February 2010

On a cold snowy night south of Breckenridge in Blue River, I ecstatically joined friends and co-workers to witness the recent birth of some of earth’s finest creatures. Together in a pile of crossing limbs and dark fur lay 7 brand new puppies, so new their eyes remained closed, resembling mouse-like creatures more than lab mixes like mother Odessa. That night we mostly observed, giving puppies and mom space to adapt to this new reality and focus on gaining nutrients and strength to start growing. Puppies are cute, but I wasn’t there to take one. I already had my hands full with a 6-year-old Siberian Husky named Dylan, and I was weeks away from making a big move to a new home and starting a new job. I couldn’t take one, that would be crazy, right?

Since the puppies were just around the corner from me, it made sense to continue checking in and “observing” their cuteness. One by one the puppies were claimed and named, the largest and most unique looking male taken first, followed by the 2nd largest male, next the 4 females, until the runt of the litter remained overlooked and apparently unwanted. Waiting to be picked was a mostly black male with lightly sprinkled white back toes and a small white patch on his chest, matching mother Odessa perfectly. I focused on packing and preparing for my move and upcoming life changes. Clearly, my life was crammed and there was no way I could take a puppy. In fact, Dylan the Siberian Husky really wasn’t much of a fan of puppies. Taking a puppy would be crazy, right?

A few weeks later, after settling into my new house, I returned to Blue River to pick up my new puppy. After a few calculated meetings between Dylan and the runt with no negative reactions I realized I had “surprisingly” already become attached to this puppy after spending quite a bit of time together. I would also be living on my own with no human or furry roommates for the first time in a while, and decided Dylan could also use a friend while I was away at work. My then 5-year-old niece Serenity was given the honor to name the new puppy and, after a vote, “Mr. Blackpants” (BP) officially joined the family. Dylan and BP quickly bonded, her showing him the ways while he enthusiastically mimicked her every move. They spent 3 memorable years together before Dylan quickly and unexpectedly passed away while I was deep in the Grand Canyon on a backpacking trip. Heartbroken, BP and I moved on, just the two of us.

Over the next several years BP and I bonded over a love for hiking and the outdoors, travel and adventure, and quiet nights at home cuddling or playing tug of war and “snaps.” On the days when I was feeling lazy or down, he forced me to get up and get outside for much needed exercise and vitamin D. He often joined me at work landscaping and taking care of gardens around the county, napping, or keeping watch close by while making friends with the humans and other four-legged creatures we encountered. He was right next to me to celebrate the good times and accomplishments, stayed even closer when I struggled through heartbreak and challenges, and never judged me when I made mistakes.

On one of our longest adventures, we spent 7 weeks together on a winter road trip, visiting various ski resorts in Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and Utah. Each day we explored different forests, trails, restaurants, and towns. While many of our daily activities remained the same, he also experienced many “firsts” like seeing the ocean, riding in an elevator, and running through a rainforest. Always a social butterfly, he had the capability to make friends and connections even as we were the strangers in these new places.  I never once felt alone in all those weeks with him by my side, we communicated in our own special ways.

According to AnimalHealthfoundation.org, there are many benefits to your physical and mental health that come with owning a pet. Most pets require exercise, forcing their human to get outside and walk, run, hike, or spend time in the sun. Research shows that pets reduce anxiety, stress and cortisol levels, lower blood pressure levels, and alleviate depression. Pets also encourage routine and structure while reducing isolation and increasing connectedness with others, giving their owner a sense of purpose. Pets provide so many great benefits and assistance through mental health struggles like panic attacks and depression that the certification of “Emotional Support Animal” was created, offering a sense of hope to so many. Pets are even used to help strangers through stressful situations, such as offering pets and licks to anxious travelers at airports or compassion to patients in hospitals and skilled-nursing facilities.

For many years dogs have also been used as service animals to assist their humans with various health conditions like blindness, diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, paralysis, traumatic brain injuries and more. According to https://www.servicedogcertifications.org/, certain mental health conditions that substantially limit one or more of your major life activities can qualify you for a service dog. These include:

–   Depression and Depressive Disorders

–   Anxiety Disorders and Phobias

–   Bipolar Disorders

–   Schizophrenia and Psychotic Disorders

–   Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

–   Addiction, Substance-Abuse and Alcoholism

–   PTSD and Trauma Related Disorders

–   Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

–   Autism

Regardless of the level of training or certification of your pet, the evidence shows the many great benefits animals can provide. Maybe your disability and daily tasks depend on your furry friend’s assistance, or perhaps you see improvements in your quality of life after expanding your “pack.” Either way I think we can all agree that there is no better feeling than coming home to your  canine buddy with the same enthusiastic greeting regardless of the amount of time since your last cuddle.

January 2024

There is something quite mysterious, beautiful and heartbreaking to watch your best friend age and slow down right in front of you. The hikes and walks grow shorter in distance and time, while the athletic and muscular body turns frail and weary. Daily destinations and activities turn to memories, while simple tasks like loading into the car or walking upstairs require more assistance. Small and familiar gestures and unique mannerisms offer hope that we still have more time together. Yet, slowly then rapidly the negatives begin to outweigh the positives.

After nearly 14 years of companionship, friendship, and everlasting love, it was my turn to return the favor and offer up compassion, emotional support, and relief to my beloved BP. We showered you with all your favorites: cheese, carrots, vanilla ice cream, steak, and cuddles before sending you across the rainbow bridge from the comfort of your bed to reunite with your sister Dylan.

It feels too quiet when I wake up without a wet nose bop or walk into an empty house after a long day. Without your constant support I can sense a bit of darkness, loneliness, laziness, and depression creeping in again. Who will hold me accountable to continue the self-care routines that we built together? Who will offer me endless support and cheer me on in the hard times without judgment? As we adjust to this new reality without you, I owe it to you, BP, to focus on my own wellbeing. Fueled by our many shared memories and your positive outlook on life,  I promise to continue our favorite hikes, adventures, and activities we both loved so much.

I will grieve for a while but will always be grateful that I made that “crazy” decision to pick the runt (no, GIANT) of the litter.