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Community & Behavioral Health | Recovery | Social Change


Changing the Conversation

Closing the Chapter: A Man’s Recovery Journey with his Dog

06/22/17 11:14 AM | Steven Samra | Recovery, Homelessness

Dog Recovery Journey.jpeg

Hello old friend. We're here in this most beautiful and familiar place, you and I, sharing a quiet moment together in the yard. For 15 years, we've been sitting with each other, side by side. I've stroked your now fully-greyed head every day, and still it rises in anticipation of each new soft caress of my hand. You're close to leaving, I know. You're preparing me—in the most loving and compassionate ways—and as usual, putting to rest for me any argument about the intelligence of your species. I know you know, and I know you understand all the things I must now do for you to keep you safe, comfortable, and happy until you tell me it's time.

As I sit here with you, I'm taken back to our first meeting. You were a tiny thing, terrified of the noise and bizarre surroundings of the animal shelter. I know this terror, I have spent time in similar places, and our shared lived experience of this trauma bound us instantly. I saw you, your eyes met mine, and instantly, we knew…kindred spirits. Remember when the lady asked us if we needed time to "bond" before you went home with me? Oh, how we silently laughed as I told her, "We've already taken care of that."

It was instant companionship, and we functioned in sync immediately. You learned your canine ways with big brother Kuma—the three-legged wonderdog. You learned the ways of the two-leggeds the same way I did, for I was early in my own recovery from other horrors of the world and new to it as well.

Our recovery journey together covered a lot of ground, didn't it? From the mountains of northern Nevada, where you played among the sagebrush, buckbrush, and wild horses to the swamps and bayous on the Texas/Louisiana border around Toledo Bend Lake. We traveled by car, by horseback, by motorcycle, and always you were there. You still crack me up when you put your paw and arm on the armrest, riding shotgun in our old truck, like we've done since the day I brought you home in it.

And what about our move to Nashville, wow, memories, eh? I think you rode that entire distance with your tennis ball in your mouth. Remember when we stopped to play somewhere in the middle of nowhere Nevada, and you were so intent on chasing that damned ball you ran right over a rattlesnake? Good times!

Nashville is where you learned the leash, too. I know you preferred the ecollar because you still retained your dignity as a free sentient being, and the leash was painful for us both—still is—but we did what we had to do to make sure we were always together. I know too, I see it when you wander over, that you're heartbroken your sister across the street is attached to a chain. That's never happened to you and never will, but I know you know that.

The best thing about Nashville—I know you'll agree—was the street outreach! Lordy, did we see some stuff together, and the amazing, colorful, and intriguing people we met! Many times, your friendliness and crazy terrier face with those wild and bushy eyebrows on that big lab body would instantly disarm and charm the most hardened or fearful person. Your spirit connected, then you shared your credibility with me, and it was an instant connection for us all. Thank you for that, because without that, so many people would still be alone and suffering in our city. We spent years wandering the streets and alleys of Nashville, and there are people who still talk about you by name. What an honor.

But, this full and vibrant life we've shared, traveling hither and yon, embracing adventures great and small, has aged us as it has matured us. We're so much wiser, calmer, and more peaceful. We enjoy our simple pleasures, like the gentle stroking of your head I'm doing now as we sit together on our porch. As our time winds down together, I know these are very special moments. It's hard for you to walk—arthritis sucks—and you no longer chase your ball; but, you're still happy to carry it on our nightly walk. I'm with you, there are many things I just don't do as much anymore, even though I'd like to. I have to say, I'm really content to just walk around with you and be in each other's presence.

Every moment I have with you now is precious, and I can tell it's the same for you. We're going to soon close this adventure together, because I promised you I'd let you go when it was time, and clearly that time nears. I know you'll tell me when you're ready, but the other thing you can count on is that I will never keep you here for me. I'll know—just like you will—and when it comes, I'll be with you until your final breath. We've walked a recovery journey together for 15 years now, Kailie, and your unconditional love and companionship has been a beautiful addition to a life of ever-increasing joy and stability. You've been a massive part of much of that joy, and as lives for 4-leggeds go, I hope I've honored you with the most amazing life a dog could wish for. It goes without saying that I'm going to miss you terribly when you're gone, but it's a pain with honor and dignity of a life well-lived with my 4-legged sister. And you know, when it's my turn, there's a damned big pack of us who've journeyed this life together that will be running at my side as we dance across the mountains on the moon. And you, sister, will be right there next to me, paw and arm on the armrest, riding shotgun.

For now, let's just sit here and enjoy the evening. There's a cool breeze picking up….feel it?

Read other posts by Steven to learn more about his recovery journey:

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Image by Steven Samra.

Steven Samra

Written by Steven Samra

Steven is an Associate at the Center for Social Innovation. After entering recovery from homelessness, substance use, and mental health challenges in 1999, Steven has dedicated his career to assisting and advocating for marginalized, disenfranchised populations. He serves as Deputy Director and Consumer Advisor on SAMHSA's Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS) and has served in leadership capacities for SAMHSA on HHRN, PATH, and SSH consumer involvement roles. He lives in Nashville, TN where he co-founded a street newspaper, The Contributor, and serves on the Nashville Metropolitan Homelessness Commission.