By Tristan Kong
Twenty-two year-old Stephanie Bettencourt, has a very specific reason her adopted dog Lexus is her best friend – she helped her survive an abusive relationship.
Bettencourt in 2013, was like any other young woman you might see. Optimistic, and excited about her future, the avid female soccer player found herself in a situation that is a reality for too many around the world - a toxic relationship, where she became a victim of verbal, and emotional abuse.
Her partner had the tell tale signs of an abuser: blaming her for his problems, saying whatever was needed to hurt her feelings, and constantly creating a negative environment.
After their fights, or finding him cheating, Bettencourt said her boyfriend would use his charm, humour, and expensive gifts she could never afford for herself as a way to diminish any motivation she had for finally leaving him.
Starting to severely affect her, Bettencourt was losing her passion for life, and the things she loved, including playing soccer.
After much heartache, and pain, Bettencourt reached her limit, and made the difficult decision to break-up with her boyfriend. With her ex determined to win her back, and Bettencourt unable to shake her strong feelings, her abuser suggested she get a dog.
“Right after I got out of the abusive relationship, I wasn't able to trust, or have any deep emotional connections with anyone,” said Bettencourt.
“It's like I was loveless, and a bitter person,” she added.
At an animal shelter, her life changed forever when she met Lexus, a pitbull, and black labrador mixed breed dog.
Met with glowing eyes, Bettencourt immediately found the empty spot in her heart filled with the canine, who had been dropped off at the shelter as a puppy with no further explanation.
“She taught me how to love again, and how to build trust,” she explained.
“From that moment on, I knew she needed me, and I needed her.”
Having the courage to distance herself from her ex-boyfriend, she started to truly became aware of what had happened over the past few years.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, she slowly started to heal over the following months with the help of Lexus, and began to learn to be happy again.
While Bettencourt has begun the journey to recovery, she still has fears, and struggles she faces daily.
“Every time I think of him, my body is in pain. I'm afraid to see him, or hear his name.”
However, with everyday that passes, she is getting better.
With her happiness brought her a new job as a nanny in Washington, D.C. and while working there, she decided to try something that she never had imagined before, and become a university student.
Now studying business administration at Washington's Gallaudet University, known for their outstanding graduate program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students, Bettencourt feels like a stronger person.
Her advice to others experiencing a similar situation is to take action, and stop the abuse by speaking up.
“Talk to someone you feel comfortable with, talk about it slowly, and give it time,” said Bettencourt.
Lastly for those who are thinking about animal adoption, she feels there is no better way to begin the healing process, “They are alone and you are alone. That’s when you both start to become whole.”
Share this story if you think your dog is your best friend!