Seeing how my days are typically spent riding a motorcycle on dirt back roads or skiing down craggy, remote mountains, I convinced myself that I couldn’t bring a dog into my life. Then one day, there he was: the last of the litter, a discounted outcast not fit for the “show dog” world. Even through the dull iPhone screen his mismatched eyes burrowed into mine and told me I wasn’t alone, and that he needed me just as much as I needed him. Without thinking, I said aloud in my empty living room, “That’s my Gus boy,” and I messaged the owners and said I’d pick him up the next day.
A frightened little tennis ball, Gus wiggled his way to me as I stood in a dusty parking lot in central Utah, and he looked up at me as if to say, “Please take me with you.” I knew I didn’t have an option. He was my responsibility now, and something in this whirlwind of existence brought me to this moment; all I could do was trust the process. I had changed my life forever — but how dramatically was yet to be determined.
I immediately told Gus about the cool road trips we were going to take, and how he was going to love motorcycles, but on the ride back home my romantic notions of woman and dog conquering the world together were comically shattered. Within 20 minutes he had thrown up twice and soiled himself, so I pulled over to a small stream to give him some fresh air and a drink. He bounced along next to my feet as if nothing had happened, sniffing the flowers, dunking his little paws in shallow pools, even attempting a jump onto a rock in the stream, which ultimately resulted in a full submersion. I giggled and scooped him up, his eight-pound body shivering from the cold run-off. Wrapping him in my shirt, I couldn’t stop laughing; this little fuzzball was adorably confident, and his curiosity illuminated even the most mundane roadside stops. Everything was new to him, and I started to think that he would help me see my world in a better light.
A week later we took a trip to southern Utah, and I exposed Gus to all the activities that he’d be doing for the rest of his life. As we trotted along the red rock countryside, little Gus was clueless as to what was about to happen. My backpack was filled with ropes, harnesses, and carabiners — necessities for the 80-foot rappel we were about to do into a cavern called “The Goblin’s Lair.” We approached the anchor point and I peered over the ledge, holding him tightly just in case he hadn’t yet comprehended the consequences of gravity. I took out my ropes and set up the rappel, then strapped Gus into his brand-new climbing harness. He looked at me with excitement and naiveté, ready to conquer anything thrown his way, too young to challenge any decisions just yet. I saddled him up and then cinched him to me with an excessive amount of attachment points. We crept toward the drop-off, and with each step I reassured Gus that he was in good hands. I held him close, his little heartbeat doubling mine. As we made the final step into the free hang, I waited for him to freak out and cry, but he didn’t.
Suspended 80 feet above the ground, Gus just sat in my lap as I lowered us to safety, looking around as the walls whizzed by, as if he’d done this a dozen times before. Once we landed and I detached Gus, he gave a little shake and then peered up with a hanging-tongue smile: “Cool, Mom! What’s next?!” At that moment I knew I found my perfect adventure buddy. My solitary life of exploration had been curated around “what ifs” and “maybes.” Responsibility was an avoidance; caring for others was a burden. I believed that I wasn’t designed for a partnership, but Gus happily challenged this, and my stubbornness as an independent woman was quickly negated by the stubbornness of my Aussie.
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We started checking off every trip I could imagine. All the activities I had wished I had a dog for were now coming to fruition. After the desert we escaped to Wyoming to go fly fishing, where Gus booped his first trout. Then back to the desert for 40 miles of backpacking, a distance that saw me carrying him half the time but worth every mile. My mornings were greeted with kisses; the nights ending curled up in the tent, reading Edward Abbey as Gus gazed into the wild. Each day was filled with pure play, his floppy ears bouncing to his step as if showcasing his inability to feel anything but joy. His continuous curiosity ignited my own. We played with bugs and lizards, examined the flora around us, or dipped our feet in even the smallest of puddles. Gus brought a simplistic view to what we easily complicate, and I could feel the weight of the world that I had saddled myself with slowly begin to fade.
It’s been almost a year since I got Gus, and his résumé of adventure continues to grow. We’ve pack-rafted hundreds of miles of river together, road-tripped up the West Coast eating our weight in seafood, skied powder through the trees in the mountains of Idaho, and even attempted a motorcycle ride, which ultimately ended in him wiggling butt first out of his carrier onto my shoulders — but fun nonetheless. To say it’s perfect would be a lie. For those who know, puppies come with a certain amount of hair-pulling, and Gus has tested that patience plenty of times. But those few moments are heavily outweighed by the positives; he grounds me but lifts me at the same time, like a symphony building to its finale. He keeps my feet planted but elevates my existence toward a higher sense of self.
I don’t know what the cards have in store for us; I don’t know what the next 10 years look like. To presume that I have it under control would be unrealistic, but to doubt it would be reckless. Gus challenges me by forcing open my narrow vision and expanding it beyond the horizon I’ve projected for myself. It’s ironic that I was designated as the caregiver, the owner, and the provider, because within minutes he had assumed that role, and now I’m the one relearning what it means to truly live. He is my catalyst, my therapist, my better half — a position he’ll never know, and one I’ll never forget.
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