Pound for Pound by Shannon Kopp is the brave, inspiring story of one woman's recovery from a debilitating eating disorder, and the remarkable shelter dogs who unexpectedly loved her back to life. Read a guest post from the author below, and find out more about the book, on sale now, here.
From Shannon Kopp:
During the darkest time in my life—when I’d relapsed back into bulimia and struggled with severe depression—somebody gave me a flip camera. I was to use it at my job at the San Diego Humane Society, filming and showcasing the personalities of our adoptable animals, and then posting the videos online.
It didn’t take me long to discover that from behind the lens, I felt lighter. My seemingly inescapable problems faded into the background. My throat, tight with anxiety and sore from purging, loosened a little. My mind sharpened to the present moment. And my eyes focused on what was in front of me: the swish of a tail. A pair of lonely eyes. Four paws in the dirt. A feather blowing in the wind. A rabbit taking a sip of water. A wet nose on someone’s skin.
I recorded sounds, too. A dog panting. A soft purr. An unbearable cry. A puppy’s ridiculous attempt at a howl. The flapping of wings.
But mostly, I recorded the animals who had been in our care the longest, and who were struggling to be noticed. “The longterm adoptables,” we called them. One “longterm adoptable" was named Buster, a German shepherd with a soft gold coat and two stiff legs that made him wobble when he walked. Humane Investigations officers had found him injured and malnourished, limping around a backyard. He was like a ninety-five-year-old man in a four-year- old canine body. Sometimes he stood up successfully, but often he fell in the process of trying to balance his weight on his unsteady legs, as if all of his bones and muscles gave out at once. Buster’s back was usually hunched over and his hips were crooked, but his spirit was that of a puppy, full of curiosity and eagerness. Sometimes when he panted, he revealed a toothy overbite, which made him look like he was smiling.
One day, I brought Buster out to a play yard to film him. Inside a chain-linked fence, grass gleamed in the sunlight, along with an agility obstacle course, a plastic blue kiddie pool, and two gray chests filled with dog toys. Rather than running around like a nutcase as most dogs did—basking in the cherished chance to be off-leash and outdoors—Buster decided to find a sunny spot in the middle of the yard to take a nap. He lay down on his side, closed his eyes, and fell asleep within minutes. I sat cross-legged a few feet away from him, watching him dream. Buster’s legs moved, his body twitched, and every now and then he let out an adorable yip.
When his tail began to thump on the grass, I wondered if he was dreaming of a family to call his own.
Buster’s dreaming didn’t make for good video footage, but it did inspire me to dream a little for myself. I dreamt about being the kind of person who could eat breakfast and keep it down. I dreamt about my boyfriend moving back in. I dreamt about the rehab center I once went to, filled with endlessly hungry women. I dreamt that when I said I was just washing my hands in the bathroom, I was telling the truth.
By the time Buster woke up, I’d dreamt myself into such a hole of guilt and shame that I almost felt like going home and closing the blinds and sleeping all day. Or finding the nearest drive-thru and locking myself in a bathroom stall. Or stealing all the chocolate chip cookies in the break room.
But instead, I turned my flip camera on. I called Buster’s name and his ears pricked, then he yawned. He made his way towards the camera, and I filmed his shaky legs doing the best they could. I filmed his butt wiggling along with his tail. His nose sniffing the ground. His soft pant. His toothy smile.
His golden-brown eyes and the hope they carried.
Years later, as I went on to write Pound for Pound, I’d sometimes imagine that I had my flip camera in hand. Perhaps it reminded me of sleepy, dreamy Buster, and this calmed my writing nerves. Perhaps it helped me to be more present, zooming in on sensory details. Perhaps, when I opened the door to my past, it helped me to focus. To revisit the trauma with a more observant and less victimized perspective.
When I recorded old memories, especially the painful ones, my job wasn’t to write perfectly. It was simply to observe. To take notice. To capture.
Even, to love.