Growing up as an anxious child made me both curious and scared of everything. Our family chihuahua, Lily, always seemed to know something that I didn't — that food and sleep were more valuable than money, that my parents deep down were caring people and that things were probably going to be OK.
Lily and I were both small and jittery. When I was scared, I would hide under my bed with her and rest my hand on her rib cage to feel it rise and fall with her short, shuddery breathing.
I'm 20 years old now, working five days a week as a full-time student with a somewhat active social life and therapy every Friday. When people find out that I also own a dog, they usually ask how I handle it. This is truthfully quite sentimental, but the answer is that we handle it together.
Everyone at The Daily Tar Heel probably knows me first as "Momo's owner," and secondly as someone who works on the opinion desk. Momo is a 4-year-old Pekingese I've had since my senior year of high school, and he moved in with me this year when I started living off-campus in Carrboro. The DTH is a dog-friendly office, so he usually lounges on the couch or in the lap of whichever writer is reading with me.
Every morning, we wake up together, and I walk him around the block. I know every dog who lives in the neighborhood — most of them are really buddy-buddy with Momo, who is definitely a little prince. (I like to think that Ananda, the white dog who lives in the backyard behind mine, is Momo's boyfriend because they play together most Mondays and Wednesdays and I hear Ananda's whining from my first-floor bedroom when Momo's away.)
After my classes, I help Momo train for his. Cathy, his obedience trainer, chastises me for indulging my dog's "goofy personality," but also admits he's "the cutest lil shit in Chapel Hill." We're trying to get Momo in good enough shape to become an emotional support dog. I've been hospitalized before — and the most helpful therapy sessions at the time were the ones with service animals.
I think Momo has what it takes! There's a reason why it can be easier to open up to a therapy animal than a human therapist. Dogs may not understand the complexities of whatever's tearing you up inside, but they provide support in the most genuine, nonjudgemental way. Momo is scrappy and sometimes, admittedly, stupid. He's also the sweetest boy I know. Once he gets his commands down, I'm positive he'll be able to offer that to others who can benefit from that sweetness, too.
After my first dog, Lily, died, I didn't think I would find another best friend like her. Which, to be fair, I didn't. Momo's much more high-strung and frenetic. But still, when a day is particularly difficult, or when I've forgotten to take my medicine or when work involves sifting through increasingly stressful emails sent to the opinion editor, coming home feels more like coming home when I come home to Momo.
CAPS recently adopted its first therapy dog, and UNC has taken steps to make the campus more service dog-friendly. It's not realistic for every UNC student to have a dog (believe me, I've considered it as a viable option for increased student satisfaction across the board), but if you live in a dormitory on campus without those resources, just stop by The Daily Tar Heel and ask for Momo.