Pudgy saved me, now it’s my turn to save him

Jacqui Garofano, Contributing writer

Nine and a half years ago, I found my best friend Pudgy on petfinder.com. I reached out for a kindred spirit and there he was — a 5-month old beagleranian at an animal shelter in Florida.

If it is possible to find your soulmate in a dog, I truly have found mine. Over all these years, he has taken care of me to a
much greater extent than I ever imagined a dog could. He is my little brother and my therapist. He has made it his mission in life to help me.

In 2007, I was 28 and was living in Florida. I felt desperate and alone. I had tried doing social work when I was younger, when I thought I could save the world. After it didn’t work out, I felt like a failure. I felt like the light inside of me was dying. I reached out for something to drag me back into the world and I found Pudgy.

Pudgy was the bright spark that re-ignited my world. He was full of energy and challenged me to the very core. As I faced the challenge of teaching him new things every day and he became a better and better dog, I felt great pride in him. What’s more, he inspired love and emotion in me for the first time in many years. We forged an emotional bond that was unbreakable.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety issues my entire life and, from the start, Pudgy made it his mission in life to help me. He has an innate ability to sense when something is wrong, and then he magically fixes it. This is his own, very special, inborn gift. I had had dogs as a kid and had been around animals my whole life, but I had not seen a dog behaveOSVC the way Pudgy behaves. It is like a change comes over him and he goes into rescue-mom-from-herself mode. Once he knows I am fine, he goes back to his normal Pudgy activities — sniffing, playing, and dreaming about chasing rabbits.

When Pudgy was around 6 years old, I learned that my mother was ill. Two years passed by and, after a long struggle with the illness, she died. The loss of my mother hit me hard. She was a wonderful woman who was not treated very fairly in life. At the same time, I was dealing with some additional struggles. I had so much negativity inside me. I felt angry and lost and more alone in the world than ever before — except of course for Pudgy, my best friend who had been by my side for so many years.

I had adopted Pudgy as a rescue dog from an animal shelter back in 2007, but I would never think to call him a rescue dog. He’s the one who rescued me. And when my life became challenging, he stepped up to the challenge and accepted a new role in it. To say that Pudgy and I share a special bond is hardly a way of describing what he means to me. He has become my family, my best friend and finally, he became a psychiatric service dog for me as well.

A few months ago, I found out Pudgy had developed a degenerative heart valve problem. It is called mitral valve disease. The diagnosis was devastating but, after scouring the internet, I learned it is fixable with a rare and special type of surgery. There are very few veterinary surgeons in the world trained to perform this procedure. I have now made it my mission to get him the surgery he requires to save him, even if it means crossing an ocean. I have vowed to find a way to defy geographic and financial obstacles in order to get him the life-saving treatment he needs. I don’t think I can live without Pudgy. He has done so much for me. I must do this for him. He is a sweet, wonderful and pure creature. I am lucky that I am the human who gets to keep him.

Editor’s Note: Jacqui Garofano is trying to raise funds to get Pudgy the life-saving surgery he needs. To make a contribution, go to gofundme.com/pudgy.

Jacqui Garofano is a resident of Madison.