My dog is dying.
Well, maybe. Pete is 13 but, who knows, he could actually make it to 16. He’s the healthiest dog I’ve ever seen; a total bad-ass. He’s doing his best to fake it and be puppy. But, the vet told me on Monday: glaucoma and dementia and he’s already blind in one eye. They aren’t going to just give him some drug to stop his pain. No surgery to fix it at this point. Nope.
He was my first baby. My life was pretty easy and predictable until I was 25. Not that I was always happy or sane. But at least I was kinda normal. I was a married grad-student, rock-climber fanatic, sister and yogini when I met Pete. I often think that Pete fell into my lap because I was about to really need his warrior spirit. Pete became the best stability a person could ask for: my anchor for the last 11 years.
Bad-ass, my ass: Pete is my fellow fighter.
“Peeee-EEEET!” echoing in your skull might be what comes to mind if you’ve met my dog.
That might have been me yelling from the top of the Wind Tower in Eldo for Pete to stop barking at some poor climber trying to scramble past my back-pack at the base. That might have been me trying to find Pete in the woods on a run, right before realizing that he had skipped all the switch-backs and beat me to the finish. That might have been me hoping Pete didn’t see the neighbor’s cat and do god-knows-what. That might have been me at Devil’s Tower trying to get Pete to let go of a porcupine at 6 a.m. on Memorial Day when no vets were open. That probably is me trying to rescue my son’s lunch for the third time today.
I wasn’t always yelling for Pete. There were quiet adbhuta days of wonder…
Back-country skiing in Jackson Hole winter after winter; Pete turned dolphin in the powder until we had to pick him up and carry him out the cat-track. Pete the pin-ball on long mountain bike rides: racing my husband up front and then coming back every 15 minutes to herd me along and check my pulse. Hours of laying his head in my lap while I knitted blankets and sweaters for the soul growing in my belly.
Pete met and licked the face of my brother before he committed suicide in 2002.
None of my friends today even knew my brother, but Pete did. Nobody held me up like Pete did. He knew my ex-husband, then, and stuck by my side through our split the following year. Pete didn’t care that I was homeless and penniless and directionless.He just wanted to feel the wind in his fur for a while.
He moved with me from crag to crag, job to job, house to eviction to house and again, and then through months of turmoil as I struggled though the muck. He held down the fort for four years of window watching as I found my yearning to serve others and got the shit kicked out of me by the public school system. Always the gate-keeper; Pete decided who came through the door to my heart as I met new friends and family.
Through my joy around my wedding and then two broken feet; he waited patiently hoping to trail-run again. Instead, he guarded my belly through three months of nausea and a month of bed rest and six weeks of labor. Pete was the one who had the guts to let out a howl and refuse to eat when he realized that the freedom days were over.
There was a new soul in the house who would not let mama sleep, play or even take a shower.
A beautiful new being that sucked nearly every bit of prana from the mom that Pete knew, and yet could make her smile even when the entire day had been total hell and hurricane. Mama wanted to howl, but she let Pete do that for her.
“Motherhood is mental freeze” is an understatement. Some part of me always knows that Pete is in the house… but I regret that he’s sometimes more like a floor lamp than a family member. My son can’t do a drawing, sing a song, or go on a family adventure without Pete in the picture. But, I’ve not loved my dog back as much as I used to. Okay, for real? He’s been a total pain-in-the-ass. Waking the baby that never slept. Knocking over the toddler. Sneaking out to walk himself while I unload the groceries. Endless barking that wreaks havoc on my nervous system. An extra burden I could barely handle… somehow still needed.
You can’t paint a picture of our house without Pete because he’s been the one holding down the fort and voicing the hardship. The one reminding us that sometimes it’s more important to go for a walk than return voicemails. He is the one who is always there. He is home. Pete’s the only one who stayed the same. Everyone else either died, left or dramatically changed. Home is where unbreakable arms hold. Endless empathy. The listener. Where the warmth is. Comfort. Undying support. An infinite source of understanding without having to exchange one word. The one who goes to bat even when I’ve been a shitty friend lately. Home tests me, it annoys me, it brings me back to what matters. My dog is my home, but he taught me that “home” is also within me, it is me, and it’s something bigger than me. My home is what holds me up and reminds me of who I am.
And now? Now I get to hold Pete up.
I remember to stop and offer an ear scratch even though someone somewhere else wants something from me… I want my son to see how to take care of another hurting being. What it feels like to serve another and how it fills me up. Offering back to Pete in the way that he has tirelessly held my anchor over these last chaotic years. Because I want to. And finally, because I have enough in me that I can. Maybe our warrior days together are over, but what he filled me up with, the home he gave me, will never go away.
Erin Keeley Phillips (M.S., ERYT-200, RYT-500) is a Boulder yoga teacher, mother, and friend who is passionate about soul feeding Forever a seeker, she’s been teaching through the body for 22 years, spent 15 years in the hard sciences, and has been practicing yoga asana and Tantra for 14 years. Her lessons hit home through several tragedies in her life in which she came out on the other side having found more beauty by simply not choosing the easy way out. Erin will welcome you to your mat, no matter your story, with warmth and understanding.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta