This week I had to say goodbye to a close friend, my beloved German shepherd of 10 years—Sequoia.

She was fiercely loyal, an unapologetic love machine, and my adventure buddy.

She logged a lot of miles and elevation in the Sierra, and charged through chest-deep snow as she chased me down the mountain on my snowboard through avalanche terrain. (I’ve included a YouTube link at bottom of our last trip together).

It was gut wrenching and painful to lose her, but she brought incredible joy to my life. It’s a great reminder that in life, we often don’t get the joy without the pain. They frequently come together.

Dogs have been human companions dating back thousands of years. Some scientists say somewhere between 10,000 and 27,000 years.

I recently learned in World War I, more than 50,000 dogs (many of them German Shepherds) were used for the first time in combat. They served as scouts, sentries, guards, and medics—some were even equipped with canine gas masks.

The famous Red Cross Mercy Dogs performed the most dangerous task on the battlefield—they ran into the dreaded “no man’s land” between trenches carrying medical supplies for wounded soldiers through the hurricane of artillery. You can even find pictures of compassionate dogs who elected to sit and comfort dying soldiers.

They saved thousands of lives, often at the cost of losing their own. Strange that an animal could defy its survival instinct—preferring instead—relationship.

We sometimes envy the simple life of our pups, and we can learn a lot from them.

At the urging of my friend, I chose to share some reflections this week.

Here is what I observed from Sequoia’s life:

  1. She kept the pack together. We know from experience, and from research, that life is all about your tribe—the people you choose to love and build community with. On our deathbeds, this is often all that matters. On hikes, she would always stop on the trail and look back to make sure the group was together, instinctively she knew that the journey with others is slower than the journey alone—but also more worthwhile.
  2. She lived in the moment. As humans, we can get so hung up on the past or distracted by the future, that we fail to be present with those we love. Sequoia never seemed to worry about those things. She lived fully present, all in, moment by moment.
  3. She started every day new. Despite injuries, illnesses, and eating literally thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff in our house, she always jumped up in the morning wagging her tail as if nothing had even happened.
  4. She never held back love. Even though it destroyed our couch and covered it in dog hair, for years she insisted on putting her head in my lap and clawing me to keep petting her. She never let shame hold her back.
  5. She played full out. Often, after our snow trips, she would vomit and look shaky, to the point where I would be worried about her. But I know she wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything. She wasn’t worried about risks, mistakes, or playing it safe. She pushed beyond herself beyond her limits every time.
  6. She ran to the door every single day. A mentor of mine recently told me he does this with his children. What could my life legacy be if I literally ran to embrace my family every time they came home. What an incredible environment it would create.
  7. She adapted when life didn’t go her way. When she was 6 months old, she went blind in one eye. This never seemed to bother her. She sometimes walked into chairs or walls when turning her head too quickly, but otherwise didn’t let it impair her joy for life. Or the time my wife skied over her leg and cut it to the bone. We duck taped her and she walked out of the Tahoe backcountry, bleeding horrendously, as if nothing had happened. She was the very essence of grit and resilience.
  8. She was the perfect blend of strength and love. After watching people react to her on many hikes and walks, let me tell you, a 90-pound black German Shepherd definitely strikes fear into people. Little did they know she was the most gentle and loving animal. As a father, I long to strike that balance of being both strong and gentle.
  9. She was our protector. If you came to my door in the last 10 years, you knew a big dog lived at my house. We slept easier knowing that any sound would trigger her alert. Even with a giant plastic cone on her head, and cancer in her bones, she was determined to intimidate anyone who came to our home uninvited. As a father and husband, I can only hope to follow her incredible example of courage.

The word Shepherd has long been used as a metaphor for leadership. It is one who protects, guides, and serves.

When I look at this list, I know she has taught me a lot about living a full life. This is how I want to go out, a life of no regrets.

I always laugh when people talk about how smart German Shepherds are because Sequoia was many amazing things, but she was not smart. It’s a great reminder that maybe our intelligence sometimes gets in the way of a much more rewarding life.

In loving memory of my incredible pup. I miss you Sequoia.

Suggested Resources

  1. Link to my last trip video snowboarding with Sequoia https://youtu.be/IvoYXRjkcV0
  2. Dogs in WWI https://www.familysearch.org/blog/en/military-dogs-world-war/
Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Opinions expressed are the authors own.
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