As of March 24, I’ve been on testosterone therapy for three years.

Among my friends, I like to refer to this as my Manniversary – that is, the date that I celebrate the beginning of my transition. For myself and many others who correlate a specific date to the beginning of their transition, I celebrate it like a second birthday.

But this year, I want to dedicate a column to the one who stuck by my side the whole time.

A year before I came out, I was in what you call the perfect relationship. I was in college, had a secure place to live, and was fairly popular.

Yet deep down, something still felt wrong… something was missing.

So I talked my partner into getting a puppy.

We found Willow on Craigslist, listed by a family who was allergic but loved her dearly. When we went to meet her, she immediately jumped into my arms and I was certain my life was finally complete.

There was no way for me to know how wrong I was.

In my mind, this precious nine-month-old Papillion-dachshund mix was the last accessory needed for me to feel happy as a woman. She’d come with me everywhere with her pink collar, pink dress, and sparkling brown eyes.

But she didn’t act like a girl at all. As my first dog, I was shocked by her tendency to roll in dirt, eat vomit, and lunge at bigger dogs during our walks.

In a way, she was relatable.

I remember watching her hump a toy one day, thinking whimsically to myself, ‘If only I could be that unapologetically authentic.’

My new dog was imperfectly perfect, and to be honest I was a little jealous.

It didn’t take much longer for the rest of my life’s perfect façade to begin crumbling. A number of things led me to rediscover the other feelings I had buried during my childhood. But once I came out, it became a household joke. I began to cross-dress in the car before driving to school, then changed back when I got home.

But even on the days I forgot to de-masculinize before I went upstairs, my little dog loved me all the same.

As bad went to worse, my relationship finally crumbled. We decided it was for the best that I head in my own direction, and I was sent packing. Shortly after, I dropped out of school.

But you know who stayed with me? My little dog Willow.

I was battling with emotions that had been buried for almost a decade. Once I found roommates who would take me in, I began fighting to get into a therapist and begin testosterone therapy to see if that would help ease the feelings I had buried for so long.

Yet no matter how hard I broke down at night, it was always my little dog Willow who stayed by my side.

Once I started hormone therapy, the results were slower than I hoped for at first. I was frustrated, still a long way off from any of the surgeries I needed, and struggling to find a job.

There was one night in particular that dysphoria was at its worst. I got home after a long night of panic attacks only to sit down with my eyes fixated upon a can of paint thinner, wondering how bad it could really taste.

Then a little dog jumped in my lap, suddenly as eager for attention as the day I first brought her home.

She didn’t care what my name was, what gender I was, or where we were in this wild ride called life.

All that mattered is we were together, and her reminder brought me back to Earth.

It’s been three years, and Willow still jumps into my arms every time I get home. Whenever I feel trapped in an impossible situation, whether or not it has to do with my transition, I know Willow will still be by my side.

A lot of people have gotten to know her and have asked, “Does she treat you any differently now than she used to?”

Yet like me, she knows that I’m the same person, just happier on the inside. And I think she is too. After all, little Willow helped me in this journey… and I’m pretty sure she knows that.

I even got top surgery last year, resolving one of the most uncomfortable things that still plagued my transition. And besides my mom, you know who else refused to leave my side during those two weeks of recovery?

My little dog Willow.