“Bad” Dog Helps Woman Find the Good in Herself

Sometimes a broken heart just needs a loving paw.

every gift saves lives

every gift saves lives

Keelie + Darla

Darla came to me when I needed her most. I had gone down a dark path for more than a decade. Drugs and a bad relationship. I had given up hope on myself and any chance of a good life right about the time I laid eyes on her.

"When I was released on Christmas Eve, I took her with me. "

You see, I was sent to prison for my drug addiction. It was the end of a long road of abuse and neglect, both from myself and from others. When I got there, I decided to enroll in a program where dogs in need are paired with inmates to be trained and nursed back to health. It saves the dogs’ lives and teaches compassion and respect to the inmates.

Enrolling in that program saved my life. It was the only thing that made me want to stop using drugs. When you are in there, with no one, knowing another living being is dependent on you is the best feeling in the world.

Darla was the “worst” dog in the program. She was old, sick, and aggressive toward people and other dogs. She had multiple handlers, but they all eventually requested to be paired with a different dog. The guard in charge of the program noticed the work I’d done helping some of the other “problem” dogs become suitable for adoption, so he chose me to be Darla’s handler. I fell head over heels for her.

Darla has healed me in ways I didn’t know were possible. Every human who has ever hurt me or left me no longer matters when I look in that dog’s eyes. When I was released on Christmas Eve, I took her with me.

I’ve been sober for four years and I owe it all to Darla. Since then I’ve gotten married, bought a house, and opened my own successful dog training business.

Darla is lying at my feet now. She keeps me going and reminds me how far I’ve come. I’m so glad I can give back to her what she gave to me: unconditional love.

“In my darkest hour, I reached for a hand, and found your paw.”  -unknown

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 Keelie Burkette won A.D.O.P.T. in Indiana a 2017 Holiday Wishes award.