Rolo watches as his companion flashes The Wave in Leavenworth, Washington.

Last week, I went out to go bouldering after work with two of my climbing buddies and a dog named Rolo. We drove up Rock Candy Mountain in the middle of Capital State Forest and trekked down the steep, unofficially maintained trail to the climbing site: a massive, 18-foot boulder dubbed She Bear. As far as rocks go, it’s not terribly special, except that it’s unlike anything else discovered near Olympia. Nothing else is quite as big for miles around. It’s a little ways off the access road, so it’s a bit of a hike through classic Cascadian jungle. Rolo lead the way.

We had a good time, as usual. We drank beer, talked about hikes and jobs and girls. I’m coming back from a finger injury, so I struggled through a V2, didn’t quite make the top and got a little scuffed up on the way down. Nothing major, though. It’s not like I crushed the nerves in my ankle, like I’ve done before. My other friends worked on their own climbing projects, both of them about as successful as I was. Rolo worked on his own project: a stick.

Rolo keeping his senses trained on a nearby deer in the brush.

This time of year, the sun is setting earlier, so all too soon we had to finish our beer and pack it all up. And then up the trail we went, Rolo taking point once again. Depending on how you look at it, the way back can be easier. Going uphill, at least you can see where your feet are going to land, sort of. But then again, it’s a steep uphill, and there are downed trees to climb over, and after the exertion of climbing a giant rock over and over again, you’re always glad when you finally reach the top.

I got to the top and admired the sunset, my friends standing out as silhouettes in the foreground. I snapped a picture and started to pack everything in the car. Somewhere around this time, someone noticed Rolo in the distance.

“I think he has an animal in his mouth.”

“Rolo, drop it.”

“Oh no!”

The dog had found an animal alright, but it wasn’t in his mouth. His poor muzzle was covered in porcupine quills and they were all over his chest and legs, too! I snapped a couple quick photos for posterity. “I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” I joked. “We’re never going to let you live this one down, dog.”

It was hard to know exactly what to do in this situation in the middle of the forest. I was sure we’d need to get them out of his mouth before we could get him into the car, but reality soon set in. We pulled some of the lighter ones out, but then they stopped coming. The rest would need a professional’s help.

We quickly got a plan together and were soon on our way to the emergency vet. It was as if we had done this a million times before. I dropped off one friend in the parking lot, barely coming to a stop in the process. He would meet us at the emergency vet and give me a ride back to my car afterwards. Nobody was panicking, everybody was cool-headed and collected, even Rolo’s owner, who had to sit in the back and keep the dog still for the twenty-five minute ride. Everything was going as smoothly and neatly as it possibly could. Still, as I heard Rolo panting behind me, I struggled to find something to say, just to keep away the negative mindset. “At least porcupine quills aren’t poisonous. He’s gonna regret this in the morning, but he’s going to be fine.”

The instant we got into the vet, Rolo earned the sympathy of every human in the waiting room. The woman at the front desk quickly got a triage team to take him away and we were told it would take about forty-five minutes to remove the quills. We checked in with our buddy to make sure he was okay, mentally and emotionally, and then wished him well for the night.

A couple hours later, I got wind that Rolo and my friend were still at the vet. The dog was undergoing surgery to get some of the deeper quills out. “Give him the day off tomorrow,” I texted my friend.

And then, after that, it was morning, and I was staring at my phone, shaking the sleep out of my head trying to comprehend the text that told me he didn’t make it.

Thoughts raced. Damn it. How could that be possible? It was just a porcupine. Vets deal with this all the time, right? How is my friend? How did he face this? Was he alone like we had left him or was he able to gather support from his partner or other friends? I don’t have any of the answers. I don’t have any details after I went home that night.

But I’ve been thinking about it and struggling with it ever since. I’ve been thinking about poor Rolo, about my friend, who was his companion, and about my relationship with my own dog. I’ve been trying to figure out what we could have done to change the situation, but I’m not sure there was anything more to be done. We did everything right to save this dog and in the end we couldn’t save him! He was such a damn good dog and neither he, nor his owner, deserve this fate!

Rolo watches on
Rolo coaches an intense bouldering attempt at She Bear.

What can one learn from a situation like this? That life sometimes isn’t fair? That accidents can happen? I hate feeling this powerless. I hate that I don’t get a second chance. This is not a very satisfying conclusion, but this is how it stands.

I’m sorry, Rolo. Rest in peace. Good boy.