How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

When Wiley first came home last February, I was barely able to walk, desperately single and exploited at work. No more, in large part thanks to him.

I didn't actually have a huge role in Wiley's adoption. Some friends heard of an adorable family of puppies on death row down in San Diego and rushed down at the literal 11th hour to save them. They brought all six pups and their mom home and set about personally placing each one with a new family.

One night, when he was all of six weeks old, Wiley jumped over their fire pit and they decided he was for me. The first I heard of that was a phone call the next morning asking when I was available to come meet my new dog.

Like most people, I didn't think I was ready. Sure, I had a nice yard for him to run around in and would make the time to take him for walks, but I've been motorcycle-only since about 2002 and was travelling two to three times a month for work. How would I get a dog around? Who would take care of him while I was out of town? Could I afford the vet bills? I was barely managing to take care of myself, how could I possibly care for another creature?

I guess those are just problems I had to learn to tackle because, once I picked him up for the first time, I never wanted to put him down again. That, of course, has resulted in the embarrassing situation you see today, where Wiley is as often photographed riding on my shoulders as he is following along on the ground.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Sunset at Prewitt Ridge.

Adopting A Dog Got Me Back Into The Outdoors: Before Wiley, every weekend was spent riding bikes. Yeah, those were dirt bikes a lot of the time and we'd go exciting places like Death Valley or Siberia, but it was all a little one-dimensional. Once I adopted Wiley, I started pursuing simple activities like camping and backpacking and fishing again, something which played a strong role in me doing IndefinitelyWild and creating the kinds of situations where friends and the girlfriend can now come along too.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

About 12,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada.

Adopting A Dog Forced Me To Get Into Shape: The first day I met Wiley, the two-inch hole through my knee started weeping puss and blood through my jeans and he tried to lick it off. A few months previously, I'd crashed a motorcycle, resulting in that knee, a broken coccyx, embarrassing road rash on my butt, two broken ribs and the metal that was already in my left arm tore itself free of the bone, fracturing my ulna in multiple places.

Walking was still challenging when he came home, but I was quickly forced to adapt to life with an energetic puppy. At first, that meant short walks around the neighborhood and a lot of time running around in the yard, but that quickly evolved into walks plus a daily hike through Runyon Canyon measuring 4.2 miles with 1,500 feet of elevation gain. Doing that every day will burn some calories — 10 months after the crash I looked like this. Adopting a dog will give you visible abs.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Six weeks old.

Adopting A Dog Gave Me A Reason To Come Home: That crash was the third time I'd broken a bone on motorcycles. Not exactly a good track record and not one that I could keep repeating. Having a living, breathing thing that required attention and care and exercise waiting at home changed my priorities. I still ride everyday obviously, but have dialed-back the risk taking. No longer is it my priority to come back with the most epic photo or craziest story, it's to make it home in one-piece, on time, so Wiley gets dinner.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Adopting A Dog Made An Impossible Situation Bearable: For all of 2013, I thought I was pursuing my dream when really I was just being taken advantage of. I was dirt broke, treated like shit and convinced it was all my fault. It sucked, but at the end of everyday, it was time to hang out with my dog and none of it mattered.

Adopting A Dog Gave Me The Best Party Trick Ever

Adopting A Dog Taught Me To Communicate: Well, I use my command voice when I want a friend to do something and I scratch Lara behind her ear, but other than that I've learned to be clear and upfront about what I want and to listen to the needs of others, even if they're not talking. I now know what hungry looks like, but I can also tell when I'm not paying enough attention to someone.

Adopting A Dog Taught Me Patience: Wiley chewed on anything and everyone he could find until he was about six months old. He ruined a rug, shredded most of my shoes and made a profession out of turning my roommate's panties into the crotchless type (you're welcome, Sam). He still doesn't listen to all of my commands and is positively willful when his wants don't align with mine, but he's getting better every day because, instead of getting frustrated, I take the time to work with him a little every day. That approach pays dividends in real life too, giving me the ability to work towards a bigger goal rather than settling for an immediate, but smaller one.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Adopting A Dog Taught Me How Trust Works: Wiley's been an off-leash walker (where permitted and safe) since we took him hiking through the red woods in Big Sur when he was 11 weeks old. The trust enabling that arrangement is a two way street, relying on clear and open communication and a relationship where I can never be anything but a positive, safe place for him. If I give him that, then in return he's never been more than 100 yards from my side. Sound familiar? Maybe it should.

That trust also extend to the strangers we pass. Wiley is now a large, intimidating animal, so I've had to learn to immediately communicate to strangers that they're safe and, if it's another dog owner, that both parties are ok with the situation. I can read other people and make sure they're able to read me.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Adopting A Dog Was A Crash Course In Nutrition: Wiley is allergic to grains, lactose intolerant and has a horrible reaction to any fleas. Feeding him is not just a case of opening a bag of kibble and emptying it into a bowl. Despite those problems, we get complemented on his health, demeanor and shiny coat everywhere we go. To get there, I had to start reading the ingredients on everything I fed him, learn what the big words meant and figure out how to tackle specific health problems with diet. Doing so is way cheaper than visiting the vet and even more effective. It's also a big reason that both of us can carry heavy loads through the mountains for distances of 20 miles or more in a single day and have the energy to tackle significant exercise daily. Looking after him taught me the value of cooking, of whole foods (not the chain) and of oils and fats and organ meats.

How Adopting A Dog Saved My Life

Adopting A Dog Taught Me To Love Again: Following a terrible break up with a girl I thought I was going to marry, then a year with a horrible succubus, I was left looking for the right thing in the wrong places. I moved from one girl to the next, looking but never finding what I needed. Turns out that was an ability to pour my love into something and get it back in equal measure. Adopting Wiley gave me that, taking the pressure off relationships and turning me from a needy wreck into someone with the confidence to wait for the right thing to come along. Turns out, shortly thereafter, it did just that.

Wiley's ability to attract members of the opposite sex is now loaned out to friends, which is one of the reasons I don't have to worry about finding someone to take care of him when I travel. They know taking him for a hike or to a restaurant is a sure fire way to get the real world version of swiping right.

IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Lead image: Alex Hodges