WASHINGTON — Patricia Ross-Demmin’s path to a future free from the debilitating effects of her depression and frequent panic attacks ended last week beneath the wheels of a passing pickup truck.
Her emotional-support dog, a cute little stubby-legged French bulldog named Bullwinkle, was struck and killed April 6 on Cummings Lane in Washington, in full view of Ross-Demmin. Her family can’t afford another French bulldog like the one they all believe saved Ross-Demmin’s life.
“I don’t want to go back on all the medications,” Ross-Demmin said this week, days after the accident that killed Bullwinkle. “My psychiatrist doesn’t want me put back on the medications. This could end up with me being institutionalized, me going back to the way I was before Winkie (her nickname for Bullwinkle) came into my life.”
Ross-Demmin brought Bullwinkle home last summer toward what she believed was the nearly fatal end of a downward spiral of her mental and physical health brought on by a series of family catastrophes. She and her husband, Jake Demmin, bought a house only to learn weeks later that they would both lose their jobs at Mitsubishi Motors in Bloomington when it permanently closed. Serious marital problems arose.
Ross-Demmin had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorders 10 years ago. The gathering storm of troubles triggered the existing conditions and Ross-Demmin took to her bed. She curled up under the blankets in a darkened room. She didn’t eat. She didn’t engage. She didn’t get up.
“During the bad period I wouldn’t even interact with my 7-year-old daughter. You withdraw inside yourself and you have no clue what is going on around you,” she said. “I would lose days. Like, I would think it was Tuesday and Jake would go, ‘No, it’s Saturday.’ I would wake up and be pissed off that I had woken up. I didn’t want to live.”
Her psychiatrist recommended an emotional support dog, a notion she initially dismissed.
“I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a therapy dog, I thought it was a bunch of mumbo-jumbo,” she said. “I now am a full believer. I see why it so important for people to have them.”
The theory behind dogs helping people with depression and anxiety is based on the same idea that canine companionships form positive bonds. Dogs return love with their own unconditional love and it has been shown they can detect signs of a panic attack.
Ross-Demmin was basically tricked into being driven to Chicago last August to check out a breeder of French bulldogs, an expensive breed of dog known for its sweet, well-tempered, loyal, empathic and funny demeanor.
“(The breeder) had 16 puppies and I got in the pen and I played with them and one kept coming at me,” she said. “I got out of the pen after about an hour and he was throwing himself up against the pen like he wanted me. It was obvious that the bond happened already, so he’s the one I chose.”
They were constant companions from the beginning.
“You could see a difference that first week, then just every week it got better and better and better,” Demmin said. “He was like an extension of her and really he was at her side 98 percent of the time. It was an immediate change.”
Her need for medications diminished and so did the frequency of panic attacks. She went from seven or eight different drugs to three. Her intake of the anti-anxiety drug clonazepam was reduced from four prescribed doses a day to maybe 10 in one 60-day period.
“My daughter got her mom back,” she said.
The afternoon of April 6, Ross-Demmin was standing on her deck smoking a cigarette, Bullwinkle at her ankles. The deck is 20 feet away from busy Cummings Lane. A woman was walking on the other side of the street, maybe walking a dog on a long leash. The woman clearly called out to her dog to “come here,” a command Ross-Demmin believes Bullwinkle mistakenly believed was intended for him. The happy, people-friendly dog bolted for the opening of the deck, knocked over a free-standing metal gate and ran toward the woman who was on the other side of Cummings.
Demmin and his wife believe Bullwinkle’s good nature and friendliness are what did him in.
“Greatest emotional support dog ever,” he said. “Worst watchdog ever.”
“He’d help a burglar steal the TV and show him where the best jewelry is,” Ross-Demmin said. “He was a sweetheart.”
The following seconds were chaotic.
“I heard a ‘thump’ and the screech of brakes,” Ross-Demmin said.
“I heard a blood-curdling scream and came running,” Demmin said.
Ross-Demmin fainted, and knocked a molar from her gums. Neighbors came outside to find out the source of the commotion. Cars backed up in either direction. Demmin was halfway to the scene when the driver of the pickup, possibly an SUV, stepped outside, surveyed the scene, got back in the vehicle and sped away. Ross-Demmin believes he ran over Bullwinkle ensuring his death as the driver made a hasty retreat.
“I scooped him up out of the road and brought him to the porch,” Demmin said. “By the time I actually got to him, you know, he was gone. My mind was racing in a million different directions. I was thinking about him, then I was worried about her. It was horrible.”
No one got a license number. Someone called the police.
“There’s not a lot that can be done in a situation like that,” said Washington Police Chief Don Volk, who verified the incident from April 6. “Technically, pets are considered property, and someone can be cited for damage to personal property. On the other hand, with a leash law, dogs aren’t supposed to be in roadways. The law says if someone hits a dog, it is their responsibility to stop and seek out the owners and not just take off.”
Ross-Demmin is convinced the only way to fend off the worst symptoms of her mental illness from recurring is to get another French bulldog.
“I’m just a good fit with the breed,” she said.
But it’s an expensive breed. A bulldog the fawn color of Winkie could cost $2,000 to $3,000, money the single-income family simply doesn’t have. Just six days after the accident, she said she feels herself sinking back toward despair.
She set up a Go Fund Me account and encouraged friends through Facebook and other means to make a small donation to help buy an emotional support bulldog. In six days, it received a single donation of $20, from a former custodian friend at Mitsubishi.
She and her husband were able to afford a cremation of the remains of Bullwinkle and found a pretty $30 urn on Amazon to place them in. The urn arrived this week.
“Bullwinkle comes home on Friday,” Ross-Demmin said.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scotthilyard.