Saturday, January 31, 2009

saturday morning - the cost of maybe

Unfortunately, Sophie and I were not able to head out on our regular Saturday morning adventure today. As of Thursday night, she is suffering from a pretty bad throat infection and is laid up on the couch with antibiotics. I am happy to report that she seems to be feeling better this evening and more like her usual, robust self...but we are going to take it easy until Monday or so anyway.

As I spent the morning at home with Sophie, I thought about the age old discussion regarding when do you decide that a pet needs to see a veterinarian, how much money is the right amount to spend on a pet and so on. I know there are many different view points and everyone's situation is unique and personal. I thought I would share mine (right or wrong), as the thoughts were tumbling around my head the last couple of days.

Sophie is my first dog. Dogs, given that they are out and about in the world (all of my cats have been indoor cats), seem to get into more trouble than cats. Especially Border Collies. Trouble such as: cuts, bruises, sprains, scratched eyes, and their affinity for eating the most disgusting, inedible things they come across. As I have gotten more experienced in the arena of canine ownership, I am becoming better at identifying which ailments will pass and mend on their own versus which ones required the expertise of a veterinarian. In any case, if I am even slightly unsure, I choose to take Sophie to a vet.

The reason I choose to take her is because of the cost of maybe. If I take her to the vet...maybe she would have gotten better on her own or maybe she did need the treatment. If I do not take her to the vet...maybe she will get better on her own or maybe she will get worse without treatment and not recover. In the first scenario, the biggest cost of maybe is that I could lose some hard earned dollars out of my bank account for no reason as she would have healed on her own. But in the second scenario, the biggest cost of maybe is that I could lose everything. I could lose Sophie. And that is simply not a price I am willing to pay.

If I had the choice between $10, 000 in the bank or one more day with Sophie....I can say, with perfect certainty, that my only choice would be which trails we would hike that day. And there is no maybe about it.

wcb - soul cat

If there is an animal that you cannot hide from....that can look into your eyes and see your intentions, your true nature....your is a cat. Elora is my soul cat.

submission for weekend cat blogging #191, hosted by tabbylicious

Friday, January 30, 2009


I’m back from spending almost a week in the city at a work conference. It was a good week but long and exhausting. Our hotel was right in the heart of Toronto. Each morning I would wake up early so I could walk down the street to get myself a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. In the darkness of the early morning, as I walked by the beautiful storefronts, recognizing the posh designer names….Prada, Hermes, Chanel…I caught a glimpse of my reflection in their windows. Good, solid winter hiking boots; a functional, well-worn parka; one of Jones’ castaway toques on my head. Anything but posh or designer. A couple of years ago, this would have distressed me….I would have ached to look like the women that breeze so confidently and stylishly into those stores. But this week, looking at my reflection, my ache was for something different. It was for my four legged companion who usually accompanies me on my early morning walks. It was for Sophie.

the view from my hotel room at the conference

This week was the longest we have ever spent apart. And by day four I was feeling a bit low…consumed with a yearning to go home. I used to travel quite a lot for business and had never felt like this. But this was my first travel away from home since Sophie came into my life. There is that old expression that says home is where the heart is. This week I realized that although I always carry her in my heart where ever I am...home is where Sophie is. And I was homesick.

the view from my home....from my heart

Sunday, January 25, 2009

sunday stills (delayed) - potluck

(For Sunday, January18th issues and a work conference delayed my post)

This week Sunday Stills challenge was a potluck...shoot whatever you like, get creative, try different things. This is a photo of my wonderful little nephew peeking through the window watching Sophie catch a frisbee. This has turned out to be one of my favorite(non-Sophie) photos. I love his curious eyes, his little forehead against the glass and even the the smudges his breath and fingers left on the bottom right pane of glass. I think it works well in black & white...but would love to hear your opinion.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

wcb - a well read cat

Elora decided to check out my collection of Jon Katz books...perhaps she was hoping to get some insight into that crazy dog beast she is forced to co-habitat with.

hmmm...this looks interesting

hard to see what titles are here...perhaps if
I push them over...

ahhhh....that's better...which one should
i read first?

or maybe i will just have a little chew.

submission for weekend cat blogging, hosted this week by paulchen's food blog

saturday morning - christie lake

I almost didn't venture out this morning with Sophie. I am leaving for a conference early tomorrow morning and have much work to do before I go. But....the sun began to peek through my window and Sophie's tail was wagging as soon as I got out of bed...she knows the routine. And I thought...what's so important? What's worth missing a crisp, beautiful winter morning with my girl? The answer was: nothing. And I would have missed....


...and this....

...and most of all, this.

Time is something we can never get back. Spend yours doing the things that move you...and spend it with those that you love.

Friday, January 23, 2009

hip dysplasia - part 2

This is part 2 of Sophie's hip dysplasia story. Again, it is an older column that ran in April of last year. Since writing this column, she has come along way...we continue to manage the symptoms of her disease, although they are quite mild these days, and take preventative measures when necessary while still allowing Sophie to be the very essence of a Border, enthusiastic, playful and always ready to go. I've included my few pics of Sophie and I together in this post...I prefer to be on the other side of the camera but thought they were fitting for the piece. I know the quality of the photos is not great...but I do love seeing me and my girl together. :)

So, from April of last year...She's Lucky To Have You.

During my recent travels to various animal professionals, physiotherapy appointments and vets with Sophie as a result of her hip dysplasia diagnosis, I’ve been told by several people that “she’s lucky to have you”. And I have been thinking a lot about that statement because, as nice as it is for people to say, I don’t think it’s entirely accurate.

camping in Port Elgin in 2007

When I brought Sophie into my life I had no real idea about the kind of impact she would have on me. After a year with one another, my perspective on the world has drastically changed. And I have found a new capacity within myself for patience, for joy and for a kind of love that I didn’t even realize existed. In being with Sophie, I have learned to peel back a layer in life where I can now see in a fleeting moment or within the smallest act, something truly beautiful and worth noticing. I can see what’s important.

christmas eve 2007

I have seen Sophie, normally in non-stop “let’s go!” mode, sit quietly by an elderly lady in a wheelchair at our local Remembrance Day ceremony. The lady softly stroked Sophie’s fur while the trumpets played and my affection for that dog and that moment nearly had my heart bursting out of my chest. There has not been an accomplishment in my life that has made feel even remotely as proud as I do when strangers at the park comment on how amazing it is to watch us work together. Some of my greatest achievements and happiest moments in the last year have been spent learning to walk through this world, physically, emotionally and spiritually, with this little dog at my side. Through working to build this amazing connection with her, I have deepened my appreciation for the other connections I have with the people in my life. I realize that for any of these connections to remain strong and to survive, it takes work and understanding and communication. And most of all love.

hiking on valentine's day 2008...she was diagnosed two
days later

The love of a dog is vast and it knows no boundaries. It fills you up in places that you didn’t even know were empty. Sophie’s love has been an amazing gift…one that has made a difference in every aspect of my life. So if I miss the latest episode of Lost to take her to a physio appointment or forgo that summer clothes shopping spree so that she can have medicine that helps ease the pain in her hip, it seems like a small price to pay for that love. A very small price. So, the next time I hear someone say “she’s lucky to have you”…I will have to assume that they are talking to Sophie about me. Because I think I’m the luckiest person in the world.

christmas party at a friends 2007

Thursday, January 22, 2009

hip dysplasia - part 1

There have been some inquiries about Sophie's hip seems the mention of something in one post often leads to another post...which is not a bad thing. I wrote this column below back in March of 2008 just after she was diagnosed. There are two columns that I will share with you from that time in our life. A year later, I am happy to say she is doing very well....strong, healthy, signs of limping or pain. Our dreams of seriously competing in agility are over...but we have built new dreams and are living them together every day.

So from March of last year....Our Footprints.

For the second time in my life, I stood in a vet’s office receiving news that made the air too thick to breathe, that made my legs grow weak and that made my heart stop beating for an instant. My Sophie…my tear around, 100-mile-a-minute, lovin’ life, oh-so-young Sophie…has been diagnosed with hip dysplasia and the beginning stages of arthritis. In short, it is a degenerative disease that can be extremely painful and debilitating. A disease that will get progressively worse as she ages and that will very likely make it difficult, if not impossible, for her to run, jump, play…even walk one day. When our vet gave me the news, after I brought Sophie in for a limp that wouldn't seem to go away, I felt my sadness, my anger, my grief swell up inside of me, threatening to burst at the seams. It seems that Fate sends me the animals that need me the most in this world. While I never have any regrets caring for my animals with special needs, it is not without a fairly high price of heartache.

A few days of research later, I had put together a plan for Sophie that, hopefully, would help manage the symptoms of the disease and that could enable her to live a happy and healthy life. I had learned that her condition could be aggravated, even worsened, by a lot of intense exercise, jumping, playing tug, etc. I was significantly more calm and positive than I had been in the vet’s office…but something was still troubling me. A part of me still felt unsettled and a piece of this new puzzle was missing. So I piled Sophie into the car and we went for a walk in one of our favorite parks.

As we were walking, with Sophie on her leash to try to keep her from stressing her hip, I looked out to the wide snow covered fields and saw a flock of birds sitting in the quiet morning sun. Sophie saw them too and whimpered to be let off her leash to chase down those birds. And I realized then what that missing puzzle piece was. I didn’t want all my moments with Sophie to become vet visits, unhappy leash walks and telling her to settle or lie quiet. That was not Sophie…that was not living to her. So I unclipped that leash and she burst onto the field, tail wagging. I took off after her and we ran in happy circles together…just like we have always done. I looked back at our footprints in the snow and realized this is how we would leave our tracks through the rest of our time together. Sometimes those footprints would be running and playing, sometimes walking and sometimes, no doubt, they would be resting. It is possible our trail might end up being shorter, but it will be built with the footprints of the living. And I know that one day will arrive, all too soon, where my tracks will be a single set in the snow…but I will be able to walk knowing that while she was here Sophie’s paw prints were filled with fun, with joy and with love.

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, champagne in one hand - strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming "WOOHOO - What a Ride!" ~ Author Unknown

Look for part two of this story tomorrow....She's Lucky To Have You.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


I imagine it happened quietly, routinely and without a lot of fanfare. But it was the start of something wonderful. Beginnings are strange and magical things....full of expectations, excitement and a little mystery. You can never be sure where they are going to lead you...which ones are going to be the most important, the most meaningful. This one was both of those things.

sophie at 5 weeks old

Happy Birthday, Sophie.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

smiles of hope

Sophie and I are not political creatures. I cannot intelligently debate political ideas nor do I have a good understanding of current events, economics or the complexities of war. But I do consider myself an observer of human nature...a scholar of the human spirit. And something happened today that seemed to move the spirit of a nation. And I think that has to be a good thing.

I cannot tell you a single detail about Obama’s platform. I do not even reside in the United States. But his inauguration today sent out a wave of positive energy that washed not over a country, not over a continent…but over a world. And here’s the thing…I know the new President cannot turn the economy around on a dime or end the strife overseas with a quick phone call. But what he has done is bring hope to a world that has seen too much fear of late. It may be just a small seed of hope, but it’s planted all the same. And many people…people without jobs, without homes, with loved ones on a battlefield across an ocean…smiled today. Felt joy today. And in these times that’s something to grab onto. That’s something that can pull you through.

The media has been filled with news of tragedy, of fear, of disappointment. And we have faced some difficult times. But last week a plane crashed and no one died. And this week one man made history and the world celebrated. Maybe we have reached a turning point. Maybe we need to believe that we have reached a turning point. Jon Katz pointed out that both Lincoln and Churchill wrote it doesn’t matter what is literally happening, it matters what people believe is happening. And today, people believed something good was happening. One man may not be able to change a country, but he can inspire a nation…a nation that could change the world.

Today, Sophie and I felt hope. And we smiled.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

sophie's winter

January can be a tough month here in Ontario. The holidays are over and winter stretches out before us, cold and gray. And, once again this year, there is a mountain of seemingly never ending snow. As adults, we hear the word snow and tend to think: shoveling requirements, wet and sloppy footwear, bad driving conditions and the cost of gallons of windshield washer fluid.

But on walks with Sophie, I am pulled out of that adult thinking and remember the winters of my younger self: thrilling toboggan runs, ice skating under a bright February sun and frothy cups of rich hot chocolate. And it's nice, even if only for a couple hours, to see snow through Sophie's eyes and enjoy the fun of winter catch snowflakes on my tongue, make snow angels in a park and watch my dog kicking up powder, leaping in pure joy.

must carry the biggest stick that can be found

a short rest in deep snow

sunday stills - colour

This week's Sunday Stills challenge was colour. And man, did I struggle! I wanted to try and do something unique. Must have taken 200 photos of various subjects this week and I never did get the end result I was looking for. But it was a great learning experience...and a lot of fun! So here's my "still-not-happy-with-it" submission....the wine rack. :)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

saturday morning - hilton falls

This morning on our walk, I allowed myself to become enveloped in the deep quiet. I let it wash over me and sink into my bones. It was calm and soothing. Sophie's footsteps were smothered in fresh snow and the rush of the waterfall was frozen in silent beauty.

frozen falls and trees

Within the safety of this deep quiet, nature will often drop it's guard, scoot in close and reach out and touch you. And from that one touch, your heart won't stop smiling all day.

a visit from nature, perched on my fingertips :)

submission for camera critters #41

red pine mountain writing

Over at Red Pine Mountain, she is sharing her writing assignments (from a course she is taking) with her followers so that we can participate, too. It's a lot of fun and she has posted my submission for the most recent assignment: write a one page essay about a place you know well.

Mountain Woman is a wonderful writer and if you have some time, visit her blog and lose yourself in her beautiful words for a while.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

honest scrap award

My blogging friend, Sherri, has presented me with my very first blog award! I am thrilled!! The award involves the following:

The honorees are to:

A) first list 10 honest things about yourself - and make it interesting, even if you have to dig deep!

B) pass the award on to 7 bloggers that you feel embody the spirit of the Honest Scrap.

I will do my best to honour the award by participating. In keeping with the "loose" theme of my blog, here are my ten truths about life with Sophie:

1. We named Sophie for Jack Aubrey's first ship in Patrick O'Brian's Master & Commander book series.

2. There were instances in our early training days that I achieved a level of frustration I never thought possible. Learning to communicate with a dog was hard, hard work.

3. When Sophie was going through her 7 month old “testing boundaries” phase and snapped at me the first time, my feelings were hurt so much that I burst into tears and hid in the bathroom for twenty minutes. (The totally wrong thing to do, I know). I’m happy to say that those days are far behind us….no more snapping, no more tears.

4. There are times when I am green with envy over Sophie’s love of Jones (my significant other). He is her fun loving playmate, her best bud….her first choice. But I know she loves me, too…and if she’s hurt or scared the only place she wants to be is with me.

5. When Sophie was diagnosed with hip dysplasia (a genetic disease) at the age of one, part of me still thinks I had a role to play in it….that I fed her the wrong food or exercised her too much when she was a puppy. It is burden I still carry with me today.

6. I feel guilty sometimes that Elora does not get the attention she used to before Sophie’s arrival in our household.

7. In all of my life, if I sum up all of my accomplishments in school, sports, work, etc….nothing has ever made me feel as proud as I do when someone comments on how well Sophie and I work together, on what a great dog she is. When she ran her first complete agility course, my heart nearly burst out of my chest with pride. It was a moment I will never forget.

8. I wonder sometimes if I rely on her too much….seeking comfort, companionship and joy in a dog when I maybe I should be finding more of those things in people.

9. As great of a dog that Sophie is, there are areas that I failed her….she cannot walk on a leash very well; she can be aggressive with dogs if a toy is involved; she gets overexcited and will jump up on people. Most of the time I love her just the way she is, but sometimes I feel disappointment with those failures because as hard as we have worked we cannot seem to conquer them.

10. I often worry about life down the road. Because right now I cannot imagine a world without her…yet I know it’s inevitable at some point. I worry that when the time comes I won’t have the strength to make the right decision, to say good-bye and to survive it as I have done with pets in the past. But Sophie is different….she is my heart and soul, whether that’s right or wrong….and how do you survive saying good-bye to that?

Now as for passing the award on, I know not everyone likes to be "tapped" but I do have a couple of fellow bloggers that I feel embody the spirit of Honest Scrap (please don't feel obligated to participate):

b&g girl: because if i could hand out this award in real life it would go her....a great friend whose authenticity and honesty has never ceased to amaze me.

jan: you always seem to tell it like it is with a humor and poignancy that really speaks to me

laurie: because the integrity and soul in your honest writing about life always inspires me.

Thanks again for the award, Sherri....and huge thanks to all of you who have started following mine and Sophie's journey. We love reading your comments, visiting your blogs and sharing in your lives a little bit.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

nature's grace

After including a picture of Sophie herding in a previous post, there have been some requests for more of that story. I don't have a lot of pictures of her herding as I am usually in the pen working with her. This piece of writing was published in the fall issue of Animal Wellness magazine last year. It's one of my favorites about Sophie, so rather than come up with something new about our herding, I am posting my original: Nature's Grace. Hope you enjoy! :)

I remember watching her run. It was an early Sunday morning in August…early enough that the heat had not yet captured the day and a soft breeze was flirting with the fragrant dewy air. I was standing on picturesque farm just north-east of Toronto. That’s where I was standing watching Sophie run.

When Sophie was about 6 months old I introduced her to world of sheep herding, the traditional work for her breed. Driving along those worn and dusty side roads, the trainer’s words of caution played over in my mind. Sophie was too young to start any official training, but I could bring her out and we could see if she “took to it”. I shouldn’t expect too much due to her young age. My future competitive notions for Sophie and I had been focused on the sport of Agility, but I thought perhaps it would be possible for us to compete and excel at both events. My own competitive drive had visions of sheep herding medals dancing in front of my eyes even as we turned down the freshly gravelled driveway of the farm.

some of our first sheep

The trainer was waiting for us with a few dogs of her own and three sheep in a pen just behind her. The trainer was brusque and down to earth; her dogs lean and alert; and the sheep were steely eyed and statuesque. I felt unsure, ill prepared and completely out of my element. I could barely contain my disbelief as the trainer led us over the pen and opened the gate, indicating that Sophie and I should follow her in. Her only instructions had been directed at me: Don’t get run over by the sheep. I was unclear how Sophie and I would possible know what do with these sheep without even a little bit of guidance. As Sophie and I entered the pen with the trainer, my grumbling thoughts of disbelief quickly melted away. Two facts became vibrantly clear to me: one, sheep are surprisingly quick and light footed; and two, while i t was definitely true that I had no idea what I was doing in that pen, the same could not be said of Sophie.

perfect form! (she's just over a year old here)

I watched with amazement and wonder as Sophie, my young pup who had never seen a sheep before in her life, began to do the work of a Border Collie. Tail and head low, her eyes never left the three sheep. Suddenly she was off! Running in big, wide sweeping circles she began moving them from one side of the pen to the other. When one of the sheep broke off, she quickly darted over to him and just through her quick, sure movements and unwavering, steady stare, brought him back in line with the other two. Her natural instincts were shining through and I found myself feeling extremely proud of her, as well as extremely humbled.

After Sophie’s session with the sheep, the trainer took us out to a pasture behind the farm and showed us what herding was really all about with one of her adult dogs and flock of about 20 sheep. I have never seen a more spectacular sight and was again struck by this notion of humbleness. The beauty and grace of this dog working in his natural environment was breathtaking. There were no leashes, no Sit for a Cookie or Shake a Paw, no crates, no costumes…barely a human influence of any kind. It is rare these days to see a dog under those circumstances. While I believe the majority of owners give their dogs a wonderful, caring life, I also think we sometimes underestimate the inherent intelligence and ability in these creatures that no human can lay claim on or take credit for.

rounding them up

These glimpses of nature’s grace always manage to change my perception of the world in a profound and whimsical way. I realized, with Sophie that day, that being able to catch these glimpses and understanding their beauty and importance is a privilege. They are moments to be recognized and cherished. I can remember the first time I saw my brother holding his newborn son, his first child. Despite having no real experience with children up until that point, his movements and demeanour with the baby were perfectly fluid. It was a glimpse of nature’s grace that took my breath away. Watching Sophie and the other dog with sheep left a similar footprint on my heart.

The trainer had turned to me after Sophie’s turn with the sheep and said: “I think you’ve really got something to work with there. We could start training her when she’s a few months older and she could compete in her first trial maybe a year from now.” It was exactly what I had hoped to hear as we drove into the farmhouse driveway an hour ago. But my humbling glimpse of nature’s grace in this case had changed everything. I would definitely bring Sophie back to work with the sheep and would endeavour to learn to be her able partner in the task. But we would not compete. I would not take this beautiful dance and inflict the pressures of scoring, winning and losing or any other human criteria on it. A year from that wonderful Sunday morning, rather than at a herding trial aiming for a perfect score, I hoped to be back on that farm…out back in the pasture with the morning sun shining down on me and reflecting off the dew on the green grass that stretches out for miles, watching my dog run with the wind. Running in those big, wide sweeping circles as she gathers the sheep and has the time of her life doing just what she was born to do…simply because she can.

Monday, January 12, 2009

in their eyes

There was a first time...possibly a million years ago. A first time that a human being took a moment to pause and stare into the eyes of an animal and saw what was there. Saw a loyalty that would not waver. Saw a bond that needed no words. Saw a love that was unconditional. Saw a soul.

The soul of an animal is an extraordinary thing. It can reach out and touch someone…often when no person can. It can bring comfort and strength. It can bring joy. It is intuitive, this soul…it knows us when even we can’t seem to find our own selves. And it is everything that is good and right and real in this world.

Look into the eyes of an animal…what you see will touch your heart.

submission for camera critters #40

Sunday, January 11, 2009

wcb - elora's green frog

A small, fuzzy, once-upon-a-time-filled-with-catnip, stuffed green frog. Elora’s frog. I can’t imagine what she has named him in her quiet feline language, but I know she’s called him something. He is her best friend. A friend that I find in all kinds of places: in her bed, in a shoe, in her mouth as she tears across the hardwood floors, in front of the bathroom door, in her food dish resting on a bed a kibble and even in her water dish faced down like the victim of a small, unfortunate drowning accident (which is somewhat ironic for a frog).

Elora and the frog met the day we brought her home from shelter. She was a wide eyed bundle of grey fuzz, all of 12 weeks old. They bonded instantly. Possibly it was because the frog was one of the only items in the condo that was actually smaller than her. Or it may have been because she was comforted by the only other furry being around the place. Or it may have been the catnip. The catnip, however, is long gone but the friendship has stayed.

All types of other toys have come and gone. Mice that squeak, balls with bells, crazy coils and even other soft fuzzy toys of an animal nature. They would command her attention for a short period of time. It was almost as if she were patronizing these shiny new toys by gracing them with her presence for a week or two. Ultimately, however, each one met the same fate: discarded, untouched for weeks in a small corner of the apartment as thin veil of dust formed over their surface. She creeps past these toys, without so much as a glance in their direction, as she zooms in on her target for a gleeful pouncing: her frog.

Remarkably, after almost three years, the frog has remained intact. I think, at one point, it did have two eyes and its fur was somewhat more plush, but overall it has stood the test of time. And the test of Elora. She would attack that frog with such zeal that I had to remind myself it was just an inanimate object. But after every attack, I would find her sleeping with her small green friend tucked under a paw or curled up with her in her bed. They are inseparable and make quite a pair.

Often during the night, I will hear a soft meow and feel her small, warm body cuddle up beside my leg as she settles in for a sleep. And I know there has not been one addition to the bed but two: a tired little cat and her green stuffed frog.

contribution for weekend cat blogging, hosted this week by the sour dough.