Writing to Make Something Happen

I used to write every day. I wrote to escape from the dysfunctional life around me, to create new worlds I could understand, and to connect with others through an online community of artists. I also wrote to come to terms with events in my life and to help me rebuild my purpose. After my brother died, I skipped the ritual mourning period and tried to go back to school. I drove halfway across the country to vanish from the heartache and anger that were enveloping my family. I fell into a depression so deep that I didn’t even realize I was hurting myself out of despondency. Writing was the one thing that I could use to create a safe space where I could revive everything I had buried.

My most common medium was a sort of free-flowing poetry. I picked a typewriter font and pounded all of my thoughts into a long post. When I had nothing left to express – sometimes hours or days later – I sifted through the sentences, shaping cohesive paragraphs and picking more explicative words from the thesaurus. I didn’t have an end goal, I just wanted to express my frustration at the circumstances I was involved in and hopefully reach some sort of understanding.

Suicide isn’t an easy topic for a lot of people. There are political, social, and personal ideologies that complicate conversations regarding death that leaves more questions than answers. Emotions are insoluble, and coming to terms with a sense of loss without knowing how to feel is uncomfortable. I didn’t want to take drugs or pay someone to listen to me cry about my life, so I wrote it all down. I spewed all of my confusion and pain into graphic poems and short stories that followed no rules. I found people who had similar experiences and empathized with what I was going through.

It became easier to accept that I was sad about my brother killing himself and my writing allowed me to connect both to myself and others so that I could finally reconcile his death. I will always be dealing with this loss in my life, and I know that as long as I need to remind myself that I’m okay, I will always have my writing.


The Beginning

Between Idaho and Colorado, I stopped in Douglas to meet a boy, and then I spent the weekend with him at his house in Laramie. He had stocked his fridge and cupboards with some of the foods I had mentioned were my favorite during the course of our numerous conversations prior to my arrival. He had soft blankets and enough pillows for two forts between the living room and bedroom. I walked through the door and felt like I already lived there. When he came home Friday afternoon, he took me out to visit the local breweries and craft bars, and then made me dinner. On Saturday, he escorted me to my first ever shooting expedition, we drove to Fort Collins and shopped around downtown, got tattoos that weren’t matching, but had a common theme (because this is totally what normal people do), stuffed ourselves with meat at a Brazilian steakhouse, and washed everything down between a couple FoCo breweries. He bought me my first Leatherman, too, so I can be even more badass.

capricornSunday we went to a Rockies game at Coors field and imbibed a few tall boys and some delicious burgers from CHUBurger – AND WE SAT IN THE 8th ROW – this guy pulled out all the stops, seriously. The Rockies lost, but that didn’t keep my new friend from carrying me out of the stadium on his shoulders – super awkward when you’re really tall, and the person you’re sitting on is just a smidge taller than you. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and I was sad to be on my way Monday morning after he left for work. I enjoyed my time in Denver with my friends, but something was just gnawing at me, telling me I needed to go back to Laramie…that there was something still there for me to experience.

8 rows from the field!

I called Ira as I was going to bed on my last night in Denver and we talked about what I wanted to do with my life; where I wanted to go. I had nothing left for me in Kanab, I couldn’t go back to Arizona or Wisconsin, and my next options were extremely long-winded pursuits for my next move. He said I had a place to stay if I wanted to live in Laramie, and there were a lot of educational options both in Laramie and Cheyenne that I could look into. We already knew that we got along and had a lot in common, but I had to keep reminding myself that I might be on a vacation high, and that can lead to poor decisions and quick judgements. Fortunately, I’m well-versed in dealing with the consequences of both of these actions, so I returned to Laramie.

girl can shoot

The second weekend went a lot quicker knowing that I might actually be moving to this city of 30,000 people at 7,500 feet above sea level. We went on my second ever shooting experience, and I managed to get 8 of my 10 shots from a .223 assault rifle with a scope from 100 yards away inside the target, with 5 of those clustering in the middle. Ira also started showing me how to fly fish, but for some reason that was more intimidating than shooting guns. We hung around most of the weekend just enjoying each other’s company, but then Monday came around again, and we were off to get through another week.

I drove 10 hours back to Kanab as he headed to Douglas to continue his training at the police academy. It was almost the longest 10 hours I’ve ever experienced, save for my return trip to Laramie with my SUV packed with all of my worldly possessions. I pulled into Kanab in the early afternoon, took a nap, and started packing. I crammed everything into the SUV that brought me out to the tiny little southern Utah city not 3 months earlier, and was eager to hit the road to my next home. I stayed Monday night to see some friends and say goodbye, but at 10pm on Tuesday, I was out. So driving all night through the mountains and into the high plains of the west is an interesting adventure – filled with absolutely no light whatsoever until the sun rises, constantly threatening some sort of ungulate or winged creature in the road, and not promising where the next gas station will be. And as I don’t enjoy the benefits of caffeine: slapping my face as hard as I could, blasting myself with cold air, and eating grapes like they’re going out of style were all I could do to keep myself awake long enough to make it safely to the soft king bed that was waiting for me at my new house. I will say, though…watching the sun rise over the rolling landscape that I would now get to familiarize myself with, that was absolutely priceless.

And what does one do when they first move to a new city with a new guy that they LITERALLY just met? The answer is: a lot. Some examples I’ll expand upon next time: brewfest, puppy, graduation, farmer’s markets, puppy, school. Until I decide to write again, here’s a sample of the puppy item I mentioned:


The Middle

I no longer look on events in my life as good or bad. They may be defining, and they may be enlightening, but ultimately it is up to me to decide how to feel about what happened and what to do with that once they are over. Each opportunity, whether failed or succeeded by my personal standards, is never the end. Life, time, everything else continues – even the opportunity itself rumbles on in the background through my newly-gained experiences.  I learned what I needed to at the animal sanctuary, and it will still be a possibility for me if I ever want to go back, it’s just not where I have to be right now. I have to be where I am, and where I am is pursuing more learning opportunities to better round my skills out. But I didn’t get to where I am now because I planned it or set a schedule to stick by or because I have unlimited amounts of money and time. I have what I have, I’m just utilizing my resources to the best of my ability to continue my journey. And my journey will last the rest of my life, so I want to enjoy it.

When I reached the other side of Grand Teton National Park, I noticed some antelope on the side of the road and pulled over to watch them. There was a small herd of bison grazing in the background, and a pair of eagles floating overhead. I know to a lot of people out west that these animals are no big thing, but even in all of my driving back and forth across the country, I’ve only seen a handful of antelope in the distant hills of northern New Mexico, and bison have only existed in zoos (also a safari park in Flagstaff) and history books as a dilapidated species trying to make a comeback with the wolves. I seriously had never seen a wild buffalo…mission accomplished.

speed goats

About 2 weeks before I decided to peruse the high plains in search of my next adventure, I had met a guy online. We had been texting and video chatting up until this point, and part of the reason I was making my way across Wyoming was to get to Laramie to meet him during my trip. I planned a nice big loop through Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and into the Four Corners so that I could return to Kanab eventually, and Laramie fit in there nicely. Like I said, I’m a big advocate for taking every possible opportunity, and this one would just make my trip more interesting, if nothing else. I texted this guy the photo above and exclaimed that my life was complete because I had now seen the last great migrating mammals of North America in the flesh. He texted back two words that I will forever use to refer to antelopes: Speed goats! I ignored the rest of the message, because I didn’t care if they were everywhere, they were freaking awesome. Side note: fields of horses are also amazing (basically my field of dreams).

field of dreams/horses

I pulled back onto the road to begin my detour towards Douglas, Wyoming, because I wanted to meet this guy earlier than we originally discussed, and because it was a more public place than his house. And because he went to school there, so I could meet him around some of his friends/colleagues. To be safe. My final reason is because his roommate called me a wimp when I complained about the distance adding two extra hours to my trip when I would already have been on the road for more than 12 hours total at that point. I have a problem with turning down dares sometimes, especially when they’re road trip related. To end this little digression, I headed to Douglas and made it into town with enough time to change into pants and freshen up a bit before I met this guy.

Long story (that I will get to in the next post) short, we had an awesome long weekend filled with lots of new things and getting to know each other. When I left on Monday morning to go to Denver, I was much more distraught than I thought I would be. I only figured that we would meet (according to my mom, this was a “super secret sex trip,” which is where I had left that conversation), have a good time, and then part ways. Again, more on this later. For now, my favorite city was on the horizon, and a few of my favorite friends were ready to hang out with me.

high tea

I’ve been to Denver quite a bit. At least once a year, sometimes twice – I just like it that much. In all my times of visiting Denver, I usually only hit up bars, breweries, and good restaurants that serve craft beer. Three of the last five times I’ve been there was for Great American Beer Festival. And every time I’m there, I hear how cool this thing called “high tea” is at this place called “The Brown Palace,” so I arrived for a late lunch (aka: high tea), and thoroughly enjoyed myself among all of the rich decor and fancy people. The Alchemist was a great companion and didn’t eat any of my little sandwiches. I can describe the experience as the best $50 I’ve ever spent on flavored water and hors d’oeuvres. Another life goal down, it was time to stroll the city and take a nap before a night in with my good friends. What wasn’t expected was the phone conversation I had with the guy I had just left that morning…but I’ll write about that later.


Not so bright and early the next morning, I enjoyed a little shopping spree – little being the operative word there – to pick up some clothes that actually fit me, since I had lost almost 35 pounds in the last six months. After, I looked up the closest brewery to me and parked for a flight at Lowdown Brewery and Kitchen and bought a $75 growler that’ll last through the apocalypse, or I want my money back. The bartender was just getting off his shift and asked if he could stay and have a pint with me, so of course I obliged – because who would turn down a tall, handsome, bearded bartender? I knocked another item off my list of firsts, since prior to this event, I had never really had a beer with a bartender after his shift, you know, like a normal person. We got to talking and I mentioned that I was just passing through town on my travels through the west and southwest, but that I wanted to get to at least five breweries while I was in Denver. This was stop number one. He escorted me to stop number two, TRVE Brewing, and I’m grateful he did…because I am so not metal.


TRVE was really cool, and they had some delicious beers, but it was definitely better encountered with someone who knew what the hell was going on there. He asked what I was doing with the rest of my afternoon, I said I was going to dinner with my friend at Wynkoop, and that if he wanted, he could probably come with. I usually try to make it to one meal at Wynkoop when I’m in Denver, because it’s such a fun place; dinner was fantastic as always, and my new friend thoroughly entertained my old friend and then I seriously started questioning what the hell was going on in my life. Tall, handsome, bearded bartender needed a ride home, since I drove us to dinner, so my old friend headed home (she’s not old, obviously, she’s just a really awesome friend I’ve known for a while) and THBB and I headed to his place so he could get ready for his hockey game. Which I was then invited to. And I went. That was my Tuesday night. I made a new friend, I tried some new breweries, I saw a hockey game, I drank a little more…but “What the hell is my life?” came up more than once.

Jagged Mountain


Day three in Denver, I met up with my friend for lunch, we reminisced a little, caught up a lot, and talked about how cool it would be if I moved closer so we could see each other more. We talked about me starting another relationship after my divorce, and about her stepping up in the law world with her new job. We talked about big life decisions and taking chances and I love her for all of the things we can talk about candidly. I walked her back to work and we said our goodbyes. On my way out of town, I visited Jagged Mountain and Ratio Beerworks, absolutely stoked that I made it to five breweries, thus completing my goal for this trip. I didn’t make it to six breweries, I didn’t hang out with any more random people, and I didn’t end up buying any weed legally, but where I was headed next didn’t require those things be fulfilled. Because I wasn’t headed south to the Four Corners anymore.

I was headed back up to Laramie.


To be continued even more…

The End

Today I woke up wrapped in soft blankets with the Wyoming sun gently flitting through the sheer curtains at six am, but stayed in the plush king bed and fell back asleep while snuggling with a whippet named Piper. When I re-awoke at seven, I smiled at a text from Ira wishing me a good morning at 6:32 in what I suspect was supposed to be a Scottish accent. I put my glasses on and tiptoed downstairs with Piper dancing at my heels. I measured out some puppy food into a small bowl for Porter, a heeler/Catahoula mix, and placed it on the floor with two other bowls for Piper and a piebald dachshund called Oscar. After all of the kibble had disappeared into now-satisfied bellies, I put Piper and Oscar outside so I could focus on Porter. I had already washed his eye of the light green mucus that had crusted his right lids shut overnight; as long as I made sure he had a treat in his mouth, he was fairly patient with me rinsing his eye out and administering drops. Then I tried to give him one of his pills in peanut butter, but he spit it out, so I had to push it into his throat along with two others. He didn’t seem too aggravated and I rewarded him with a stick of chicken jerky, after which he went outside to play with the others.

I went back upstairs and continued my morning. Contacts in, teeth brushed, scalding hot shower taken, legs shaved, comfy clothes dug out and put on, hair brushed, lotion applied. Returning to the kitchen, I watched Porter try to get Oscar to play with him out of my peripheral as I spooned granola, coconut milk yogurt, and blueberries into a dish for breakfast. I refilled the water dish before stepping over the baby gate into the living room. I loaded The Royal Tenenbaums into my PS3 before sitting on the couch with Piper – wrapped in a down comforter, of course – and we started the movie. I paid attention to it in waves: my eyes on the screen while I was licking spoonfuls of yogurt, distracted by a round of crossword puzzles and word searches on my DS, then back to the screen as I started to get sleepy from too many words, and distracted again by work emails. Halfway through, I rose to check on the boys and make myself a cup of passion tea with candied ginger.

I found myself lost in a movie I had seen a myriad of times before, at many different points in my life, and I discovered new feelings welling up in me. My breath caught in my lungs and my eyes grew heavy with tears when Richie was preparing to kill himself. I hesitantly smiled and gripped the blanket when Richie and Margot finally admitted their love for each other. I was initially disappointed in Eli’s aversion to aid with his drug problem and his subsequent accident into the Tenenbaum household just before the wedding, but I sighed and beamed proudly at both his and Chas’s admittances that they needed help – though for very different things, still closely relatable. I laughed at the words etched into Royal’s headstone and marveled at Pagoda’s undying loyalty. I felt tears seeping under my eyelids at the close of the movie – one I have seen a myriad of times before, at many different points in my life – and after sitting here thinking about it for a few hours; after downloading Spotify and listening to a bunch of acoustic songs; after hugging a puppy and playing with all the dogs and starting laundry; after writing about my morning…I still don’t know why I reacted the way I did this time.

I finished my original five-week internship at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary at the end of March, after which I left Kanab for a week and visited friends in Phoenix. On my return, I was allowed two weeks to intern in areas I hadn’t been able to complete earlier due to my sprained ankle. In the second week of April through the middle of May, I was asked to participate as the first ever intern for a five-week dog-training specific internship. It was tough being the guinea pig, but I’m honored that I was given the opportunity to lead off such an awesome new program that I’m sure will benefit many more determined and dedicated people in years to come. No sooner had I completed that second internship, then I was scheduled for my two-week job evaluation in rabbits. Basically, the evaluation is a situation where both the employer and the potential employee have the chance to try out the open position to see if it’s going to work for all parties involved. This being what I had put up on a pedestal as the opportunity of a lifetime, I gave everything I had, asked every question that popped up, and absorbed as much information I could fit in my brain. All to no avail. I received a voicemail on the first day of June informing me that while I did a great job, I wasn’t the person they were looking for. So I packed a few bags and hit the road.

I left early in the morning on Wednesday, June 3rd and headed up to Salt Lake City. I stopped for a flight and a Cuban sandwich at Epic Brewing Company before visiting a post office to mail off my finalized divorce papers. Having never been to the state of Idaho before (and really only thinking of potatoes and the Oregon Trail when it came up previously), I made it to Idaho Falls and walked into the only brewery in town. A few samples in, a small family consisting of a mother, her mid-20-something son and his 21st-birthday-celebrating cousin sat down to face me at the corner of the bar. I finished off my samples while the guys pounded down a couple pints and the mother reminisced about being young again with the bartender, and when I stood to pull my wallet out of my back pocket, the older of the two men asked me if I was there alone. Normally, this is a question I lie about for obvious reasons thanks to the gender roles in today’s society, but I had just been told I wasn’t good enough for what I had thought was my dream job after 3 months of hard, unpaid work, I didn’t have a home and couldn’t afford to stay in Kanab to continue pursuing the work I’ve wanted to do since I was born, and I had sent in my divorce papers not 3 hours earlier. So I smiled and told the truth, wished the younger one a happy birthday, and walked out. Before I reached my car, the older guy called out to me. I stopped and turned around as he approached, telling me I was one of the most beautiful women he had seen around there and asking simultaneously if I had a boyfriend and if he could get my number. I laughed and said I was just passing through, that I didn’t have a boyfriend, and that he could have my name. I shook his hand and drove away.

stag party

Originally I had intended to stay in Idaho Falls, but decided I was making good time, so I continued towards Jackson, Wyoming. I booked a hotel in Teton Village and just before I reached Jackson, I passed a very busy little bar in the town of Victor, ID. I walked in as it started raining and found a spot at the very back corner of the bar, ordered a beer, and the band started playing. It was surreal being among so many lively people I didn’t know in a town I had never even heard of at a bar I just happened to notice when I glanced to that side of the road. None of this had existed before that moment, but it felt comfortable and familiar. I had three pints while the live music twanged through the muffled conversations. I watched parts of the hockey game that was on TV with strangers next to me, and I clapped with the people paying attention to the songs as they ended, and I paid my tab and slipped out as the rain stopped. I reached my hotel a short time later and started a bath in the elegantly modern tub. I soaked off some of the alcohol and all of the rest of the worries I was carrying with me that day before crawling into bed.

teton village

The birds chirping outside idyllically woke me up, and I opened my window to a soft light shining through pine trees onto mountains capped with snow. I felt refreshed. I showered and ordered room service for brunch in bed…because it was something I’ve always wanted to do. A handsome young man delivered my breakfast, and smiled as he was caught off guard by my answering the door in a loose robe. He returned a few minutes later with my orange juice, apologizing sheepishly for forgetting it the first time, and I heard him lingering a bit after I closed the door. I lounged in bed for another hour and then returned to the road, lighter than I had been when I started my journey.

teton park


I slowly wound my way through Grand Teton National Park with my windows down, soaking up the smooth warmth of the sun through the crisp mountain air. I felt my legs and shoulders burning from the rays streaming through my sunroof, but I just let it happen. I saw deer and birds and so many tall trees and bubbling streams; there was a blue heron that caught a large fish, and a moose ignoring a horde of tourists taking photos as it enjoyed lunch, and mountains looming behind every forested horizon. It was quiet and loud – a cacophony of sounds drifting along a whisper of wind. It was peaceful. I took deep breaths in and held everything inside for as long as I could, absorbing all of the particles, before I slowly pushed all of the air out of my lungs, ridding myself of the old and the negative that had collected…making room for the new and the hopeful. For the first time in a very long time, I was lost without feeling lost. I was finding myself.

To be continued…


Three weeks ago I finished my five-week general animal care internship. My last week was spent in Piggy Paradise with all of the amazingly smart and adorable pot-bellied pigs, their wonderful caregivers, and even some goats who were learning clicker training. I have never worked with pigs, nor have I ever really been around them outside of the petting zoo capacity from my childhood, so being able to spend a week learning about them was fascinating. I had no idea that there was even a market for pot-bellied pigs, let alone a completely made up brand/breed of “Teacup Pigs.” Many of the pigs at Best Friends were surrendered because they grew much larger than their owners expected them to, had a myriad of health problems due to their insufficient diet, or were too aggressive and destructive in large part to them being under socialized single pets.

There is no such thing as a Teacup, miniature, Juliana, micro mini, dandie, or pocket pig. These are all just terms for pigs that are likely still babies under one or two years old and have been starved to deter growth. All of these brands are sold under false pretenses, usually for thousands of dollars. Pigs can begin reproducing around three to six weeks of age – still just piglets – and don’t stop growing until they are around five years old. What people see when they go to purchase a teacup pig is a litter, or farrow, of itty bitty baby piglets next to two small, but ideally proportionate pigs that are advertised as the parents. The parents are used as the guidelines to which the babies will grow up (because only full-grown adults can reproduce, right?), and uneducated people with only one goal in mind will buy the schtick. Once the money is handed over, the new owners of the cutest piggy ever are told to feed it a limited diet to ensure it stays small, and sent on their way.

Then the piglet outgrows the teacup, and the sink, and the puppy bed, until it’s 60+ pounds. Being underfed and supremely intelligent, It is always hungry and bored with the cushy indoor life, and starts rooting under the fridge for those lost cheerios, ripping up the flooring and toppling appliances. It acts out with aggressive mood swings, biting for food and to establish dominance in a herd where there are no other pigs to challenge. It shatters underdeveloped bones just by walking, it has breathing problems from being inbred, its internal organs continue to grow normally while its skeletal system is stunted, resulting in an over-stressed, extremely painful existence. The life expectancy of a normal, healthy pot-bellied pig is 16-20 years. The life expectancy of a Teacup pig averages to about five years. Thus, they end up in shelters around the country that are unprepared to care for them, and they are euthanized. Thankfully, there are now many pig-specific sanctuaries that will pull them from kill-shelters and give them the life they deserve while educating the public about the scam that is Teacup pig marketing.

IMG_20150319_210939This is Kit, a smiley little one-year old who is kinda shy and skittish around people, but if you have a fig newton (or 15), she’ll follow you around like you’ve been best pals forever. Despite her hesitant nature, she’s tremendously curious and will try to sneak up to new situations before they notice she’s there. Many times I would catch her approaching out of the corner of my eye, and when I turned around, she’d trot away from me with her tail wagging happily. I was able to work on some training with her, getting her used to being pet by people, teaching her to touch my hand or sit for a treat, and I even had a splash party with her in a piggy pool on one of the warmer days.

Kit’s profile: http://goo.gl/SGhYB3

Training Kit to sit

Pigs are so remarkably smart, and love having lots to do – including rooting around in the dirt, playing with things that make noise, scratching on trees and cinderblocks, rolling around in puddles, and exploring new places. They are ranked right behind humans, apes, and dolphins in terms of their intelligence, and they can learn a wide variety of tricks and behaviors. Also, they are great walking companions if you have the right motivation (fig newtons, lots and lots of fig newtons).

Cherry asking for more fig newtons

Not only is Best Friends home to a couple herds of pot-bellied pigs, but they have a five-acre plot set aside just for two very unique pigs named Nick and Holly. These siblings are part domestic Hampshire, part feral pigs that are over 400 pounds each and have legs for days. Holly has been trained in level one of Parelli horsemanship (which I’m still not convinced isn’t magic), and really enjoys hiking and washing rocks. Nick is a seasoned collector, and will dig up whole trees, fence posts, and any other artifacts he deems worthy to decorate his room with.

Here’s Holly enjoying a short mudbath:

And Nick:

Holly’s profile: http://goo.gl/gCbhPp

Nick’s profile: http://goo.gl/9oU48r

Some great articles to educate yourself on teacup pigs:

Best Friends – The Truth About Teacup Pigs

Modern Farmer – Never Buy a Teacup Pig

The Dodo – What’s Misleading About Teacup Pigs


Let’s go back to when I restarted my life for the umpteenth time. The most recent restart, which began when I applied for the five-week general animal care internship at Best Friends Animal Society. I’m still deeply entangled in the luxurious newness of it all, despite having existed in Kanab since mid-February, but I failed to document my arrival. Skipping over the lives I’ve lived previously – of which there are many, and will be many more – my application was sent out into the universe in early December, carrying with it the hope that I would even be considered despite my glaring lack of professional experience within any shelter-related field. I trudged through my days after that final email left my draft folder, waiting for something. Maybe a sign that it was the right time to think about myself finally, or anything to convince me I was worthy of this endeavor. Weeks passed. A month. I had been silently rejected many times before, ignored, and my doubt grew alongside my desperation, each one encouraging the other to stretch their roots deeper and to swallow more light from the sun. I was trying to plant a garden, but I didn’t have tools strong enough for the weeds, and they continued to slowly strangle each of my little aspirations.

I reached out and received a reply almost immediately. They were waiting on two more references to check out. I promptly got in touch with the people I had listed as authorities on my applicable skills, and begged them to just entertain the thought of filling out paperwork that might help me to follow my dreams. Two more weeks and my birthday had arrived; I was three years away from thirty, coming to terms with a broken marriage, living with my parents, and setting boundaries for all of the dysfunction that surrounded me. The last time I felt so wholly unprepared to simply exist as a person was for a labyrinthine period of time after my brother died.

Checking my email at work on my birthday, I saw this message:

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 9.11.41 PM

I ravenously shredded into the allegorical envelope and devoured what was inside. I was going to Utah. In three weeks. In an instant, I knew where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there. I gave my notice to my employers, who were also my family, and began sorting through all of the memories of a tragic fairytale life that I was no longer consumed by. I packed nine boxes into four and saved just enough room for myself in my car…and then I drove a snowmobile off of a hill.

I experienced the proverbial life flashing before my eyes in the three or four seconds it took for me to hit the ground from twenty feet in the air. I felt my lungs crumple and my spine compress, each vertebrate slamming into the one below it. I fell backwards off of the machine as it roared out from underneath me, and I opened my eyes to a monster-filled darkness. I wasn’t dead, but I wasn’t there. I had landed in the middle of the trail and my dad was still behind me. I subconsciously reminded myself that I shouldn’t move, but the part of my brain that was still struggling to remain sentient forced my clawing limbs to frantically clamber off to the side so I wouldn’t also be run over. Unable to physically express any emotions at this point, I wept mentally with gratitude that I was alive and – as far as I could tell – not paralyzed. My dad vaulted from his snowmobile and kneeled over me, ripping his helmet off and ordering me not to move. But I couldn’t listen. I couldn’t hear him over the fear that was thundering in my ears, that had replaced my blood. “I need to get up! I have to get up!” I was gasping. “Help me roll over! Please, I need to get up!” I was so afraid of lying there and being preyed on by sharp teeth and cold breath dripping with blackness of the winter night. “I’m ok, just help me roll over!” My dad’s face expressed panicked dread and extraneous remorse and I didn’t have the capacity to indulge either of those things. As he hesitantly aided my anguished, and completely illogical, petitions, I steadied myself on my hands and knees. “I’m ok…”

There was a gut-wrenching realization that I actually wasn’t paralyzed, but that something was out of place. There are no words for the immense elation I felt at the surge of pain that began to throb through my bones and at the muscles that trembled violently with adrenaline. I was alive, and I was there. I tried to stand and collapsed. I still hadn’t caught my breath and I was losing it all over again. My dad hoisted me up and my left ankle dangled, refusing to participate. We were ten minutes from the nearest shred of civilization – a backwoods bar in the middle of the northern Wisconsin woods – and we needed to get there now. I slowly drove his snowmobile over the remaining bumps and dips, sobbing and panting from the exertion. After reaching the bar, we had a beer and some dinner before we headed back home…a drive where I both argued that I didn’t need to see a doctor and pleaded to be put out of my misery. Two and a half hours later, I was in the emergency room getting x-rays and vomiting from the oxycodone. By three in the morning, almost eighteen hours after the beginning of the snowmobile excursion, I was finally laying in bed with a splint on my severely sprained ankle and an untreatable sprained back.

I emailed the intern coordinator at Best Friends when I woke up, terrified of what could happen to my internship opportunity, but not willing to entertain the possibility that I might not be able to participate. It was five days before I had to drive halfway across the country, my ankle wasn’t broken, and I was still capable. She responded almost immediately, saying she would make it work for me, and I fell back asleep to hold onto my dream.

Tuesday, the day before I started my journey west, I saw an orthopedic surgeon who gave me a boot and wished me godspeed. My family thought I should stay and heal, rather than risk further injury, but I had too much personally invested in this endeavor, in myself, and I left Wednesday morning. I arrived on Friday afternoon and settled in for what is now the most rewarding and challenging experience I’ve ever pursued. It’s been seven weeks since I arrived in Kanab, since I started living for myself. I don’t have my influential relationship, I left the dysfunction behind, I came alone and with nothing and with everything. “I’m ok.” I’m alive, and I’m here.


Four weeks down, one to go, and this last week was one that has been hard to walk away from. While I’ve been able to connect with animals in each area, it’s interesting to see the different reactions each of the species gives when they see you approaching. This is also cut down into more micro-interactions based on individual animals, as all of them are unique in their personalities and behaviors. So for the past week, I interned at Deja’s in the Lodges area of Dogtown. Most of the dogs in this neighborhood are dog-aggressive, which means they are known to have a history of aggression with other dogs – whether it’s resource guarding, lack of manners, or a specific reactivity to something – so they reside in single runs. This doesn’t mean they wouldn’t get along with any other dogs, they just need to be introduced to the right dog at the right time. Also, many would be completely fine in a low-stress environment, like a stable home, rather than in a high-stress environment, like a noisy shelter. In any case, the interactions I was able to have with the pups were extremely valuable to my experience and understanding of their behaviors.

IMG_20150315_103456This is Pretty Girl – an American Staffordshire terrier from a dogfighting ring – and she did not appreciate me making her stop and sit on our walk, as is evidenced by her shut-eyed yawn. Pretty Girl was a lot of fun to work with, because she is a little bit of a slow learner. For feeding time, dogs are taught to find their “place,” sit, and wait for the cue (such as “free!” in a high-pitched voice) to begin eating. This ensures the safety of everyone involved, as food is exciting and a leaping, barking dog – as well as one that guards food, can be dangerous. This teaches the dog that once he is calm and listening, a reward will appear, and it will be worth it. Pretty Girl, along with all of the other dogs, go through this routine twice a day for meals, and before and after walks. For some dogs, they pick it up immediately and perform the ritual nearly flawlessly every time. Others take some time, but with enough patience from the human, will eventually sit and wait. Pretty Girl requires a few attempts, and is easily distracted – sometimes with a wall that just NEEDS to be licked, sometimes with a round of dancing and appeasing eye squints. Getting her to understand where she was expected to sit and that waiting for the release cue took more patience than I experienced with many of the other dogs, but once she got it, it was beautiful to see. I somehow even managed to get Pretty Girl to sit and wait patiently (without jumping up to lick my entire head) while I harnessed her for our walk a few times, and was able to practice clicker training with her.

Pretty Girl’s profile: http://goo.gl/1dvjGL

Can I express how much I love clicker training? It is just amazing to watch a dog process what I’m asking her to do with the obvious language barrier between us. The clicker is called a reinforcement signal, or bridging stimulus, and once the dog associates the “click” with a reward, it’s so much easier to reinforce the behavior someone might be trying to condition. It takes a lot of vigilance and a lot of treats, and figuring out how to generalize a cue to fit the context of the environment can be challenging, but it’s so much fun to figure it out with the dog – definitely a bonding and learning experience for everyone involved!

IMG_20150315_104900Yuma! This beautiful girl is a bull terrier/Staffordshire terrier mix and is extremely athletic. In her attempts to get attention, she would sometimes do flips off of the walls in her run – though we wouldn’t enforce this behavior, it was cool to see. I’m a sucker for that distinctive sloping bull terrier face, and while Yuma’s is less pronounced (and hard to see in the photo), I was drawn to her right away. She is reactive to other dogs, and during our walks I had to keep an eye on her body language when we were within 50 feet of any other dog, but when we had the trail to ourselves, she was just full of energy and paid attention to everything I asked of her. Yuma has “place, sit, wait” down so well that she actually lays in her crate before I even enter her run with the food and focuses intently on my face until I give the release. Going for a walk was a different story, but with enough ignoring of her rude behaviors (jumping, mouthing, demand barking), she would eventually calm and sit for leashing.

Yuma’s profile: http://goo.gl/X2kdlW 


Best Friends not only provides a life-long safe haven for dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs, and bunnies – they also let in this little hippo, Ebony. Ebony is a Shar Pei/American bulldog mix with the wiggliest hips you’ll ever see. When she’s happy, the whole back half of her body swings wildly from side to side and her mouth opens wide in a great big grin. She was a challenge to walk, as she has a ridiculously high prey drive and is constantly on the hunt for lizards, and she just doesn’t get along with other dogs (at least in high-stress settings). She’s also pretty hefty, and takes full advantage of her weight to try to get where she wants to go. Trying to redirect her attention on a walk can be futile, but I found that if I provided enough stimulation to at least equal all of the dogs yelling at us from their runs as we passed them, she would return to me about half of the times that I asked – which I praised with lots of treats and petting. Ebony is a leaner and loved to press into my legs as I stroked her stubbly fur and massaged her rock solid head (so much muscle!), occasionally looking up at me with a wide smile.


Ebony’s profile: http://goo.gl/YwTxaZ

Being able to work with these dogs, and many more, during my week at Deja’s in Dogtown was so invaluable to my experience overall…I can’t wait to start my next internship with dog training in a few weeks to learn even more!


This week I was working in Parrot Garden and had a day at Wild Friends. Parrot Garden is full of, yes…lots and lots of parrots. Just under 100, in fact. Birds from cockatiels to macaws (with some budgies thrown in for good measure) with varying levels of health and linguistic capabilities. I knew parrots lived a long time, but had no idea that many of them can live up to 80 years in captivity – sometimes longer, and get passed through many different families as they outlive their people. I noticed that many of the birds were a little camera shy, and I never really had enough time to sit with any one bird to help them get comfortable with my hulking beast of a phone, so I only snapped some shots of the cockatiels in one of the aviaries…while we were MacGyvering a little bird rescue.

IMG_20150304_100839 (1)

Here’s some of the peanut gallery who cheered us on while we rescued an adorable little yellow budgie from her devious adventure. Basically, she found a tiny little hole between two planks of wood in the ceiling that led her to being stuck between the wire mesh and the underside of the roof. Using only a net, 2 screwdrivers (a flat head AND a phillips), a staple gun with too-short staples, a hatchet (not to be confused with an axe), a blunt pair of pliers, a bigger set of pliers, a butter knife, some screws, zip ties, a ladder, a stick, and a rock, we managed to open a small hole for her to crawl out of, and then closed it back up with reinforcements. The budgie bragged about her death-defying journey and the excitement died down. But there is this picture – please note the sexy boot:

budgie maintenance

I met a lot of great people with actual senses of humor (that’s a thing), and I learned a lot about the wonderful world of parrots. I’m hoping to return to sit with some of the birds (and caregivers) to learn even more throughout my time here in Kanab – because I’m definitely staying.

Also this week, I completed my first interview for a cat caregiver position – it went amazingly well, and I hope to be able to pursue that route once I finish all my interning. On that note, I have been feverishly reading through books on dog behavior and dog training and dog learning and just dogs (read all the dogs!). At first it was to prepare for an interview I had on Thursday afternoon for a brand spanking new internship opportunity. Now it’s to learn as much as I possibly can from reading before I start applying it within the internship. I was accepted into the first ever dog training internship offered at Best Friends! Despite my utter lack of experience in this particular field, I’ve been interested in dog behavior and training for as long as I can remember, and now I actually get to learn it, hands on, with some of the most knowledgeable and forward-thinking people in the business of saving animals. It feels so unbelievable to even be considered for this opportunity, but to be chosen and then accepted…I have no words. So instead of talking, I’m reading. A lot. I might post notes here and there, or quotes from resources that really resonate with me, but my time here is being extremely well-spent. It helps that there is’t much to do in Kanab, and that the Buckskin is so divey. Also I have virtually no income right now, so learning, learning, learning – FINALLY about something I’m passionate about AND where I have people around me who are also passionate about it (thus a fostering of passions is happening, it’s a beautiful thing).

Once I start that internship in mid-April, I’ll be able to talk more proficiently about it, but until then, here’s another photo of a few of the cockatiel onlookers:

IMG_20150304_105351As a final note, I’ll be taking 3 weeks off between the end of this first internship and the beginning of the dog training one. One of those weeks will be in Arizona to see friends and family. And to pick up beer. Because Utah is not only a desert, it is basically dry when it comes to alcohol…and I can’t keep driving to Fredonia for a Bud Light.

Don’t Stop Looking

I’m doing some in-depth reading and studying up on my animal behavior and dog training knowledge, because it’s always something I’ve wanted to have more awareness of and be able to put into practice. I’m only halfway through my first book – “Inside of A Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz, but I’ve made note of some of the items I’ve been learning about, which I may put into a post all their own. For now, I just came across this very interesting paragraph that talks about how dogs never lose their sense of observation, while naturally-awed children grow up into adults who fall out of the habit of noticing things in general.

Dogs don’t stop looking — at the gimpy walk, at a rush of leaves tumbling down the sidewalk, at our faces. The urban dog may be bereft of natural sights, but he is rich in the odd: the drunken man swerving through a crowd, the shouting sidewalk preacher, the lame and destitute. All get long stares from the dogs who pass them. What makes dogs good anthropologists is that they are so attuned to humans: they notice what is typical, and what is different. And, just as crucially, they don’t become inured to us, as we do — nor do they grow up to be us.

Leela – a one-eyed great dane I’m honored to call my niece, and who has amazing surveillance skills