Lifelong Companion

The road to recovery was a rocky one, but Laura Strimpel of Taproot Dog Training found her path alongside an unexpected furry friend.

My sober pup. That’s Timbre, my first puppy, who is hilarious, persnickety, cute, ornery, and all-loving within ten minutes. Timbre is the same age as my sobriety. Though I am usually sarcastic when I reference her roller coaster moods, her emotions are directly linked to how I felt when I began my recovery journey. There’s truth to what dogs reflect to us.

When I moved to Madison, I created the image of a life I thought I was meant to have: living in a queer-friendly city, graduate degrees, job at a highly reputable university, house, car, social life, gym membership. But I felt like a fake. I did anything I could to not feel. I looked forward to the near nightly blackouts. I cringed at the thought of the developmental conversations I was having with students. I was in a helping role so why couldn’t I help myself? Nothing made sense to me, and the hypocrisy I felt was unbearable.

I watched myself dying, and I knew I couldn’t sustain living that way. Privilege opened the door to resources, and I decided to start using them (therapy, Reiki, support meetings). I didn’t feel better right away—in fact, I felt worse. What’s more, I was fighting my rebellious spirit, which encouraged me to answer an ad in the paper about a litter of puppies for sale. In a large shopping center parking lot, I met people with an old, beat-up car. I leaned into the backseat to see three tiny, dirty puppies in a cardboard box. It was a frigid January. I asked to take the box of puppies to my car to make my decision. I held each one. I kept returning to the only brown and white female ball of wavy fur. This puppy, Timbre, would become my inspiration for a new way of living. My taproot for life.

For a while my only motivation to get out of bed each day was Timbre’s tiny bladder. I moved to sleeping close to my front door for her housetraining. It was both ridiculous and wonderful. The very practical reality of having my first puppy provided a balance with my recovery work. In meetings I listened to others who told pieces of my story. I absorbed the reassurances that I would have something to contribute rather than take from the world. I also waded through the pieces of my past that surfaced. In the many overwhelmingly difficult moments where I wanted to slip off into oblivion, I had a reason to stay present.

The responsibility for caring for another life kept me alive and coming home each day. My puppy depended on me for everything: food, toys, companionship. Developing a relationship with Timbre gave me a stable, predictable, healthy constant. I wanted to do everything I could to give us the best chance at a life together. This meant learning about one another. I enrolled us in as many consecutive training classes as I could find. Every day Timbre and I played, worked, and learned together. Our new routine made me feel genuine happiness, love, and a commitment to something that was larger than me. This was new. I began to trust that what I felt was real.

I wanted the real to continue. I challenged myself by learning new things in the dog training world. I began volunteering to help dog trainers in classes. I was offered an assistant trainer position. I worked hard, learned new skills, and practiced with hundreds of dogs. I began work as a lead trainer. In all of these roles I discovered that classes are really about helping people and their dogs find common language and understanding.

The common language starts with humans and dogs learning obedience skills together. A strong relationship depends on owners being co-creative and having fun with their dogs. I wanted dog training classes that were extraordinary, creative, inspiring. While I considered my options, I went through the process to become a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed. And then…I started my own dog training business. Just. Jump.

With the support of savvy Madison businesswomen and dog trainer friends, Taproot emerged in 2014. Taproot Dog Training values include:

• Utilize training techniques based in positive reinforcement, positive psychology, and mindfulness.

• Honor and support the relationship growth of clients, dogs,
and community partners.

• Provide high quality teaching by staff who are experienced
educators and who are either currently certified or who are working towards their certification as a professional dog trainer.

• Provide classes with a multilayered approach to accessibility.

• Emphasize and practice collaboration with community partners.

Taproot is about collaboration, not competition. The locally-owned company walks the walk by aligning with like-minded, values-based resources in the community: Dog Haus University, UW School of Veterinary Medicine’s WisCARES Program, Underdog Pet Rescue, Nutzy Mutz and Crazy Catz, Bad Dog Frida, and Dane County Humane Society. Taproot’s clients say they and their dogs are cared about and leave classes with new skills, networks of friends, and new resources.

The story of Taproot is one of awakening, realization, and sobriety. It is about hard work and unfolding. It is the relationship with the dogs and humans, the strength and depth of these relationships, and their ability to transform and save lives. Now it is about gratitude and contributing.