Laura Underhay: The Tale of a Ginger Dog and a Mother Who Lost Her Head

  • 3 min read

Sometimes helps comes from the most unexpected of places and makes a difference to your life that you never thought possible.

Laura with her dog

In 2015 I found my mental health spiraling out of control. I was full of adrenaline but too scared to do anything. I had suffered a massive trauma a few years prior and was continuously being re-triggered.

One day my GP dropped in to see me after calling on a neighbour and and I was literally covered in sweat, dripping. He couldn’t believe the difference since he saw me last. I was referred back to IAPT, but I couldn’t even get to my sessions.

I was now full-blown Agoraphobic – the garden gate is the furthest I went and then I felt exposed.

Nobody knew how to treat me. I started doing Beating the Blues online therapy as a way to keep me ticking over until I could get myself out, but I wasn’t even trying. I was too scared. So my therapist put me on a trial phone CBT course with a new therapist. My life changed from then on.

Cookie is a 6-year-old Fox Red Labrador. We have had him from 8 weeks. He had me sob over him while I was low, and he is my best friend. My therapist had decided to use him in my treatment plan to help me get out, so armed with the ginger dog, a roll of poo bags and a large set of headphones blasting my music to block my inner voices telling me to not go out… we set off.

At first, it was walking a few meters away from the garden gate with him, then a few meters further, then halfway down the path. Then I did the school run with him by my side, then I walked to the fields, to the shop. We did it and we did it together. Whilst he was sniffing and enjoying his walks with his mam, little did he know he was giving me my life back.

For the first time in 18 months I could pick my children up from school, I could walk for a bottle of milk. I couldn’t walk far but I could walk. I couldn’t have done it without him. He was my crutch, he took every step with me. He didn’t judge me if I didn’t make it to the next lamp post, or if I walked ten steps forward then twenty back. He would sit with me if I needed a break, he didn’t complain that we weren’t fast, or if I walked faster as my anxiety was pulling me along. He was there by my side. Every step. Every time.

Now in 2018 with help from family too due to the distances increasing and needing to drive, I can take him swimming, or I can take my children to feed the ducks. I can do things 3 years ago I never ever saw myself doing.

I am far from recovered – it’s a long process but the first steps are the most daunting ones and he has taken them with me.

Cookie will never ever know what he did. He helped me gain confidence that when a branch creaked, or a man was walking behind me it wasn’t scary; he would plod along smelling the ground, and if it wasn’t alerting him that meant I wasn’t in danger. I can now do the school run alone, I can walk to the shops alone… but he will always be my best friend and when I need him he will always be by my side. That’s what best friends are for.

Who knew when I bought him in 2012, a bounding ginger puppy, that he would save me from my own mind. And he did save me and he gave my kids a mother back. No words can express how much I owe this dog.

The best thing is he doesn’t even realise and he never will. A belly scratch and a Sunday dinner does him just fine.

I love you, buddy. I can’t tell you but I can tell everyone else just how amazing you are.

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