Travels with Dogs

Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC

I’ve set off across the country a few times now.  I gathered up my things, and packed them with my sense of self.  It was always for a job; that’s the way it was working in TV news.  I’d rent a truck, cram everything in and tear out. It was always a quick move with a bunch of stuff cast aside, stuff I wanted to forget, emotional stuff.  I set off on my own, again and again, leaving home, looking for home.  Of course I wasn’t really on my own.  I left people behind.  The dog always came with.

Juno made the last two moves with me, the delicate blond golden retriever I first met

Juno in puppy agility class

in the front seat of my car.  My partner at the time came into the newsroom in St. Louis to tell me he’d found the “most perfect golden retriever ever.”  He was more right than either of us knew.   He’d left her in the parking lot, in the car, balled up on the front seat, nose tucked to tail, fast asleep.  When I saw her I let out a long sigh, and smiled.  She looked up at me, bleary eyed, just 8 weeks old.  Two years later we’d leave the partner who brought me Juno.  He’d follow us to Cleveland and four years after that we’d leave him again.  I’m sorry for that, for the pain we caused.  My heart belonged to a dog, and a life I would never find except in the journey with her.

I’ve thought about Juno and St. Louis a lot recently.  My colleague from those days, Jean Whatley, is traveling across the country with her dog, Libby.  She’s writing, snapping photos and rolling video of the adventure for her blog

Jean's dog Libby

(www.offtheleashroadstories.com).  She tells her own story much better than I ever could.  Still, there are themes:  regret, reflection, the seeking and hope for redemption.  These things resonate so deeply and wake me at night.  What now?  What’s all this about?  Why this time, these people? Why me?  I’ve got to get out of here.  I have to go.  Now.  Don’t forget the dog.

I worked with Jean in St. Louis at a TV station that would eventually shut down its news department.  I was in the first round of layoffs.  The news director invited me to sit.  I refused and stood stone-faced.  He told me my contract was not being renewed but that I could finish out the remaining 6 months. It was an easy sentence compared to today’s layoffs.  It was still the worst thing that had happened to my fragile ego thus far in my life.  I went home to Juno and cried, deep wracking gasp-for-breath sobbing.  She looked at me like I was an idiot, but in my state I saw it as love.  In the movie version I say this next line aloud to Juno.  In real life I just thought it.  I will never again depend on a company or a boss for my sense of self worth or our survival.  I promise. That was the moment I decided to become a professional dog trainer.  “And, damn it Juno, you’re going to help me.”  That part I really said.

We loaded up the truck and moved to Cleveland, me and Juno rolling across the Mississippi River Bridge.  It may have been the same route Jean took to Chicago when she set off with Libby.  I don’t know.  I was on my way to another TV job and to start a dog training company.  Jean – I think she’s got a book in her.  I wonder if maybe it’s mine.  It’s funny how good stories work out like that.  We all have a share of them, the big questions, and the epic quests for self and how we fit in.  What’s it about and why me?  If you’re a traveler, you load up a car and go.  The answer’s down the road, I suppose.

Juno did help me become a dog trainer, a pretty good one.  We moved again together, this time to Houston for another TV job.  The best tales have little twists like that, don’t they?  We met Tim, my partner.  Then, a short time later I came to my senses and decided to leave TV again.

That was right before Juno left us.  It was cancer.  We laid her down on the cool wood floor under the piano where she loved to listen to Tim play.  The vet had come to our house to help her along.  She relaxed and looked up at me, bleary eyed, 11 ½ years old.  I let out a sigh.  You really are the most perfect golden retriever ever.

Juno shortly after moving to HoustonJuno and I logged a lot of miles together, lots of cities, and adventures.  But our real journey wasn’t about travel at all.  I wonder if that’s what it’s like for Jean and Libby out finding themselves in America.  For me, it turns out the journey was about where Juno was taking us without ever leaving my side.  It was about finding my better self in the reflection of her eyes, the one worthy of love even when I was acting like an idiot.   It was about learning to stay put, to draw people near and dare to love them the way Juno loved me.   Yes, it was about big questions, but it was about the little questions too.  Who are you?  What’s your story?  Do you want to share the path for a while?  And, by the way, have you met my dog?

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