SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — For Jason “Singer” Smith, the 21st century started off pretty rough. He couldn’t cope with his emotional and physical trauma, and for several years, he just disappeared. He then returned to Utah with a story of friendship that has a tendency to turn heads when he’s on the road.
Smith was traumatized after being kidnapped in Kyrgyzstan and then getting seriously hurt in a mountain climbing accident in Canada, but he found some peace of mind where he least expected it — in the friendship of a sheepherding, motorcycle-riding dog named Mattie.
“[She] changed my life so much,” said Smith.
In 2000, Smith was on a mountain climbing expedition in Kyrgyzstan with three other Americans when they encountered unexpected obstacles — anti-government rebels.
The climbers escaped after one of them pushed a guard off the mountain.
Smith occasionally gives talks where he recounts the six-day ordeal.
To this day, Smith said he feels true guilt, not because of the guard, who ended up surviving the fall, as much as the death of another hostage, a Kyrgyz soldier who asked for Smith’s help before he was shot and killed by their captors.
“He asked me to help him safe his life,” said Smith. “[It was] as if somebody was hanging off the top of a cliff and they were about to fall and they asked for your help. And when I told him, ‘no,’ that was the moment that he just completely gave up, and the way that his face changed in that moment is something that’s just, it’s burned onto my brain and I just can’t forget it.”
After his experience in Kyrgyzstan and then a very bad climbing accident a year later, Smith said he was changed by guilt and post-traumatic stress.
“I experienced a stress meltdown,” he said. “The facade of society that keeps us all safe is actually wafer-thin, and once that’s been shattered for you, it’s very, very difficult to go back to normal society, in what we call a normal society.”
After living overseas for several years, it was, in part, the friend he made while working on a ranch in Australia, that helped him return.
“I would have never believed that a dog would have such an impact on my mental condition,” he said.
Mattie, now by his side almost 24-7, is his sentry, his social buffer and proof to Smith that he can be trusted to care for another living being.
“When Maddie and I forged a connection, it made me feel like I could be trusted to take care of something again,” said Smith.
“Yeah, makes me feel like I’m taking care of somebody, somebody really relies on me all the time,” he said.