35lbs of pure will. That’s a good way to describe the little white bolt of lightning that dropped into my life 13 years ago. On this anniversary of Roxy’s passing, I wanted to take a moment to return to this space, not just to talk about her, but to also talk about how much she showed me about the power of patience, faith, and community.
This was the last walk out in nature I would have with Roxy. It was at a friend’s cabin in Winthrop, WA. What most people will see is just a normal walk with a dog in a field, but for those of you who know our story you’ll know that what you’re looking at is so much more. Because you will know her history of fear, rage, and disconnection. You’ll know how much she didn’t trust the world or the humans with whom she shared her life. And based on that knowledge, you would also know that a beautiful, connected, relaxing walk like this with her would have been impossible years ago. It was a journey to get here, one that was built upon trust and commitment.
The anniversary of Roxy’s passing has made me feel a bit melancholy this weekend as I continue to struggle to find my ground again. But what compelled me to sit down and share with you is the fact that after 9 years away, Amanda and I spent this past week in Vermont at the farm where everything changed for me. It was at Kevin Behan’s farm in Newfane where this journey started. It was in this safe place where I first saw a glimpse of potential, and I began to believe in what was possible. Here was a person who had spent a literal lifetime with dogs and would challenge me to see them in a new light, a perspective and approach that was in complete contradiction to conventional “wisdom”. I am not exaggerating when I say the month spent there with Kevin changed my life. And not just in a few ways. In every way.
The memory of this farm has become so intertwined with the memories I have of our dogs, that I could feel them again when I stepped onto the property. This will always be a sacred place for me, because while I had been living with them for years before bringing them to Kevin, it was here where the dogs and I truly saw each other for the first time. It was here that the first steps towards that walk in Winthrop would take place. It was here where the seeds of faith were sown, and from those seeds grew patience and a community of others who also followed their hearts to what has become a mecca for so many of us.
When I watch this video of Roxy I feel my heart swell. Because for me this walk shows the power of what is possible when you let go of goals and expectations, and focus on the things that really matter. For the first time I felt a true heart to heart connection, like an invisible chord between us. A magnet if you will. I could feel and sense it in the same way I can feel the sun on my face or the ground beneath my feet. It was as real as anything I’ve ever felt, and on those walks I felt a piece of heaven on earth.
I can’t blame Roxy for leaving after that experience we had together. That moment was the culmination of everything we had done prior. We had gotten to the place we needed to be. She showed me what was and is possible in this world, through the power of trust and the connection that can grow from it. But we never would have gotten there had it not been for Kevin showing the way. Every time I watch this video I can’t help but think how this would not have been possible without him. And for that, Kevin, I will never be able to thank you enough.
I can’t believe it’s been almost a year. It’s taken that long for me to finally come back here, and honestly I don’t know when and if I’ll be back. But I wanted to come here to tell you that you brought light back into my life, and kept the embers warm during the times when it was hard to do it on my own. It was you who kept me safe and sound when my world felt like a dangerous place. But I’m ok now. You’ll always live in my heart. Thank you, Jackie. For everything.
Song lyrics by Taylor Swift-Safe and Sound
There really are no words to express the feelings of loss I feel. On Friday, March 20, I held Jackie in my arms for the last time. This is the last photo of us together, a final farewell after the injection that took her from this world. She was the quiet one, the one that people didn’t always notice at first. But once you knew her, you knew how special she was. Her presence in my life transformed me, changed me, awakened me. She breathed life into this dying vessel and taught me how to feel again. Her time here was too short, too quick, cut down by a tick born infection that ultimately ended in cancer. She was and still is my emotional compass, always guiding me back to myself, the captain of my heart on this journey of discovery into the unknown. She was my guide and my partner, and now I must travel this road on my own with hopes that the lessons I learned from our time together will remain. As was her nature, she slipped into my heart quietly, unnoticed at first, and then busted the door open from the inside. I can only hope that door will stay open as I move forward without her.
Everywhere I look I am reminded of her, as I walk around and see all her favorite spots. The void she has left is huge, and I feel it all around me. I still hear her footsteps on the kitchen floor, her breathing in the other room. I still imagine her flying through the air to catch a frisbee, even though the last time she was able to do that was 9 months ago. Her shadow looms large and I see her ghost everywhere I turn. I know that at some point the hurting will stop, but for now I embrace it as her final gift to me, because hurting is feeling, and feeling is living. And ultimately that is what Jackie gave me. She gave me my life back. Goodbye sweet Jackie, you will always be in my heart and by my side, and I look forward to when we meet again.
There’s just something about a guy and his dog. There’s a beauty and simplicity to the relationship that can’t be explained in words, but when you see it in front of you, it becomes so crystal clear. We should all be so lucky to have the kind of relationship that Joe and Duke have. It’s a beautiful thing watching these two navigate the world, and I’m grateful to my friend Joe for giving me a glimpse of the special bond he shares with his constant companion Duke.
It’s been 5 years since I made that trek to Vermont and met Kevin Behan for the first time. Little did I know at the time how much he would change my life. I can’t believe 5 years have already passed, so when the opportunity came to get together again in Indiana, I relished the chance to meet and catch up. This time though I wouldn’t be bringing dogs, I would be bringing a camera. Well, 2 cameras actually. One for me and one for Amanda. It was a fantastic 3 days of reconnecting with some old friends, and making a lot of new ones. The organizing team of the Indiana K-9 Assisted Crisis Response Team did an amazing job putting the event together, and it was so nice to finally meet so many people in person who I had only met online. Even though the 5 years have gone by quickly, I vow that it won’t be another 5 before we reconnect again. Thanks to everyone who attended for being such gracious subjects and not being deterred by having a camera constantly following them around, as well as to Jean Marie Thompson and her team for making us feel so welcome, and of course a huge thanks to Kevin for continuing to do what he does, helping us all get out of our heads and reconnect with our hearts. See you again soon my friend.