DOGS and SAVIORS
For several years in the past the self-description of my Instagram account declared that, “A dog taught me how to love.” It may have read as trite but I was speaking my truth, if inaccurately. What I meant to write was that a dog taught me how to love other human beings. Before Zuma, before Echo, I thought I could love—I certainly felt “something” in some relationships—but it wasn’t what I experienced once those two dogs sensitized and opened my heart.
I “married into” a relationship with Zuma when she was already six years old. She was a good dog and Lisa extremely patient in teaching me the way. The Akita is a primitive and willful breed and not first-timer friendly; in a contest to see who is the more stubborn the Akita always wins but I have never met a more loyal and loving animal. When she moved on after thirteen years of chasing critters big and small, of riding in canoes and on private jets, and taking long road trips in her truck, I lasted two days before I started searching the internet for a puppy to mend my broken heart. Seven days after Zuma died I had eight week-old Echo in my arms and all was right in the world again. I have never experienced a relationship that transformed my soul the way she did.
Later, when I traveled for work I missed Echo more than I missed my wife. I could talk to her on the phone but not to Echo. It was heartbreaking to see her age by way of intermittent and too-brief visits home, but I knew she was living the best life we could provide for her because I was away, earning that living. Later, when professional discord and personal incompatibility led to divorce I saw Echo and Preacher (her successor) even less frequently but convinced myself—because I had to—that I didn’t need them in my life as I once did.
The dog-less years that followed didn’t feel empty. I fell in love with Selina. I did good work and overdelivered on every contract. I practiced with my cameras and laid the foundation for a new book. But I always had the nagging sense of something missing, a void I could fill on weekends by visiting Slim (who lives with my friends Helen and George) or by playing with whatever dog friends I made in passing. Those quick hits kept me familiar both with the void and the certainty a new dog awaited me in the future.
It was never the right time. I said it over and over again. What if this? And what if that? I was blocking my own progress and also afraid of the responsibility. I didn’t want to fuck it up and make an animal’s life anything but the best it could possibly be. When I watched my friends Ben and Lauren lose their male GSD, Atlas, to a freak medical issue, and photographed their first meeting with his successor, Aksel, I knew it was time to heed the wisdom and advice I shared with an acquaintance several years ago.
He sent me an email asking about the quote on my profile so I tried to describe what dogs meant to me at that time, which I believe was in early-2016. This conversation helped me. And it also helped him.
What is it about dogs that helped? Kind of going through some life bullshit right now, have always wanted a dog but never invested in one before, just wanted your thoughts if you don't mind.
A dog is utterly consistent and compels you to be as well. A dog's love is unconditional and that caused me to examine what love is and means and whether or not our love is also unconditional or transactional. A dog can't look after itself. You become his or her custodian and must begin to live for something outside of, or apart from Self. This opens the eyes to life on a different scale. For me this was monumental. I never had children. A dog became, for awhile, that higher demand. And I grew.
Thank you, it seems like it may be worth my investment, I need a change in my life and focusing on something else is probably best for me so I can grow, much like you mentioned. I need to make a change or I won't make it past 35. Thanks for the quick response too, I am sure you get flooded with messages daily, thanks for taking the time to share.
A dog will change you. Expose you to yourself. He or she will be a mirror like no other. I need one right now but circumstances prevent it—I'm on the road too much. If you have the chance adopt a dog. Go to a shelter. Just sit with them. Observe. And if you can, rescue one from death row. The life you save may be your own. Trite sounding words, perhaps. But also true.
Honestly I am hoping it does save my life. In the military, multiple deployments, usual associated bullshit. Multiple guys going through similar issues told me that getting a dog saved their life, and they adopted like you said which saved that dog's life, mutually beneficial. Just feel bad as I am not sure how much time I can actually devote due to work but it may force me to get home at a decent hour and focus on something else than work.
If you can offer a dog a better life than death, do it. If you can offer a dog a better life than doggie jail, do it. I was on the phone with a guy tonight—prior military, a dozen years in, and now, back in the valley (in climber-speak) having trouble integrating because no one down here speaks the same language, because they never experienced or saw the same things. Work isn't the answer. The higher calling you once lived for doesn't matter here. So maybe a dog becomes that thing higher than Self, and a savior.
That's some serious gospel right there. Will be checking for shelter locations tomorrow. Thanks again.
Reviewing this conversation now, after having really confronted my own relationship to “the valley” and published REFUGE in an attempt to describe my journey from high- to low-altitude, I realize how much I needed a dog back then. Counseling another to acquire one felt good but fell short too.
Now that SPARKLE is in my life—in our lives because Selina needs and loves her as much as I do—everything appears brighter, and lighter, and I don’t fault myself for not finding a new savior earlier. I wasn’t equipped back then. She wasn’t yet necessary. And while it would be easy to say that I don’t love waking up every two hours to take her out for pee breaks, I actually do. And I love the blood her piranha teeth have drawn, the little holes she has torn in my clothes, the smell of urine on my hands and arms, and her crying when she finds she got tricked into entering her crate again, and the snores and stretching and twitching while she dreams in her sleep.
Yes, our lives will change to accommodate her and we will change as human beings because of her but this is exactly what I wanted.
All hail SPARKLE (last name Motion).
Podcast episode all about Dogs
Preacher and Echo 2014
SPARKLE sees her first fire hydrant
Zuma being chauffeured by Lisa on Flathead Lake
Echo and I shot by Clay Enos
SPARKLE on the trip home from New Mexico
Zuma near Vail, CO