Pet Diaries: The Catahoula Leopard Dog That Taught Me About Love and Self-Respect

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.

Most families aren’t your stereotypical Leave it to Beaver types. Sometimes kids grow up having to learn how to be adults the hard way, or along paths that aren’t always smooth. While traveling on my own rocky path, I was blessed to have a four-legged friend as my guide.

When I was 15 years old, my mother gave me up to foster care. She was an alcoholic and I was a rebellious teenager trying to get attention any way I could. I’d get in trouble with the police for smoking cigarettes underage and being out too late. I ran away multiple times. My mother and I would have power struggles, and I’d fight with her often.

My dad worked full time in Boston (more than an hour away), and I only saw him every other weekend, so when the court date came, it was completely unexpected when he showed up to take full custody rather than giving me up to the state. My father did his best to get me back into his life, and I had to live out of a camper in the backyard while he put on an addition to his house. As I was going through physical, emotional, and behavioral changes as a teenager, I was confused and questioned my own purpose. Being the new girl in school was difficult because cliques were already established. I felt like an outsider, with no identity or role. I remember eating lunch in a bathroom stall due to my complete lack of confidence.

A year later, in my junior year of high school, I got off the bus to discover my father had adopted a Catahoula Leopard puppy from the SPCA, because now that we had a yard, he was excited to have a pet. Due to raging hormones, I was angry at the world, and I wasn’t excited about anything, especially a needy puppy. So when it started following me to my camper at night, it was unexpected, but oddly comforting. I named her Annie, after the orphan from the comic strip and musical, and she quickly became a companion to me.

Most teenagers tend to be pretty self-absorbed, caring strictly for their own well-being. My relationship with Annie prohibited selfishness because every day I needed to go home to let her out and make sure she was fed and had water. The day she got attacked by a porcupine, I took her to the vet immediately and paid the expensive bill without question, even though I only had a part-time job at a convenience store. It was Annie who valued me and gave me a role to play, which was caregiver. She trusted me for what I gave her, and she gave back. With those icy blue eyes looking straight into mine, she made me feel like I was being heard, and she would answer me, or at least comfort me, without judgment. Annie also protected me against untrustworthy people. How she barked and reacted to visitors even informed whom I chose to hang out with later. When I was sad, she’d nuzzle me with affection, making me see that someone was concerned about my well-being.

A year after my father fixed up his house, which was livable but not finished, he decided to move in with his girlfriend two towns over. I was left to live alone while I finished up high school, so in a way, Annie and I became orphans again. During this difficult time, I made the unconventional decision to drop out of school to work and live at a ski resort with a group of friends. Although it was a big change for me, those few months as a ski bum were some of the best in my life. While I had time to reflect, having Annie loyally by my side gave me confidence in who I was and the choices I was making. And, when Annie and I returned to my dad’s empty house, I went back to school, graduating with honors the following year.

Growing up without a “traditional family,” I learned that my dog was my family, and that was enough. This was true even later in life, when I found myself in an unhealthy relationship with my daughter’s father. Because Annie never abandoned me, I knew I wouldn’t be alone as long as I had her. So, when it was time to get out of the abusive relationship, I took my daughter in one arm and Annie in the other, and left.

Annie by Heather’s daughter’s side when she had the flu

Now, as I pursue a Master’s in Art Therapy at Lesley University, I recognize the dangers of abandonment and lack of guidance. Despite the odds, I’ve learned how to be a wonderful mother and most recently, a devoted wife to a loving husband. Fifteen years have passed since Annie became a part of my life, and she is starting to show signs of frailty. But every morning, despite her ailing hips, she jumps up on my bed the second I’m awake. She is still teaching me valuable lessons, especially the importance of being thankful for the beautiful life I live. I firmly believe that I have become a well-adjusted adult because Annie had faith that I would, and she stood by me until I did. I learned that I am worthy of healthy and reciprocal relationships because Annie was the first to offer me just that.

Heather and her family

Photos courtesy of Heather Cohen

via Honor Africans / Twitter

The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

Keep Reading Show less

Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

RELATED: Bill and Melinda Gates had a surprising answer when asked about a 70 percent tax on the wealthiest Americans

"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet