I used to run alone in peace and conformity. I knew no other way until I met Sawyer. He’s my forever running partner. He slobbers a lot, digs in the leaves, wags and woofs — and it’s impossible to ride in the car with him while we drive to the trailhead. Welcome to whiny-town! But I can’t imagine life without him.
As I write this, I turn to look at Sawyer, who’s never more than a couple of steps away from me. His big, brown eyes catch me in his gaze, full of mischief and curiosity. He makes me wonder if I could ever find a bond so strong with a human runner. Named after Tom Sawyer, from Mark Twain’s boyhood tale, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we adopted him from the Central Aussie Rescue & Support Center — and by “we” I mean my husband, Brad, and our girls, Erika, Chloe and Alissa.
How did he come to be the best thing since Peanut M&Ms at an aid station, you ask? Well, it was one rainy afternoon in mid-May 2015 that we were out running errands, and I got suckered into visiting a pet adoption that was taking place, being told “we just want to look.” Like I hadn’t heard that one before. Thing is, I didn’t really want a dog. My life was already insanely busy, and to add the responsibility of having to take care of a dog — no thanks. But anyway, there we were looking at this wild thing. He had been a stray, just newly found, and he was frantically pacing and whining. We went into a small room where the girls could pet him and see how he interacted with them. He wanted nothing but treats, and then he’d run back to his foster mom. Maybe he was a little overwhelmed and nervous, she said. We got back in the car and then began the endless droning. “Please, please, please can we adopt Sawyer?” Ugh! As I sat there listening to all the arguments and proposals and deals that were being thrown at me, I couldn’t help but think how handsome Sawyer was. I reluctantly said we could go back and see what it would involve to adopt him. It was a faltering I will never, ever regret!
Fast forward to June 2015. It was the weekend of Kettle Morrain 100, and I was to be out of town for the race. There had been some talk of bringing Sawyer over for a house visit while I was gone for four days. Good! I wouldn’t have to deal with it, or so I thought. I got back in town, completely wasted from running 100 miles, and there he was in our home. I wasn’t sure what to make of him, and he wasn’t sure what to make of me, either. He still had that timid, stray dog air about him. So, we ignored each other that evening. On Monday morning, Brad went to work and the girls were off to school, and there I was alone with Sawyer. What am I supposed to do now? I mean, he was still handsome and all, but I didn’t really want a dog. The dude just happily followed me around all day. Next thing I know, our contact at the Aussie Rescue called and said Sawyer had cleared all his medical tests and ownership searches, and that he was ours to keep if we wanted him. All we needed to do is sign a few papers.
I’m not sure, I’m just not sure. I don’t think I want a dog. I put all my excuse cards on the table but was trumped by all the positive things that could happen if we chose to adopt Sawyer. The one thing that was laid on me over and over and OVER again was that his breed was so athletic and that he would make an excellent running dog. Ugh! But I like running alone. It’s my ME time. I looked at Sawyer, and if I’m being honest, I just didn’t have the heart to turn him away. And to see how excited the girls were to have him around…. So, I said yes, clearly stating that I was not going to run with him, as it would be too much trouble and I liked running alone. But, you see, it’s the simplest things that make us vulnerable, and when we least expect it, life can pleasantly surprise us.
As human beings, we often tend to complicate things. Relationships can sometimes end up becoming a tangled mess of emotions and feelings that never have an opportunity to grow or evolve. We resist and resent change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you willingly open your heart to a dog, they will shower you with unconditional love that knows no limits. A dog enters your life with absolutely no demands, and if you’re open to the possibility of adventures together, they provide you with irreplaceable memories that live forever in you. It’s that simple!
So, here goes the tale of how I found the best running partner in Sawyer!
While I was recovering from Kettle Morrain in June 2015, I decided to take Sawyer on a run with me. I hated every moment of it! He was on a leash, and I felt like I was being pulled beyond my control. My 5-mile “easy” run at a 10-11 minute/mile pace was turned into an 8 minute/mile sprint that I didn’t know I was capable of two days after running a 100 miles. We tried this a couple more times, and it was nothing but frustration. The dog needed training, and who had time for that?
I decided I wasn’t going to run with Sawyer anymore, but each morning as I laced up, there he was, looking at me expectantly. I’d ignore him, and then the guilt of leaving him behind weighed on me so much that I couldn’t enjoy my run. There has to be a better way of doing this. Next run, I took Sawyer to the trail and decided to try him off the leash. It was 7 a.m., mid-week, a time when there was hardly any traffic on the trails. I was hopeful! Alas, as soon as I let him off the leash, he was gone. Just gone. Out of sight. I stood there completely horrified, as I had no idea where the hell had he run off to. There was anger and a weird sense of betrayal. How could he just bolt on me? I walked as I scanned the trails, calling his name, but Sawyer was nowhere to be found. After 10 minutes of yelling for him, I finally caught a glimpse of his furry face peeking at me from behind a tree about a quarter mile ahead. That’s it! I yelled at him, put him on the leash and was once again pulled into a sprint as we made our way back to the car.
We tried this a few more times with no improvement. If Sawyer wasn’t sprinting a half mile ahead of me, he was chasing squirrels, deer and wild turkey — or molesting the occasional turtle on the trail. He would excitedly jump on other people that we came across, and if we happened upon another dog while on the trail, it was impossible to control him. He was incorrigible!
But there was also something about him that connected with me deeply when we ran together. It was a feeling of freedom, limitless frolic, absolute euphoria that I felt when I watched him run. Seeing Sawyer run is a thing of beauty! I sometimes found myself wondering if I could ever run like that — effortless, free of inhibition, gliding over the terrain below my feet like the rocks and roots didn’t exist. It was absolute perfection! I dreaded running with him, yet I dreaded even more not to take him with me. How could a dog make me feel that way?
As the temperature got hotter that summer, I stopped running with Sawyer altogether. I’d take him on a hike now and then, but I had quit running with him due to the heat and also because it was frustrating that he just wouldn’t listen. It wasn’t until late fall and winter when I started to run with him again. At that time, I decided to keep him off the leash but carry it with me at all times. When Sawyer would take off, I’d stop and make him come back to me, give him a little talking to and then we’d be off again. If we came across other people on the trail, I’d call him and clip on the leash. I did the same when we’d encounter another dog. Slowly but surely, I was beginning to notice improvement. Sawyer had stopped chasing after deer, squirrels, turtles and or any other animals we encountered. He stuck to the single track and was never out of my sight, and he always stopped to look back and make sure I was in tow. He had also stopped jumping on other people that we came across on the trail, but there was still the issue of other dogs.
This is when I decided to use the good dog, bad dog behavior encouragement. I started to take his treats on the run with me. If he didn’t listen to a command, he’d get an earful from me. His ears would fold back and he’d have that guilty-as-charged look in his eyes. Every time he’d listen to a command, I’d give him a treat along with positive reinforcement. Next step was running with Sawyer on the leash. If I felt I was being pulled, I would stop running, give Sawyer some talking to and then slowly start back up. A few frustrating runs on the leash later, and we had our breakthrough. One morning as I ran with him on the leash from our house, which is a little over a mile from Castlewood, he got the hang of it and stopped pulling my ass along. Once we hit the trail, I let him off the leash. We repeated the procedure on the way back, and I was excited to see he actually started running on pace with me while on the leash!
So, there you have it! I’m closing in on two years of countless miles and adventures that I’ve been fortunate enough to share with mas loco Sawyer. I can’t imagine trail running without him. I’m glad I didn’t give up on him, and vice versa. I’ve found the most patient running partner, who never speaks a word yet shares with me a silent understanding and partnership that cannot be broken. Now if only he would stop charging at me in the middle of a run when he gets excited and wants to play, running in circles around me while I try to keep a straight face and not fall off the edge. But what would be the fun in that?
I will forever cherish every memory made running with Sawyer, and although he may never understand these spoken words, I do hope he knows how much I love him and the joy he brings to my daily life.
Go run with a dog, and live a little!
Our blog writers are members of Terrain Trail Runners, local athletes just like you, who want to share their love and knowledge of the sport.