In November of 2016, Emily Taphouse suddenly found herself alone when her husband, Korey, was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It seemed nothing could fill the hole his absence left in the family, but a pair of bulldogs are doing their best to heal her heart.
That November morning, the lives of Taphouse and her two young daughters, Hazel and June, then 4 and 2 years old, were upended, leaving the family reeling with grief. The loss was especially difficult on Hazel. “Telling her that her dad died, and also that she wasn’t able to see him, was almost worse than the accident itself,” Taphouse told The Dodo.
Taphouse worked to give her family a fresh start after the tragedy, selling their home and moving closer to the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan. She also added a new family member, Fern, a white and brown bulldog puppy, to the mix.
When Fern arrived, Taphouse could see Hazel and June immediately warm to the pup — and watching her daughters find comfort snuggling the new addition helped Taphouse start to heal in turn.
“It’s like I could feel a patch be placed on my heart,” Taphouse said. “I watched as my girls squealed and played and loved on her. She changed everything.”
As Fern grew, Taphouse noticed that the young dog would get noticeably sad every time she had to leave playtime with other puppies. Despite being showered with love by her human family, Fern was lonely, so Taphouse decided to expand their little unit once more.
But finding the perfect fit was more of a struggle than she anticipated. “It seemed that every dog we were finding in the shelters and adoption groups was either not good with small kids, or kitties, or was too old to keep up with our 1-year-old stinker,” Taphouse explained.
Taphouse was ready to give up when she checked Facebook and saw that a friend had tagged her in a post. The post detailed the story of a foster dog named Juno, a large bulldog with a difficult past, and suddenly all the pieces came together.
“She figured I could help find [Juno] a home, since I’m always trying to help find homes for animals who need them. I took one look at her and said, ‘Yeah. ME!!!’ I just knew,” Taphouse said. “Her foster mama, Victoria, told me she had been abused and neglected. I was expecting her to be timid, aggressive or frightened. Instead, we sat on the floor to meet her and she happily laid her 74 pounds directly across my 30-pound 4-year-old.”
“[It was] love at first sight,” Taphouse added.
When Juno arrived at her new home, Taphouse and her daughters made sure that the bulldog knew she was finally safe.
“She had previously been hit when she tried to get on the furniture,” Taphouse said. “I got her home, and we talked her into going on the couch. She looked like she had found a piece of heaven.”
What Taphouse didn’t anticipate was the effect Juno would have on her youngest daughter. In Juno, June has found a constant companion, and now the two are rarely apart. They watch TV together, listen to music together and are always touching.
June even goes out of her way to make sure Juno is comfortable — attention that the rescue dog is happy to lap up.
“June cares for her like she’s a small puppy,” Taphouse said. “She asks her if she’s OK, if she can get her anything. She puts blankets on her.”
While Fern brought playful energy to the family, Juno has become a necessary calm and comforting presence. The large bulldog loves to sit or lie near her humans, with her cheek resting on their cheek, or one reassuring paw touching them at all times.
“She is the most gentle baby,” Taphouse explained. “She quite literally loves anybody and anything. My cats even snuggle up to her.”
The two dogs have helped Taphouse more than she could have ever imagined.
Just seeing the two bullies sleeping on her bed each night and playing with her daughters has given her the strength she needs each day. Taphouse’s family has changed and expanded nearly two years after the loss of her husband — and her heart is finally healing.
“There was a time when I wasn’t sure I was going to survive this. I wasn’t sure I wanted to,” Taphouse said. “Therapy, medication, all of it just didn’t seem enough to get me through this. I can say with 100 percent honesty that the combination of these dogs and Hazel and June have done more for me than any medical professional has.”
“They are light and healing in the sweetest packages,” Taphouse added.