How Adopting a Dog Made Me Face My Inner Child

On April 8th, 2019, I was babysitting the toddler of a family in Portland. The mother messaged me in the days before letting me know that a dog would be there. When I got there, a small Pitbull mix came to greet me at the door, very timid and shy. The mother introduced her as Roxy but quickly made it very clear that she would not be staying with the family for long. She explained that they had rescued Roxy from another family who had not adequately explained that she had separation anxiety and that between raising their first young child, full-time work, and still getting the house in order since they had just moved to town, they did not have the time or energy to properly train her to not be so anxious and simply had to heavily medicate her when they left her alone.

This instantly broke my heart and it broke even more to watch this poor dog fall apart once the mother left for her appointment. The dog was so panicked and so unsure, it took her minutes to even walk over to allow me to pet her. And in the 3 hours I spent there, she spent most of it lying on her bed, shaking uncontrollably, unable to calm down or relax. I tried to pet and soothe her as often as I could while also playing with and entertaining the toddler, desperate to make her feel better or at least make her stop shaking so badly.

When the mother came home, Roxy instantly became another dog, ecstatic that her mom was back home, her tail wagging, her body language completely shifted. It was clear that she felt a strong attachment to the mother already, despite having only been with this family for a short time.

Sometime in those 3 hours, I sent my sister a photo of how unbelievably sad Roxy looked and quickly mentioned wanting to take her, though mostly joking, the same way you joke about wanting to take home every animal you see that looks sad or lonely or out of place. But you never actually do.

Well, this time was different. My sister asked if I was serious because she was. She was dead serious about us rescuing her to save her from going back to the shelter. The mother had explained to me before she left that Roxy had already been in 4 or more homes, so going back to a shelter was the only option at the time. Her soul was already so beaten down that I could easily imagine her completely breaking apart upon being left at a shelter, waiting for her mom who would never come back. I just couldn’t stand it.

So as the mother settled in and paid for my time, I mustered up the courage to ask the awkward question, “What do you think about me taking Roxy instead?” I explained that I had previous experience with a dog that had separation anxiety, which had given me some knowledge of how to cope with it and take steps to train her out of it. I also told her that it wouldn’t be as much of a problem because I work from home, so Roxy wouldn’t often have reason to panic nor would she be left alone often. She would have someone with her in the house all day.

With a few more questions, I was quickly able to determine that Roxy was a perfect dog in every other way. She didn’t have any other problems that other rescue dogs might have, no aggression, food issues, walking issues, dog or child issues. She had been abused or attacked when she was a puppy, which was evident from the scars on her face and had lived with negligent people. The only thing she suffered from was timidness and separation anxiety, which aren’t the worst things you can deal with when rescuing any animal. You never really know what you are going to get when you rescue and Roxy should have been way worse off from her traumatic past.

It all happened very fast but I told the mother that we could start with a trial period, that I would take her that night and have her stay with me for the week to see if it was a fit before their appointment with the shelter the following Monday. They gave me her food, bowls, bed, and leash and out the door we went.

I could tell everything I needed to know about her past by what happened when we walked out the front door together. We took a few steps into the yard and towards the car when Roxy ripped her head out of the collar and leash and ran straight to the front door of their home. I had to ask the mother to come back out and lead her to the car with us, otherwise, she wasn’t going anywhere with us strangers.

She had clearly been abandoned over and over again, handed off from one family to the next, her attachments broken over and over. Too many new families, too many new people, too many new homes, too many times she trusted and had that trust broken. Her escape back to that closed front door was her refusal to do it all over again. And I knew that I had to change that for her.

The evening that I took her home was a joyous one. My family all came over to welcome her and she lay anxiously and quietly on the carpet of my living room while each of us, one at a time, took our time introducing our smell, giving her pats on the head, slowly stroking her back, whispering sweet words to her. We sat around her like a herd of elephants stands around its young to protect them, showing her that we were her new family, letting her know that she could trust us.

She was scared. But she quickly let down her guard and welcomed the love and attention. She slept solidly through the night, tucked into my body, a whole half of a bed all to herself.

The next morning, I woke up grateful and excited. I felt ecstatic to have this sweet creature in my life, happy to have been able to save this dog from the shelter, where she might have sat for weeks or months, even years before someone took a chance on her. I was happy to finally have my own animal, an animal to be mine and for me to be theirs.

But as the day went on, I began to feel ill, catching some flu-like symptoms from my sister. I would get waves of nausea that forced me to lay down and breathe deeply, willing myself to not vomit. I felt extremely vulnerable and distressed from feeling so ill. But now everything was different. Now I couldn’t lay on the couch for hours, waiting for nausea to pass, waiting for sleep to come, waiting to feel better. Now I had a life to look after, another soul that needed to be fed and walked, who needed attention, especially in the first few days of being in a new home. The sense of pressure began to grow and grow and grow, the realization over the responsibility I had just brought into my life. I began to feel even worse and I couldn’t seem to calm myself down.

For the next two days, I battled against feeling very ill and I battled against the most intense, visceral panic I’ve ever felt in my life.

My inner child, now exposed and taking the wheel with my defenses down and all energy being sent towards trying to feel better, was enraged. Enraged that there was someone in our life that “needed” us, that “needed” to be taken care, that was attached to us and loved us so deeply so quickly. She immediately went to work at convincing me that I had made a mistake, that Roxy shouldn’t be in my life, that she was a nuisance that needed to be removed.

That night Roxy and I were in bed when my sister and her boyfriend came into my bedroom, wanting to say good night. Roxy had been deep asleep, so when she heard a door open and saw two people (seemingly strangers since she had only slept in our home for one night), her nervous system reacted and she began to growl at them. She didn’t move from the bed and I immediately began to stroke her back, speaking to her, trying to remind her that she knew them. She was able to calm down and reset herself after a few moments and quickly became excited to see them, giving them kisses and wagging her tail.

I didn’t sleep that night. I was so triggered by Roxy growling that my mind was racing and panicked and I couldn’t get on top of it to quiet these thoughts, to calm myself. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Roxy from her growling. She triggered me by growling because she had shown a flaw by doing so, a small chink in her armor. And my inner child was terrified by this. My inner child requires absolute perfection, the abidance of rules at all times, or it means that we are unsafe, that our environment has grown dangerous and that we are at risk. I wasn’t afraid of Roxy, I was afraid of her flaws, of seeing her as an imperfect being that was now attached to me, who I was now responsible for.

The next two days were the most emotional, anxious, and panicked I’ve ever felt in my life. I spent most of the two days on the couch, constantly trying to avoid feeling nauseous, all while taking care of Roxy who was feeling needy and vulnerable as well and never let me out of her sight.

For those two days, I came quite close to quitting. I would pull my phone out to call the mother I had adopted Roxy from, who had given me an out by telling me she would keep the appointment with the shelter for the week if I changed my mind. But I couldn’t dial the number. I would pull my phone out to text my mom and beg her to take Roxy away but I couldn’t type out the words. My inner child was in control and she was constantly arguing with my logical, adult self, and she was winning.

I began to spiral out once the shame hit. I had gone from loving this dog so quickly that I agreed to adopt her within hours of meeting her to wanting to give her up 2 days later. I felt evil for thinking these thoughts, so selfish and so childish, and I hated myself for thinking this way. But the shame was also validating my inner child, convincing me that I was too selfish to have a dog, too damaged and in need of repair that I didn’t have time to raise a dog while also trying to heal myself. And I was very close to believing it to be true.

Towards the end of these 48 hours, as I began to feel a bit of relief from the nausea and exhaustion of not sleeping, my adult self was feeling a bit more powerful and finally stepped in. I heard a voice in my head tell me, “These thoughts aren’t yours, they are your little girl's. These thoughts aren’t yours, they are coming from your trauma.” I was almost breathless from hearing this because for these two days, I had believed that all of this panic and worry and anxiety was the real me, was my adult self, was purely logical and thus had to be listened to. My inner child had been speaking so loudly that I hadn’t realized it wasn’t actually me doing the talking.

That was when I learned that I had been running for years. That was when I realized that I had been avoiding life for years. A healthy adult life is all about responsibility, commitment, attachment, connection, vulnerability, patience, understanding, and letting go of the need for control. I had been living the opposite for years. I had been running from commitment for years, always immediately finding fault in men I dated, running away as soon as they expressed any real interested or attachment. I had been avoiding real connection with people because real connection requires that you accept someone’s flaws as well as their good parts, and it requires that you accept that within yourself.

That was when I realized that I had been letting my inner child run the show for years, letting her convince me that we weren’t ready for a relationship, letting her convince me that imperfections were unsafe and unworthy of us, letting her convince me that any form of responsibility was not worth it because we could fail and make a mistake and that would be too devastating so we shouldn’t try to begin with. I learned that I had been living by a terrible mantra: “You can’t fail if you don’t try.”

This realization was a shock to my system. I had known these things about myself. I had done enough trauma work to know that these were areas I needed to work on. But I had no idea how powerful I had let my inner child become. I had no idea that I had been living out of these beliefs as if they were my truth, as if they were my reality. I had no idea that I had been living in fear for years. And all of a sudden I was so tired of running. All of a sudden I was ready to lay down my armor and live life as it should be, exposed, vulnerable, open-minded, and patient. I was ready to feel. I was ready to love and be hurt and love again. I was so ready to start living.

There’s a terrible cliche you hear in the animal rescue community: “I’m not sure who rescued who.” I’ve seen it on people’s cars and in their homes and I’ve rolled my eyes. But now I take it all back.

I rescued Roxy from a possible life in a shelter. But she has already rescued me from myself. She threw me a lifeline when I was drowning in an ocean of my own fears. She is the vessel that will keep me afloat, grounded in my new reality, in my new truth. She is already the greatest teacher I will ever have, the greatest test of my will to change, to heal, to live life the best I can. Every morning that I wake up to her sleeping at my side is a chance for me to ask myself, “Which self will I be today? The version of myself that is frozen with fear and insecurity? Or the version of myself that deserves Roxy’s love and affection and trust as well as my own?

I have been reminded that it is a choice, every single day. And I had been letting someone else make it for me, my inner child self that has been hurt and has had to survive and is terrified of life. But it’s my turn to make the decisions. I am taking back the wheel. And I choose life. I choose love. I choose Roxy.

Thank goodness Roxy chose me.

You can follow Roxy's new life in her forever home with Elisa on Instagram, @roxy.pittie.

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