If you’re like me and many folks who live in the mountains, you are a collector of gear. Hoarding is a strong, albeit appropriate term, for some. We buy all of this equipment and apparel to motivate us to get outdoors, to increase our athleticism, and to look good. We rationalize these purchases with phrases like “I need that new PhD SmartLoft full zip hoodie for running in the rain” or, “I don’t have anything like the NTS Mid 250 bottoms for epic powder days”. We give ourselves reassurances that the gear is worthy, necessary, and most importantly, will inspire us to pursue even more outdoor endeavors. Although I treasure every piece of outdoor apparel I own, one of the best pieces of gear that I have acquired that truly motivates me to get outdoors every day is my dog, Tazzy.
This week marks five years that I adopted Tazzy from the local animal shelter. At the shelter, Taz, a composite of Heeler, Cattle Dog, Aussie Shepherd, and who knows what else, greeted me like I was the only person on the planet. Jumping, licking, wagging, and assuming the dead-opossum position for belly rubs. Though this was endearing to me at the time, I have since learned that she does this to anyone who she thinks may have treats for her — essentially, every bipedal human with pockets. Her white coat was speckled with Dalmation-like spots and the black and brown coloring of her face gave the adorable impression that she was wearing Cleopatra-like eye liner. She even had one brown eyebrow, for goodness sake. I was a goner. I repeatedly and laughingly told Taz, “stay down,” as she assaulted me with slobbery smooches. The solemn woman at the shelter said in a matter of fact voice, “That dog,” arching one eyebrow, “needs a job”. I obviously did not live on a farm or run a sled dog operation, so I shrugged and responded, “Well, I’m a runner.” She sighed, looking unconvinced, and said, “That’ll do.”
Thus, began our running partnership. Tazzy, whom my husband lovingly nicknamed Spazzy, for her voraciously affable greetings to everyone who came to the house, was surprisingly obedient on the trail. On long runs, she easily ran three times the distance as me, racing off into the trees to chase a squirrel or chipmunk, then doubling back to check in on me again. I often would come around a curve to find her standing in the middle of the trail, waiting for me, her tongue happily hanging out of her mouth, which turned upward into the appearance of a smile. As soon as I came into her line of sight, she would turn and dash off again. Shockingly, I even had running partners comment on how well-behaved Taz was in comparison to their dogs. I’d stifle a laugh and say, “Running is her job,” and considered whether I should divulge some of her less stellar moments.
There was the raw egg incident in the back of my father-in-law’s jeep. There was the time she got stoned out of her mind from scarfing down the marijuana cookies in my neighbor’s trash. There have been several skunking episodes, two in the span of one week, in which I became very skilled with the de-skunking shampoo at the doggy wash. Or the time she sprinted after a black bear in the woods. Seriously, a huge black bear that then decided to plop itself down in the middle of the trail, blocking my only exit, forcing me to bush wack for three miles back to the road.
And then there was the bunny, that poor unfortunate bunny, who sat perched on the hilltop in an idyllic scene as my running friends and I crested over a mountain trail at sunrise. Then, envision those same friends frozen in horror with their hands over their eyes, ears, and mouth to shield themselves from the screams. Who knew bunnies screamed? The sound told us all we needed to know. That my cute, goofy, pot-eating dog was a secret killer.
Through all of her antics, Taz is such a ray of positivity and motivation for me to get outdoors. She knows which clothes are work clothes and which are playtime clothes. When I reach for my flats and put on my purse, she knowingly lays down on her doggy bed. But when I grab my beat up trail sneakers and my water bottle, she runs in circles around my feet, howling with anticipation. She’s equally accepting of rain, snow, sleet and sun. She’s satisfied with our outing if its a 2 hour hike or just a quick 15 minute walk to the poop can in the dog park. Tazzy reminds me to enjoy every sight, smell and sound of being outside, and of how unnatural it is to be cooped up indoors all day, staring at screens. It’s Tazzy’s job to accompany me on the trail, and it is my job to take her there.