As I’ve talked about before, I have a special place in my heart for the Three Days of Syllamo race down in Arkansas. The first year I went, I rode down with Adam, who I’d never met before, and Stuart, who I barely knew at the time. It was a fantastic, life-changing weekend, but one thing has always bugged me about that memory from over a year ago.
At Syllamo, the Start/Finish is in the middle of a campground. There’s a big shelter that everybody hangs out at all weekend, eating meals together, swapping tales of past running misdeeds, and convincing themselves they can head back out for another day of punishment. People come and go throughout the weekend, so there’s a constant change of faces and living beings.
One living thing remained all weekend, a beautiful puppy dog. It always lurked on the edges of the shelter, getting close enough to snag a piece of food occasionally, then retreating to the safety of the nearby grass to eat in peace while keeping a watchful eye on any humans that tried to approach.
Nobody claimed the pup as their own, and the story soon spread that Pup and her brother had been dumped off at the campground a week earlier. They were both young puppy dogs, probably not more than 6-8 months old. They had spent the week going from campsite to campsite scrounging what food they could.
I heard her brother got adventurous and turned up at an aid station on the race course, but Pup stayed close by. After a day or two, she’d let you get close enough to pet her, if you moved gently. By the third day, she seemed tired enough from the weekend to crash out in the middle of the grass field and let whomever wanted to come say hi. Of course, I did just that.
She was COVERED in ticks from a week of living in the wilderness, but otherwise seemed to be in decent shape. Soft coat, good teeth, and once she warmed up to you, as sweet as could be.
I immediately started thinking through the scenarios in my head. How much would I get crucified if I just showed up at home with a random dog? Did we really have room for a 2nd dog? She was MUCH larger than our other dog. How would I even get her home? I was riding back with Adam, who I knew much better after the weekend of running and lodging together, but he had a very nice car with leather seats and I was gonna be the crazy person who asked him to have a random dog that was covered in ticks and who knows what else make a 6 hour journey home with no idea what was going to happen.
I spent most of the 3rd day waffling back and forth on what to do. Pup clearly needed to go SOMEWHERE. No dog should have to live the life of a stray, much less a young puppy.
My choice was soon made for me, however, as a fellow runner from Chicago announced she was going to take Pup home with her. She was clearly a Dog Person and I felt pretty good that Pup would have a good home. We packed up and headed back to KC soon after.
Ever since then, I’ve thought about that dog and the weekend. That weekend was about the same time when things started to really fall apart personally. My marriage of 9+ years was disintegrating and my world was changing rapidly. I was living someplace new, surrounded by unfamiliar circumstances and trying to figure out things I never thought I’d have to figure out again.
After we got back to KC, I tried to find the runner who took Pup home with her on Facebook, to no avail. Part of me wanted to check in on the dog, see how it was doing, see the new home she had gone to. I wanted to make sure she was ok. I wanted to know that she had made the transition and was happy and successful. I barely knew Pup at all, but I had gotten attached. I felt guilty for leaving her behind, like I should have done more somehow.
A year passed. I went back to Three Days again this year and had another life-changing experience. My divorce was in full-swing this time and I needed the healing that only long days in the woods on the trail can provide. After the weekend, I became Facebook friends with some people from the Chicago trail running group, Flatlanders.
This morning, the day after we formally announced to everybody that we were getting divorced, I was browsing Facebook and was shown a “Page That Might Interest You” labelled “Syllamo” that had a picture of a dog for the thumbnail. A dog that looked very familiar. A dog that I knew was in Chicago, the same area as my newfound Facebook friends.
Sure enough, Syllamo, as Pup was now known, had amazing owners who had setup a Facebook page for her. There were pictures of her running through a field with another doggy friend. Pictures of her getting covered in mud and water. Pictures of her playing with a basket full of toys. Pictures of her taking a nap next to a cat friend.
Syllamo had made it. Syllamo was thriving and happier than she ever would’ve been. She had gone through some scary times, but came out the other side better than ever. She was clearly surrounded by love and warmth.
So have I.
So am I.
If you want to follow along with adventures of Syllamo the Dog, here’s her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/syllamothedog/