Maternal Instincts: Adopted Dog Brings Emotional Support to a Child

Willow’s unconditional love helped her family heal from a traumatic past.

DeJaye + Willow

DeJaye and Eleena needed a fresh start, but trauma from the past made it hard to move on. Then they met a dog named Willow.

"We wanted to rescue the dog who would rescue us."

Irony: Serving thirteen years in the military, committed to our country’s safety, security and freedom, and here we were: prisoners in our own home. We were not safe. We were not secure. We were not free. As officer-in-charge (aka Mom) I knew it was TIME.TO.GO. My eight-year-old daughter Eleena and I left with the clothes on our backs, never to return. Basic instinct is to keep our young safe and that’s what I did.

Adopted Dog Willow

Removing ourselves from danger was a step toward security, but my little girl did not feel safe. Eleena was constantly on alert, worried and fearful. Traveling to and from school was traumatizing. An “A” student, performing two grade levels above her age, Eleena was struggling in classes. Extra support was necessary to assist her emotionally and academically. Night terrors continued to plague her dreams despite inpatient and outpatient therapy, plus medication. Would my baby girl’s sparkle, laughter and joy ever return?

Adopted Dog Willow

Finally, therapists prescribed a service dog. Perhaps a dog would be the elixir for our safety, security, mental health and sense of freedom. Our dog had to be in tune with Eleena’s emotional needs. Our dog had to be friendly, calm, socialized, huggable, affectionate and service-trainable. Our dog would be an “imprisoned” shelter dog — waiting to be free. We wanted to rescue the dog who would rescue us.

We applied to Animal Village NM. Many potential adoptees were introduced, but the magic happened when Eleena met Willow. “This is MY dog,” Eleena stated through tears. Why Willow?

Adopted Dog Willow

As Animal Village NM’s Director explained Willow’s backstory, the connection crystalized. AVNM had learned of a dog on a highway, her face impaled with hundreds of porcupine quills. This was PrincessQ. Initially, PrincessQ eluded rescuers. Meanwhile, an emaciated, nursing dog appeared. This was Willow. But where were her puppies? While AVNM tracked PrincessQ, the team overheard whimpering. Willow had sheltered her puppies in a woodpile, much as I had sheltered Eleena by moving us away. Willow must have sensed our needs and transferred her maternal, protective instincts to Eleena! The bond was palpable. The sparkle, laughter and joy returned!

Adopted Dog Willow

Following rigorous training, Willow earned the status of “Service Dog,” and my daughter and I earned our titles of “Service Handler” and “Service Partner.” I am currently completing Officer Training School and Eleena is in 5th grade. Soon the day will come when my brave daughter, with our hero dog, will pin gold bars on my Air Force Blues. As 2nd Lieutenant, United States Air Force, I am honored to continue serving our country while Willow happily serves me and Eleena. As for Willow’s puppies and PrincessQ, all are safe in amazing “furever” homes.

We have traveled to the Redwood Forest, Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, Mt. Rushmore, the beaches of California, and the list goes on. Willow even watched with Eleena as I jumped for a plane! Eleena thrives with Willow beside her. Willow gave us our freedom, and we gave Willow hers.

Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by DeJaye won Animal Village NM in Alamogordo, New Mexico a 2019 Holiday Wishes award.