I have heard them called “heart” or “soul” dogs, you know, that one dog that changed everything for you; the one you tattoo on your skin, the one who opened your senses to a new realm of possibilities. The one you cannot speak of without your throat tightening. The game-changers. That one. That is Willow to me.
She came into my life as a temporary foster, my first “behavior” case as a volunteer for the behavior and training department of the shelter that saved her. At six months old, she was alone and terrified of the human world. Our friendship began like most, with a little trust.
I quickly began to see that in order to help her, I needed to make her feel safe, let her know I had her back, and in order to do that I had to learn to see the world through her eyes – I had to understand her fears. That was the beginning of my education, and the greatest lesson any dog could ever teach me: a canine point of view, body language and communication. In all, a new language. I knew I loved her deeply when we celebrated that first genuine tail wag. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to let her go the night she crawled up on my bed and fell asleep on my chest. Her trust is the greatest thing I have ever built. I belong to her and she belongs to me.
It wasn’t all rose-colored glasses though, with a feisty mix of Husky and who knows what else, “Willow the Wild” has been the most challenging dog I have ever loved. But we have everything to learn from our greatest challenges and Willow is no exception. She is the dog I never knew I always wanted. And as F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote: “I fell in love with her courage, her sincerity, and her flaming self respect. And it’s these things I’d believe in, even if the whole world indulged in wild suspicions that she wasn’t all she should be. I love her and it is the beginning of everything.”
Only later did I realize that Willow saves me on a daily basis. We are both introverted around other people, but we are fiercely loyal and loving to our friends and family. We don’t like surprises, large crowds or loud noises. We wear our emotions in our eyes and feel everything very deeply. We share the same shadowy corners. There is nothing that makes us happier than the scent of damp earth and the song of the forest, running free through the fields or enjoying the view from the mountains. This black, wolfish dog is the amber-eyed thread that connects me back to the wild. On days when the anxiety of the world weighs heavy on me, she is the one force that pulls me out, and with that piercing crescent moon gaze, wills me to lift my chin up… and breathe.