Pets and Mental Health – A True Companion

Author: Niki Castle
contains mentions of suicide and sexual assault


Buster was the only puppy in his litter. A runt, they said. He was the perfect mix of Pomeranian, Poodle, Jack Russell terrier, and Chihuahua. A stout, white body with large brown spots and eyes that could melt your heart. He was only three weeks old when we met and small enough to hold in the palm of my hand. Buster was my cousin’s puppy, but when he nuzzled next to me on the couch, I knew we were meant to be together.

It had only been a few weeks since my first suicide attempt left me on a 72-hour involuntary hold in a maximum-security mental hospital. I was still in a deep fog from everything I had been through when the reality I was trying to escape slowly started to reappear. I was the victim in a horribly embarrassing and overwhelming sexual harassment lawsuit with a local television station. He was the 50-year-old VP of Sales. I was 25 years old and found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the same time, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. I felt like my world was caving in. I wasn’t looking for a pet. The idea of being responsible for something was overwhelming but when Buster was given to me as a Christmas present, I knew my world was going to change for the better. There was something about him. It was like he looked me in the eyes and said, “I am yours now. Take care of me.” I was terrified. How could I take care of a dog when I was doing a terrible job taking care of myself?

Suddenly I had a new purpose. I had something to live for.

Buster was smart. He made training so easy. It was like he knew what I was going to say. We did everything together, so when I accepted a position as a morning anchor across the country, I knew he was going to be a part of this life-changing journey. We drove from San Diego to West Virginia in three days. When we got there, I didn’t know anyone, but there was something about Buster that always brought an audience. People would stop to talk to us because he was “so cute”. My free time was spent walking and exploring this new place. Hiking through abandoned coal mines or down to the New River. I was lonely, but I never felt alone.

A year later we found ourselves back in San Diego. My mental health was failing again, and we both knew it. On my worst days Buster would not leave my side. If I was stuck in bed because of overwhelming depression, he would cuddle up right next to me, almost saying “I will take care of you.” Buster was the brightest light, shining on me and loving me no matter what. Sometimes the only reason I would get out of bed was to feed him or let him go outside. Often, I was so bogged down with the heaviness of depression that I would just open the door and let him go outside on his own and lay down, waiting for him to come back. I knew he would never run away. He was my guard dog – all 15 pounds of him.

As I got worse, Buster got more protective of me. On a few occasions, when paramedics were called to our home, he wouldn’t leave my side, barking and growling at anyone who tried to touch me. When I overdosed, I was put into a medically induced coma for three days. For Buster, it seemed like an eternity, so when I walked through that door, he let me know how much he missed me, refusing to leave my side.

Things started to get better. I began taking medication and rather than sleeping all day we would get up bright and early, walking a few miles and greeting the day. As I got used to my new normal, this became the best part of my day. When my son was born Buster found purpose in leading our growing pack. He was getting older, but he was still a proud caretaker, graciously cleaning up the crumbs that surrounded our growing toddler. His final days were unbearable. How do you say goodbye to your best friend of sixteen years? In true Buster fashion, he held on until I said, “It’s okay, Buster. I am okay. You can rest now.” He exhaled and was gone but he will never be forgotten.


The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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