Some Trails Are Buddy Trails

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by Katie Napiwocki |

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SMA caregivers | SMA News Today | Main graphic for column titled "A Wildflower in the Wheelderness," by Katie Napiwocki

Today is thought to be my sweet beagle’s 11th birthday.

Even if it’s not her actual birthday, it’s still her unbirthday — and to any fan of imaginative literature, an unbirthday is a worthy touchstone of celebration in its own right.

Our beagle, Eva, was a rescue. When my partner, Andy, and I were searching for a dog to grace our home, we kept a keen eye on the local humane societies. Not long into our pursuit, Eva’s photo was posted for all the world to see. We knew there was something about her. We had to meet her.

I might’ve mentioned this to you a time or two before, but I’m a hopeless romantic. I entertain the notion of love at first sight, or whimsical connection. I believe the eyes connect to the soul. And, if the warmth of our souls connects to one another, the eyes are a reliable temperature gauge.

We waited in the lobby of the disenchanted shelter, trying to keep our wits about us as the surrounding menagerie of homeless animals tugged at the corners of our hearts. With each bark, the weight compounded. I stared at the four-legged tenants pacing within wired boundaries. I reminded myself that the occupancy of the kennels will ebb and flow as rivers do. And rivers always lead to oceans of new beginnings.

The handle a of nearby door jiggled; a hinge squealed as it swung open. Then, the unmistakable sound of giddy paws scurrying across hard floors. The anticipation rose to a lump in my throat. A tricolored hurricane barreled toward me. Ears flopped in a such a crescendo of motion, I thought I’d witness a beagle propelled into cosmic orbit.

But no, the barricade of my lap interrupted her scheduled launch. She climbed atop the footrests of my wheelchair like we were old friends reunited by a secret handshake. She greeted us with doe eyes of the softest umber and an overflowing cup of joy. It was a cup filled by love at first sight, and to this day, it has never emptied.

Our next move should come as no surprise to you. We filled out the adoption paperwork swiftly, as if it were a ticket to coveted treasure — a ticket destined for an empty raffle box with mere minutes remaining in the countdown to drawing time.

We eagerly handed the completed papers to the lottery attendant, asking her one final question: “We noticed she’s holding up her rear left leg. Did something happen recently to cause that?”

“No,” the attendant replied. “She was found that way. Probably an injury she sustained out on the road as a stray. We don’t know her story, unfortunately. She needs surgery to repair the damage.”

This beagle had a fine heart. I recognized its likeness because it had bloomed under kindred skies to mine. In unspoken congruence, Andy and I made an oath to give Eva the life she deserved.

I sometimes look into Eva’s eyes and tell her how I wish she could be a storyteller to me. I have a feeling she would say that even though her story has villainous excerpts, her life began on the day she came home with us.

She cast a different shadow that day. On that day, her silhouette was not dark but bold, not small but mighty, and radiant with a crown of flowers rather than a cloak of burden.

Once Eva settled into the climate of our home, she underwent surgery for her hip trauma. Although her quality of life has improved, she still copes with ongoing mobility limitations.

Resilient souls like myself and Eva will forever adventure on “buddy trails” throughout life. Buddy trails are those which involve a difficult path. The terrain is rugged, winding through perilous lands. Warning signs of falling rocks and steep cliffs line the way. Bring a lantern and a few fierce allies along, for it isn’t wise to journey on your own.

If you’re reading this, I’d guess you’re a resilient soul, too. You might be all too familiar with buddy trails.

From one traveler to another: If your trail presents you with treacherous obstacles, explore it like you’re the ruler of the whole bloomin’ kingdom! Own it. Leave your brazen footprints (or wheel prints) all over its clean floors. Make your mark, and make it a good one. Explore it with gratitude for forging new beginnings.

My previous column touched on grief and honoring the trauma that has been companion to my SMA. But my SMA has infinite redeeming qualities, too. Part of the beauty in grief is the clarity it grants us to see new beginnings for the gifts they are.

Some gifts have four paws, a wagging tail, and a love like no other.

While Katie can’t crouch down to Eva’s height, Eva uses the couch to reach Katie. Their creativity makes for great bonding, she says. (Courtesy of Katie Napiwocki)


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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