On Love & Dogs

I met Fletch

in a dirt driveway in Moab
where we were both living at the time: me in the back of a truck, Fletch in a small camper trailer with her current human, Scott. Scott had once declared over a few beers that if he ever got a dog, he’d name it after those Chevy Chase movies, so that’s how Betty M Fletcher got her name.

A year previous,

Betty M. had been picked up off the Navajo reservation, starving, by a traveling climber headed to Moab. Scott raised her with love and significantly more discipline than most Moab dogs saw. At first I didn’t notice Fletch much because she was so quiet and self-sufficient—most dogs I knew seemed to spend all their time running around the crags kicking up dust, barking, stepping on ropes and stealing lunches.
Steph Davis is a climber, BASE jumper and wingsuit flyer and author of two books: High Infatuation and Learning to Fly, both of which feature her dogs Fletch and Cajun (and her black cat, Mao). Steph travels around the United States and the world in pursuit of tall cliffs and mountains, but her home base is Moab, Utah, a paradise for adventurists of all species, and especially for dogs and humans. Steph's first dog, Fletcher, was rescued from the Navajo Reservation, and she lived with Steph for many years in the back of a Ford Ranger in climbing areas around the U.S. Cajun is also a rez dog, and she accompanies Steph on almost all of her outings in Moab. Cajun is a very athletic creature, and she was raised as a BASE dog as well as a crag dog: she hikes to the top of cliffs and then runs back down to the bottom after Steph jumps. You can follow their adventures on Instagram, Facebook or at stephdavis.co.
Gradually Fletch started spending her days out in the desert
with me instead of at Scott’s job site, and when he set off for a work trip to New Zealand via Antarctica without a return date, she moved into the truck with me. The life of a traveling climber can be lonely, but Fletch and I shared hundreds, probably thousands, of miles of highway and trail. We grew up together.
When Fletch was only 11, her back legs became unsteady.
The vet diagnosed her with spinal arthritis, and within the year I needed to carry her or pull her in a wagon to the crags where I would settle her on a bed while I climbed.

But one morning,

I knew she was going.
I spent the day crying and cuddling with her, and then the night lying beside her bed on the floor, listening as she breathed until she stopped.
For well over a year, I couldn’t even imagine the idea of having another dog. I didn’t want another dog. I wanted Fletch so much it hurt. But over time I had to admit that not having a dog sucked.
One day a small and very strange-looking puppy ended up in my driveway. She had been picked up off the Navajo res starving, miles from anywhere, by a guy working on electrical poles. I had 4 requirements for any potential future dog I might ever have: must be female, must be a rez dog, must have pointy ears like Fletch, and ABSOLUTELY no puppies. This creature in my driveway was possibly 3 months old. She was a bedraggled black, grey and brown. Her ears flopped. She looked like a tiny hyena having a bad hair day.

Cajun ate frantically

for a month until one day she was full and had no further interest in food. An odor of cow manure emanated from her for weeks despite frequent bathing—we could only assume she’d been eating cow pies to survive. Cajun was nothing like Fletch, in all the worst ways. She was rambunctious, ungrateful, rebellious and chewed on us ceaselessly.
I didn’t know much about puppies, but Cajun seemed to be the archetype of all things awful about puppies, without any of the good things. I wondered if we could take her back to the res and swap her for a more appreciative critter. Every night when I went to bed I fantasized that an angel would come down from heaven and offer to let me trade Cajun and get Fletcher back.
When Cajun was about a year and a half old,
I realized one day with a start that I kind of liked her. And she was getting cuter. After 2 years, I had fallen completely in love with this leaping, prancing, exuberant creature, who could sprint like a cheetah and climb like a goat.
I remembered my angel fantasy with horror,
almost sick at the thought of being asked to choose between my dogs. Fletch was my sensei. Cajun was my wild child. For the first time, I understood that I loved Cajun with all my heart and I also loved Fletch with all my heart, and love doesn’t have math. I realized that love is not “or”, love is “and.”

Fletcher and Cajun

taught me something about love.
Love is the one thing that has a beginning but not an end, that makes more space the more it grows. It’s the one thing that lasts forever.