Madison Utendahl is the founder and Chief Creative Officer at Utendahl Creative, a creative agency that focuses on brand storytelling. She's worked as a creative on the founding teams of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, 29Rooms and Museum of Ice Cream. Beyond all of that, she's had Lou by her side the entire time, a Lhasa Apso rescue she got when she was a sophomore in college. Madison spoke to us about the steady presence a dog brings through the many transitions that we humans go through, and the history of dogs in her family.
Heed Foods: Tell us the story about Lou. Why did you get him?
Madison Utendahl: My family are huge animal people, and I grew up with a standard poodle who lived until he was 14. We got him when I was 5. I was a sophomore in college, and couldn’t remember what life was like without a dog.
At the time I was having a really hard time. I had recently been broken up with, and I was struggling with eating issues and just riddled with self hatred. I remember my therapist had said that I needed to find something to be responsible for, so I could know that life is so much bigger, and that there is so much out there to do and to feel beyond my own sorrow. It changed my life.
Heed Foods: How does joy factor into your relationship with Lou?
MU: Joy is such a big part of my relationship with Lou, and a reminder of our unconditional love. She’s been there through every transition in my life, whether it be a relationship or hardship. She loves me all the same.
I think being a woman in New York, there are so many things in life that make us question our own self love. I feel like every woman is on a journey to their own becoming, and I think my dog has a lot to do with mine. The idea that there’s this creature out here who loves me exactly who I am in all states is amazing. No matter any phase I’ve gone through, I am fully enough for Lou, and it’s been so transformative for me. A huge part of my growth is having her.
I’m turning 30 this summer, and to think that she has been my ride or die throughout my 20’s is wild. I’m stepping into my 30’s fully knowing who I am and yet, there are still chapters I have yet to experience, like motherhood and marriage, but I’m fully stepping into self-love, self-forgiveness and self-care. I have never felt more confident. When I got Lou I was deeply depleted, and now I’m so confident and so present. She’s been through it all and knows me better than anybody.
"At times, I think Lou loved me more than I loved myself. She reminded me that there’s a responsibility I have for showing up for me. I have to show up for her but I can’t do that or show up for anyone else unless I show up for myself first. Lou is a great reminder of that love."
Heed Foods: How does Lou make you see yourself?
MU: She’s reminded me to always come back to my core. To her, I am the same. She only sees the values I have that come across in how I take care of her - the kindness, the caring. I love how Lou sees me as exactly as I am despite the phases and the boyfriends and the jobs. None of them define me, because it definitely doesn’t for Lou. My values and who I am as an individual define me.
She’s just a consistent and constant source of love. She’s a reminder to me of the value of being loved unconditionally. At times, I think Lou loved me more than I loved myself. She reminded me that there’s a responsibility I have for showing up for me. I have to show up for her but I can’t do that or show up for anyone else unless I show up for myself first. Lou is a great reminder of that love.
Heed Foods: Where do you get your love for dogs?
MU: My grandfather fought in a series of wars, but he specifically fought in the Korean War with German Shepherds. As a result of that, my mom always had German Shepherds around and there was such an association in my family about dogs being this life-line. They can save your life emotionally, physically and personally. They’re an incredible gift. We are so lucky and ought to be honored that we have dogs in this world to give us that sense of attention. We are truly a dog family through thick and thin.
Heed Foods: How did Lou help you navigate 2020 and what are you looking forward to with her in 2021?
MU: Lou has been such a great source of accountability in 2020. I have to show up every single day to take her outside, get dressed, be present and look after her.
There’s no real reason to leave unless you’re buying food, but dogs force you to get outside and to change your environment, to get out of your comfort zone. I’m so glad that Lou was the catalyst for that.
In 2021, I’m excited to explore more with Lou. I have a newfound comfort and confidence in nature in a way that I hadn't previously experienced being born a city kid. I’ve spent more time in nature this last year than I have in my entire life. I’m excited to go on hikes with Lou and to be more outdoors with her.
Heed Foods: What would Lou’s dating profile say?
MU: Lou is extremely independent! When I worked at Refinery29, I used to bring her to the office, and my colleagues would sing the song “Miss Independent” to her. She’s so strong. When she wants something, she wants it, she’ll let you know. Like her mom. She’s incredibly sweet and a great snuggle.
Heed Foods: Does she take after you or do you take after her?
I think we take after each other. I love her calm energy! Where I influence her sometimes is letting her know that she needs to pick her step up a little bit when we’re meant to be somewhere. There are times where I’m like “C’mon, Lou! Let’s go! Life is short.”
Heed Foods: What would you say to Lou if you had 15 seconds where she could understand every word you said?
MU: I love you unconditionally. No matter who you are or where you go in life. You’re my girl.