“Too much pain too early in life could change this beautiful animal”.
What a powerful, poignant statement. While speaking of her beloved dog, Bunker, Julie Barton may not have realized this is a truth relevant to humans as well as animals.
In Dog Medicine, Barton chronicles the story of her childhood – a story that isn’t all bike rides and ice cream cones and sprinklers on long, hot days – and how it leads into an adulthood that threatens to shatter her, physically and emotionally. With a brother who clung to violent tendencies toward her, a physically absent father and an emotionally absent mother, Barton’s struggle to gain a sense of self-worth lasted well into her early adulthood. So, when she spoke of Bunker feeling too much pain at such a young age, it’s easy to wonder how well she saw that in herself – how abuse and neglect can forever alter a human as well as an animal.
After a debilitating breakdown and a heroic (possibly life-saving) rescue from her mother, Barton – literally – scrapes herself off her kitchen floor in New York City and allows herself to be whisked back to Ohio to her childhood home. Days turn into months as she struggles with, well, everything. Spending most days on the couch, in and out of consciousness, without any reason to go on, Barton really questioned whether the world was a better (but probably worse) place with her in it.
Then one day, the idea of a puppy is mentioned and while she brushes it off at first (seeing it as truly impossible to care for another being when she can’t even care for herself), it quickly becomes the greatest idea.
And in romps Bunker – this clumsy, sweet little golden retriever that ends up being the missing piece to Barton’s soul. Through weeks of training, playtime and snuggles, the two come to understand and greatly love one another. Bunker quickly becomes Barton’s best friend, teacher, and savior. Barton begins to truly find herself with Bunker by her side – she moves out of her parents’ house, gains employment, makes friends and just becomes generally good at life – like she never imagined she would.
When faced with, possibly, the toughest decision (yet somehow, I’m sure, the easiest), painful memories come back and she is forced to deal with them. But with grace and a kindness in her heart, she discovers the beauty in forgiveness. And once she forgives those who wronged her, her tormentor and finally, herself – life opens up in a way she probably never imagined.
Dog Medicine has heartbreak, love, a little bit of angst and a whole lot of dog fur – the ingredients for a superb story.
“What if I could forgive myself…? What if I just decided that all of those mistakes were teachings? Maybe all of those choices I’d made were so that I could learn that what I wanted wasn’t drama and sorrow, just love: love in the way Bunker gave love. Unconditional. No expectations. No strings. Just love, because what is more beautiful than that?”
Ask yourself, what if?
Guest Reviewer, Kate Kelly