On January 14th, 2009, I pulled my car over on a random desert road and met one of the great loves of my life. From the moment I laid eyes on that shy, skinny, matted puppy, I knew we were destined to see the world together.
In nearly 13 years, D.O.G. aka Dio followed me all over North America, for thousands of miles, up hundreds of summits, across 47 states and Canada, missing only Minnesota, Wisconsin and Hawaii. He went from being a scraggly, half-wild pup to a strikingly handsome coal black chow-wolf who would make soul-searching eye contact with anybody, before backing up into their legs, jonesing for a butt scratch.
This spring, I sold my house and moved the dogs and myself back into our RV, nomads once again. As it often has over the years, the open road took us through Monument Valley. Of all the times I’ve been back since finding Dio, only once did I stop at the same spot where I found him; he wouldn’t get out of the car, with a look that said, I’m staying with you. This time, I stopped at a random spot, and snapped a photo of a majestic Dio sniffing the winds of his homelands. I posted the picture, alongside the shot I took of the scraggly puppy the day I found him. Little did I know at the time, these would be the first and last photos I ever took of Dio.
As I drove away, I reached behind me, where Dio always rode within arm’s reach and ran my fingers through his fluffy chow-mix lion’s mane and said, “Thanks for coming with me, D.O.G.” The next day, on our daily walk, Dio was slow but steady and regal as ever. But by the next morning, he was lethargic and unsteady and by the end of the day, had no interest in standing or eating, not even sardines. He didn’t seem to be in distress or pain, just deeply tired. I laid on the ground with him for hours and told him, if you’re ready, I’m ready. The next morning, I took him to the emergency vet in Durango and she agreed that he was on his way to the other side so we set him free.
In my experience working at a vet hospital in college, old animals don’t fear or fight death and I’ve always been determined to honor their path once they’ve decided to take it. Of course it breaks my heart to say goodbye to my best friends (RIP Bowie) but I know in my heart, just as I knew the moment I saw Dio, that our journey continues. I miss my fluffy dog but I’m also thrilled for him to be free of his tired old body and I feel both him and Bowie running around me on every walk. Their spirits also live on in Vida, who is very happy to have all my attention, although I’m sure she misses her friend too.
I donated Dio’s throne of dog beds to the dog shelter in Durango, embracing the floor space in my 100 square feet and spent the week in town with friends, waiting for Dio’s ashes to be ready; god bless that dog for leaving me in a place where I am loved. And then me, Vida and Dio’s ashes went backpacking.
Over the next month, we hiked over 200 miles of the Continental Divide Trail in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. One hundred of those miles were spent solo, on my longest solo backpacking trip yet. I loved every mile of the week-long trip. I relished calling all the shots and setting the pace, which turned out to be closer to 15 miles a day than my usual ten. After 15-years of backpacking, it felt incredible to raise my own bar and then clear it with gusto.
When we got to the Rio Chama outside of Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, a raft of riverpeople gifted me the biggest, juiciest slice of watermelon I’ve ever had. After enjoying every bite, I jumped in the river to wash off the mess and then did a yoga session by the river. Afterwards, as I stepped away to pee, a rattlesnake warned me from a pile of rocks not ten feet away from my mat. Vida looked at the rattler, looked at me, and didn’t move from her spot by my backpack, wagging her tail slightly to say, “Yes, I know better”. Dio survived being bitten by a rattlesnake and I swear, he passed his hard-earned snake wisdom onto Vida.
I am blessed by the best dogs, living and spirit. Today would have been Dio’s 13th birthday. Happy Birthday, D.O.G. Thanks for coming with me. Onwards and upwards, forever, my friend!