Happy dog stories aren't uncommon, but a dog that saves his pet parent? A bit more unusual. That's what happened to Mary McNeight, diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. She found no relief in the medications and therapy sessions she was prescribed by her doctor, and her condition continued to spiral. Eventually, she felt unable to leave her house, sometimes months at a time.
"I didn't even know I had a tree that flowered in the springtime in my yard," she said. "That's how rarely I went out."
In one last attempt at alleviating her symptoms—and finding stability—she decided to look into adopting a dog. She visited the Seattle Humane Society, an animal safety organization and Hill's Food, Shelter & Love™ partner. When a staffer brought an eight-year-old dog named Jasper into the room to meet her, the black Lab-mix simply sat down beside her. Then he wouldn't leave. He didn't want to play. He didn't want a treat. He didn't want to sniff around the room.
He just wanted to be with her.
Mary knew instantly she had to bring him home. "He wouldn't leave my side," she said. "He just sat there and it was like, 'OK. Let's go.'"
She later found out Jasper had been surrendered to the shelter by a family going through a difficult divorce. But he required daily walks which, in turn, required Mary to go along. And with the eager Lab on a leash beside her, she emerged into the world again—just the way she needed.
But she was also met with a pleasant surprise: When sinking into familiar but paralyzing anxiety attacks, Jasper would lick her, lay on her, whimper at her, and otherwise try to engage her. "It was like he could sense it, that he knew I needed him," Mary said. "He'd bring me back."
Her experiences with Jasper led to training him as a medical alert service dog. That way, she'd be allowed to bring him everywhere—on buses, into grocery stores, and while sitting down in crowded restaurants.
Both she and Jasper thrived in their new relationship. The experience was so positive and life-changing that Mary became hooked on the idea of helping train medical alert service dogs.
Now, more than a decade later, Mary is a nationally certified trainer.
Her company, Service Dog Academy, has the potential to tell 115 happy dog stories, each of its canines trained to help fellow sufferers of medical issues like diabetes, seizures, and even migraines. She is currently in the process of moving the company from Seattle to St. Louis.
Jasper was already gray around the muzzle when she adopted him in 2005 at the age of eight. He died five years later, his health having deteriorated to the point that he could no longer perform the services he once provided to Mary. To give him the rest he needed, Mary brought home an eight-week yellow Lab named Liame to train as her new service dog. And although Liame is an amazing companion, no canine can ever replace the important place Jasper has in Mary's heart.
"I don't think of it as that I rescued Jasper," Mary said. "Jasper rescued me."
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer who lives in Erie, Pennsylviania with her cat Olive.