Adventure, mental health


3,288 days ago, on January 4, 2014, I met my best friend and the great love of my life. Sweet Jennifer Full Simms rode with me all the way to Winston-Salem to pick up River Love Dillon Cottam. On the way home, we tried to put her in a pop up crate in the back seat, but she was NOT having it. She spent the 3+ hour car ride sleeping in Auntie Jennifer’s lap instead.

Over the course of the past 9 years (and one day!), River has gone from beloved pet to indispensable service dog back to a beloved pet in her retirement. She has brought me more joy, laughter, and love than I could possibly ever express using the limited language I have available to me.

River was just under 11 weeks old when she came home. A few weeks before Christmas 2013, a therapist at Mission’s Intensive Outpatient Program (shoutout to Robin!) told me that I should get a dog to give me a reason to get out of bed and keep to a schedule due to the depression, mania, and mixed symptoms I was experiencing at the time. I was, of course, IMMEDIATELY on board with this plan. The first dog I ever had was an Airedale Terrier named Marble and I had known for a long time that when it was time for me to get my own dog, I wanted another Airedale.

I spoke with breeders in Kentucky and in Winston-Salem, NC. I found out that the Airedales from the Kentucky breeder were Oorang Airedales, bred to be larger than your typical Airedale (100 lbs +). After speaking with my vet, I decided I didn’t want an Oorang Airedale because of their shortened lifespan and predisposition to certain medical conditions. (Important to note- I didn’t realize this when I got River, but she does have an Oorang Airedale in her lineage as is shown on her pedigree. That’s likely why she weighs 80 lbs. when our last Airedale weighed only 62).

Lillard Kennels in Winston-Salem had a litter of puppies that would be ready to be separated from their mother at the end of December. When I spoke with Keith Lillard on the phone from my Granny’s house in Memphis, TN, he told me that he had a female puppy who had a skin infection that left her with a bald spot on her tail. He informed me that she would be half priced because she could never be a show dog. I immediately said, “I’ll take that one” and immediately placed a deposit. This couldn’t have possibly worked out any better for me in the long run! I explained that I would be out of town and unable to pick up my puppy until January 4th and Keith reassured me that it would be totally fine to wait until then.

River (left) with one of her siblings.

I knew that I would love my dog, but I had no idea just how much I would love my dog and how much my dog would love me. I named River after River Tam from Firefly (tv show) and River Song from Doctor Who (tv show), two badass sci-fi women. Several years ago, I promised River that I would never ever leave her by choice. There have been multiple times since then that this promise saved my life. River is, without a doubt, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

Many of you will already know this, but while I was in the Peace Corps, I got super depressed after a series of pretty awful events. I was so depressed that I was suicidal. On October 20, 2013, my friend and fellow PCV told me that if I didn’t call the medical office and tell them what I was going through, she would. I called and spoke to Arlene and she was wonderful. She had me come into Pretoria the same day. What I didn’t and couldn’t know at the time was that on that day, when I finally said, “I can’t do this alone. I need help.”- River was born. I’m not really religious and consider myself agnostic. I also don’t believe that a coincidence this huge could happen. Both/And. The exact day that I admitted I needed help, help arrived on this Earth in the form of a teenie tiny little Airedale Terrier puppy in Winston-Salem, North Carolina who would change my life forever.

River (I know you can’t read and I’ll read this aloud to you as soon as I finish typing it), you are hands down the best thing that has ever happened to me. You are gentle and playful and loving and beautiful and funny and loyal. You are the goodest, bestest, sweetest, prettiest, cleverest, gentlest and Mom loves you the mostest. Every moment that I get to spend with you is a gift. You have brought so much love and joy into my life. I am so proud to be your mom. I am so proud to love you. (I got some kisses when I read this to her, then she went back to sleep.)

Here are a variety of photos from throughout River’s life for your viewing pleasure: