Jojo is officially broken in as a riding dog after a brief encounter with my front wheel, and a 30-minute solo excursion chasing rodents.

Her pads are worn in, and she understands now that when the bike goes in the truck, she will too. In fact, just in case, she jumps in the truck and then refuses to get out whenever I load the children up for even a trip to the grocery store. I have to crawl into the extended cab and not-so-nimbly extract the wiggling, whining mass of uncooperative legs, back out across my 8-year-old’s lap, and then fling her as far as possible so that I can quickly crawl in and slam shut my door.

I’ve slowly increased the length of her rides. I now know exactly how many miles, at top speed, I am required to ride so that she will be quiet the rest of the evening, napping, rather than chewing shoes and face-attacking visitors.

I took her on a ride mid-week when a client cancelled, providing me a three-hour window. Rather than pout and do admin work, I loaded the dog and bike to squeeze in a quickie. It was midway up the mountain that Jojo learned not to stop in the middle of the trail. Smarter than most, this wasn’t yet a habit of hers. However, this time she hesitated in a spot too narrow for me to get around. I felt horrible as I watched the tire hit her rump, and was braking pretty hard to ease the blow. She emitted a giant OOOOF, hopped off the trail, and shook it off. She was very conscious the rest of the ride, dashing off to the side whenever she wanted to drop back.

It was on the descent that she repaid me. She dashed off the trail, diving into a giant ball of briars with all four feet in the air. Then she disappeared. Although she generally pops back up on the trail and chases me down, something told me that she was really after something this time. I stopped and began calling into the empty woods. I couldn’t hear a jingling collar or even her feet dashing through the drifts of brown leaves. Silence. Shit.

I paced up and down a mile stretch of trail, calling and calling to a dog who has ALWAYS come to me on at least the third try. Should I continue down? Or should I go back on the trail she knows and can smell? That’s when gunshots rang through the valley below where she had run. This is also the moment that I began crying at the thought of telling my children that their beloved dog was gone.

For some strange reason I had cell service, so I was able to call and cancel my afternoon clients, telling them that I would not be leaving the woods without my dog. Me coming home without a leg would be far more acceptable to my family than me coming home without Jojo. So I did what most people would do – I pleaded and begged to the Universe. Just that morning I posted on my FaceBook, “Bettina Freese is the happiest girl in the Universe.” So that’s what I had to do.

I rode back up the trail to the main intersection, and that’s where she popped out, riding along with someone else. I nearly kissed the man, even though he probably thought I was ding-a-ling and offered all sorts of useful advice.

I couldn’t have been more grateful to see that sweet girl. We booked it back to the parking lot in time for my afternoon appointments, dog beside me the whole way, both of us appreciating each other just a little more. Bettina Freese is the happiest girl in the Universe.