How rescue dog Harley is helping her mom heal from a traumatic car-pedestrian accident

Now, I have always been the “crazy dog lady” in my friend circles. No matter where I go, I am constantly stopping strangers to meet their dogs and obsessing over all breeds online and in person. It is such an obsession that my friends and colleagues often feel it's their duty to warn strangers that I may try to run off with their dogs if they don’t keep a close eye on me. 

However, since my family dog passed away in 2010, circumstances (school, finances, a partner who refused to let me get a dog, etc.) hadn't allowed me to share my life with a four-legged companion.

I so badly craved this companionship, I even started a hashtag (#operationpuppyforkiki) in an attempt to convince my then partner, to let me adopt a dog. 

At the end of July 2017, my partner of 3 years and I split up and I moved out. Due to the suddenness of the break-up, I moved back into my parents’ place and began the hunt for a place of my own.

Then four months ago (October 2017), I was hit by a car as a pedestrian in a crosswalk, while walking into work. I was fortunate enough to not break any bones or have any internal bleeding. However, my battle would prove to be a long one, nonetheless. 

While recovering from my physical ailments (soft tissue injuries, bone bruises, and a concussion), my world began to grow darker and bleaker. The old demons (depression and anxiety) I had had a handle on prior to the accident, began to resurface. This time, they brought along a new friend… PTSD. This trio spent their time sucking all joy out of my life and made my existence seem purposeless and pointless. The logical part of my brain struggled to prove that this was not reality and I was just in a dark place due to the mental illnesses, but it wasn’t until I found Harley (then “Snowball") that I began to find hope again.

I was mindlessly scrolling through Facebook on one of my avoidance/disconnection binges - not really paying attention to what I was looking at, just trying to “zone out” and escape the emotions that were drowning me. Then something caught my eye. A post from a local rescue that had a compilation of about 24 dogs looking for foster homes from a few months back. In the middle of the bottom row of pictures, peeking out from a shaggy curtain of hair was a dog whose eyes called to me. Out of sheer impulse, I messaged the rescue to inquire about this dog and if she was still available for fostering.

A few days went by and I finally received a message that “Snowball” was not available for foster as she already had a foster home, but was still available for adoption. The rescue asked if I would like to set up a meet-and-greet to which I immediately responded, “Absolutely.” 

Now, let me paint a clearer picture for you while this communication was happening - I was still recovering from a traumatic brain injury, had just moved out of my parents’ house a month prior into my first home (hello mortgage, "goodbye" spare change), and was in the depths of what I describe as an “emotional tailspin” thanks to the three amigos of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Logically, most would have said adopting a dog would be a terrible decision at this time in my life and would just add to my stresses and responsibilities. But, there was something about her that told me this was the girl I had been looking for, for so long.

Keirstyn ("Kiki") and Harley during a theater performance, dedicated to The Make A Wish Foundation

After a couple of weeks of back and forth planning, the rescue contacted me on a Friday evening asking if I would be able to come meet “Snowball" the following afternoon. I immediately dropped all plans and drove out to the neighboring city to meet her. Despite having a severe anxiety disorder, I felt no trace of anxiety on the drive up to meet her… in fact, I felt calmer than I had in months. 

I pulled into the parking lot and walked into the rescue. Worlds collided when I came face to face with Trina, who used to be one of my managers when I worked at a clothing store in my youth and now runs the rescue with her husband. She went into the back room to get “Snowball” and immediately a lanky blur of shaggy white fur careened out of the door. She immediately jumped up onto me, throwing her paws over my shoulders, and dousing my face with kisses. In that moment, I knew it was game over. I was hooked. I was hers and she was mine.

That afternoon, I brought her home from the rescue as a “foster to adopt” agreement to make sure it was a good fit for both of us. On the drive home, I called my parents who “snowbird” in Phoenix, AZ and opened the conversation with, “So… I did a thing”. I was then instructed to pull over so I could FaceTime them and show them their new grand-dog. After they got over the initial shock (keep in mind that I am very close with my parents and even though they obviously knew of my dog obsession, they had no idea I would be adopting one so soon…). My parents began to warm up to the idea - more and more with each FaceTime discussion that we had throughout the next several days.

There was a shift in my disposition. One that brought back pieces of me, which I thought might have been gone forever. My parents saw it as I began emerging from the shadows bit by bit and becoming more communicative again... answering phone calls and text messages, sending them pictures and videos of my new roommate. Then one day, my Dad messaged me to say that he and my Mom “underestimated just how much getting a dog would do for me and mean to me”. Having them recognize this, meant the world to me. In all honesty, I was terrified to tell them about bringing her home for fear that they would chastise me for acting irresponsibly and not “being ready” for the commitment of a dog in my current state.

I ended up on the name “Harley” for my little miss, as a short form for “Harlequin” because she is the definition of a court jester. Despite having a very difficult life (being abused and abandoned twice) in her short time on earth, she still has such pizzazz and personality that she lets me in on more and more each day. She also has an unrivaled sass and sense of humor that entertains me for hours on end, which has resulted in her nickname “Miss Harley Queen”.

I truly believe that there is an infinite amount of truth in the statement “we rescued each other” when it comes to me and Harley. She is exactly who I needed to come into my life at the moment even when I didn’t think I was “ready” for it… Turns out, it was not a moment too soon!

Harley has saved me in so many ways already. She helps me combat my PTSD and anxiety symptoms on a daily basis when I’m out in public. She keeps me focused on her rather than what I’m feeling; she looks to me for reassurance and approval, and forces me to focus on being a strength and support for her rather than worry about my own negative thoughts. She also gets me out of bed on days when I wish the world would disappear - licking my face until I start laughing and try to push her away… this only brings on more aggressive face kisses and a violently wagging tail. Harley gets me out of the house and into the world, when I’d rather stay inside and hide - showing me the joy in life’s little things like watching ducks at the river, barking at statues, and bouncing through the snow. She has taught me how to laugh again, shown me how to love deeper, and filled a void I have had in my heart for so long. She has given me a purpose and a reason to want to “be here”. 

Harley is, in every definition of the word, my savior.

She truly is my “person” (only she has four-legs, an adorably aggressive underbite, and a personality the size of a Great Dane)... It has only been a month since I brought her home and I already can’t imagine a life without her in it. 

So the question remains, "Who rescued who?"

-Keirstyn ("Kiki") Secord, Puppy Mama @kikiseeks and Harley, her Hero Rescue @aharlequintail in Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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