There’s the day we met.

Then there’s the day we found each other and you became my true guardian dog.

We were vacationing with friends in Alberta and just one month shy of the fifth anniversary of Shep’s death.

I chose the Johnston Canyon hike to the Ink Pots on purpose. I knew, of course, our friends would love it but it was also a memorial trip, a pilgrimage to reconnect with my first time there.

My first time to the Ink Pots

It feels like a lifetime ago but it’s still so fresh in my mind. My friend squired Shep, my then-5-year-old Maremma sheepdog, and me away from Calgary on my birthday weekend to camp and hike in Banff National Park.

We awoke early, knowing the crowds ogling the Johnston Canyon waterfalls don’t usually strike until about 9 a.m. We made our way up the winding trail through forest, catching occasional glimpses of peaks in the distance.

After about 3½ miles, we broke through the trees, the path opening into a meadow with the glorious backdrop of the Sawback Range of the Rocky Mountains.

Shep and I found a spot to sit and drink in the beauty that surrounded us. We sat quietly next to each other and it dawned on me that day that my life was changing.

the writer and her first guardian dog at banff ink pots
Shep and me at Banff National Park

The city girl, tired of the rat race and the concrete jungle, found herself breathing deeper in the mountains, her muscles less tense and her spirits higher. She soon traded in her high heels and softball cleats for hiking boots.

We became closer that day, Shep and me. We looked into each other’s eyes and I knew to live more in the moment. He knew it was now OK to trust me.

After three years of being together, he finally became my true guardian dog.

He was irreplaceable and unforgettable.

Another guardian dog, 12 years later

It was now your turn to be 5, my fierce, defiant puppy.

You were starting your own journey into the woods, a year or so into your hiking career. You charged up that trail like it was your business to do it.

“There’s no stopping to look at the arnica blossoms,” your eyes glared at me. To this day, you still don’t like to take breaks on the trail.

And yet, when we got to the Ink Pots meadow, you stood quietly beside me, as if you were drinking it all in, too, despite the dozens of other hikers milling about.

And yet, when I sank to the ground sobbing because I was still grieving my first guardian dog, my soulmate, you sat quietly beside me.

the writer and her dog during a banff hiking trip
Our Magic Moment Photo credit: Cat House

As the tears streamed down my face, you raised your paw and gently placed it on my arm. I looked up and saw the meadows of wildflowers and the rugged Sawbacks.

Again.

For the first time.

With you.

In that moment, you became irreplaceable and unforgettable.

You became my guardian dog, my protector, my heart, my best friend.

We became inseparable.

And I realized that there was room for two of you: the guardian dog of my heart, Shep, and the guardian dog of my soul, Bella.

The Soul Dog Journey Project

These stories of Bella, to be told every Monday in 2022, are part of the Soul Dog Journey Project, a mission by my friend Marika at @dirtiedogphotography in Seattle. After losing her Soul Dog, Kerouac, last year, she’s put together a 52-week project that gets us telling the stories of how we are connected to our dogs and what they bring to our lives. 

Each week, there’s a new story prompt to get our creative juices flowing. This week’s prompt is “toe-to-toe,” the story of your favorite place to walk together. 

Bella and I walk together in so many special places: Dishman Hills, the Rocks of Sharon, Plantes Ferry, Mt. Spokane State Park, hiking trails throughout North Idaho. It’s difficult to pick a favorite.

Our trip to Banff is my most special hike with her, and my most special hike with Shep. It was there I learned the connection possible with both of them.

Don’t be shy. Tell me in the comments about your favorite walk with your dog and it connects you. And if you’ve found yourself here because you have a Maremma sheepdog that brings you a deeper connection than you’ve ever known, well, you just know.

nv-author-image

Dogs. Adventure. Outdoors. These words set Angela's heart afire. Angela Schneider, an award-winning writer and dog photographer, documents the story of you and your dog and the adventures you take together. Your portraits will be a statement piece in your home, art that will make your friends and family beg to hear its story.

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