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Dog Days

It was December 22, 2019. I woke up in the afternoon feeling like the bottom had finally dropped out. Every day felt like walking through storm clouds. Low visibility. Slow motion. My mental health was tanking and I’d just found out my older sister had stage 4 breast cancer. She was only 43. Brie, my partner, and I miraculously made it from our bed into clothes and then into the car to comfort ourselves with some standbys: Vietnamese food, bubble tea and the Oregon Humane Society. We loved torturing ourselves by going in and loving on all of the dogs and talking about which one we would adopt if we were ready.

We walked into the first of 5 pods of 20 or so kennels. In the second kennel was a dog that shook me out of the fog. She had the softest, shiniest fur and the funniest long hair on her tail, like an ostrich feather. Her big brown eyes slayed me. She was the happiest thing I’d ever seen. I turned to Brie and said, “I want this dog.”

Dog in flagline harness and crag collar sits smiling in car.

Photography contributed by Jenny Bruso

Brie, knowing I have a tendency to make big decisions without thinking things through when my mental health isn’t amazing, looked a little scared, but was also undoubtedly feeling the same magic. I said, “let’s ask to visit with her and just see.”

She crashed into that visiting room and right into our lives. It took nothing to decide that Big Judy was coming home with us.

Two people with dog in Fernie sweater snuggled in sleeping bags by window.

Ready. I don’t know if being ready is real. You can read all of the dog books and watch all of the dog shows, and it will help, but “ready” is something you can build up in your head into something impossible. Money, time, the right house and yard. Few of us have every part of this locked down, but Big Judy has shown me that if you want a dog and you know you will do everything you can to give them a good home, you need to get the dog and therefore, get your life.

Jenny Bruso with dog in Flagline harness by the water on a hike.

Big Judy is a medium-sized dog, but her personality makes her appear much larger. She’s a Border Collie/Pitbull mix. The pitbull side of her is goofy, sweet, obsessed with kids and a professional cuddler and sleeper. The Border Collie side is wild, naughty and brilliant. She gets training and new tricks quickly, but she learns how to outsmart us just as fast. We have to keep her busy or she regresses in her good manners out of frustration. Regardless, she’s always the biggest lover and those eyes of hers fix me up every day.

Jenny Bruso's dog on Highlands dog sleeping bag with gnawt-a-stick toy while camping.

Big Judy didn’t miraculously heal my mental health or make all of the painful things better, but her love and presence absolutely improve the quality of my life. She makes me laugh every day and her love is limitless. She thinks I’m the business even when I feel like garbage. No matter how low I get, or how I may struggle to take care of myself, I have to show up for her. I've started thinking about taking Judy for a walk as taking US for a walk. That time outside and the movement is so beneficial to me, too. Caring for her is caring for myself.

Jenny Bruso on hike in Oregon with dog in front range everyday harness.

I’m experiencing my love of the outdoors in a new way because of Big Judy. We’ve spent the last year having so many firsts. The first time we camped it was very clear she’d never been in a tent before. She tried to paw through the screen and barked and growled intermittently all night, but she was a champ the second time around. When we took her backpacking for the first time, she was confused, seemingly wondering why we weren’t heading home after hiking all day, but on the second day she was already a pro. Watching her grow and change and become even more confident fills me with pride. My depression may be derailing keeping my laundry done, hitting deadlines or answering emails in a timely manner, but every day I see the love and work I’ve put into her and I know I’ve done something so good. Something that matters more than most things.

Person throws lunker for dog layered in Climate Changer fleece and overcoat dog utility jacket in snow.

I've gained a new best friend. Someone who accepts me for all I am and loves me in entirety. And I love her the same way. I would do anything for her.

Woman with large backpacking pack stuffed full, with dog in front range harness at her side.

The dog days aren’t over, but so many days Big Judy is my reason to keep on. With her by my side, I always have a reason to get out of bed, to step outside into the fresh air. 

Follow Jenny and Big Judy's adventures on Instagram @jennybruso.

Two humans snuggled up with dog inside tent while camping.