For the past several years I have hoped for something that may seem a little odd. I have prayed that when it was time for our eldest dog to move on, that he would pass in his sleep. He was a rescue dog who came into my life 12 years ago when my husband George and I made the decision to add to our family. It was a decision we took seriously, as dogs can demand a lot of time and additional expense to our already stretched budget. We knew that I wanted to adopt from a shelter, so the process began. George and I went from one shelter to another to another, unwilling to force a connection or fit. Just when my hopes were diminishing, we traveled to a shelter in another county and were allowed to enter the area where all the dogs were held.

I recall my first pass up and down the line of kennels and feeling disappointment that I didn’t see a dog who gave me the feeling of, “That’s the one!” Each dog was barking, spinning, and jumping all over their enclosure, trying to grab my attention and affection. Well, all but one. Like we’ve all heard before, there is an exception to every rule and the dog in the first kennel was clearly stating he was just that. Walking up to his kennel I read his profile card, “Likes long hikes and benefits from exercise.” I then read his name, “Rambo,” and tentatively bent over, not knowing if this 70-pound German Shepard/Rhodesian Ridgeback mix would lunge at me or bear his teeth. Yes I know it sounds silly, but given his name I thought he must be docile. Looking directly into his eyes the unexpected happened. He looked back into mine, held contact, tilted his head, and gave me a goofy little grin, more like Billy Madison from Happy Gilmore than Rambo. This moment captured my heart, and with some reference checks and a swipe of a credit card, we were out the door. There was no question that despite paying for him at the shelter, he was not a piece of property but instead an integral part of our family.

As we got to know each other, his persistence, curiosity, and stubbornness made me fall further in love with him. There was no doubt he was a custom mutt, truly one of a kind and luckily one that didn’t know his name. This was our opportunity to give this dog a more proper name and he made the process easy when immediately his favorite toy was log he took out of the woodpile. In this instant Rambo became Timber and we were thrilled that he seemed to enjoy every type of adventure we could throw at him. For me, I loved having a companion on the trail. He had no complaints if I talked a lot or was silent. He had no hesitation if my route was flawless or if there was a hiccup in my navigation. He had no reservations about striking out at anytime or in any weather. He was all in and that helped me feel all in even when tired, sick, or feeling unmotivated.

Just like a human, exercise for Timber had major benefits and occasional repercussions: a torn ACL from playing hard at the park, a severed anterior artery while skiing, a scratched cornea from trail running, the list goes on and on. The only thing the trips to the vet seemed to hurt was our bank account as each time Timber bounced back faster than predicted. A few years back, I wrote a piece on coming to accept that he could no longer explore at the level and speed he did in his younger years. It brought me sadness to have to leave him home on the longer or more challenging days, but I learned that we could still enjoy scaled-down daily doses of adventure together.

With the acceptance of his aging came the acknowledgment of the reality that Timber was not invincible. I feared the day that he would no longer be with us, as he was a part of our family and a part of us individually. In the double digits Timber certainly wasn’t as sturdy as he was in his prime, but he would give it everything he had. It was like his mind was saying one thing and his body tried to obey but just couldn’t.

It’s hard to believe that just a month ago he stood at the sliding glass door, crying to go out, and before I could open the door enough for his girth he had wedged himself through. He ran full tilt into the field and flushed a fox out of some brush. He then pursued the fox in a full-out sprint. There was no way he had the endurance or agility at this point to catch the fox, but he sure was going to try like heck. It was a minute or two of pure excitement for him then as he worked his way back to the house he didn’t run, rather he slowly sauntered, favoring one side over the other with his tail tucked between his legs. Recognizing his pain, I let him inside and encouraged him back onto the couch.

The next day, we woke up to Timber not feeling well. The soonest our vet could see him was 3:30 p.m., so I stayed home from work to watch over him before the appointment. After his exam and some labs, I was told Timber had an aggressive form of cancer. I explained that this couldn’t be, he had just hunted a fox. Given his age there was little to nothing we could do besides keep him comfortable, while loving him like we always have. I thought with some extra snuggles and treats, he would rebound and fight this. I never imagined that our time with him would be limited to days.

Timber’s health declined quickly and then no word, not even “walk,” “run,” “go,” or “cookie,” could arouse him. George and I have always made the promise to not extend a dog’s life while they are suffering as we felt that would be selfish. Thus my hope that our beloved family member would pass in his sleep while dreaming of one of our runs together didn’t come true. Needless to say having to make the decision to put him down was at the very least heartbreaking. There was utter disbelief and endless tears.

In the following days I cannot tell you how many times I woke up and expected to see him in his bed next to ours or expected that he would come prancing over to greet me when I arrived home from work. During this period of grief, I thought that my running would be a source of solace, but my physical self was mirroring my emotional self. It wasn’t pretty and it hurt desperately, but I slowly came to realize that my life was and will continue to be brighter because of having Timber as a part of our family. There hasn’t been a day that has passed that I have not missed him, but that is the perhaps the greatest testament that he not only gave his best, but that I gave him the best of myself as well. Someday I will share the trail again with Timber, and until then I will remember the love that he gave and the lesson he taught.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you have a dog with whom you trail run? Can you describe the nature of your relationship?
  • What lessons have the special pets in your life taught you?

Timber 1

Timber 2

Timber 3

Aliza Lapierre

finds peace and a sense of belonging while trail running. Her passion began by exploring the trails in her home state of Vermont and has been regenerated by exploration across the world. She continually works to redefine her perceived boundaries, while trying to inspire others to explore their capabilities as well.

There are 18 comments

  1. Michael Gildea

    Thank you for a great story. I have two aging “custom mutts”. The signs of aging are especially evident with my female. Thank you for sharing your story and for bringing tears to my eyes.

  2. Kaci

    This was a beautiful tribute to Timber. Those memories will always be with you. I lost my childhood pup of over 16 years almost a year ago, and not a day goes by that I don’t remember her. The laughter, the silliness, even the little things that made me mad. They give us more than we can ever know. May Timber be running and playing in the mountains freely now! XOXO

  3. Rich

    Thank you for this wonderful story of love. There really is something special about rescue dogs. When my daughter was young, she was very scared of dogs, but we wanted to get one, since pets are great at teaching kids empathy and responsibility. So we got Mikey from the shelter. He was a Red Healer, and so mellow we called him the stoner dog. He came with healing wounds on his face and head and a bad limp. Clearly he had suffered some form of violence, but nobody knew just what. Two weeks with us and he began to have grand mal seizures every two weeks like clockwork. Having previously owned an epileptic Border Collie, I was hesitant to go right to the meds, as they can do more harm than good.
    Anyway, one day I had to leave to catch an early flight, and Mikey was on track to seize. I told him to wait till I got back. That evening, when my wife and kids came home from work/school, my daughter found Mikey dead in the hallway. Our vet surmised that the seizures were not epilepsy, but the result of a TBI. Mikey was a beautiful soul, and he completely cured my daughter’s fear of dogs. He was only with us for 5 months.
    At the end of that summer we brought home Maggie, a Border Collie-Cattledog mix, from the shelter. She is a true Alpha female and loves trail running more than I do. She very quickly memorized the 12 mile trail network behind our neighborhood, and on hot days (she runs off leash on the trails), will sometimes just decide to walk home. She is a four-legged mass of contradictions: she wants to let every dog she meets that she’s the boss, but was completely freaked out to learn that there are things swimming in the stream she wades into!
    As Maggie is aging, I decided to get a second dog, so back to the shelter we went. We came home with Bandit, a Shih Tsu–Blue Healer mix (I thought the shelter people were making that up, but I googled it. It’s a thing, and they all look like Bandit.) Bandit is nuts, with an insatiable appetite for deer poop, rotten frogs and other trailside delicacies. He is the sub to Maggie’s dom, but he gets her to wrassle and play, making her seem much younger. It’s a hoot to watch the two of them on a trail run, as they are definitely “together.” They wait for each other to finish sniffing, peeing or pooping, and they wrassle, fuss and chase all over the place. If Bandit gets too far off the trail, Maggie herds him back.
    I know lots of people have favorite breeds and don’t mind paying hundreds of bucks for their dogs of choice, but for me, it will always be shelter dogs!

    1. Aliza Lapierre

      Custom mutts truly are priceless and just need a chance to be loved and show what they are capable of. I love how each dog has it’s own corks and approach to life and your dogs sound like they exemplify how unique each dog can be.

      Keep exploring, keep opening that door to dogs others turn away and thanks again for sharing!

  4. Jackie

    My old dog, Daisy, was a border collie/lab mix. She had a habit of digging a little nest in the dirt under the bushes in the front yard to take a nap. I told her several times as she got older, “Daisy, when you are ready to die, just go dig yourself a nest and lay down.” But it was not to be, I had to make the decision in the end. That was the worst but I owed it to her for being a great companion for over 14 years. Now we have a mellow border collie, Ben, who loves to run with me as much as Daisy did. He is a rescue and we have had him 6 years. I dread the day I have to yet again make that awful decision but I know Ben is counting on me.

  5. Jannine Myers

    Meghan, your story is beautifully written and brought tears to my eyes; I am so sorry for your loss but thankful that Timber lived a full life and that he gave you as much love and affection as you and your husband obviously gave him. I have yet to run trails with my dog as I am currently in Okinawa, Japan and for various reasons am reluctant to take him out on the trails here. However, I am moving home to NZ in a couple of months and cannot wait to get him out on some beautiful kiwi trails, even if we have to do more walking at first until he gains a decent amount of fitness. As for lessons learned, his innocent trust and acceptance of every person who approaches him, and the joy he brings to them as he flashes his teeth to smile and tries to smother them with endless loving licks, has taught me to smile so much more and to be a much friendlier person in general :)

  6. SCottieB

    2016 Strikes again. I’ve had to say goodbye to two trail buddies this year: 15 year old Beagle mix, Bug (veteran of quite a few ultramarathons) back in April, and 13.5 year old Great Dane, Grimace in September. IRL I’m a jerk that nobody hangs out with, but the dogs and I had many great days out on the roads and trails. They made me feel wanted and needed and loved and I felt good about giving them lives that many dogs can only dream of (running/hiking Montana trails!). Saying goodbye is always rough, but long lives mean we had the opportunity to build up a pile of memories that in the end overwhelm the sadness. I thought after the dogs were gone I would travel all over and run trail events in fun places, but I’m finding life without a dog is no life I want to live and I’ve started the search for a new running partner. Can’t wait!

  7. Sara

    Aliza, you should send this to the shelter where you and Timmy found one another. I bet they would love it!
    Timber surely was his own dog. He used up more than the nine lives we say cats get. Crazy mutt.

  8. Kelly

    Wow Aliza, I think I got something spicy rubbed in my eyes reading this but it was a very good read. I’m sorry for your loss, but I love the way you are handling it. We have an 11 year old border collie/lab mix named Mya who is slowing down bit by bit, and we got a puppy a few weeks ago- a border collie named Pedey who is almost 11 weeks old- so hopefully she can pass on her best habits while she’s still fairly active. It’s heartbreaking to have to limit the old girl to just a couple miles, and I have to remind myself that the smile on her face is as big as it was when we would go out and share longer distances together. I try to stay out of that negative mindset and enjoy the present moments in a way that pays respect to all the hard work and serious love she has devoted to this point. I cannot wait to see what the universe brings your family for your next dog, but I can guarantee that s/he will be incredible because you are someone who knows how to appreciate the best parts of life.

  9. Boston Chris

    Awesome Aliza. Read with wet eyes with memories of my “found dog” and dread for my wonderful rescue dog Tobin. Thanks for your poignancy – your southern neighbor

  10. John K

    Thanks for sharing Timber’s story with us! He is sleeping with you, in your heart, as close as he can be to you. It’s not even a year since I lost my own companion, Anya, and only yesterday, I felt her watching me go out for my run, as she used to, once she was too old to come with me anymore…

  11. Chris

    Thank you for sharing the story, it was touching. I have a mystery mutt that me and my wife picked up from the shelter. She is the most reliable running companion, and loves spending time on trails as much as I do.

    My dog reinforces a lot of what I know to be true. Live for the moment, love others intentionally and spend as many waking moments outside as possible!

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