14 years ago Ryan and I had just started LIFE+DOG Magazine and we came across a foster dog through a group we worked with often. A small red Cavalier King Charles Spaniel with severe separation anxiety. We took him in, and our lives were *forever* changed. Garrett was a very special boy who changed me so much, I hardly recognize the old version of myself when I look back. When your entire identify is wrapped up in the care of something, it changes you significantly. When that thing you are caring for leaves the earth, however, it can leave you confused, disoriented…. depressed. This is the story of how Garrett left me while teaching me how I had become a far better version of myself from his effect on my life.
Garrett had a litany of issues that presented over his years with us. He had deep separation anxiety issues and massive neurological issues as well. He had chiari malformation where brain fluid leaked out into his head, he had epilepsy, he had a level IV (later V) heart murmur. He had pain and neurological issues that would make him have these neurotic fits of phantom scratching that only could be quelled by holding him close to your body. He had a regular vet, a specialist vet, an herbal vet and an acupuncture vet. For years of my life, my entire identity was wrapped up in providing for this tiny, spirited boy. He went with me everywhere and my diesel dually pickup truck became his home away from home. He was comforted inside of that truck, and I was comforted having him with me. Garrett lived so much longer with us than anyone could have predicted and his spirit positively impacted so many people. He constantly surprised us with his fighting spirit and his ability to show up in ways we never expected.
Several years after having Garrett, Ryan and I decided to close down LIFE+DOG Magazine, move to the country, and start our own family. Troubled redheads really must strike a chord with me, because as soon as we had closed on a property I was introduced to two chestnut (red) horses from the SPCA. Lucille, a beautiful horse with the most amazing eyes had been shot and left for dead by horrible owners. She was also pregnant. The SPCA took her in, removed the bullet from her shoulder, and cared for her until her baby was born on my grandmothers birthday. I met them when Dolly, her baby, was just one day old. I knew they had to come with us, so they did. Rescuing a horse with trust issues when you don’t have much horse experience is an uphill battle, but because of everything I had done for and learned about myself and animals with Garrett, I knew I could do it. I delved headfirst into learning everything I could about horses, communication and care. By my side the entire time as I traveled the country to attend horse clinics was my partner in crime, my little sweet Garrett.
As everyone knows who has come to love an animal, they don’t live long enough with us, and Garrett’s health started to decline. Then, one day he was gone and I was left wrecked inside and out. I was a new father, I had plenty of animal distractions, a farm to run and a life to live, but I absolutely could not find myself anymore without my partner in crime. I had spent years defining a majority of my life as his caretaker, his needs dictating every aspect of our lives and I was left confused and heartbroken with this sudden change after his departure. It was around this time that one of my horse training mentors Kathleen Beckham posted about something that absolutely opened my eyes, giving me a new perspective that has woven deeply into the fibers of my being. With her words I was changed.
In the horse world, we talk a lot about “Feel”—getting a horse to follow a feel, using pressure and release in training, learning to operate as one. Understanding what this “feel” is, though, is a lifetime journey for a horseperson. It’s not something you can understand just from watching someone. It’s not something you can learn from hearing what someone has to say. Of course to know what “feel” is, you have to experience it. Kathleen wrote that day about why this feeling is so hard to grasp. How you can watch someone make something with horses look SO incredibly simple, yet you can never “get it” for yourself. She spoke about how from the outside, you can’t tell what is behind a persons touch by looking. Every person’s touch is different and it’s because of everything you have inside of you. All of your experiences, all the lessons you have learned come out through you and that is what makes each person’s touch unique and different. The more you learn and the more you experience, the more things affect your feel and change your touch.
With Kathleen’s words, the grey skies of my life began to part. I started to understand more about the circle of life, and how everything is connected. If there’s one thing I knew, it was that Garrett had made me a different person. A better person. Whether he was here or not could not take away the learning experiences that Garrett brought me. They became a part of me. Now, I understand more of how Garrett made me better. All of my touch, all of my feeling, all of my presence, has Garrett inside of it. Just because he is physically gone from here doesn’t mean any of that changes. Garrett’s spirit changed major parts of me, and now those parts of me change others. Every dog I come in contact with benefits from the things I learned from Garrett. Every horse I interact with gets a better me. I’m a *far* stronger and more compassionate and patient father to my son. . . because of my time with Garrett. Garrett’s struggles, his triumphs, his happiness and sorrows, they’re always a part of me, and now, they’re a part of everything I come in contact with. Garrett affected me profoundly, he changed me for the better, and his spirit now will always live on through the things I do.
Everything about my time with Garrett runs through my mind daily. I miss him, I love him, and I appreciate him for all he brought into my life. So, when we decided to start this new version of LIFE and DOG celebrating the dogs in our lives through designs for dog lovers, the very first design I made was this RESCUED towel, in honor of Garrett. Everyone has seen the “Who Rescued Who?” message, but for me the answer could not be more clear. We both RESCUED each other.
So, for those of you lucky enough to hang a RESCUED towel in your home, I hope you know you have a piece of Garrett’s spirit with you. Every time I set up the towel to print, every time I push the ink through the silkscreen onto the fabric, I am thinking of Garrett and everything he brought to the world. Every time I lift the screen and see the RESCUED print on a towel, my heart is warmed. I hope this towel brings the same joy to you, remembering the dogs that have changed your life just as fondly and with as much adoration and appreciation as I do. THIS is why we JUST LOVE DOGS.
Thanks for reading.