Note: All photos in the post were provided by Julie Barton.
In her memoir, Dog Medicine, Julie Barton recalls the darkest point in her life. A year out of college, she was struggling in the depths of depression. After receiving a panicked phone call, Julie’s mother took her from her Manhattan apartment and brought her back home to Ohio. Physiatrists, therapists, friends and family tried to help Julie, but she did not improve. Ultimately, a fateful decision would change the course of her life: Julie adopted a Golden Retriever puppy.
She writes: “It was hard to comprehend, but our meeting felt like two magnets clacking together, two universes colliding, two hands clasping. I was absolutely sure that this was my dog and that I was meant to find him.” This quote epitomizes Julie’s memoir. It is heart-wrenchingly honest, poetic and, perhaps most of all, hopeful. Ultimately, it is a story of healing. Bunker, Julie’s Golden Retriever, turned out to be her “life-saving medicine.”
Though this feeling of Bunker’s immense impact was immediate and profound, Julie found herself wary of putting too much pressure on her new companion, voicing the concern that a dog couldn’t cure her. But, Bunker’s sensitivity and intuition amazed her. When she was sad, instead of blocking emotions, Julie let herself feel. She writes: “So I decided to be as sad with Bunker as I needed to be, because he didn’t care. He accepted me. He didn’t need me to be happy…He didn’t judge me, he simply saw me.”
Like any new pup parent, Julie and Bunker developed a routine of early morning walks, naps and playtime. As the book processes, Julie’s life undergoes many changes — she moves from Ohio to Seattle. She gets married. She realizes that writing is her true passion. Julie explained: “Desk jobs in offices were not my thing. So my husband encouraged me to do what I love. I wanted to write, so very much, but I knew I needed to study, read and write like mad to figure out how to write well.”
When she was five months pregnant with her first daughter, Julie started an MFA program. She overheard fellow classmates saying she would never make it. Julie recalls: “I decided then that I would make it, no matter what. Not to spite them, but because I knew that this was exactly what I was meant to do. Writing was my deep passion, always had been.”
She studied and worked on her craft tirelessly, ultimately completing the MFA program. She eventually started to ponder writing a book about Bunker, though the prospect seemed daunting. Julie explains:
“But, I’ll tell you, I was wary to write about how deeply I loved this dog. I’ll never forget, when I was very early in the process of writing this book, I was a guest memoir teacher for one day at our local high school. I told the kids that I was writing a book about the darkest time in my life and how a dog saved me. A sly young man in the room laughed out loud at this. I left thinking, there’s no way I can write this book. He laughed at the idea. But there are two things I know for sure in my life: 1. Bunker saved my life, without question… and 2. I married the right man. So I wrote from that place—that sure-footed place. I am so passionate about how very deeply Bunker and I were connected, so I just wrote. And wrote. And wrote.”
With the enormous task of telling the story of Bunker, the memoir took her years to complete. When she reached a standstill, Julie locked herself into a hotel room to define the story. She explains: “Of course, I knew the story, and I know how I’d lived it, but getting it down onto the page in a way that conveyed all that I needed it to was a whole other endeavor in itself.” After a “tough but very rewarding 48 hours” she had “the backbone mostly parsed out.” She spent the next several years in a constant cycle of editing, deleting and writing.
Julie’s book, while focused on Bunker, speaks to the wider theme of dogs—and animals—ability to “perceive the world without language, that is far superior to us humans.” Dog and animal lovers will easily—and meaningfully—relate to Julie’s story. Her descriptions of heartache and depression are raw and relatable. And her love for Bunker is illustrated on every page:
“The moon on June 26, 1996, the day Bunker came into my life, was 68 percent full and waxing. Moment by moment, it grew bigger and brighter. Bunker and I found each other when the moon was half full, the light half returned. We would begin the process of growing and healing together alongside the moon: brighter each day, little by little.”
About a month after the release of Dog Medicine, Julie is in a state of astonishment. The first run of copies sold out the day it was released. Every day Julie wakes up to a message from a new reader sharing the impact the book had on them. Cheryl Strayed, author of The New York Times bestseller Wild, tweeted that Julie’s book “is your next must-read memoir.” Julie has sold international rights for the book. While its success in terms of sales numbers and widespread attention is certainly rewarding, for Julie meeting readers—and fellow dog lovers—has been a true gift.
“I’ve been sitting at my computer, surrounded by photos of my beloved Bunker, writing for so many years, that I kind of started to believe I was alone in my adoration of and devotion to my dog. I know now that I am not at all alone. There are so many of us out there. In every reading, there were at least two or three people who wept through the whole talk. When they would approach me after the reading, I would simply ask, ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ And they would cry and tell me about the dog they still have or the dog they lost, and we would hug and share that amazing connection. Those moments have filled my heart to the brim.”
Julie explains there are “SO many people saying, ‘Me too. Me too.’ I can’t ask for more than that. It’s beyond-words-wonderful for me to hear from all the people whose dogs have saved them too.”