I was diagnosed with AIDS in 2005 with a CD4 count of five and my viral load off the charts. I was sick for more than three years before a young doctor actually figured out what was wrong with me. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn’t be on this world for long. I spent more than two months in the ICU, and slowly I started getting better. After more than three months in the hospital, I was able to go home.
At the time, I only had one cat named Shadow who passed away. I swore I would not have any more pets, but when my daughter’s dog was hit by a car in New York City, she sent him to stay with me in Pennsylvania. Because of him, I was forced to get up every morning to feed him and let him outside, to play with him and his hundred squeaky toys, and — in turn — to allow him to love me unconditionally.
My husband was also diagnosed with AIDS at this time. Through the hundreds sleepless nights, the pain in my legs, the neuropathy in my husband’s arms, the distress in our souls, the fear of the unknown, the diarrhea and nausea, eight months of being attached to an oxygen tank, the hundreds of pills we take a month — through all of it, we had that six-pound Pomeranian, Brownie, who licked our tears, sat in our laps, and walked by our side through many, many hours of recovery. He never complained or caused drama, he never questioned us. He just supported our every need and listened to our hours and hours of soul searching without judgement. He gave us a reason to get up in the morning. If we could not play with him, he sat by our side and waited until we could. He licked our hands or climbed into our laps to give us warmth. If ever we did not get out of bed, he tugged at the blankets and forced us to face ourselves in a mirror.
Without Brownie, our recovery may not have taken place, because there were so many times we could have given up.
After Brownie saved us, we decided to save other dogs who had no voice. After 10 years, my husband Mike and I have rescued more than six dogs (five are still with us) and more than 13 cats. We took in Brandy who gave birth to Brick, we rescued Blondie from an abusive household, we took in Blackie who was living in deplorable conditions, and we gave Layla a home when our daughter passed away. Each one of them has different personalities and needs, each one of them loves us unconditionally, and because they need us, we find it easier to manage our disease.
The picture only shows a portion of my family on my bed, welcoming me home after my mom passed away last year. Brownie, who started my recovery with me, is the Pomeranian next to my hand. He, and all the others, have taught me not to dwell on the “what ifs” or “what could have been.” They keep me focused and grateful for the little things life offers.