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You Changed My Life, Kelly

 I was overanxious and homebound, but my dog helped me see the joy and happiness in life.

Peggy Frezon and her dog

The alarm clock sounded. I didn’t even have to open my eyes to know it was another dark, gloomy winter morning. Ugh. I groaned and yanked a pillow over my head. The day would be fine if I didn’t have to get up, I thought.

Something landed on the bed with a soft thud. Kelly. Our cute, long-haired cocker spaniel mix. Only now she was acting more like a badger, burrowing determinedly under the covers to get to me. Not so cute. “Go away,” I scolded. Undeterred, Kelly nuzzled my face.

My husband, Mike, gently shook my shoulder. “Time to get up.”

Why bother? I thought. It was dreary and cold and I didn’t have the energy to face the day. I hadn’t just fallen into a rut—it was more like a ditch. A ditch I knew all too well.

Long ago I’d battled agoraphobia—a crippling anxiety about being in certain situations where I felt I couldn’t escape. Just traveling in an airplane, train, bus or even a car might set off a panic attack, and the only remedy I saw was to avoid it. For a while, I couldn’t even leave the house.

I was fortunate; after a couple of months, I learned how to better handle stress and worry. Gradually I got back out and involved in the world.

Lately, though, my old fears and anxieties had resurfaced. I didn’t want to be trapped by them again, but I didn’t know how to stop them.

My best friend, my daughter, Kate, was away at college. She wasn’t around to coax me out, so more often than not, I’d see Mike and our teenage son, Andy, off in the morning, then hole up inside all day working at the computer.

Yes, I was doing my job, which I loved, as a freelance writer, but I knew the longer I stayed in this ditch, the harder it would be to get out of.

I could hear Mike and Andy getting ready for their day. Kelly poked me with her cold, wet nose. “Okay, okay, I’ll let you out,” I sighed. I forced myself out of bed and trudged down the hall, the dog weaving around my legs like a slalom skier.

I opened the back door, and out Kelly flew. She actually went airborne for a minute—her little legs stretched out, her long ears flapping, her tail like an exclamation point. I couldn’t imagine what she found so enthralling out there. Yet part of me wished I could be more like Kelly.

Be like a dog? How crazy was that!

Shaking my head at my own foolishness, I shut the door and made my way into the kitchen. Mechanically, I poured cereal into two bowls and plopped them on the table. Mike and Andy rushed downstairs, gulped their breakfast.

“Got an early meeting,” Mike said, giving me a kiss. “Talk to you tonight.”

Andy slung his backpack over his shoulder. “I have basketball after school. See ya later, Mom.”

Wrapping my arms around myself to keep out the chill, I stood at the door and watched them go off to work and school. God, help me live life like that again, eager to face the world. I stepped back inside, where I felt warm and safe. But also, I had to admit, a little lonely.

Well, I have Kelly to keep me company. I let her back in, grabbed breakfast—Diet Coke and a banana—and sat down at my computer. Kelly plunked herself at my feet and flopped on her back, her paws up in the air. Time for her nap.

If only I could relax like that! At least getting lost in my work made me feel productive.

I was deep into revising an article when I felt a nudge at my elbow. “Not now, girl, I’m busy,” I said, not even glancing up from the computer screen. Kelly pounced onto my knees, sticking her nose under my arm so that my hand slipped off the keys. I knew what she wanted.

I could have just let her out in the backyard again, especially since I always felt a little nervous when I left the security of my house. But something in those big brown pleading eyes made me say, “Guess it’s time for a walk, huh?”

The word walk sent Kelly into a frenzy of figure eights and loop-de-loops. She jumped up, contorting her body, trying to pull her leash off the hook by the door. I had to chuckle at that.

We headed down the sidewalk, Kelly bounding ahead of me. Everything thrilled her. She investigated intriguing smells around rocks and under shrubs with a delighted snuffle.

Her ears perked comically when she heard a car honk or a neighbor’s cat rustle in the bushes. Not just her tail, but her whole body wagged at the sheer joy of being out in the world. Hmm…maybe being more like my dog isn’t such a crazy idea after all.

The next day when Kelly nudged me, leaping for her leash and making loops in front of the door, I followed her outside again. Same thing the day after, and the day after that. I’d forgotten how invigorating the brisk winter air was. Or what a pleasure it was to wave to my neighbors’ kids as they walked home from school.

I began watching Kelly more closely. When she flopped on her back for a nap, I took it as a cue. Time for me to take a break from my work…and my worries. Guess what? They didn’t seem so pressing after I’d recharged my batteries.

When Kelly played with her pink toy bunny, I thought of ways to add some fun to my day. Maybe it was connecting with a friend on the telephone. Or going to meet my husband for lunch. Or cheering on Andy at one of his basketball games.

Kelly’s an ordinary dog, a run-of-the-mill mutt. She doesn’t perform daring rescues or assist the disabled or win blue ribbons in shows. Most of the time she just lies around and chews on old socks. But even an ordinary dog can have an extraordinary influence.

Look at the way Kelly’s led me out of the ditch my anxiety pushed me into. She has given me a whole new attitude. Now every morning when the alarm goes off, I’m eager to get out of bed and discover the joys the day will bring. If that makes me more like a dog, well, then, I’m grateful.

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