The Soulful Story of a Southern Utah Dog Walker

–Finding Redemption in Animal Rescue

 

Aloha Matthews manages up to 10 dogs at a time / photos by Brandon Peterson

Aloha Matthews knows the streets of southern Utah. Intimately.

At one time displaced and without a home, she lived out of an old Nissan pickup truck parked along the city streets. And like anyone who experiences homelessness, if even for a short time, she struggled to find food, a comfortable position for sleeping, and to care for her only companions: Jake, Ozzy and Borris.

Like many women, Aloha had worked to achieve the American dream. She respectably married a conservative, hard-working man, and together they aspired to build a happy home and life together. With two sons (Joey and Bode) born two years apart, and with the acquisition of family pets, the couple appeared to be creating what Gallup describes as the “American ideal” of 2.5 children per household. And there was also Sunday religion to reinforce what outwardly appeared to be a suburban utopia.

But sometimes, what seems to be ideal, isn’t. And for Aloha, a dedicated mother and wife, it wasn’t.

Feeling pressure to abide by confining social norms and ideologies, she describes feeling conflicted by an inner pleading, “Be who you are intended to be.”

Repeatedly, Aloha describes falling short of imposed expectations, disappointing her husband, and deciding eventually to surrender to the idea of never being enough.

Any true awakening begins with a death, and this was the case for Aloha

“I remember one day feeling like something was terribly wrong,” she recalls. “I looked down at my heavily burdened body and realized, ‘My soul is dead.’”

“My dogs have given me to courage to be who I was intended to be and a light to others.” — Aloha Matthews

Aloha says she knew at that moment, if she was going to survive, she would have to create her own path and nurse herself back to life both physically and spiritually. If she was going to be a true mother and example to her sons, she had to find the inner strength and light to pull herself up.

And as devastating as it was to be separated from her sons, she felt fiercely determined to figure out who it was that she was intended to be.

Aloha realized that if she was going to survive, she would have to learn to live without a home, and without her sons.

For four months, Aloha slept in the bed of her compact truck with the three family dogs that her husband no longer wanted responsibility for. She describes struggling with thoughts of self-destruction and seeking ways to numb the pain while working to regain control of a life she felt she was losing.

She recalls how her truck overheated quickly and had a severe starter malfunction. “At night I would park on a hillside so I wouldn’t have to push-start the truck in the morning,” she recalls. “The cab of the truck was so tiny, when the boys were with me, their knees would nearly touch their shoulders.”

Able to smile when recalling some of the memories now, Aloha is still very much in touch with the pain and determination it took to survive those months without a home.

Anyone who has ever hit bottom will know this part of the story

“One day, I remember lying down on a woodpile,” she recalls. “The sharp edges of the wood gave me something to feel, and I remember the warm sun against my skin. At that moment, I realized had nowhere else to go, so I just layed there.”

She continues, “I remember acknowledging that inside I felt nothing. I was hollow, empty. And in my mind I heard the heartbreaking words, ‘I can’t go on.’”

Rolling her head from one side to the other, Aloha recalls opening her eyes and seeing her border collie Jake looking compassionately into her eyes. “I will never forget how he looked deep into my soul and said something I will never forget.” In the sweetest, kindest and simplest way, Aloha describes how Jake spoke without words saying he knew she was tired, and it was okay if she could not go on. “But please,” she says he spoke in his own way. “Take me for one more walk.”

And that she did. “I knew at the very least, I could give him that.”

Lifting her body to meet Jake’s request, Aloha says she realized that right there within her reach, she had everything she needed. A beautiful soul of a dog that believed in her, understood her, and needed her. And that if she wasn’t there to give him one more walk, who would be?

“Dogs bring out the best in all of us. They have given me courage to do things I never thought I could do.” – Aloha Matthews

From that moment forward, Aloha dedicated her sense of purpose to serving her dogs. And the more she walked them, the more clear her purpose became. Soon, walking dogs became a hobby, a pastime, an occupation, both spiritual and physical exercise, and an identity. Many local residents know Aloha only as the town’s resident dog walker. Her precision in executing up to 10 dogs at a time is like watching a perfectly orchestrated event. Clearly, she is leader of the pack, and each dog knows its position and pays respect in time to its leader whether she is handling them from a bike, roller blades, a scooter or her own two feet.

“Once I started walking, everything seemed to come into balance,” she says. “I realized I could help a dog gain confidence, discipline and self respect, and in turn, that is what they were doing for me.”

Aloha began setting goals and would daily share her hopes and dreams with her pack of four-legged loyal supporters. She began saving money until she could afford a place to rent, and decided to utilize her energy and love for physical activity to put herself through school majoring in physical fitness. Soon she was working three jobs, attending school, and spending meaningful time daily with her sons.

“At their births, when I first held each of them to my heart, I knew how important it would be to create activities to expand their knowledge and open their minds to many things they might be interested in,” she says. “Most importantly, we have learned exhaust ourselves with physical activity because they are teenagers, and then we make time each day to be still – even for just a few minutes – to listen to ourselves, and be aware of the divinity that is within us.”

 

“Jake is my family and my best friend.” – Aloha Matthews
Now, with a degree in personal training, Aloha teaches aerobics at the local gym and works with individual clients as an exercise and fitness trainer. But her loyalty and devotion remain with her sons, with Jake, and with and the pack of dogs she faithfully tends to.

“Dogs bring out the best in us,” she says. “They have given me courage to be the person I was intended to be, and to be a light to others.” She laughs, “Whether the dogs are pulling me, pushing me, tangling me in their leashes, or tripping me, I know that I am making someone smile as we make our way down the street. I can tell it makes people happy just to watch us, and I enjoy being that light to others.”

Most importantly, Aloha says she hopes to be an example. “When women and girls see me out there walking, I want them to see that there is physical, spiritual and emotional strength that a woman can possess simply by getting out and doing something she believes in and feels passionate about.”

“We are all meant to shine,” she says. “I have learned that I happen to shine best when I use my gift of physical fitness, when I am blessing a dog with confidence and pride, and when I am including my boys in activities that help them grow. “

In Her Name

Aloha says her birth-given name was inspired by a town northwestern Oregon, but to her it has gained special meaning through the years and experiences of her life. “My name offers a smile, and greeting of unspoken honesty that says, ‘I am glad you are here blessing me with your presence so I can acknowledge your existence with mine.’” And more importantly, she says, “With one word, it says, I want to be your friend.”

Written by Melynda Thorpe for Etched Magazine

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