I wasn’t sure why I was saying it, but I just kept repeating…”it’s not enough, it’s not enough.” Nothing felt like enough. Not enough tears, or shortness of breath. There was no anguish, sharp pain or agony. No anger, resentment or regret. Just nothing. Complete emptiness and a sense of loneliness, yet to be understood and I still just can’t describe it. I am just so empty without him, yet so fulfilled and terrified with my next chapter in life. With each passing day that goes on, I have needed to face what I have always been meant to do without him and it just seems impossible at times.
I have never been an easy person to understand. If you have ever had the chance to meet me you likely would have been unsure, enchanted, or uncomfortable. The truth is I have always been that way, it seems complex to write it down yet comforting and simple all at the same time. If I had to pick a quote that Harley would use to best describe me it would be; “You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, something not everyone knows how to love.” - Warsan Shire.
When we think of love, or describe its monumental sensations, it tends to always be as a selfish feeling. An all consuming haze we float through as the years pass. Like a drug, we seduce ourselves with it, addicting us to the extreme pains and pleasures it holds. I guess, in a way, it's what makes us human and blinds us from what love can actually be. Could you ever just perceive it unselfishly, just pure and simple? Isn’t it a terrifying thought? What would the world be like if we did not feel pressure from such a small word? I can tell you, it’s not like anything you would expect.
Ten years ago I was living in Toronto with a man I would now call my soul mate. Back then, he was my boyfriend and we were both building careers in the big city. We loved to party and were in one of those relationships that stayed together because it was comfortable and felt right while the party was pulling us in separate directions. Like all ‘sensible’ couples in their stage of infancy, we decided to put a bandaid on the problem and imagined a dog would bring us closer together. Of course we never said this out loud until many years later, but that is where this tale begins.
For Nathan, there was no negotiation. The only dog that was an option for us was an English Bulldog. Of course I was in! It was a win for me either way, so we searched for all of the Youtube videos about it, and listened to what they told us to find. A couch lingering, fart mastering, snoring, slobbering, sometimes skateboarding, wrinkly bulldog. After a few weeks of searching we found a breeder that had a litter available with one male. The breeder was extremely hesitant to allow us to purchase a puppy. She explained that bulldogs were the number one ‘break up breed.’ After a few visits and several screening calls, the breeder caved and we were on our way to pick up this white and fawn ball of wrinkles.
From eight weeks of age there was something already stoic about Harley. His eyes carried the wisdom of ages and his coat was like cashmere. He had droopy jowls that reminded us of Nathan’s grandfather and a snore that could match any motorcycle. And just like that, the legacy of Harley Dean was born.
We lasted two weeks in pure puppy bliss and then everything started to go horribly wrong. We were at the vets office constantly, this infection, that infection. Full time doggy daycare, behavioural issues, constant fighting and arguing on what should and should not be done. Being at home was hell. It felt like someone had strapped me to a cliffside, where everyday I was winded by tidal wave after tidal wave. It was exhausting.
Harley had been picked up on September 23, Nathans birthday, and by Christmas eve we were $10,000 in debt, standing in the veterinary ER of our home town in Niagara. Harley had pneumonia and wasn’t going to live through the night. We took him back to Nate’s parents house where we were visiting, and stayed with him all night in front of the fire. Miraculously, that little puppy fought and stayed alive. On Christmas morning we knew it was time to step up to the plate and make some changes.
For Harley it was never about what we weren’t doing for him, it was always about what we weren’t doing for ourselves or each other. We were both unhappy, bottom line. We longed for the days of country air, and missed our grass roots. So we changed and gave it all up in the city for a new passion that was driving us…dogs.
Amidst the chaos of Harleys fluctuating health and behavioural woes, we were throwing ourselves back into dormant obsessions we once had, now being shaken back to life. Nathan was back behind his beloved camera, Harley his muse, and he had a way of painting dogs with light like I had never seen. I was passionate about canine nutrition, alternative medicine and healing practices. Together, we eventually propelled ourselves into the world of dog training and rehabilitation.
Sure enough, on the momentous day of June 21st, 2011, the Niagara Pet Resort was born. The Niagara Regions’ first open concept daycare and overnight boarding facility. A place where dogs could be dogs. A place where the pack could come together and be as one.
I never could have imagined that taking this leap would be the hardest and most rewarding journey I would face.
A few years ago my sister encouraged me to have a tarot card reading. The occult and I have always been friendly but I was nervous to have my energy exposed in a series of pictures and perhaps hear something I wouldn’t want to face. I finally gave in to the idea, and off I went with an open mind and my guards in place. My mystic acquaintance told me of secrets only Harley knew, and gave me insight to events that would unfold and forever change me. But even beyond that she told me something about myself I have been waiting to understand for lifetimes. She said in a former life long ago, I was rescued by a dog, and from that life on I have been trying to repay that debt. All this time, I had such a strange connection with dogs, and in one sentence it suddenly became clear why.
From the time we arrived back in our home town of Niagara and settled back in the country, Harley was a changed dog. Him and I were absolutely inseparable. There wasn’t a whole lot we didn’t do together. Like a well watered plant, together we grew Niagara Pet Resort; we also started a raw dog food company, took on countless training cases and rescues. We travelled to the west coast and drove all of Californias Highway 1. We toured Canada from east to west in a vintage airstream, we weaved through the streets of New Orleans and hit the sands of Siesta Key.
But outside all of it there was one thing we both just couldn’t live without…the pack. Nothing fuelled us more than when we were headed into work to be in and out with the pack. Time could just be as it was, and the earth could just stay still as we moved with a heard of fifty dogs or more. It never mattered the size of the group, or the dogs within in it. It’s where he and I felt at peace.
In all the years we spent together we were always needed and it was Harley Dean that would invariably rise to the occasion. It was never about him, it had to be about everyone else. Sometimes he would just get up and sit in front of someone, or another dog, and I would suddenly watch them take a deep breath. Letting go for a moment of something heavy they carried and letting him hang on to it for a little while. He had a way of just knowing what a person or a dog needed, even if they didn’t want it. He was always right there, ready to accept any challenge and carry any burden. With Harley Dean there was no one incredible journey, heroic tale, life altering event. It was all like that. He was a part of every major accomplishment and every epic fail.
Harley Dean was born a leader; a king of kings. I was made a leader. Bearing this weight is never to be taken lightly and it is not for the faint of heart. I would be lying if I said I was meant to be a leader, but Harley showed me how to be the best kind. True leadership does not require words, leaders know mountains can be moved with just eye movements alone. They have patience and timing; they are masters of momentum. With every passing day I try to take one step closer to becoming the leader he would want me to be.
He taught me that the world and the people that occupy it are missing something and that we have made it a scary place to be. He showed me an ugliness in humanity that I was so ignorant to. He brought out truths and dealt hard lessons, and stayed with me through pain and sorrows I never thought I would endure. It sounds grim, I know, but it is absolutely beautiful. That little dog changed my entire being and made me into the woman I am today.
Harley Dean taught me that dogs don’t lie. It can only be one way, up or down, left or right, light or dark. Never anything in-between. I learned how to communicate without words in the dog world and to do it just through the utilization of energy. He taught me that even though we take nature for granted, nature will always accept us back, nurture and heal us. It will help us to regrow. He loved me with such simplicity, purity, and with all he was. But most of all he opened the door to my next journey, repaying my debt to dogs and, thanks to Harley, raising a wolf.
It was the summer of 2018, it was hot, but not so hot that we could drive with the windows open. The car was loaded with my crew of dogs, Harley in his place in the passenger seat and we were off to work. It seemed like just an average day. Often times we exchanged thoughts in silence, or I would rant about something that was bothering me, not that day though. On that particular day we took our time and exchanged thoughts of the future. I made him make me a promise that he couldn’t leave this earth until I could possibly love something as much as I loved him. He agreed and a silent vow was made.
July of 2019, it was a beautiful day, I was in Prince Edward Island and 14 weeks pregnant expecting our first child. I was entranced in some baby book when I felt a strange but all too familiar wind. It shook me out of my reading trance and as I went to reach for Harley, I realized he wasn’t there. I looked up from my book to find him sitting at the edge of the cliff, staring out at the sea, as if being called. He sat in silence for what seemed like hours, until he finally looked up and back towards me. I whispered to him “not yet”. With one last glance out to sea, he got up and resumed his usual place at my side, and our familiar wind went away.
After that moment I let pride and ignorance get the better of me. When I think about it now, all the signs and signals were laid out, preparing and grooming me for what was to come. But personal preservation would not allow me to see that at the time. See that time for what it was. That was to be my last and final lesson passed on by Harley.
On January 6th, 2020, Nathan and I welcomed Tristan Wolf Peterson into this world. Life again got difficult. It was a pack change far outside my comfort zone. I was in such foreign and strange waters and I didn’t recognize myself for a while. But I had Harley and so did Tristan. For four months I witnessed imprinting lessons, and sessions of energy exchange so beautiful, they are burned in my memory like pictures on walls. The greatest gift I was given in this world was the heart of a leader that was passed on to my son.
Time passed all too quickly from that summer day back in 2018 when we made our promise. Tristan started growing and I was becoming myself again, I was coming back to the light. The warm spring weather had finally moved in and the world was strangely under lock down, suffering from a global pandemic. I had taken the opportunity to assist my parents on their vineyard, and heed mother natures call by prepping our precious grape vines for the coming growing season. Again, with Harley Dean at my side, we headed off to work. As we slowly tended to the vines in the sun, with the sounds of music around us, I felt that familiar wind again. It immediately broke my concentration and I frantically looked around for Harley. There he was, at the end of grape row surrounded by sun light. The warm wind picked up hard and surrounded us, everything around became blurry, except his silhouette, and that cashmere fur moving west. The background music became apparent and the lyrics rang out. ‘When all of this is said and done, you will be alone, ‘cause I know this won’t last forever. Here’s a toast to your unknown, mother of us all, you and I are one together’ (Fade Away - Rebelution). We locked eyes for a split second, and all went back to normal. The knowing was my secret, my burden to squander and hide… but not for long enough.
It was a Sunday, his favourite day of the week. We did everything as normal and as we usually would, everything seemed as it should be. I came back from my morning routine to find him surrounded in a pool of vomit and he had collapsed. The next thing I knew we were on our way to the veterinary emerge, he had laboured breathing and was vomiting white foam with blood in it. I couldn’t gauge or comprehend what was happening, it was all just unfolding so quickly without my control. Harley Dean was taken into the hospital, they ran blood work, took x-rays and samples. The vets were preparing us for the worst, likely cancer, or something equally as dark and sinister. I was in this vortex of darkness, all my defences had gone up, I was in mother bear mode and I was dangerous. After getting back home and anxiously waiting for any updates and then we received a phone call. They told us all was clear, Harley Dean’s blood work was incredible, they could not believe how immensely strong his immune system was for how health-compromised he was. The doctor said he had likely aspirated from vomiting, which had sparked pneumonia in his lungs. They were going to get him on antibiotics straight away, keep him overnight, and we would be able to pick him up the next day. All my defences went down, we had already been down this road before, there was no way he wasn’t bouncing back from this. I was just so relieved, we went on with our evening and waited for the clearance to go get our boy the next day.
That little bulldog had planned it perfectly. There was absolutely nothing on this planet that could have prepared me for Monday May 25th’s phone call.
The house was calm, Tristan was content, I was drinking a coffee…the phone rang. “Harley is crashing, we would like your permission to put him to rest…” All I could muster was “can I see him?” They said “you likely won’t make it in time..how quickly can you get here…”
I cannot recall what happened in between hanging up the phone and being let into the foyer of the hospital. They were carrying a lifeless bulldog yelling “he is crashing, he is crashing you need to let him go…” As soon as he heard my voice, our king lifted his head, much to the disbelief of everyone around. They placed him on the floor and I dove under him, my arms wrapping like wings around his neck. His eyes were as clear and aware as the day we first took him home. He told me he would hang on, he gave me that choice. And as the leader he trained me to be I said no, I knew it was time. We made our exchange, he drew in his last breathe and then, he was gone.
Harley Dean was gone. My very best friend, the love of my life, at peace.
I was in a state of shock. It wasn’t enough. Where do I even go from here? How do I get up off this ground? How do I get out of bed? How do I even be? Just how?
Nathan immediately took me to my parents home. The place I could escape into the fields and trees. And that’s what I did, I took off down our favourite path we used to walk every Sunday. I went looking for Harley and he was everywhere. He was in the stream, the vines, the trees, the sunshine, the birds, the bees, he was all around me. Suddenly without warning, the warm familiar wind surrounded me, rendering me breathless. As quickly as it was there, it left me with my emptiness, laying my new path out in front of me. I lifted my head and took the first step accepting my new position. My position as mother, leader, and teacher. It was time for me to begin repaying my debt.
There isn’t a day that passes or that will pass that I won’t think of him. I am growing to live with the emptiness in my heart, accepting that it will always be there. But I have been tasked to pay it forward and pass on everything Harley Dean has taught me to both human and dog. My only hope is that I will live up to the leader he believes me to be and that his legacy will live on in his lessons.
To my Harley Dean; you truly were magnificent. I promise to do my very best to make you proud. I know that you are with me in the sun, earth, and sky. I will always feel you with me in the pack. I will be waiting until the day we meet again, when we can walk together, our jobs complete, our vows fulfilled, and be at peace. I love you.
And with that, I bring you Harley's Healing Foundation
By: Marisa Pavan