The following story, written by our good friend Lori, is a personal one. Lori, her husband Brett, her son Scott, and their faithful canine companion Pants, set out this past summer for a southbound thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Along the way, we’ve gotten to know this thoughtful and courageous family and we are humbled that Lori would share the following story with us. Dogs have profound effects on our lives. Thanks Lori, Brett, Scott, and Pants for taking Ruffwear along on your journey towards healing and understanding. We are with you all the way!I’ve never really liked dogs. I don’t like dog hair or dog breath and I especially don’t like being licked on the face – or really anywhere for that matter. It’s annoying when other people’s dogs (and all dogs are other people’s dogs) jump up on me while their owners explain that they’re “really friendly.” I’ve always thought it silly when people refer to themselves as “Mom” and “Dad” – as if they gave birth to their pup! My husband loves dogs and hoped for one since we were married. After six years of impasse I finally relented. That lasted for about a month before the weimador he named Weimea was sent to his brother’s family and renamed Paisley – all reports are that she has an amazing life.
I just don’t “do dogs” – at least that’s what I’ve always said. So how is it that as I write this before a waning campfire in the Sierra Nevada I find myself utterly alone with a dog named Pants?
Actually it’s worse than that – last night we slept in the same tent together. Did I mention my aversion to dog hair? It clings to tents! When the evening began to chill, Pants started shivering so I dutifully put him in his Quinzee jacket. Several times during the night he woke up, spun around in circles and then settled down onto his high tech Highlands Sleep System and looked up at me – waiting to be zipped back in. Pants snores. He also dreams a lot – about chasing squirrels I imagine. Anyway, some time during the night – between the spinning and zipping – the irony of our situation hit me – that we should find ourselves alone in each other’s care was no small thing.Pants and I had been alone together for nearly two days while my husband Brett and my son Scott (Pants’s “Dad” and handler) headed out over Bishop Pass to get food after one of our resupply stops closed prematurely. Pants’s paws were a little worn and I am still not fleet of foot in the mountains so we stayed behind to rest and facilitate a quick turn around. Pants is working on this trip as a PTSD service dog – I’m the patient – Scott is the handler. We’re walking because my doctors said it could be a path toward actual healing. I’ve found it difficult to think about how to begin to talk about my experience with PTSD out loud, though many people have encouraged me to do so. Being alone in the mountains – especially those mountains – watched over by a dog gave me the space to begin that process.There was a stump in our camp about the height of a man and no matter how many times I reminded myself that it was a tree stump I gasped or started every time I turned around. Pants could sense I was nervous so he stayed close by. Sometime during the first night there was a loud rustling outside the tent – whatever it was sounded big – but then everything sounds big in a tent at night behind the remote and seemingly impenetrable curtain of the Sierra. Pants began barking in a tone I had not heard before and stood defiantly at the door of the tent between me and whatever it was. I froze. Our visitor took off in a hurry (prints found the next morning confirmed it was big). Pants settled down quickly – but I could not – and I began to think about another dog in another time that also watched over and protected me.
The truth is that there was a dog that I loved – during an early, tumultuous time of my life. Her name was Dude (I have no idea why). Dude was a German shepherd and my siblings and I were her “pack.” In many ways she was my partner – or co–parent. My mom was in the hospital and my father was a fireman so he worked alternating 24–hour shifts. While he was gone the neighbors “looked in,” but I was in charge of my three siblings. I was seven or eight years old. Much of that period is outside of memory for me and thus may never or should never find its way into a blog post. But there were big events during that period that I do remember. There was an airplane accident that we survived and a flash flood that I was swept away in – both in the desert. But the strongest sense I have is of being in charge and of not being up for the job –but Dude was there with me, always there.
Then one day Dude was gone. Through no fault of her own, rather as the result of the unthinkable acts of someone she completely trusted, she was taken out to the desert to be shot. They told us in the morning that she had run away – but I’d heard the argument. At the end of the day he couldn’t shoot her so he left her out there figuring she would eventually die. A few days later someone found her in the back of an abandoned car – dehydrated, nearly dead. They called us because she had a tag on and they thought her family would want to know. We went to pick her up and that image of Dude laying lifeless in the trunk of a car was engraved in my mind. This was the consequence for telling – so you should never tell. When they put Dude down I wanted to ask where down was but I was too scared. I couldn’t protect her the way she protected me. I didn’t even know where she was. For decades I had recurring nightmares of dogs and little girls left out in the desert.
So I don’t do dogs.And yet here I sit in the care of a silly German short–haired pointer/ border collie mix who larks about the meadows and mountains – who wiles out in the snow – who will do anything to get you to throw him a stick – who races ahead to check things out and then races back to make sure everyone in his pack is safe – who somehow knows when I begin to panic or freeze and who never leaves my side when I do – and who stays with me, licking my hand, until I’m back in the present. Pants is always there – in the present – and his presence is a constant invitation for me to remain there. This little dog cares for me and I confess I am in love with a dog. So spin around as many times as you will, Smarty Pants, I still don’t like dog hair, but I will zip you in again and again.
To learn more about this trio and their intrepid canine companion, follow along on Instagram: @truhiking and @pantslives.