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The Lab-Pit mix saved author Tara Mackey’s life, literally and figuratively.
Of the many lessons author and blogger Tara Mackey has learned from her rescue dog, Raelie, she says the biggest is that love doesn’t come from a pill bottle.
“Pills didn’t do the things that cuddling with a dog did, or that lying with her or even just looking at her did. I never took a pill that gave me those feelings, even though they promised to do that sometimes.”
Tara will never forget the first time she saw Raelie. The pup was one of nine born just a day after their mother was saved from euthanization at a high-kill shelter and brought to the Little Shelter Animal Rescue in Huntington, Long Island. Only 5 weeks old when the pair first met, Raelie had to wait two more weeks before she could go home with Tara, who fell in love with the puppy then moment she saw her.
“I looked at her, and immediately I was like, ‘That’s my dog’,” she recalls.
On the eve of Tara’s 23rd birthday, she got a call letting her know her puppy would be ready to go home the next day. In hindsight, Tara says she wasn’t at a stable point in her life and probably shouldn’t have been committing to a dog, but adopting Raelie turned out to be the best birthday gift Tara could give herself.
Before Raelie, Tara’s life was about as different from her current one as possible. Living in New York City, she was in an abusive relationship, working full-time in field she wasn’t passionate about, and swallowing a dozen prescription drugs every day. For Tara, this was normal. By that point, she’d been medicated for a decade.
“My biological parents are both drug addicts and alcoholics. My grandparents adopted me when I was 7, and then my mom relapsed again in front of me when I was 13. Not long after, I got put on a mood stabilizer, basically to deal with what I had seen,” Tara explains.
After the mood stabilizer — lithium — Tara was prescribed medication for ADD, then muscle relaxers, then anti-anxiety medication, pain killers, and more. By the time she adopted Raelie, she was taking 12 to 14 different drugs per day.
When she picked up the little Lab–Pit mix puppy, Tara didn’t yet know she would be medication free before the dog’s third birthday. Looking back now, she says the unconditional love Raelie provided was one of the catalysts in her journey to a healthier life.
With Raelie by her side, Tara left her abusive relationship — a move she says was made easier when she realized her ex didn’t even really care about the dog they both lived with. She also broke free of her long-term relationship with prescription drugs, going cold turkey in her apartment (something she does not recommend) with no one but Raelie for support.
“She was there every single day that I went through withdrawals,” Tara says, recalling how she had to push her own physical limits to take Raelie outside during her withdrawal period, and how sweet Raelie managed to never have an accident in the house while she was sick.
One day, Tara was taking Raelie out for a bathroom break when — still suffering from pharmaceutical withdrawals — she fell down the long flight of stairs leading up to her apartment. She lost consciousness, but didn’t lose Raelie.
“I woke up in a pool of my own blood — I had bit through almost my entire bottom lip. The only reason I woke up was because she was liking my face, and whining and nuzzling my face, trying to get me up.”
Tara went to the emergency room for stitches that day, and credits Raelie with saving her life both literally and figuratively. Raelie was her hero at the bottom of the stairs, but also on the thousands of other days that form the journey to health she has documented on her blog, The Organic Life, and in her book, Cured by Nature.
“She’s been very therapeutic and integral to the process. I don’t know that I would have healed the way I did without her.”
These days, Tara and Raelie live in San Diego, California, where Tara works from home so she can spend more time with the dog she loves so much. Now 7 years old, Raelie approves of Tara’s new life, which includes lots of daily hikes and a fiancee who loves them both.
“I realized I need to be with someone who cares about my dog — like, doesn’t just like the dog or is dealing with the dog, but loves the dog as much as I do,” Tara explains.
It’s fitting that the dog who never left Tara’s side during the struggle she chronicled in her memoir will also be by her side as she starts the next chapter of her life. Tara says Raelie will definitely be part of the wedding ceremony.
Top photo: Raelie and Tara, courtesy Tara Mackey.
Heather is a wife, new mom, and former TV journalist in Alberta, Canada. Her beloved Ghost Cat was once her only animal, but the addition of a second cat, Specter, and the dog duo of GhostBuster and Marshmallow make her fur family complete. You can follow Heather on Twitter and Google+.
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