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'Dog Medicine': Fighting depression with a furry companion

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'Dog Medicine' by Julie Barton
'Dog Medicine' by Julie Barton
Courtesy of Penguin

When Julie Barton was 22, she collapsed alone on her apartment floor in New York City. She was suffering from depression so severe, nothing could bring her out of it: not her parents, not therapists, not psychiatrists. 

But then, she writes, she got Bunker — a golden retriever puppy who slowly brought her back into her life.

"There were a lot of different facets of how he renewed me," she told MPR News host Kerri Miller. "One of the main ways was that he was my constant companion, and I knew I could count on him. I had real issues with trusting people, and with feeling safe around people, and I knew that he would never betray me. I knew that he was devoted to me just as much as I was devoted to him — and having that to count on felt miraculous."

Barton's memoir, "Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself," explores how Bunker buoyed her, and calmed her mind.

"I was in this trap of really chronic negative thinking, and the only thing that ever pulled me out of it, and helped me notice it, was having this dog by my side," Barton said. "There might be something about slowing down, sitting and petting him, feeling less in your own head and a little bit more curious about this beautiful, furry creature." 

After being diagnosed with major depression, Barton felt shame — in her head, she added the diagnosis to a list of other things she didn't like about herself. But with Bunker, she explained, there was no shame.

"My dog didn't care what this piece of paper said or what medication I had to take. My dog didn't care about anything other than that moment and that attention and our connection — and that was so freeing," Barton said. "It was incredibly freeing to be with this creature who was there in that moment, loved me no matter what. Because he did that for me, I started slowly to be able to do that for myself."

For the full discussion with Julie Barton on "Dog Medicine," use the audio player above. Listeners sent @KerriMPR pictures of their own beloved dogs during the show; some are included below.

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