My name is Melissa and I have a story to tell.
It begins when I was 12 years old. I was a dog lover through and through – my family owned a Husky at the time, and I loved meeting other dogs out and about. Our neighbor had a big, almost 150-pound Malamute that I admired from afar, and I was eventually invited to pet him
I was excited but also a bit scared. This dog was BIG – so big that he was attached to a heavy logging chain. I was with two friends, but I was still afraid. One after another, they touched the big Malamute – they shook his head and filled his food dish. So far, so good. After a bit, I started to feel okay about it, thinking to myself, “If they can do it, why can’t I?” Finally, I worked up the courage to give him a pet.
That’s when my world changed.
As I slowly reached for the dog, he lunged up and yanked my arm. He bit into me, then thrashed me and knocked me to the ground so hard my shoes flew over 40 feet across the yard. He kept attacking until he reached my neck.
I don’t remember it, but the doctor said from my wounds that this was definitely the kill bite. By some miracle, he barely missed my jugular. He let loose for just a second to try again. This time, I rolled away.
In shock at that point, I didn't feel any pain. I just started walking home as the boys chased behind me. All I could see was rocks and dirt mixed in my wounds; there was blood everywhere.
My mom rushed me to hospital. It was all a blur.
Needless to say, it was months before I recovered. I almost died and spent forever in the ICU. I was quarantined and only my parents could visit. I developed a rare immune deficiency and struggled to swallow, eat, drink, or talk. My mom said the doctors warned them I wasn’t going to make it, but I did. I slowly but surely improved, until I was able to leave the hospital and return to my “normal” life.
But even as physical wounds healed, the mental scars lingered. I still hold a strong fear of dogs, even if my love for them has never completely faded. Therapy has helped, and I’ve had a few smaller dogs since the attack. I still wanted my dream dog, a Labrador Retriever, but I just knew I couldn’t adopt a rescue. I didn’t know them; I couldn’t trust them. And I know dogs can sense that.
My therapist slowly encouraged me to release my fear by embracing a large dog, so after over eight years together, my husband, Sam, and I finally adopted an eight-week old male Chocolate Labrador Retriever: Zeus.
He was amazing… at first. But Zeus became very overzealous and played rough. He didn’t like being told no or having boundaries. This had a negative effect on me: he put that lingering fear in gear all over again. As his behavior escalated, so did my anxiety. He felt my panic. He would nip and rip my skin open. He had become so unruly we didn’t enjoy him. We could barely be affectionate with him because of his shenanigans.
One day, I was on my bedroom floor sobbing to Zeus and Sam. I told Sam I felt guilty for not rescuing a large dog that needed a home – I went with a puppy so I wouldn’t fear him. I raised Zeus and thought this meant I could trust him. I had read everything I could find online about his behavior, but it was confusing: too much contradictory information.
Somehow, I found Kendra’s bio on the Lexington, Kentucky Bark Busters site. I felt an instant connection to her story: she kept saying she didn’t train dogs; she teaches humans why dogs behave the way they do and how to communicate with them.
I knew we needed someone like Kendra to help and the assessment test confirmed it: Zeus scored a D. So, I called Bark Busters, received a quick response, and was set up with Kendra.
We couldn’t believe it: within the first appointment, everything changed. Kendra is so gifted she had us Speaking Dog immediately. As the lessons continued, I realized Kendra wasn’t really training Zeus – she was rehabilitating us. She taught me how to understand and communicate with him so well that by our second appointment, we told her, “We are so in love with this puppy!”
Now we enjoy him; we play with him; we love him. Zeus has become my best friend. He doesn’t attack me. He hasn’t gone through official Service Dog training, but if he hurts me playing or knows I am having a panic attack, he runs to me and comforts me. He doesn’t let up until I am calm. He doesn’t give me a choice.
I wouldn’t be writing this today if it weren’t for Kendra. We were on the brink of rehoming Zeus. It broke my heart to think about that. Now Zeus and I spend all day together, almost every day. Learning to communicate with and understand him created a lifelong bond. I am blessed and thankful for his love and compassion, and I can’t thank Kendra, Sylvia, Danny, and the Bark Busters family enough for giving me and Zeus a happy ending and something even more important: the gift of healing.
Special thank you to Melissa Dyess for choosing Bark Busters to assist her and Zeus in her healing process, and for so openly sharing her story with us. To learn more about Melissa, a professional photographer in Lexington, KY, and Zeus, follow her on Instagram @mdyessphotography.