journey, our village helped it go viral, inspiring hundreds of thousands of people around the world to become invested in Tessa’s story. Everyone prayed for her health to improve and they gave me the strength and courage to keep helping her.

Three months into Tessa’s stay with us, she had a major breakthrough. I was in the kitchen getting something to eat when a wet nose touched my leg. I looked down expecting to see one of my other pups, but instead found Tessa, her tail wagging vigorously. It was her first time in the kitchen and she had walked about 20 feet further than the comfort zone she always stayed within.

A few months after that victory, a wonderful family adopted her. They have now helped her continue to make remarkable progress, so much so that she now navigates stairs perfectly and runs around outside, playing with her new siblings. Her doctors are astonished by her recovery and can only explain it as a miracle.

Tessa still is blind and has hydrocephalus, but I didn’t give up on her, and she has learned not to let limitations stop her. She tackles every obstacle in life as an exciting challenge, and she is no longer defined by her illness, but by her steadfast courage to never give up.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Tessa lately because my fibromyalgia has flared up again. Many days, getting out of bed is too difficult and I don’t feel I have the strength to try. It’s easy for me to not feel very good about myself on these days and it’s even harder to have hope that I will get better.

But then I think about Tessa and all that we accomplished together, so every morning, I wake up and I borrow a little courage from her, and I stand up. I take one simple step. Then I celebrate how far I have come and how far I can go, if I just try.

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

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