Gel Estrada used to be afraid of dogs. Whenever he was around them, he would tremble and get a little bit paranoid that they might hurt him. He was scared of big dogs with gnarly teeth, and even of little ones with their loud barking.

But in 2012, he felt ready: It was time he faced his fear

The perfect companion

Estrada researched different kinds of dog breeds and it took him four months before he found “the one”: a Golden Retriever.

Golden Retrievers are described as large dogs who are intelligent, friendly, easy to train, capable of socializing well with others, and family-oriented.

Goldies sound like the perfect companion. However, what caught Estrada’s attention was how they were often chosen as support dogs. He needed all the emotional support he could get as he was clinically diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Meeting a new furry friend

It wasn’t that Estrada didn’t like animals. In the past, he used to care for small animals, including his first pet rabbits Rookie and Yookie.

When he was in high school, he went to private tutorial sessions. As luck would have it, his tutor lived with a female mutt named Prixie. Instead of being afraid of her, Estrada started interacting with the cute Pomeranian-Japanese spitz mix. Every day after school, he would go to his tutor’s home and bond with Prixie. Two months later, she became his first furry best friend.

It was great to have Prixie in his life, but Estrada longed for his own companion. So, he started looking for one.

A little ray of Goldie sunshine

 “Manic depression or bipolar disorder is a brain condition that causes unusual shifts in my mood, energy and my ability to perceive. There are times that I can’t function mentally and physically,” explained Estrada.

In 2013, when a dark cloud hovered over Estrada, a little ray of Goldie sunshine came right out to keep the thunderstorm away. His name was Travis.“I brought him home when he was a few days shy of two months old,” said Estrada. “As a first-time parent, I was so clueless. I came to realize that it was not going to be easy, but at least I was going to be productive!”

With Travis around, there was endless pooping, feeding, and even some late-night cage cleaning. Estrada almost gave up, but he kept his patience and pushed on.

“Travis can be a handful,” claimed Estrada. “[But] I reconsidered my decision [to give] him up.”

Estrada considered Travis his emotional support animal because the canine did his best to keep him happy and positive about life.

“He made me laugh in a way I haven’t before when he stole my sister’s dirty underwear one morning. He also made me feel less alone and less depressed,” added Estrada, “He is my furry psychiatrist and my source of strength. What would I be without him?”

Estrada found the perfect best friend in Travis. They both loved to eat and meet up with people and their furry buddies, which helped Estrada become more confident and outgoing. Travis might be the biggest dog around, but for Estrada, he would always be a baby.

“We live and breathe through love and loyalty. Friends are family you choose, and I am more than happy Travis to because I chose and welcomed be part of mine,” said Estrada.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2019 issue.

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