Her paws press into the ground with intention.
Each step so careful, so purposeful.
Her head is constantly on a swivel, observing the world around her, forever cautious against potential threats.
She moves through the world with grace, patience and power.
She always knew she was supposed to be here.
To be more intentional, more purposeful, more observant.
My boy, the catalyst for all of this
He was not dissimilar.
His movements were more fluid, yet no less deliberate.
There was an exuberance to his path, that he’d finally found his place in the world … after already moving through two families before he met me.
He’s no longer physically with me and yet I continue to learn from him every day.
The lessons we learn from them
I believe our dogs are our greatest teachers, if we allow ourselves to see their lessons.
They show us to live more in the moment.
To shed the judgments of others.
To shake off our own mistakes and perceptions of how hard life is today.
To be happier with who we are right here right now.
These lessons, their companionship, their love, the safety they allow us to feel …
It all lets us feel stronger, more confident, more powerful … safer.
As a single woman living in a large urban center, my 110-pound Maremma sheepdog was more than my guardian. He was my protector, my self-defense.
And as a woman often hiking alone in the Inland Northwest, I know my Bella will not allow man nor beast to mess with me.
Before we find them
I grew up the only girl in a family of four children – three brothers.
I didn’t feel heard in my home, and school was hell.
My jeans were not 501 Red Tabs, my clothes were often hand-me-downs from my wealthier cousins, and I was never given the two or three dollars that let me buy Sloppy Joes and hang with the cool kids.
I was bullied badly by the Mean Girls.
My brother gave me a beautiful three-chain necklace for Christmas one year. Several months later, during a drama production in junior high, for which I was one of the key actresses, my “best friend” invited me outside to the parking lot.
There, I was surrounded by several of the cool girls. One stepped forward to tell me I wasn’t “the shit” I thought I was, grabbed the necklace and broke it.
I never told my brother what happened to the necklace … just let everyone assume I lost it, which was easy to figure, based on reckless me.
I felt silenced.
I felt I had no voice.
Though I learned from my days as a sports writer in Newfoundland that you “say what you mean and mean what you say,” it wasn’t until I met Shep that I learned how to center myself on me.
I was always desperate to prove myself to the cool kids, to belong, to hear my voice heard.
But it wasn’t until Shep came into my life that I knew what that voice was supposed to say. This dog, this Maremma sheepdog whose family didn’t want anymore, came into my life to show me I should stop caring about belonging to the cool crowd, that I was cool enough for him.
He taught me to take things less seriously, that I can’t control everything, that I needed to go more with the flow, that I needed to be in the mountains.
That I needed to have a camera in my hands.
If I were to write a book about our life together and the impact dogs have on our lives, it would be called “He Led Me Here.”
Because he did.
Without him, I would not be the person I am today.
To celebrate women and their dogs
Over the last five months, I’ve been working on celebrating these gifts my dogs have given me.
It’s a project inspired by my participation in Same Dress Spokane.
I’ve gathered women – women who love adventure and hiking with their dogs – and taken them into the mountains. I’ve put them in glamorous dresses next to their dogs, juxtaposing their feminine beauty against the rugged landscape of Eastern Washington and North Idaho.
Seeing the strength of the women, their dogs and the awe-inspiring land where we live.
Jordan is the amazing woman in the photo at the top of this page. Five years ago, she left a long-term relationship and needed a change to rediscover her full self.
“Cutting my bangs or dying my hair wasn’t enough,” she says. “Instead I saw a white fluffy puppy and claimed him as my own. Since that day, my bond with Ares is unmatchable.”
They have journeyed across the country together, through heartbreak and grief, and to Jordan’s discovery of who she wants to be.
Ares is her rock.
“In his bright blue, soulful eyes and unconditional loyalty,” Jordan says, “I find a source of strength that encourages me to face the world with courage and resilience. … Through our time together, I have weathered life’s storms, knowing that his presence serves as a guiding light through life’s many switchbacks, both literally and figuratively.”
The power we find
Christine is a friggin’ powerhouse.
A lawyer. A powerlifter.
And yet beside her Sam, she melts, becomes vulnerable, soft.
“I never thought I’d meet my soul dog,” Christine says. “She’s taken care of me in my worst times, been by my side in the best times, adventured with me and taught me patience, kindness and empathy.
“She’s shown me boundless patience and love every time I mess up as her person, endless resilience when I fail her, incredible bravery when I ask her for courage, and unwavering loyalty.”
Our strength, our safety
Who gave me straight fire when I said, “Protect your dog.”
She was in an abusive relationship for more than a decade and when she finally had the strength to leave, Leila was her guiding light.
“She taught me to keep going, to keep looking ahead and she kept me strong,” Samantha says. “She was the ever faithful sidekick that happily went along with all of the adventures my new life has in store for me.”
Leila is 11 and Samantha sees the signs of age setting in. Leila is slower, less able to go on big adventures in the mountains.
When Samantha comes home, though, Leila is right there waiting.
“What hasn’t changed,” Samantha says, “is her smile and wiggly tushie when I walk in the door after work or just from running out to the car. This girl is my world.”
We are phoenixes who have risen from the fire.
Each feather on our wings is intertwined with dog fur. The relationships we have with our canine companions have been transformative, empowering us to take our next steps and find new paths.
In the face of adversity, our dogs have been grounding forces, giving us an endless supply of comfort and support.
A new beginning, a new book, a new way to look at our dogs
This project is not over.
I feel compelled to carry on, to show more women their majesty through the eyes of their dogs.
To show them that to trust in their dogs is to find our true paths.
Next week, I’ll be launching a new photo session, Into the Wild, which celebrates this precious connection we’ve found.
I’ll be taking 40 women on adventures throughout the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and Alberta, putting them in dresses and posing them with their dogs.
A portion of their session fees will be donated to the Companions Animal Center in Hayden, Idaho, an organization staffed with some kickass women, and then we will compile a book.
A book, like Paws of the Panhandle and Paws of the Inland Northwest, which benefited the Better Together Animal Alliance in 2021 and the Spokane Humane Society in 2022, respectively.
Come join us on our Tails of Adventure Dogs.
Want to secure your spot before next week’s for really real official announcement of Into the Wild? Fill me in with a little information about you and your dog: