Photo by Danielle DiMarzo

 

“Do you guys know why I have Butter?” 

My fraternity brothers all turned their heads, but nobody said a word. They’ve been my closest friends for three years. I’m someone they think they know. The thought of disappointing them terrified me, but I refused to lie to them any longer. So I told them. 

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Butter was not just any dog; he was one in a long line of canine companions I couldn’t have survived without. Tiva was there when my parents divorced. Bindi was by my side to defend me when I couldn’t defend myself. The constant positive force in my life has been dogs.  

I knew the things I’d been exposed to at an early age were not normal, but I thought I’d be able to “roll with the punches.” I quickly found out how wrong I was following my first semester of college, when I began to have regular panic attacks, waking up at night unable to breathe or speak. I hated the person I was and the person I saw myself becoming, but I painted a smile on my face each day. 

I was in the spring semester of my first year when I learned about emotional support animals. I read endless articles arguing their legitimacy, but I convinced myself that a dog was what I needed.  

          

I began my search. It wasn’t long before a puppy waited for me in a local veterinarian office.  

I sat in the straight-backed chairs that lined the walls of the veterinary office, my mother pacing around the room, until we heard the feverish scratching of paws against the floor. My heart raced as the door finally opened, releasing a blurry ball of energy into the small office. What was once a sterile, unnerving environment was catapulted into chaos as the 3-month-old boxer mix darted about the room. All of my focus was stolen by this new life that had only just begun to stop his nervous fidgeting. 

I named him Butter, simply because he looked at me whenever I said the word. Our relationship became almost co-dependent that summer; I took him to work, grocery shopping and to my friends’ houses. I was my most authentic self when he was around. 

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“Do you guys know why I have Butter?” 

Sitting among the men closest to me, I felt my pulse begin to quicken in anticipation. I couldn’t look them in the eyes as I told them a few graphic stories of my childhood and how they still affect me today. I stared ahead the entire time in fear of even one look of judgment—or worse, pity.  

Finally, I felt somebody hug me from behind. It was Mikey. He was followed by Luke, until slowly, I felt my entire fraternity embrace me in a painfully cliché, but overwhelmingly emotional, group hug. 

There are still a lot of people who need to hear this story, but starting with those that care about me most was just the first step I needed to take to make this process easier, group hugs and all.