How woman's dog saved her during 'soul-destroying' battle

Ash Cant
·5-min read

A woman has detailed how her pet dog helped her through her darkest times as she battled to keep him in her apartment. 

Jo Cooper fought in the courts for six years to overturn a blanket ban at her Sydney apartment building which prohibited pets.

She pushed through, knowing if she won, it was a win for everyone – and while she was victorious, it came at a cost.

The battle took a toll on her as bullying she copped over her plight significantly deteriorated her mental health

Jo's mental health battle amid fight

In between court sittings, Ms Cooper says other residents at her apartment building bullied her and few were vocal about having her back.

Grown adults called her "low class" and "stupid brown girl", and she claims one person even coughed on her in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Jo Cooper with her dog Angus.
Jo Cooper's dog Angus would help calm her down and having him by her side helped her mental health. Source: Facebook/Jo Cooper

One other resident told her quietly he could not publicly support her cause, or he would be "marked".

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia, Ms Cooper said her struggles were a direct result of her court battle and the relentless bullying she endured because of it.

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"I consider myself to generally be a strong personality. However, when it's relentless bullying, day in day out, it's soul-destroying, it wears you down," she said. 

"You start questioning everything like your personality – you question what drives you to make the decisions that you do and challenge the things that you do, you know, and there's a lot of self-doubt."

Ms Cooper knew taking her case before the courts would be an uphill battle and financially draining, with no certainty of what the outcome would be.

"I did not sleep, I played out every scenario in my head each night," she explained.

Ms Cooper's endeavour did end up being successful, and a unanimous vote meant pet owners would no longer be subject to blanket bans anywhere in the state of NSW.

The domino effect and the last straw

After the draining court battle Ms Cooper, who is a songwriter, heard a tune on the radio at a local store that resonated with her. 

She realised it was a song she had written years earlier, titled Broken, about three people going through a tough time. 

"It was the first time that song really resonated with me," Ms Cooper said.

As the "ugliness" of people had worn her down, Ms Cooper realised people needed to be more sympathetic to not just people they know, but everyone. 

Jo Cooper's dog Angus.
Jo Cooper fought to keep her dog Angus. Source: Facebook/Jo Cooper

"I don't understand how people can be so mean to each other. I don't understand how people can't sit there and not think about the domino effect of their actions," she said.

"You don't know what someone's going through — someone's throwaway line can be somebody else's last straw."

Sometimes, words cannot be taken back and they can have a lasting impact.

"I still think I'm strong but I'm not as strong as I was six years ago," she said.

Some weeks, Ms Cooper is fine, but other weeks one small comment can set her back.

Though her 12-year-old Angus has stayed with her through it.

How dogs help your mental health

Ms Cooper acknowledged she does not know the full extent the court cases have had on her, though one thing that has helped her is her bond with her dog.

She recalled times she would be lying on the floor unable to breathe, and when Angus saw her, would come and sit on her stomach. 

"He just starts breathing and my intense breathing slows down," she said. 

"It slows down because he's so calm, and he's breathing with me, and he's just laying there, he's not doing anything, it's just laying on top of me breathing.

"It's just that affection and that calmness."

Ms Cooper said having a dog by her side throughout the ordeal helped her get through tough times and Beyond Blue also recognises how pets can positively impact your mental health.

Jo Cooper has been on the receiving end of relentless bullying, during her high-profile court case. Source: Facebook/Jo Cooper
Jo Cooper has been on the receiving end of relentless bullying during her high-profile court case. Source: Facebook/Jo Cooper

"Whether it’s a dog wagging their tail and greeting you at the door, a cat or bunny snuggled in your lap or a bird singing to you, pets provide companionship and unconditional affection," Beyond Blue states on its website. 

"The bond you share with a pet can do a lot to support your mental health."

Beyond Blue notes while pets don't judge you and they offer companionship, there are other ways having a dog can positively improve your lifestyle and subsequently, your mental health.

Ms Cooper's day starts and ends with Angus — he's right there first thing in the morning and then the two go for a walk. He's again by her side come night time.

Beyond Blue says pets can also encourage people to be more active, which is helpful for your wellbeing.  

Ms Cooper believes dealing with mental health issues starts at the home — and it's up to the individual to decide what they need to lead a fulfilling life – for her it has been her dog.

"We're the only ones who know exactly what we need in our lives to address our mental health and wellbeing," she said. 

"People might look at a pet like it's this insignificant, trivial topic, but some people only wake up because they have a pet."

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