Remembering Shep: A solemn escape

How do you make the best of the anniversary of the worst day of your life?

Aug. 20 marked one year since Shep left us. I hadn’t been looking forward to the day, knowing I was the one who made the painful decision to end his life. I still struggle with that, even with the awareness it was the best course of action for him and ailing, aging body.

I wanted to find a way to honour him.

Early that Thursday morning two months ago, the three of us piled into the wee truck and headed for Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Tubbs Hill is not only the spot where we — me, My American and Shep — had our first group hike way back when in April 2011, but it was also where My American popped the question in July 2014.

This day was Bella’s first visit.

Maremma sheepdog Tubbs Hill

Around every corner

Bella is young. She gets excited easily.

It’s a stark contrast to the older, gentle Shep who stayed by my side with almost every step. She wants to run ahead, pull the leash and break free.

She’ll get there. She has a lot of growing up to do, a lot of maturing into her guardian instinct. And that’s OK.

Because there is one thing that cannot be mistaken about her.

That Maremma smile.

It’s a full-on, impish grin that Shep had, too. You remember it well, don’t you?

Like him, she loves the water, she loves the outdoors and she loves her mama. I think. Although sometimes she frustrates the hell out of me, but that’s life with puppies.

It wasn’t something I truly understood until that day.

Because he was there. With every step we took.

Not at first. It wasn’t until we turned the corner to our favourite beach when I realized he’d joined us.

Through the tears I was shedding, through the wind whispering in the leaves, through the chatter of swimmers and hikers …

I felt him with me. And I heard him tell me that he’s OK and she’s going to be OK.

And that’s when I started to enjoy her.

When I started to smile at her wading in the water, just like he did.

Maremma sheepdog Idaho

When I saw that she needs me in ways he didn’t.

As a protector.

And as a guardian.

Until she’s ready to take that role for me.

Just like he did.

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