Unleashed: Josh and Zoey the Dog

all photos by Shannon McGowan

When most people come home on a Friday after work, they’ll grab a remote or maybe a drink with some pals.

Josh Elder grabs his paddle and a dog leash that will most likely not get used at all that weekend.

Elder has the strongest GO GO GO and GET OUT THERE AND SEND IT mentality I’ve personally ever witnessed in a human being. He’s currently a full-time graduate assistant at University of Tennesse in Knoxville, TN. Every weekend Elder travels out of the city to paddle (and when he can’t do that) to bike or climb. Before Knoxville, he had been traveling across the country, living out of his little hatchback Subaru climbing, biking, and paddling everything he can. Climbing in Joshua Tree and Indian Creek, river guiding on the Arkansas and James River, pack and climbing instructing is just naming a few of the many things this guy has done. The only living thing whose drive and stoke even compares would be a dog…Zoey, the dog to be exact.

Zoey is one of the most impressive dogs I’ve ever met. When I’m with the both of them, I don’t feel like I’m with Josh and his dog… It feels like I’m hanging out with my two good pals Josh and Zoey. You never have to guess what she’s thinking or feeling because she’ll let you know, with a quick bark, excited face lick, or a sassy side eye. I’ve joined many adventures with them and I can count the number of times I’ve seen Zoey on a leash on just my one hand.

Everywhere Josh goes, so does Zoey. Every crazy activity Josh is out doing, Zoey’s running alongside him. When I mountain bike with them she not only keeps up no problem but is actually ahead of me… The entire time! Zoey has experienced more things and places in her life than many people have in double that time. She even has her own social life when Josh is at work or school. Any friend of Josh’s (who is just as equally Zoey’s friend of course) could go grab Zoey and bring her along on an adventure or to a social event.

BRO: How did your path’s cross?

Elder: In Lynchburg, the city I was living in at the time, there is one 4 lane road that contains all of the chain restaurants, strip malls, and college student-oriented shops.  A friend of mine had a perpetual habit of picking up every animal she thought was a stray (not a bad habit, but resulted in her house having lots of litter boxes).

One day, she saw a potato-sized fluffball run across the busy chain road, and dart under a truck in the sonic parking lot. She naturally picked up the pup, and took it back to her house to find the stray a home.

I happened to be the first to come over to play with the dog, with no intentions of taking it. However, it’s really hard To leave a six week old Heeler/ Sheppard pup behind without feeling a bit guilty. Five years later, I still feel the same guilt every time I walk out the door to go anywhere other than school without her.

BRO: Would you say your relationship is unique? If so, how?

Elder: I believe everyone that has a dog that doesn’t suck (and even some that do), feel that their relationship is unique. So naturally, yes, I think there’s something special about this relationship.

I have a lot of drive and energy around most things I do. Yet somehow, that dog has more. We’ll do a 10 – 15 mile bike ride one day, she’ll sleep on the way home, then be ready to go again. She definantly aids in keeping me moving. Consequentially, I have her with me whenever I can. I think having a dog that can hang on during long bike rides, sleep in the car while I’m on the river, and travel around the country without becoming territorial or aggressive is the unique part of our relationship. Maybe I trained her well, but in reality, I think I just got lucky.

BRO: How often is Zoey on a leash? Why?

Elder: … less than she should be. If we are in a scenario where someone would be really uncomfortable with an off-leash dog, or a really crowded area, then I’ll keep her on a leash to make life easier. Aside from that, she is extremely attentive and attached, so she’s pretty hard to lose. She also really likes to run, or at least I think she does, so she’s usually right there, whatever I’m doing.

BRO: What has been some the most memorable moments/adventures?

Elder: Having the dog at the whitewater play park was always pretty memorable. Watching her ferry across the river, swim wave trains, and sit on the rocks that form play holes was always a hoot, and made my time there much more enjoyable. It also got a lot of “oooh’s” and ” ahhhhhh’s” from onlookers on the bank.

Once, this old surely couple came through in their raft and asked if they could surf with the dog in their raft. I told them her name, they cruised up beside her and she jumped right in. Watching this couple spin a raft in the play hole with the dog on the high side of each spin was hilarious.

BRO: Who has more power in the relationship?

Elder: I’m going to say the dog. However, I’m only going to say that because I have changed plans and made accommodations for her, but I don’t believe she has ever done the same for me. I also buy her food and she has never paid for me.

BRO: Do you have any advice for adventuring dog owners?

Elder: Don’t half-ass having a dog,  you’ve got a best friend for life, take advantage of it! Keep your dog with you as often as possible, and make sure they get plenty of time with other dogs while they’re young! nobody likes a dog who runs away from their owner the second they get off leash.

Places to Go, Things to See: