08/01/2014 10:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Second Chances

I fell in love with his the first time I saw him.

I had just moved to a small town a few hours outside of my hometown of Dallas for college. I was nervous, lonely and needed friends. The first time I saw him, I had glanced outside my living room apartment window to check the weather before an evening class. Downstairs, I saw a woman walking a brown and white puppy. My heart skipped a beat. It was love at first sight.

I walked down to introduce myself and get some puppy kisses. Lisa, the neighbor woman walking him, told me his name was Chance. He sniffed me with his wet nose, licked my hand and his tail went wild. Chance, as it turns out, felt the feeling was mutual; he peed everywhere. Lisa apologized profusely but I told her there wasn't anything to apologize for. I was in love. Lisa explained that he was just eight weeks old, an adoptee from the local Humane Society.

For the next few months, whenever he got the opportunity, Chance would bolt out Lisa and her husband, Brian's, front door to run to my apartment and scratch at the door. It was playtime! I would take a break from my studies and come out to play. It was so therapeutic -- just lying there in the grass with my puppy friend, getting sloppy kisses and playing fetch. He had so much energy, so much love. And Chance must have known I was in need of love. My dad had died suddenly three years prior; my grandfather just the previous year. I was feeling broken, stuck in grief I felt I couldn't escape.

Our play dates lasted for a few months, until tragedy struck again. One of my best friends since kindergarten died of a drug overdose. Heartbroken, I returned home for a few days for the funeral and to be with his family and our friends. I returned to my apartment, locked the door, crawled into bed and cried -- for three days.

Then the doorbell rang. Well, first there were the familiar scratches, and then the doorbell rang. There stood Lisa, attempting to control Chance's excitement at being at my door. She said she had a favor to ask, that I could say no but she wanted to ask me first. I knew before she asked that whatever it was, I was going to say yes. Lisa and Brian were military, then stationed at the Air Force base in town. I would do whatever I could to help a military family. "We're getting transferred," she said, "to another base, in another state. We can't take Chance, but we just couldn't leave him with anyone but you. Do you think you could take him?"

I burst into tears. "Yes, yes, absolutely, I will take him!" I exclaimed through my sobs. I needed him. I assured her, through my waterfall of tears that I would take care of him. With tears in her eyes, she smiled and said, "I think he always knew you two would end up together. He's loved you from the first day he met you."

The first two weeks, the majority of our time was spent in my bed, with Chance licking my endless tears. Then, exactly two weeks later, I was woken up one morning with this dog literally digging me out from underneath the covers, licking my face and wagging his tail. "Get up, get up! We have things to do!" is what his face said. I slowly threw the covers back and stood up, opened up my curtains for the first time in two weeks, put on actual clothes (not the same pajamas I had been wearing the last week) and ventured out to the park. Chance was so excited -- over everything. He was happy to stick his head out the car window, to run at the park, play fetch, he was happy to just be alive. I wish I could say his enthusiasm for life was instantly contagious but my heart was still so heavy. But I promised him: we would go to the park every day, for at least 30 minutes. I kept that promise and, while I can't remember how long it took, my heart eventually became less heavy. His sloppy kisses made me smile, his near 90-pounds of pure clumsiness made me laugh. Every day became better.

I knew a part of being a responsible dog owner was exposing him to the world, so that's exactly what I did. We went everywhere we could together, the exception being my college classes. We were inseparable. I took him to friend's houses, where he played gently with children and licked the tear-stained faces of my girlfriends going through college heartbreaks. He loved the company of other dogs, both large, small and in between. Our park visits started lasting longer. I started feeling better, slowly. Having battled depression and anxiety all my life -- and grief and trauma for those last few years -- a dog was the best therapy I could have had.

We eventually moved in with my 86 year old grandmother, who lived in town. She was beginning to show signs of Alzheimer's. I was worried about her, so I packed up my apartment and we moved in to help. Chance loved living with two ladies (I had learned very quickly he was most definitely a "ladies man!"). They would snuggle and she would even make him chicken fried steak while I attended class (despite my pleas to just feed him dog food. "But, he's so sad when you're gone!" was her response. So, we negotiated -- and by negotiated, I mean my sweet grandmother spoiled that dog rotten!) We stayed for three years, until my grandmother was admitted to a nursing home. After several falls and then surgeries, she needed more care. Her Alzheimer's was worse by the day; I became limited in what I could do for her and stressed beyond capacity.

Exhausted and feeling like I had failed, we packed up and moved back to the Dallas area. Shortly after, I ran into a best friend from high school I had not seen in several years. She had hit a rough spot -- going through a divorce while pregnant with their third child, in nursing school and working full-time. "Could you move in and help out with the kids?" she asked. "Chance can come! Please?" I couldn't say no; I knew we needed to be there. Chance helped out as much as I like to think I did. He comforted the kids after bad dreams, awoke us when the youngest baby was sick, guarded the house like it was Fort Knox because he was so protective over the babies. He was protective over everyone, actually, but such a gentle giant at the same time. Except for potential boyfriends -- he never approved of a single one. He was never aggressive, but he was sure picky about which men got too close to me. "I'm sorry, but my dog doesn't like you," became my go-to line for breakups -- and it was true!

After three years, my friend graduated from nursing school and landed a full-time job. Our agreement had been that Chance and I would be there as long as she needed help, and that time had come and gone. We moved out last year, and I took a job in Houston. Chance, as always, took the transition great. He was happy for new adventures and as long as he was with me, I was happy for our new adventures too. Our biggest adventure has been meeting a man we BOTH fell deeply in love with. Robert, thankfully, is a huge "dog person" with a soft spot in his heart for pit-bull mutts like mine.

Chance turns 10 here in a few weeks. He still licks my tears and digs me out from underneath the covers on bad days. We still go to the park so he can play with his puppy friends of all sizes. I am allowed to take him to the nursing home my now 91-year-old grandma is at. She doesn't really remember me now, but she certainly has not forgotten Chance. He will not leave her side during our visits. She often talks to just him for an hour or so at a time. He sits there, listening intently, giving her those sweet puppy dog eyes and, every so often, leans in to kiss her cheek.

As he has gotten older (although the vet says his health is great) I often wonder what my life will be like without him. But then I remember that I have such a short amount of time with him, and that we won't worry about that for now. I just think of all he has given me: a new look on life, love I have never known before, endless support without speaking, and important lessons you can only learn from a dog: get out to the park, enjoy the fresh air, take the occasional afternoon nap, sloppy kisses are the best and to love with all you have. My mom told me recently, "You have done such a great job with him!" I smiled and replied, "No, Mom, he's done a great job with me!"

I have tried over the last few years to get in touch with Lisa and Brian, his original owners. I just don't think I could ever put into words my gratitude for them. If they happen to read this, thank you. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for giving me the best gift I have ever gotten -- in the form of a 100 pound brown and white pit-bull named Chance. He has truly saved me.