May is a bittersweet month for Rochelle. Thirteen years ago, on May 7, she adopted a shelter dog named Baby.
“She was a cute little chiweenie,” Rochelle said, “and I couldn’t have asked for a better friend through the hard times.” By hard times, Rochelle is referring to her years in an abusive relationship.
Baby brought laughter and happiness into Rochelle’s otherwise unhappy life. Rochelle giggled as she recalled, “One day Baby jumped into a police car to say hello to the cops. I was embarrassed, but they laughed and gave her love.”
Rochelle also has a favorite memory involving Santa Claus. “When she saw a Santa Claus doll sitting on the step of someone’s house, Baby stood there yapping at that doll for at least five minutes. It still makes me laugh to this day.”
Although Baby was essentially a happy-go-lucky dog, Rochelle said she was also fearful because of the abuse she’d endured. “She was very protective of me,” Rochelle explained. “In parks, she’d snarl and snap at any dog that came near me and was known as a ‘mini-bitch’. But she was also loved by all. She was submissive and would roll over for a belly rub from anyone, even on the sidewalks.”
Being an animal lover, Rochelle also soon became super protective of Baby. “You never know what can happen when you aren’t at home, and so I tried to take Baby everywhere with me to keep her safe.” In time, their bond grew stronger and stronger.
Because of Baby, Rochelle found an escape from her otherwise scary life. The need to take Baby for walks gave Rochelle an opportunity to get out of the house, so Rochelle made those outings as long as possible. Sometimes Rochelle would just sit under a tree with Baby and watch the world go by with Baby in her arms. “She kept me alive in many ways during that awful period of my life,” Rochelle said, “and that feeling of freedom on our walks was special.”
Not only did Baby help keep Rochelle going throughout her abusive relationships, but she was a key factor in Rochelle’s decision to leave. “I wasn’t prepared to leave her and the minute I had the chance I ran with her. She was like a kid and I wanted to get Baby to safety. It was hard and stressful, but I’d do it all over again. She was my hero.”
At the time that Rochelle escaped, she didn’t know anything about shelters, but instead took a tent with her. “I felt that if I would sleep in the street if I had to,” Rochelle explained, “as long as we were away from it all.” These days, according to Rochelle, things are slowly changing for the better compared to over ten years ago when she fled. There are more organizations to help, although there is still need a need for more shelters to accept the pets of victims. Rochelle now regularly shares her story and writes about domestic abuse.
Three years after Rochelle escaped her abusive relationship, Baby died. Each year as the anniversary of Rochelle’s adoption of Baby rolls around, she becomes contemplative. “As those May memories go through my mind I’m blessed to have had Baby. We had a few years of freedom together where I spoiled her with no regrets.”
I asked Rochelle to share what she would write in a thank-you note to Baby, and will leave you with her tribute to the dog that helped Rochelle survive.
Dear Baby, thank you from the bottom of my heart for keeping me going during the hard times, making me smile when life was miserable, and just being there and loving me unconditionally. I was blessed to have you in my life and to be able to run with you to safety. Without you, I could not have done it. Losing you made my life empty but as one your aunts said: ‘You came into my life when we both needed each other, you from the shelter, me in the relationship. You left me when you knew I was safe, had a safe home and could save a new dog. And, yes I did, for three months later Layla came into my life. Mommy will always miss you.’”
You can follow Rochelle at Layla’s Woof.