In the last few months, I’ve had about as much freedom as any 29-year-old single woman living in Montana during a pandemic could possibly have. I just got off my third multi-day river trip of the summer, and I’ve been mountain biking at my own leisure.
Before moving to the Flathead Valley, I had been skiing and bouncing around the western part of the state for the past 10 years.
But on Saturday, Stevie entered my life. She is an 8-week-old yellow lab puppy who has completely melted my heart.
I had been waiting my entire adult life for the right moment to get a dog. I worked seasonal jobs for most of my 20s, ranging from ski patrolling to guiding jobs to landscaping, which provided little stability and the uncertainty of knowing where I would be in six months. That lifestyle wasn’t exactly conducive to caring for an animal.
Now that I’m a real adult, working a full-time, year-round, salaried job in a dog-friendly office during a pandemic, the time was finally right. I tried adopting a shelter dog back in March, but after only a week, I had to take Rosie back to the shelter. It was heartbreaking, but she had issues that I couldn’t help her with.
So I decided to go with what I knew after that experience. I grew up with Labradors back home in upstate New York, and I wanted a friendly dog with a calm demeanor and willing-to-please attitude to be my adventure buddy for hopefully the next 10-plus years.
But what I didn’t experience with our family Labs is that puppy-owner bond that everybody talks about. When there are four people and another dog to divide the love, it’s not the same.
Stevie is my little shadow, crying when I leave the room and cuddling right in my lap when I sit on the floor with her. I know it won’t last, and soon she’ll be running to places she shouldn’t and using my ski boot as a chew toy, but Stevie’s my new best friend in a dark and lonely time amid the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve never felt more grounded in my life.
Named after Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, she’s now my main priority. Instead of driving somewhere to float or bike or camp this weekend, I mostly stayed at the house, introducing Stevie to her new home and praying she didn’t poop on the floor. I was preparing for a sleepless first few nights, but she only woke up once at 2 a.m. to go potty.
Looking at those cute, dark puppy eyes and watching her tail wag every morning at 6 a.m. gives me reassurance that I made the right choice, even if she doesn’t let me go back to bed.
Life will be different now. I’m not quite sure when I’ll hop on my bike again, and I know I’ll be trading long ski tours in the backcountry for half-days at the resort. I bought Stevie an adorable red life jacket for the river, but she can’t even stand up in it right now. She certainly won’t be seeing any whitewater until next summer.
Eventually, Stevie will be the best ski, bike and river buddy I could ask for. But for now, her hobbies are eating turkey poop in the yard and sleeping 18 hours a day.
We’re on this journey together. And we’re never going back again.