In one of my most vivid memories from childhood I am holding Indy, our aged and infirm family Dalmatian, on the floor of the veterinarian’s office with my mother. Suffering from interminable seizures, and nearly unable to walk, Indy is past the point where we can convince ourselves that even the most dedicated and loving care offers him comfort.
The vet speaks to us kindly in a hushed voice and we soothe Indy while I watch the viscous pink fluid push through the IV. I’m shocked by how quickly Indy dies. One moment I’m holding my dog, and in the space between breaths he is gone.
What sticks with me most about that moment is not Indy’s death. It is the strange feeling I had that the lifeless body I held afterwards was not him. A feeling that the spotted coat in my arms was just that, a coat Indy left behind as he flew away with the air of that last breath.
I numbly carried Indy’s empty collar home and hung it over the handle on my bedroom door. I planned to shut the door and cry, but the distinctive clinking of the tags was met with a wild bark from the other side of the house. Blitzen, our tempest of a wheaten terrier, stormed up the stairs and began a frenzied search for Indy.
I cried at the display and tried to soothe Blitzen, but I could not shake his certainty of purpose. Only when I brought the collar over for inspection was Blitzen mollified. Though not as I expected. He nosed at the metal tags confidently, as if he had found exactly who he was looking for.
Later, when we received Indy’s ashes, Blitzen obviously paid them no mind. But for the rest of his life, our incorrigible terrier would drop everything at the sound of that familiar clink and come running.
At the time, I thought Blitzen’s behavior to be the bittersweet foolishness of a simple mind. But in the years since, my own simple mind has come to find Blitzen’s conviction quite persuasive. So much so that when Eko died I did not ask for his ashes. We each grieve in our own way, but I could not find meaning in the dust of the coat my puppy left behind on his way out the door. The only thing I needed was his collar.
And what a collar it is. Though just a simple strap of leather, Eko’s collar is unique in this world. On its once smooth surface is a love story written in a wild calligraphy of teeth and claws and adventure. It is weathered, worn and – to anyone else – worthless. But it means the world to me because in that leather is etched the spirit of my puppy.
This is the collar that literally connected me to Eko each day we walked out the door. It’s where my name hung from his neck so that as he flew down the beach, I flew with him. It climbed mountains and it climbed into my lap. It well knew both the fire of a summer sunrise and the fire in our hearth on a cold winter’s night. It endured seasons and storms and the greatest test of all – Penny.
When Zero was old enough, I shared the collar with him as a physical manifestation of his loving inheritance from Eko. It brought me such joy to see that collar, and my heart with it, fly again. But fittingly, the collar did not fit for long.
As Zero’s head approached the size of a ski mountain, it became clear his neck could no longer squeeze into Eko’s collar. By the time I recognized Zero needed a new collar, I also realized he deserved a blank canvas of his own. A new space for a new story.
And please excuse my wanton mixing of metaphors, but I also saw that my dogs’ collars are tree rings. A way to look back over the years and see how I have grown. A cross-section of my heart on which I can point to thick lines of loving plenty and thin tracks of emotional draught. This new time of growth required a new collar.
Adjustable nylon collars are ideal for a growing puppy, and I’ve recently come to appreciate biothane collars for water activities, but for a collar which will come to define the character of its wearer, I find leather incomparable.
Eko’s collar from Saddleback Leather served us well, but for our new collars I decided to cast a wide net to find a more personalized fit. From an Instagram post soliciting recommendations I discovered just how many incredible and unique options there are. One name which kept popping up was Sexy Beast Dog Collars.
I typed “Sexy Beast Leather Collar” into Google and sat at my computer for a long time debating the risks of pressing enter.
“Emily, if I die and don’t get a chance to explain and you’re looking through my search history just know I’m looking for DOG collars,” I shouted into the kitchen.
“Wha…. actually, I don’t even want to know,” she wisely replied.
I bravely forged ahead and was happy to discover the efforts of a talented artisan who imbues her collars with a love and dedication worthy of those who wear them. It’s not surprising I connected with Jen’s work, because when we later spoke I learned she has three Ridgebacks of her own, and that her life has been shaped by a fateful meeting with her first Ridgeback.
In that moment it was settled. These were the hands I wanted to make my collars. Hands which knew love and loss and the feeling of a Ridgeback held between them. I worked with Jen to design two simple yet stunning collars. I love the o-ring design, and Jen’s recommendation to include the inner lining adds comfort and substance to the finished product. The result is two impeccable collars which fit Zero and Penny perfectly.
I marveled at the quality and workmanship of the new collars when they arrived, but I knew that the first time I held them in my hand was the time I would appreciate them the least. I immediately fitted Zero and Penny and we set out to tell a new tale, with canvases worthy of the story we will write on them.
If you’re looking for a collar, I recommend you very carefully look up Sexy Beast Dog Collars (to be extra safe, just clink the link) and take a look around. Jen is as helpful as she is talented so feel free to reach out with any questions. I don’t have any affiliation with her company, but our friends at Glass Creek Kennels are brand reps and you can use their discount code – CAMEO15 – for 15% off.
As I mentioned, there are more talented people than ever making collars, so it’s worth your time to check out some of the other recommendations on my post to see what strikes you. Yes, it’s just a collar when you buy it, but it will inevitably become a priceless possession. It’s worth investing the time and money to find a collar worthy of that honor.
Because while all the most important things we inherit from our dogs can never be held in our hands, a collar can. And each time we hold that collar it is a powerful reminder of the life and love it carries within it, and that we carry within our hearts always.