• terry-lynn hemmerling

Farewell, Dear Friend

Barney came to our family just over 10 years ago when my stress level was super high and I was using wine to manage it (pro-tip: not a good plan for healthy living). While I was grateful to have that special animal energy around once again, I was also overwhelmed by yet another responsibility. I had pretty much given up on carving out exercise time for myself as the demands of family life, a full-time teaching career and a masters program seemed to be quite enough. More than enough. Something had to give, so my own exercise it was.

Bouncy, energetic, trouble-finding puppy energy changed all of that. With Barney's arrival the choice of not exercising was no longer mine to make. I knew that Barney needed a walk or he was going to create more havoc than he already was as a result of engaging in his daily puppy deeds. So walking we went. Rain. Shine. Snow. Dark. Light. I believed it was all about him.

He got bigger and my schedule grew tighter. We began running the loop to get his exercise  done faster so that I could get to the next item on the endless to-do list. And then I began to notice that I was feeling better. More energy… Better thinking… I wanted to do two loops… And increasing over time to 8-10 kms. My dog and I became running partners, a match made in heaven. I had unexpectedly stumbled upon a new, healthier way to manage some of my stress. If I had to run at night because of schedules, I felt safer having my 85 pound dog with me. It was a way to sort out my monkey mind and slow it down. The clarity running provided gave me the courage to try to live a different, healthier way. And then to try again. And again.

About five years ago we were out on our run when Barney simply stopped midway. He. would. not. run. another. step. He would only walk. Frustrated, I called my husband to come and pick him up so I could finish the run. Walking seemed like a total waste of time. I tried a couple of more times to do our run but Barney was having none of it. Interestingly, I had become aware of a nagging pain in my hip and sometimes my IT band following a run. It would result in a deep limp after sitting for a while. In my heart I knew the frequency and distances I was running would not serve me well over the long term. Determined, I tried running a few times without Barney, not wanting to give up the unexpected benefits. I missed my partner and my partner missed me. Running without him was not an option.

Taking Barney’s lead, we began a new routine. A walking routine. This dog has literally walked me back to myself. We began with small puppy sized walks, graduated to big ass runs and when that became unsustainable for both of us, he convinced me to simply walk. Daily. He has faithfully walked by my side as I have made some of the most important changes of my life: addressing my stress, spending more time in nature, eating better, quitting wine and sugar. Literally slowing my pace down. A constant, comforting presence beside me. Many days I would reluctantly leave the house, not wanting to go but knowing that my furry friend needed the exercise… In time, it became apparent that no matter whether I wanted to go or not, I ALWAYS returned grounded, peaceful and glad to have spent the hour walking. An added bonus was that I felt like a superstar human for my dog – taking him for a daily walk because “he” needed it. It was the right thing to do… ​ This past Thursday Barney and I took our last walk together. He was slow but he wanted to go. It was more of a meander. Two days later we knew that it was the end of his life. Grief  overwhelmed me. I knew I had to walk. My body was demanding to walk out the intense pain I was feeling. How could I possibly go without him? He was resting comfortably and had not moved for hours. With tears streaming down my face and sobs in my belly, I walked our route. Alone. It was sad. It is still sad. Yesterday we spent the day comforting him and then we said farewell to our dear friend. Fittingly, it rained all day. As night fell, and waves of grief washed over me, I knew what I had to do. Again, I walked our walk alone. He continues to make me go for a walk even after he has departed. I will walk because I know that I will feel better for having gone when I get back. He taught me that. Thank you Barn Dog for dragging me out for 1000s of walks over the past decade. I needed them as much - probably more -than you did. And you were always a willing partner. What a great teacher and friend you have been… I will love you always and I will keep on walking.

This photo was taken moments after returning from our final walk together...

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