In August 2011, I stopped letting Borage, Jigs, Chloe, and Lolo run free. To many, this might not seem like a big deal. Deciding to walk your dogs on leashes instead of allowing them to run wild… who cares? But in my life, the decision to restrain my dogs, snapping long extended leads to their collars before each and every hike, marked a major shift in how I navigate life. It all boiled down to one emotion — fear. I was terrified. That summer, both of my parents were dying in front of me. Together, we had already endured a year of cancer, but nothing was going right. Surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, infections, middle-of-the-night ER visits — if one more bad thing happened to someone I love, I feared I wouldn’t be able to take it.
I could be my parents’ constant caregivers, but I could not stop disease from ravaging their bodies. I longed for control — of anything. By making my dogs walk close at my side, I could prevent them from getting lost in the woods or hurt by a wild animal. I could keep them from being swept away by a swollen river. Before my parents became ill, one of my main joys was allowing my dogs to be dogs. I would arrive at a trailhead and open every car door, releasing them to the wilderness. Exploring forests, chasing critters, swimming in clear Montana waters — for 20 years, I cherished those pure moments with all of my dogs (Kirby, Rosa, Adeline, Borage, Jigs, Chloe, Lolo… and dozens more sled dogs).
Knowing what I now know, how do I go back? How do I calm the what if’s? How do I let go of those I love? I think, just maybe, some of the answers might be in the dogs themselves. Jigs, Chloe, and Lolo continue to drag me on down the trail, reminding me that life is not experienced in the later… but in the now. And that the best kind of love happens when you let go of the leash. Thankfully, they’re patient.