In loving you, I am forever changed. 1995-2006
In the summer of 1995, my family drove to Arkansas from central Texas to pick out a puppy for my brother, we were both in junior high. He had done really well in school that year and was finally old enough to handle the responsibility of his own dog. We had family pets, but this would be his special pet. He had wanted an Alaskan Malamute. We drove to the breeders and gasped at the amazing dogs. My brother was playing with the puppies and deciding which one he liked best. And then I saw her….shy and hiding behind the couch. The owner picked her up and put her in my arms; we looked at each other…and it was all over. The breeder offered us a 2 for one deal and we returned to our 6-acre plot with 2 malamute pups. My brother’s black and white pup he named Cherokee and to my beautiful grey girl I gave the name “Willow.” My Willow had several unusual quirks – she frightened easily and would shovel her head and body behind mine when scared. This was cute as a puppy, but a 70 pound adult trying to hide behind a 90 pound girl didn’t work out so well. She also was convinced she was a lapdog and had no concept that she was a malamute. When she stood on her hind paws, she was every inch as tall as I was and trying to get all that dog into my lap was quite an ordeal! My favorite quirk about her was that she didn’t hold her tail in that cute, Malamute way – she held it down and she looked every inch of a wolf.
When the girls were in their late puppy/early adolescent stage we moved to Denver, and to a suburban neighborhood with a tiny yard. It took some adjustment on everyone’s part. Within a few weeks, we had lost pretty much all traces of grass in the backyard as the girls played chase continuously. Thoughts of flower and vegetable gardens vanished shortly after the grass. And the neighbors were a bit disconcerted that our dogs could stand on their hind legs and look over the fence. After our first snow (>15 inches) the dogs dug out snow tunnels from the deck across the yard. They stood on the drifts of snow and could easily jump over the fence. We brought them into the house. My brother thought it would be great if the girls could remember their heritage as sled dogs, so he promptly hauled out the sled, hitched Cherokee and Willow to the sled, and settled in for a ride. The girls hopped into the sled with him and he ended up pulling the dogs around. Happy times.
My Willow and I shared a very special relationship, especially as she got older and her personality mellowed out a bit. What I remember most fondly were her eyes. They were warm and brown, ancient and wise, and full of love. I’ve had other pets, but none have looked at me with such intense devotion as my Willow. Outside of my parents, I don’t think a single creature on earth has loved me as completely as Willow. I loved her back with all my heart and she knew it. Her love changed me. I started to view the world through the lens of wildlife, and in college my love for Willow blossomed into a passion for wildlife conservation, especially with wolves. During my college days, the wolf reintroduction to Yellowstone was a really big deal, especially when some of the wolves migrated to Rocky Mountain National Park. My interest in wildlife conservation led to a shift in my college studies and I started taking more environmental classes. I still hope one day to employ my efforts in conservation. From there I made lifestyle changes, became a vegetarian, and started developing a global awareness and responsibility. All this came from my Willow, from the loving gaze of my faithful dog. I’ve considered it the greatest compliment of my life to have been the recipient of her friendship. Above all honors and awards and experiences of my life, what I treasure most is that she chose to love me.
And so on Earth Day, it seemed appropriate to honor her, as she nurtured and grew a love of nature and wildness in my heart. When I celebrate Earth Day, I think of her and all she taught me about the heart of nature and how precious God’s creation is. It is also the 7th anniversary of her passing today and I miss her touch, her presence still so much. It’s been 18 years since she first walked into my life and left her pawprints on my heart. I miss you my faithful friend, and I wait to hold you again on the other side of eternity. Thank you God, for my Willow.
Blessings to you,