How My Dog Saved My Life & Found My Husband

By Piper Bayard

This weekend, I celebrated seventeen years with my husband, the sanest man on the planet. Some years have been hard years, but all of them have been good years. Houses, children, occasional vacations, and lots of mutual support. But, as Antonio Banderas says in one of my favorite movies, The 13th Warrior, “Things have not always been thus. . . .”

I lost my first husband 21 years ago to mental illness. A terrible limbo where everything was over, and nothing was over, and I was left to find what resolution I could on my own in the passage of time. This is the conversation I had with myself every morning for months at each waking. . . .

Me: “He’s gone.”

Time isn’t the only thing that warps in periods of extreme grief. Air, itself, thickens to the consistency of jello, and pain resonates through every fiber of creation. I struggled to breathe.

Myself: “Life is a lot of trouble. It’s not like there’s anyone left who’d miss you.”

Me: “Yes, but I didn’t survive cancer to off myself now.”

Myself: “Sounds like you’re chasing your money, and that’s never wise.”

Me: “True. So it’s an even split. . . . But who would feed the dog?”

Bear 1993

That thought always tipped the scales, and since I had to get up to feed Bear, I went through the motions of living one more day. Eventually, the day came when it wasn’t the first thing I thought of when I opened my eyes, and, eventually, I once more had reason to get out of bed. Besides Bear, that is.

Bear was a chocolate lab/Australian shepherd cross who wouldn’t let another human within five feet of me unless she thoroughly vetted them through long exposure. The reason it had to be me who fed the dog. She was pretty picky about who she let into her pack, and most never made the cut. They would try to pet her against my advice, only to receive warning growls, and even snaps. They would try to buy her with steak, too. That was always fun to watch. She would take it and snarl twice as much, offended that they treated her like some cheap, two-bit lovehound. She was like a Fairytale Questing Beast that determined the pure of heart who could seek the chalice, and, being rather anti-social at that point, myself, I liked her that way.

Then, two years after my personal apocalypse, I began dating David. We met through mutual friends. I actually asked him out first, which is a good thing, since he is a shy engineer. (Think Zoe & Wash from Firefly.) I invited him to meet me at a museum with the idea that, if I didn’t like him, I would at least get to see the museum. You know. Multitasking. But things went well.

And then came the second date. . . .

David invited me to go cross-country skiing. I’d never been before so it sounded good. But did he take me to a nice ski area with groomed trails? Noooo. He took me to the top of Cameron Pass and kicked off up a trail through the forest, with almost no instruction in how to place my feet, or what to do with the pointy sticks.

What do you know? I fell. There I was, buried three feet in snow, my body downhill, with my feet still attached to skis up on the surface above me. Did he come back and help me up? Noooo.  (I know now he didn’t want to insult me by assuming I couldn’t handle the situation on my own.) Once I finally struggled upright, I said, “You know, maybe we should stick to that snow packed road over there.”

So we went up the road. Going up wasn’t so bad. He gave me a few tips. Then we started back down. This was me. . . . Sliiiide, whap! Fight back to vertical. . . . Sliiiide, whap! Fight back to vertical. . . . You get the idea.

Then I made a mistake I have never made again with David. I asked for help in Girlspeak. “You know, I seem to be having a lot of trouble, and I don’t want to slow you down. You go on ahead if you want to.”

His response? “Ok. See you at the bottom.”

Yes, really. And yes, I married him. You’ll see why. Just bear with me. . . .

I was mad. Stuck up alone on that mountainside, falling every five feet, I made up my mind right then and there that I wanted no part of this jerk. In fact, I was going to introduce him to my dog, and I hoped she bit him.

I participated in polite, but minimal, conversation on the trip home, all the while savoring the moment I would subject him to the Brown Blast of Savagery. Finally, it came.

“I have class tomorrow so you can’t stay long, but would you like to come in for a minute?” Hehehehehe. Release the Kraken!

David was still in the living room when the Bear descended. As expected, she burst in, fangs a-blazing. “Grrroowwww!”

Then, she did something I never would have believed. She stopped short, sniffed David’s ankle, and ran to get her ball to play. It was like she was saying, “What the hell took you so long?” I decided this man was worth a closer look, and he definitely was.

Bear with her true love and her first puppy, 1996

Bear wrote David many love notes over the years, trying to get him to ditch me and run away with her, but David isn’t the ditching kind (except when skiing). So she tolerated my presence in their relationship. When we anxiously introduced her to our first child, she knew right away that our son was her puppy as surely as if he had fur. She welcomed our daughter the same way, and trained both of her puppies in proper pack lore and behavior. And she never once showed aggression toward the children, though she did go after the cat a few times when she was irritated with puppy play.

Bear grew old with us, shepherding her little pack, and always putting our interests above her own. By the time she was fourteen, she couldn’t see or hear very well, and her hips began randomly failing. Her mind started slipping, too, and she frightened easily, striking out at anyone around her. She became dangerous, and, sooner or later, she was going to hurt the children. Something she would never want to do. It was time to say goodbye to the dog who had saved my life and found me so much reason to live again.

Many people envision angels with wings. To some they are white or made of light. To me, they will always be brown, with four legs and fur. I am forever grateful for a dog who knew more about what I needed than I did. This anniversary, as with every other, we toasted to Bear.

Our last goodbye, February 24, 2001

What special pets have you had? How did they change you or your life?

All the best to all of you for a week of knowing something out there knows more than you do.


59 comments on “How My Dog Saved My Life & Found My Husband

  1. Oh, what a sweet post. Brought tears to my eyes. I have four dogs, and one of them, who is now 14 years old, is the same way – growling and snappy to everyone in the world but us.

  2. Sara says:

    What an amazing, beautifully written story. Dogs really do have some intuition that just isn’t possible for humans to attain. Growing up I had a dog named Coco, a pointer -already the smartest of the canines- and she was always in tune with my weird/depressed childhood self. She seemed to know when I wasn’t feeling right, and would go hunt down a bird and bring it to my feet. Ok so that wasn’t the answer, but she knew I needed something, attention at the least. My memories of this dog are pure warmth. I would lay on the concrete driveway a lot (because it was warm, and I told you I was a weird/depressed kid) and she would snuggle close next to me, and I remember feeling warm and comforted.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Coco sounds really special, and I love how she tried to feed you with birds when she knew you were down. What a great friend. Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks for stopping by.

  3. K.B. Owen says:

    You are one resilient, special lady. Thanks for sharing this with us.

    Gotta go. Need another box of Kleenex.

  4. kellynj says:

    I think every woman needs a dog like Bear. Mine was named King & he loved his women (my mother, my 3 sisters & I, and my grandmother). He tolerated my dad. King was the litmus test for us all. I still think of him often. Thank you for sharing Bear with us.

  5. Manon Eileen says:

    This was very special to read. Thanks so much for sharing that, Piper… Many hugs.

  6. malia says:

    this is such a sweet post in so many ways…I love how your puppy brought you and your hubby together. happy anniversary!

  7. Jami Gold says:

    Beautiful post. *sniff*

  8. ellieswords says:

    *sniff* that was so sweet and beautiful. So very touching. I love your description of Bear’s protectiveness, especially this line: “She was like a Fairytale Questing Beast that determined the pure of heart who could seek the chalice,” Wow. what a great dog.
    When I was 9-12 I had a POA (a cross between quarter horse and appaloosa) named Poncho. He was my best friend, and got me through the troubling, changing times of no longer being a kid anymore. I could ride him by myself out on the trails, and I felt that since I could take care of my horse independently, then maybe I could handle this whole growing-up thing.
    Pets are special. Thanks so much for stating it so well in this post.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Horses are such wonderful teachers for kids, and adults, too, for that matter. It is a real life accomplishment to learn to handle horses, and those real life accomplishments are so important to helping us develop the confidence to face the world. Horses teach us that we really can deal with things that are bigger than we are. They teach us to face our fears calmly, because if we freak, the horse will freak worse. They teach us that some things are beyond our control, and we just have to hold on and ride them out. (My horse had a way of flipping his bit and grabbing it with his teeth. Oh, boy!) I’m sure I could go on, but I’m also sure these are all things you know. Thanks for telling about Poncho. 🙂

  9. Aravan says:

    This is an awesome post. Thank you for writing it.

    I never wanted a dog, but my wife said one day that she wanted to see a puppy someone found in a parking lot and was trying to find a home for. I reluctantly agreed, and sure enough, that night ended up going home with a mangy, wormy mutt puppy.

    She became our child after that, only more so after my wife and I found out that we’d be having no kids, ever. She was a perfect gauge of character, like Bear. Our constant companion, our “firstborn”, one kickass dog named Smeg. I went to sleep every night with her pressed against my back, and my wife might find me in the morning dead asleep with one arm slung over her. Because of her, we rescued more dogs, building a small pack headed by our gracious, beautiful mutt. She was only 7 when she died of cancer, and I’ll never forget her way of sitting against any door she wanted open, or the way she’d steal our office chairs whenever one of us got up, or the way she made a barely audible hoofing sound when she barked. We miss her every day.

    Thank you for making me carve out a part of my day to give thanks for her. I miss you, girl.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Smeg sounds like a wonderful dog! I’m so glad she could bring you some comfort and lead you to more companions. I do believe our pets are destined. Thank you for sharing your story.

  10. Very touching. I won’t share my story though, I don’t talk about it 🙂

    Thank you for sharing Piper 🙂

  11. I definitely got my one good cry in today, thanks for such a wonderful post & for sharing your story. Every one of my pets has bettered my life, and I can’t imagine life without one. My mother fears that I will always choose a pet over having children. Pets are always so happy to see you, that’s one wonderful daily moment that I can’t live without.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi Tiffany. I understand what you mean about pets always being happy to see you. I have to say, though, that there is no experience in the world like the smile of your baby when he sees you first thing in the morning. They are like little human light bulbs, and all is right in their world when you greet them in the morning. I would wish that for anyone who chooses it. Thanks so much for stopping by. 🙂

  12. So sad! Right now you’re making me cry. Bear seems like a very special dog.

  13. catierhodes says:

    You touched my heart with your story about Bear.

    We had to put our 16.5 year old pom, Angel, to sleep last month. She was with me through the worst times in my life. Of all those bad days and all those bad times, she’s the only person (who wasn’t related to me) who stuck with me.

    I know what you meant when you said Bear was what kept you alive. Angel was what kept me alive. She’d gotten so old and contrary, I didn’t know who would take care of her if I took a long walk on a short pier. Every day, I got up just to spend time with her and make sure had something to eat. I saw the end of our road coming, and I tried to deny it. You can’t deny the cycle of life, though.

    Last month, I made that final trip to the vet after I finally accepted she had no quality of life left. Angel was the finest dog I ever knew. Letting her exist and die a slow death would have been an insult to her memory. Thus, I sucked it up and held my baby, the one thing that really loved me, while she died. I lost a part of my soul with that little dog.

    The next day, I was vacuuming the living room, and I could see her little pawprints indented in the carpet. The worst wave of grief came over me, and I wept. While I sat there wallowing in my misery, I felt this wave of love. I like to think it was her ghost saying, “You’re so ugly when you cry, Mommy. I loved you, and thank you for showing me mercy. See you again sometime.”

    Now, I try to remember the fun times we had rather than those last few awful days. I think about the time I took Angel to Graceland, and they wouldn’t let us in. I think about the way she used to share my McDonald’s meals with me, and her doggie smile.

    Boy, I miss that dog.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Sounds like she was an amazing friend and companion to you. I know what you mean about the wave of love. I felt that as Bear was dying in my arms, and it really took me by surprise. All I was thinking was what a gift she was to me. Then, suddenly, it was like she was saying I was a gift to her, as well. She was 2 1/2 when I got her. Her family of origin was moving and had to find a new home for her within the week. I was not like my hubby. It took me five hours of sitting still and singing to her in the back yard before she would come near me. As she was dying, it’s like she was pointing out that, if I hadn’t taken her, no one was likely to, and she would have been put down only a few days later when they left. I’m sure you were a gift to Angel, as well.

      I’m sorry for your loss. I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts. Thank you for sharing your story.

  14. Dogs are so important and can have profound impacts on our lives. We think we know how to be, how to live, how to do but I sometimes wonder if dogs have not figured it out much better than we ever could. Maggie Mae took care of me through many tough times, Sadie Lou took on my seizures when I had a brain tumor, and now Miss Stella is helping to heal my heart after having lost Maggie Mae. Your post is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Sounds like you’ve had some very special furry angels in your life. I’m so glad they are there for you, and I’m so sorry for your loss of Maggie Mae. Thank you for stopping by and sharing your story.

  15. Sheila Ragsdale says:

    Ah, Miss Bear! I have a soft spot in my heart for her, for one reason, she brought you to our family! What a loved canine friend! What a beautiful tribute, Piper,it made me cry, too! Our family has always been head over heels when it concerns furry critters. We have had countless (it seems) miniature donkeys, cats & many beloved horses and dogs, through the years. My husband and I will be married for 25 yrs this fall and our first year together, I bought him a quarter horse named Dandy. It was good that I didn’t realize the extent of his love for fox trotters. Dandy had been a rodeo horse and relished a full gallop through the field “cutting” the donkeys. (They weren’t so appreciative, however.) Anyway, that horse would fly across the field with my husband on him. He would then come back to the house, put a small child who had never ridden before on his back. He would instantly know who was on him and would plod along like an old plow horse, just as gentle as could be. Even if they dropped the reins, he would mosey around the perimeter of the yard. He had the same birthday as my husband but 10 years younger! He was almost 32 years old when we finally had to buck up and call the vet. My daughter braided part of his mane and cut it off to save, and we still have it today 9 years later. I have so many stories about our extended family-Lady, our first lab was so incredibly gentle, Daisy, another one of our horses who was so beloved by our little donkey, Sparky. Many others over the years, Hunter, Mimi & Rachel, now we are so blessed to have Charlie, a beautiful black lab with soulful eyes. He doesn’t let my husband get more that two feet away from him, day & night. He rides with him almost everywhere and loves all animals. He grooms the cats, and will only chase a squirrel for fun! Oh, that is my problem, once I get started writing, you can’t shut me up, so I’m just going to quit here. I love reading all the other beautiful pet stories, thank you all for sharing. Happy belated anniversary, you two! I love you both, and Miss Bear, for bringing you together!

  16. Piper:

    This is beautiful. Sadly, we have tried to have pets, We had a dog. (Rubie was a hyper-active puppy who liked to eat his poop. He now lives with my sister-in-law and Brother-in-law down the street, about 1/2 mile away. He still eats his poop. God bless my in-laws.) We all fell in love with our cat Hemi. For two glorious weeks our little polydactl cat kneaded her wway into our hearts. She sat on our chests, her purr – a constant motor letting us know how happy she was to be with us. And then my husband learned he was allergic to cat dander. We were devastated. Giving that cat back to Habitat for Humanity after 23 days was the hardest thing I’d had to do in a long time. Until then, I don’t think I’d understood how people said animals became part of the family. I’d never felt it. Yet there it was after only 23 days.

    I can hardly imagine losing a beloved pet after so many years and so much love and loyalty. This is a beautiful tribute. Of love. Of unconditional giving. And it explains why they call him “man’s best friend.”

    You were blessed to have that Bear in your life. 😉

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Bless your heart. I understand about the cat. I had two polydactyl cats, the mother for 17 years and the son for 12 years. I developed a terrible cat allergy during that time and didn’t realize how much it was hurting me until they died. At one point, though, before they died and before I figured out how bad the allergy was, I walked into a pet store with my son to look at turtles. We walked out with a kitten. Unfortunately, the kitten always found a way of sleeping on my head. I woke up one night struggling to breathe and with my throat swelling. Fortunately, a neighbor wanted a kitten. Now, I have vicarious cats at my friends’ houses, but I miss them. Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your story.

  17. Kathleen says:

    So beautiful, Piper. Thanks for sharing and giving me a lump in my throat. I had a dog that saved me, too. I will always be grateful for his joy and love.

  18. amyshojai says:

    Oh my…I have a “Bear” too–he’s still my furry muse and livces in my heart. He is the reason I write. And he came into my life through my husband, who at the time, didn’t “get it” about dogs–and so my sweet boy taught him the way of the fur-angel, too, and kept us both sane at a time when the world had gone nuts with the hostage crises and more. Thank you for sharing.

    Raising a virtual toast to Bear and ALL the Bears of our lives…

  19. What a wonderful, heartfelt story to start off my Tuesday morning–thanks so much for sharing it with us!

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  20. Jen Daiker says:

    I knew tears would be invovled but I foolishly clicked the link on the twitter feed and made my way through your story trying to hold back the tears. This is the love I adore seeing because it’s true that animals truly can bring someone back to life.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story and for allowing us to see the sweetness that Bear was. This was a very heartwarming story and these are the moments I cherish.

  21. Susan S says:

    Great post, Piper. I’m so glad you found the strength to keep going and even happier that Bear had the good sense to let you know David was a keeper.

    My husband and I adopted our first “joint” kitten while we were dating. He was a Maine Coon mix named “Wookiee” (yeah, he looked like Chewbacca). We had to have him put to sleep on Valentine’s Day 2010. He had spent the previous two days at my side, trying to go on his own – and it still makes me cry to think about it. When he was gone my son said “I don’t know what to do, Mom, I’ve never known the world without him.”

    It’s amazing the role pets play in our lives. I can totally understand how Bear saved you – and I am very, very glad he did.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      I’ll bet Wookiee was adorable. It’s hard for everyone to adjust at the loss of a pet. Particularly kids. Often, it’s their first big loss, but, being a farm girl, we always learned that death is part of life. I think pets help teach my kids that, even though we’re not on the farm any more. Thanks for stopping by and telling me about Wookiee.

  22. educlaytion says:

    I saw the title of this post and some Twitter comments when I was away. I knew it would be good. Really touching Piper. I can relate to pets that were there for me through really rough times. I got a dog right now who helped get me through my apocalypse. He’s young and vigorous now. I’m not taking him for granted.

  23. amblerangel says:

    All I can say is WAAAAAA… Spouse is a vet – I married him because my vet bills were so high, We always have animals of many varieties. Moving here we had to leave our dogs with my sisters because they are just too big for an apartment. We are making special trips to the US just to see them.

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Lol. I married a computer guy because I couldn’t find my icons. Sounds very difficult to have to leave your beloved dogs behind. Oh, yes. And the sisters, too. I hope you get to visit them often. Thanks for stopping by.

  24. i need my pet human for humor. it’s no fun just stealing the dog’s ball, or watching the cat cowl in the corner or run up the stairs with a meow. i can’t steal keys from a dog or cat. the tactic works best if i sense that the human is running late for an appointment, or in desperate need to be out the door. “SAAAAAMMMMMMMM NOT NOW!! NO YOU DIDN’T!!! ” that’s the best part. i hop and skip a bit, do a spinny move, delighted to the inner core of my soul, and dance a jig right then and there. the more manic the need, the better dance do i jig.

    these are such special moments. the pet human can’t help itself, and neither can i. there is a fusion of spirits into a family. the two of us in our own worlds, yet inhabiting this moment in space and time, me delighted, the pet outraged, and all is well at that specific instance.

    i get scooped up, get cuddled: “sam, you delightful, funny dancing thief” and the mood lightens, and i get my snuggle.

    that’s what it’s all about. the snuggles.

    Col Sam Tweets at @Samuel_Clemons

    • Piper Bayard says:

      That’s one of the best things about having pets, human or otherwise. They can make us laugh and smile at times when we think we will never do so again. Thanks for stopping by, Sammy. Glad I thought to hide my keys first. 🙂

  25. […] also including Piper’s recent post called How My Dog Saved My Life and Found My Husband. Just a real nice […]

  26. […] must, must, MUST read How My Dog Saved My Life & Found My Husband by Piper Bayard. What a story about finding purpose and a reason to live. Just make sure […]

  27. Jenny Hansen says:


    I’ve been wanting to come over here and read this for a long time but I knew it would make me cry! I just had my one year anniversary for Hoshi over the holiday weekend so I figured I was ready (yet you STILL made me cry!). I linked to you in the Writers in the Storm mash-up due out today. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing the special Bear with us. They all have such personalities don’t they?

    • Piper Bayard says:

      Hi Jenny. Sounds like Hoshi was front and center in your mind again last weekend. I know that when I’m grieving, I rebel against the passage of time because each new day, each new memory, seems to take me further down the stream from my beloved. There is no “getting over.” There’s only moving on. And in time, when the grief subsides a bit, and the vacuum is filled with new things, I can feel those loved ones still with me, but in a new way. With dogs like Bear and Hoshi, I think we will always cry.

      Thanks so much for the shout out, and thanks for stopping by. All the best.

  28. […] Anyone who read my post about Hoshi knows why I loved this touching blog by Piper Bayard about her Dog Who Saved Her Life and Found Her Husband […]

  29. […] Bayard sharing memories of her dog, Bear. She opened up that dark part of her soul to the world and I can assure you her story helped […]

  30. Chief Redelk says:

    As a boy growing up with a pack of coon hounds I was taught how to train dogs. For a house pet I like to bottle feed and bond… Mickey is a Parsons Terrier that I took off the bitch a week after his eyes were opened. Using a baby bottle I raised Mickey by hand and taught him to potty in the woods and not in my lawn.. He never gets into anything in the house and can be trusted for hours at home alone…Since I live alone I depend upon Mickey to notify me when someone gets near the house, or if something is boiling over on the stove. Over the years I have had some really smart dogs and good ones. I find it strange how dogs and kids seem to naturally love me and respect me..Even strange kids I have never seen before light up when they look into my eyes..I saved an Akita from the pound once. She was aggressive but when she came for me I dropped down on one knee and she came right up to be loved on..I took her home…That was a great dog who died at my door. Someone shot her and I have often wonder if she may have saved my life from an intruder..Good dogs and good women are hard to find and I sure have a good dog. ..I raised 3 little girls who became good ladies and now I have 5 grandsons. Life is good for Mickey and me. The coyotes are always a danger but he stays close to me. Mickey and I take care of each other..We talk often, we sort of read each others minds..He likes to play and brings things for me to toss for him.. After being partners with many of good dogs over the years I have to agree, “all dogs do go to Heaven”. Your story is so nice. Bless you, your lucky husband and your lovely family,,, Chief..

    • Piper Bayard says:

      It’s a pleasure to meet you, Chief. Mickey sounds like a very special dog, and three daughters and five grandsons? What blessings!

      Your brave Akita makes me think of Bear. Some dogs don’t give their loyalties easily, and when they do, it’s complete.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experiences with me. I love hearing about your dogs and your family. All the best to you, your daughters, and your grandsons. May the coyotes always keep their distance.

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