My first real love in adulthood love wasn’t tall, dark and handsome. He was lean, brindle and walked on all fours. That’s because he was a dog. His name was Sawyer, and it definitely had not been love at first sight.
In fact, the first time I saw him I didn’t even give him a second glance. It was only after I had turned down all the other dogs up for adoption at the Southern Oregon Humane Society that someone said, “What about him.”
They pointed to a long-haired, wolf-like, somewhat goofy looking dog with a thick mane and huge paws. I leaned down to whisper in the creature’s ear – and he immediately licked my face. As with boyfriends in the past, we moved in together pretty much immediately. But unlike boyfriends in the past, this love was true and destined to last.
I had adopted Sawyer at a time when I had just gone through two horrific breakups over the past year. One was a guy I left behind in New Mexico who still owes me $800. The other was a smarmy man with a cat that clawed a hole in my inflatable balance ball. He also hated my miniature pincher so bad that he made her disappear.
The disappeared little dog was why I was out adopting a big dog. I wanted a dog that could protect itself against smarmy men with clawing cats – not that I was looking for a boyfriend again anytime soon.
I had pretty much given up on a relationship at that point. In fact, I wasn’t even sure I knew how to love. The small part of my heart that was open had been hurt too many times. The rest of my heart was locked up behind a huge, self-made wall. I was closed-down, closed-off and ready to go at life alone.
Little did I know that adopting the goofy looking dog would change all that in the most profound way. While Sawyer may have looked strange, goofy and even a bit wolf-like scary, he ended up being just as scared and mistrusting of the world as I was.
Getting him into the car to take him home for the first time required three people. And then he remained crouched beneath the tiny space in the passenger seat beneath the dashboard, unwilling to come out for an hour. He refused to leave the bedroom of the house; I had to hoist him in and out of the bedroom window. The mere sight of a garage door freaked him out.
Learning to trust and love
Slowly but surely, he began to trust me. He let me groom him. We walked together like an old-time couple. We spent our mornings in joint meditation, our evenings romping by the sea. A bond like I have never known developed between the two of us, one so deep that I knew what he was thinking and feeling. I knew he would give his life to protect me. And I honestly felt the same for him. Some may call it madness. I called him my soul mate dog.
When love morphs into worship
As our bond grew deeper, Sawyer became more than just a soul mate. He became my entire world. I gave him a blog at the newspaper where I worked. I planned my schedule around him. Not a conversation would go by where I wouldn’t mention his name or his antics, at least twice. I wouldn’t go anywhere without him.
Sawyer became an integral part of my identity. I was no longer writer and artist Ryn Gargulinski. I was ‘the chick with the cool dog.’
Then one Saturday after a walk, 8-year-old Sawyer laid down to rest – and was never able to get back up. The entire back half of his body had become paralyzed. No area vet could figure out why, nor did they have a solution.
After several agonizing days, I conferred with vets, parents, boyfriend, friends and Sawyer then made the hardest decision of my life. Sawyer was not happy with his quality of life. He was put to sleep in my arms.
The deeper it hurts, the more deeply you loved
The grief of losing Sawyer was the deepest, most horrific pain I had ever felt in my life. My entire world went black. It felt as if someone had plunged a huge spike not into, but through my entire heart. I didn’t want to drink, which is a plus for a recovering alcoholic, but I honestly wanted to die.
Sawyer’s death drove me back into therapy. Here I realized that the grief of losing Sawyer wasn’t the only grief at hand. His death had opened a floodgate of grief I had tried to drink away throughout much of my life – but now I had nowhere left to run.
I also realized my world had become narrow, limited and totally dependent on a dog for my, well, everything. It was time to widen my world, make friends that had two legs, and stop relying on any single dog (or person) as my only source of my happiness.
Healthy relationship takeaways
It’s now been more than five years since Sawyer died, and my outlook on love, trust and life has drastically changed. I now know how to love, and love deeply; how to trust, and trust fully – but while still retaining a life of my own. I am in the first healthy relationship, ever (with a person) and have two happy dogs that I love to pieces (although neither gets the soul mate status I had with Sawyer).
A special bond like that is rare. And I am so blessed that I got to experience it – with one of the goofiest, coolest and most wonderful creatures I have ever known.
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