When the cover of a book prominently features a dog’s soulful face, you might justifiably make the assumption that the story is going to be a familiar one: a dog enters someone’s life, transforms the person through a variety of adventures, the dog dies and you cry your eyes out. But as anyone who has loved a dog knows, all dogs are different, and every dog story is unique.
Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself by Julie Barton is a skillfully written, deeply touching, honest, and provocative memoir. It’s about much more than a woman’s love for her dog because her dog really did save her from herself after she sank into a depression that nearly killed her.
Barton’s depiction of her mortal combat with depression is harrowing and eye-opening. For Barton the depression descended on her after a nasty break up. She was in her early twenties, fresh out of college, and trying to survive in Manhattan. When she fell apart, she literally fell on the floor and could not raise herself up.
But this dark cloud had been seeded many years earlier -- in childhood in fact, and that’s one of the things that makes this memoir a bit different from so many others. Barton was not abused by her parents. In fact her parents loved her and provided a comfortable life for their only daughter. No, in Barton’s case, it wasn’t abusive parents that derailed her happy childhood. It was an abusive older brother; her well-meaning parents simply had no idea how to keep her safe.
Sibling abuse isn’t something one hears much about. As Barton said, “Sibling violence is one of the last sanctioned forms of domestic abuse.” The emotional toll that the constant fighting and name-calling left on Barton resulted in a life-time dependence on anti-depressants and a narrow escape from suicide.
Although Barton explores the unhealthy relationship she had with her brother, she doesn’t dwell on it because this is a story about a dog, a remarkable dog named Bunker that she loved enough to learn how to live again. As soon as she sees the dog, she knows he’s the one who will save her. And he seems to know that she is the one who will save him as well.
Not to get too sappy, but this is a story of a miracle, the miracle of dog medicine.
And it’s not really an “Old Yeller” story either. You don’t have to worry about having your heart wrenched in a million pieces as the dog dies. The parts where I cried were in the moments when things finally worked out for this poor kid, who screwed up everything she touched -- except for the dog. That she knew how to do. And that’s what saved her.
Curl up with your dog and read this book. You’ll love it.