Home is Where my Dog Is. ~ Erin Keeley Phillips

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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.

To read more from Erin and find out about the classes and programs she offers go to www.erinkeeleyphillips.com and www.facebook.com/resonateyoga


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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anonymous Mar 1, 2013 7:29pm

I was in the same place when my black lab Aijo was 13. He had been my warrior companion through the rivers and mountains and valleys of breakups and moving since a puppy at 6 weeks.
He had been diagnosed with congestive heart disease and the expensive specialist vets in Denver told me this would be his end. I began to grieve as I noticed him slowing down and neurological changes from age.
A friend suggested I take him to see an animal intuitive from Denver, Rebecca Blackbyrd, and she kept saying he was saying "I'm not dead yet" and wanted me to lift my sullen soul. I changed my perspective, I raised my vibration and took him more places to smell and interact. Walks were very slow, but I kept whispering in his grey haired old man ear, "You are healthy!! You are GOOD!! I love you!!" and I also told him he could exit this world when he was ready, although he seemed grumpy or huffed and looked away.
He is now 17…yes a 17 year old lab, and for the last 4 years I kept saying "this might be his last year" and I cleared my schedule. Our journey has still been an adventure as he is showing me how to slow down and let go of my human attachment to the abilities his body is losing. He doesn't seem to care. He bumps a wall. He gets up 3 times a night to pee, but we just are thankful he still has control over many bodily functions, enjoys eating and wants to come for the ride, go for that next walk. He is still enjoying the small things in life.
As you know, Pete is still there with you, waiting eagerly for you to share his experiences. Enjoy this next step in your story together, its the preparation for the most sacred travels to spirit.
Consider looking Rebecca up on google, she has been really helpful, Aijo really seemed to enjoy it.
Love and light to your two souls!
Tamara Jones
Vail, CO

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 1:06pm

    Hi Tamara, thank you for this. Wow, I can't believe he's 17! Pete is doing better this week… a little happier it seems. So who knows! But I will say that I am more aware of him, know that I choose to be with him every day and that is what counts no matter how long he makes it. And yes, having a warrior companion makes the war not seem like so much of a war. Feels more like rivers, mountains and valleys…

anonymous Mar 1, 2013 6:07pm

Now I'm crying for my best girl, Ginger, who left us when she was a month shy of 15. She stayed around longer than she wanted to, I'm sure, just to let me hug her over and over. Our family surrounded her as she died, and my then 12 year old son held her and cried. Always, always the tears for Ginger were (and are) so uncomplicated and heart wrenching. We miss you, Ginny! I swore I never wanted another dog and almost it felt disloyal to our girl. But months passed and the gaping hole remained. Enter Zoey – funny, smart, sweet, and totally joyful. Yellow lab with a splash of shepherd. Ginger would have loved her! Hugs, hugs, and more hugs to Pete!!!!

anonymous Mar 1, 2013 2:27pm

You are ever the an inspiring warrioress. Thank you for opening up and sharing your deepest wounds and greatest triumphs. I look up to you in many ways Erin Keeley Phillips. Sounding a cloud of warmth to you and Pete.

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 1:03pm

    Caitlin, the feeling is mutual, for real. Not sure they are so much triumphs as just, well, just is. Basking in the cloud of warmth: thank you. I needed that.

anonymous Mar 1, 2013 2:17pm

Love this our Pups–angels….on this Earth.

anonymous Mar 1, 2013 1:49pm

Moved to tears, I lost one of my dogs Jan.20 so the tears come very easily.
Thank you for sharing your heart, this is such a tender time.

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 1:01pm

    I'm so sorry, Nancy, and just glad we can connect on this plane. And thanks for sharing yours, too.

anonymous Feb 28, 2013 9:30pm

Beautiful, Erin. What a poignant topic. Thank you so much for sharing this lovely piece of writing and so much of your heart.

anonymous Feb 28, 2013 7:53pm

Geez Erin… Pete and India:) Everytime my dog transitioned, so did I… sounds like you have an angel by your side:) lb

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 12:59pm

    It does feel that way, Lisbeth… when are we /not/ transitioning? Pete seems to be doing much better this week with all this love his way!

anonymous Feb 28, 2013 4:49pm

Through my tears, i immediately knelt down and wrapped my arms around BellaMIa, our loyal and unconditionally loving German Shepherd (who is also too smart for her own good!). I relate to your story of our dog bringing us through tough times; I have had shepherds my entire adult life, through good, bad and celebration! I never questioned their undying love and support. The relationship with our dogs cannot be explained, it can only be felt; and those of us reading your story definitely get it. Ironically, Gerry and I are theming our class around "the love of dogs" on Saturday morning – this was timely and moving inspiration. Sending love and peace to Pete and you.

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 12:58pm

    BellaMia! Love to you guys and your doggy loving-ness and so glad to have you both as friends. I wish I could have been in class… xo

anonymous Feb 28, 2013 1:13pm

I'm so happy you were able to write this, it's such a tribute to Pete and to his life (which we hope will be longer). Beautiful piece and yes I was also soooo moved to tears. Having been given a puppy on my first birthday (many many years ago) I know what it's like to lose the best friend who saw you through so many of life's monumental moments. Bon courage. D

anonymous Feb 28, 2013 1:40am

Beautiful. Amazing how you put into words some worries I have about my Ernie and Ed and the transition that is soon to happen in a few weeks for me with a new baby…I am an army spouse so they have been my rocks through many moves, deployments, and major life events both beautiful and raw. Again, thank you so much.

    anonymous Mar 3, 2013 12:56pm

    Laurie, I'm sure your dogs will be the same ol' best friends to remind you of who you really are now /and/ then as my Pete has done. And if you are lucky, they might get your baby laughing and smiling as free entertainment, too. So much good luck to you.

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 11:17pm

I can barely see the screen through my tears. This is very very moving Erin. You have experienced the whole universe through your relationship with Pete and captured so beautifully the flavors of it all in writing. Thank you for sharing your experience with so much depth:-) xo

    anonymous Feb 27, 2013 11:29pm

    Crazy how animals can be such a clear reflection for us; how the flavor becomes obvious and the good times along with the bad can't be forgotten. big hug to you over there across the world!

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 10:51pm

I put my beloved Maisy down two years ago when she had dementia and was having as many bad days as good. It was so hard to know what to do, but I never wanted her to suffer. Like Pete, Maisy was there for me always. I wanted her last days to be as wonderful as her first. I miss her even today.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2013 11:26pm

    Michelle, I'm still in denial about having to face that part. Knowing when is when. Hoping that a little extra love can still change things for a while. xo

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 10:02pm

here's to loyal dogs everywhere! A walk is always more important than returning voice mails 🙂

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 9:18pm

So beautiful Erin, straight from the heart…balling over here! Let us know if there is anything we can do to help. xoxox

    anonymous Feb 27, 2013 10:12pm

    Thanks Amy… so sorry to make you cry… knowing your soft spot for animals 🙂 Thanks for your support, maybe a snowy hike is in order?

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 8:59pm

Linda Sicoli I was just thanking my dog for being so damn solid!
3 hours ago · Like
elephantjournal.com Love this.

Lanni Zephier Smith So beautiful and profound…

Cheryl Renfrow Mauh!!

Kim Marriott Austin Amazing story… Understood completely. Having my chocolate lab for 14 years, during which I married and had 3 kids in 2 1/2 years… She was my anchor. Thanks for sharing such a warm story of love and companionship between a human and her dog

Susan Gemmill Yay dogs!

anonymous Feb 27, 2013 5:35pm

I knew seeing your title that your writing was going to move me to tears before I even started and yet, I felt compelled to read on. Our family just lost our beautiful, faithful 10 year old lab, Courage and not one day goes by that I don't long for all that you just described (minus all that adventure-we just aren't that type). Being there at the end of a dog's life is the hardest thing for us humans to do and it's exactly what our furry family members need the most. I wish you many, many more memories before his time comes and may you find peace (when it does happen) in the simple fact that your life sounds as if it was blessed to have such a wonderful companion. I feel your love through your writing and thank you for sharing.

    anonymous Feb 27, 2013 10:00pm

    Thanks, Carin. Now you are making /me/ cry, too. I am sorry for Courage but glad that we got to share here. -Erin