Friday, December 17, 2010

the greatest gift

With Christmas just around the corner, much of the discussion at work and many of the emails I have received from readers of this blog, have been focussed on what we give our pets for Christmas....and I've been asked quite a few times what I plan on getting for Sophie. I fully admit that I am one of the those owners, like many out there, who purchase gifts for my pets over the holidays. But I also recognize that the "stuff" I buy...the whole routine of deciding what to buy, the shopping in the store, the wrapping of a new toy....all of that is for me, not for Sophie or Elora. I love Christmas shopping for my family...and I consider Sophie and Elora part of my family so it warms my heart to include them in my holiday gift giving...even though they do not understand the concept of Christmas.

I do believe however, that there is no amount of "stuff" in any pet store that can equal the greatest gift of all we can give our animal companions...and that is the gift of our time. So early Christmas morning, probably before Santa has even finished his rounds, Sophie and I will be on the trails, hopefully enjoying some fresh fallen snow, and my girl and I will spend the first few magical hours of the holiday together in one of her favourite places. It will cost me zero dollars...and it will mean the world to her. That's the greatest gift that I can give her....and I will love every minute of it.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

the work that they do

I have recently returned from travelling for a series of regional business meetings. As some of you know I am fortunate enough to work in the pet industry….so I spend my days talking about dogs, cats and the human-animal bond and working with fellow pet lovers. It is not only perfectly acceptable, but it is expected, that the conversations over meals during these meetings were focused on how much we were missing our own pets, swapping stories about how our animals made us laugh, about how much they mean to us. These conversations and these weeks of travel got me thinking about the notion of work….not of ours per say but of the work that our animals do. In the traditional sense the work of animals, specifically dogs, has been defined by activities like herding, guarding, guiding, searching and rescuing, etc. Their jobs have also expanded into arenas like therapy and hospice work. These are all important jobs performed by remarkable dogs. But the work that I got thinking about is the work that our ordinary, run of the mill dogs and cats do every day...the jobs they do for us – individually as pet owners – and for us collectively as a group.

The work that Sophie has done for me and continues to do for me is the very thing that this blog was built upon on. Initially, simply in becoming a dog owner, her work was to teach me about patience, about communication, about how to build connections, about perseverance. When my life was turned upside down, her work became comforting me, inspiring me, showing me the possibility of a different path...of slowing down, of figuring out what brings me joy and chasing after it with no looking back. And as our lives have become so intertwined, her work continues – she is my muse, in both my personal and professional life – a huge job for one little dog but one that she does beautifully. And the work of our pets is not limited to our dogs….our cats have equally demanding roles. If Sophie is my muse, Elora is my heart….quiet, steady and always, always there. Her job is to be my touchstone…my constant in world full of change…my rock. Her very presence is what I define as home…again, another huge job for such a small girl, but she does it, without fail, every day.

As we talked about our pets over breakfast and dinners during these regional meetings, the work that these animals do was apparent time and time again. Stories were told, not just about the unique, personal roles that these dogs and cats play in their owners lives, but also the work that they do in general for many people in this world – people they may only interact with in a brief and fleeting moment….bringing smiles to strangers faces with their wagging tails and easy demeanors; lifting spirits of troubled souls, even if it’s just a for a few minutes, with their exuberance and infectious enthusiasm for life; easing tension between co-workers with their simple, unconditional love for any and all people.

This kind of work that our animals perform….it is not because we tell them to do these jobs, or because they get rewarded…it’s simply what they do, it’s part of their very nature. And after my weeks of travels, I found myself writing this on the plane as I flew home eager to see Sophie and Elora because I was thinking about what our lives might be like if that wasn’t the case…if it was not their nature. I know for me, and I think I can say for most of the people that I spent time with at these meetings and for most of you who continue to visit Finding Sirius, our lives would have less…less joy, less comfort, less laughter and, definitely, less love. The work that they do….be thankful for it and love them for it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the mean cat

I’m going to say the thing that no cat owner should say: Elora, whom I love to my very core, is a mean cat. My 3 year old nephew, who knows his own cat’s name, who knows not only Sophie’s name, but all of her nicknames too, knows Elora simply as “The Mean Cat” –emphasis on the “The”. And it is the simple truth.

She was standoffish even as a kitten at 6 weeks old….the last of her litter waiting to be adopted at the shelter as her brothers and sisters were cuddly and affectionate while Elora sat in the corner staring at potential owners – even then with a cool gleam in her eye daring one of them to make the slightest move in her direction. But when I saw her I immediately took to her….attitude and all. Elora does all the things a mean cat should….she hisses at unfamiliar people in her house; she swats the hand that lingers on her fur a little too long; she has been known to give Sophie a perfect left jab -- followed by a fierce right hook, to her nose simply for walking by at too quick of a pace. She is wary of people, mildly tolerant of Sophie and lives with me on her own terms. She is the cat that I have to tuck into a bedroom when visitors come by, the cat that I have to apologize for to family members when a swat makes contact and….and she is the cat that I love.

My bond with Elora is just as strong as the one I have with Sophie. Although I too have received my share of warning strikes with a soft but firm paw, I have also received the kind of affection from her that you take notice of, that you remember…partly because it’s coming from a mean cat. She will cuddle with me on the couch, purring up a storm; she will play with a ball that I toss for her – like a kitten of 6 months; and she will weave between my feet as I make dinner in the kitchen, soft and warm, relishing in her contact with me. As much as I chose Elora that day in the shelter, she has chosen me back in return…as her human, her companion in this life. The love of a mean cat….it slips quietly in and finds a place deep in your heart and takes hold for life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

the kind of strength

My blog is "loosely" themed around my life with Sophie and Elora...but every now and then again I post about something slightly off topic because something moves me or speaks to me in a unique and profound way. My gracious followers...many of whom I know are fellow pet lovers and are here for Sophie and Elora not me per say...seem to give me that little bit of leeway now and then and still continue to come back and for that I thank you. I had intended, this week, to write about Elora and still have that post (and a few pics) ready to go...but I ask you instead to indulge me as I would like to veer from the stories of pets to comment briefly on the recent stories of strength that I have been witness to of late...stories that have moved me to my core.

I do not have children of my own but am blessed by the presence of children in my life through my wonderful nephews and through the children of my very best girlfriends. Even without having gone through it myself, I realize that the act of becoming a parent is quite likely the most wonderful, most life altering, most difficult and most rewarding experience out there. And I have seen, especially through the lens of my camera, how remarkable, whimsical, innocent and joyful children truly are....for a few brief years they get to live under the wonderful umbrella of no mistakes, no wrongs, no regrets, no responsiblities...other than to taste the world and start to become the person they will be. And that is a tremendous thing to see.

But I have also seen up close, in the last few months, a mother, in a room at SickKids Hospital, make her one year old son's face light up with a smile while a nurse adjusted his feeding tube...a device required to help him gain the weight he needed to in order to thrive. I have seen a busy mother of three, time and time again, bring a huge selection of homemade chicken fingers, cookies and more, to group gatherings so her four year old son, diganosed with autism a year ago, can stay on the diet that's best for him while still enjoying many of the foods that "all the other kids get to eat". And I have read the emails of another mother, sent out to her best girlfriends to let them know of her three year old daughter's recent diagnosis of diabetes, and these emails were filled with words of resolve and with words of hope and with words of bravery....she and her daughter were meeting the diagnosis head on, were getting educated and, it seemed, would not pause for a second to feel sorry for themselves or to ask "why me?". In that hospital room, at those group gatherings, in those emails I saw not only an unyeilding strength in these mothers, but the strength they gave their children and, in all three cases, felt my eyes well up with tears...not with sadness, not with sympathy...but with pride....and with love. I was so proud to know have people in my life like that to model myself after.

I know how it feels when one of my animals is in pain or is I can barely imagine how that must feel for a mother when it's her child. So to see a mother stand strong and make her little guy or girl laugh as his tube is adjusted or her finger is pricked to test blood sugar levels, knowing that a mom's tears would only make it worse for them...well, that's the kind of stength, the kind of stuff, that legends are made of. To those three mothers I know, I do not have the words to describe my admiration for your kind of strength...nor my love for you and for those kids.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

our hiatus

Sophie and I have been absent for a while for a couple of reasons. Partly because I have been so busy with work...the notion of being on a computer after a long day at the office was somewhat distasteful. And partly because I have been struggling with what to say to keep this blog fresh and to continue telling mine and Sophie's story without becoming repetitive. And partly because I, for the most part, retired my camera for a few months....somewhere in the business side of my photography (even though it was quite small) my love for it got lost so I haven't had a lot of new photos to post here. I considered shutting down the blog...wondering if it's time was over. But....

I have just spent some time reading over some past blog posts of mine and realized how much I treasure having those documented stories of Sophie and I. Finding Sirius, at the end of the day, is for even if our journey becomes irrelevant to other readers, it will always be important to me and I want to continue writing about Sophie and I. I have dissolved the business aspect of my photography and am starting to get back to the hobby I once loved...taking pictures of Sophie, of our life and am looking to evolve creatively in the world of digital art. As for work, it will continue to be busy but I am still loving every minute of it and need to find a way to balance it with this blog. I often get to use my stories of Sophie and I in my work...she will always be my muse and she inspires others....and nothing makes me prouder. So Finding Sirius will continue on, as my journey with Sophie continues on...and as dog love continues to open my eyes to new possibilities every day.

Friday, July 9, 2010

the art of appreciation

I’ve been engaged in a few conversations lately that have me thinking about how we try to preserve and expand the moments and things in our life that bring us great joy…that matter so much to us. There are often times, when in a sincere attempt to get more of something that makes us feel good, we lose the uniqueness and rarity of that thing which made it stand out and sing to us so much in the first place.

a lovely daughter

During my girl’s getaway weekend, a very good friend was talking about being a stay-at-home Mom to her two young daughters with another friend who worked full time while raising her own two and a half year old daughter. She said something that rang out above the din of all the laughter and conversations that struck me right in my heart. She said she worried about “losing sight of it all”…..of how she could see the possibility of getting so buried in the day to day routine of it all, in all the tasks that she had to complete to look after her children, that she might eventually miss appreciating her girls and her time with them as much as she used to…unlike the full time mother who has less time and may be more aware of the precious moments that she has with her daughter. So she was making a conscious effort everyday to not let that happen…to not miss the moments. I thought that what she said was so honest and beautiful and rare….it is one of the reasons that I believe she is as wonderful as mother as she is.

cottage beauty that takes your breath away

The following weekend up north I was speaking with my father about our family cottage. He and my mother are both retired and I was enquiring as to whether or not he thought they would start staying at the cottage months at a time during the summer and fall. He hesitated for a moment and then said that he didn’t think so. He said that he really enjoyed the feeling of “coming up to the cottage…of arriving here” and that he didn’t want to lose that by basically living up there for half of the year. I realized his feelings were similar to my friend’s….he had a different solution, but the end result was the same…a conscious effort to engage in the art of appreciation. My father knows that the "getting there" is one of the reasons why he has loved the cottage the way he has for the last decade...and he wants to keep it that way.
my own art of appreciation project

The art of appreciation is different than not taking things for granted. I do not believe that my friend has ever taken her daughters for granted even for a second….nor do I believe that my father has ever felt like that about the cottage. I believe that both these people feel lucky, every day, to have those people and things in their life….the art of appreciation is one step further. It’s about still feeling the magic when a daughter smiles up at you or puts her hand in yours…or when you catch the first sight of water on your winding drive up north or when you hear your kid’s cars maneouvering down the gravelly cottage driveway late on the Friday night of the first long weekend of the summer. It’s about recognizing the importance of that magic no matter how much time passes….and never losing sight of it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

every once in a while

I never saw the details in life until I stepped behind a camera. And by details, I don't mean colours and shapes...I mean moments....all the little pieces of this world that make it yours, that make it sing to you. I may have never discovered that if it weren't for Sophie coming into my life. I picked up a camera for this first time to capture my moments with her. And now I am able, every once in a while, to capture some of those moments for others...often through their children.

I don't have children, but when I see a mother's face light up when she looks at a photo I have taken of her child..a precious moment captured takes my breath away and the love that she has for that child becomes palpable. It is a simply wonderful thing. And I am so glad that I am able, every once in a while, to give that captured moment to them.

My four very best girlfriends in the world and I are gathering together at the end of this month for our annual cottage getaway. I cannot wait to see them...we have all not been together since Christmas. I have asked them to work around crazy schedules in order to get together for a photo shoot when we get back from our weekend. A photo shoot not of us, but of their children....all together...doing all the whimsical things that kids do. Seven wonderful little girls and boys who never fail to make me smile. And in whom I am able, every once and while, to see their mother's faces smiling back at me.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

in a word

Last night I watched my neighbour across the street pull his truck into his driveway and hop out with his dog...a wonderful, exceptionally well trained, german shorthaired pointer. He took a few minutes to sit on his front steps with his dog, rubbing his belly, and I could tell even from across the street, that for those few minutes, the rest of the world had ceased to exist for those two. It was one of those momements between dog and owner that always captivate me...that are difficult to describe in words but that I feel deep in my heart.

Dog owners know those momements that I am referring to....that feeling you have with your dog sometimes that swells up inside of you and can make you want to drop to your knees and thank the fates for bringing this precious creature into your life. The way we feel about our dogs (and cats) is different than how we feel about our families, our significant others, our kids....not better, not stronger, not lesser....just different. Our feelings for our dogs are pure and unrestrained.....we know there is no risk of betrayal, we do not need to be cautious...we feel for our dogs completely with our hearts as there is no need for our heads to get involved. I imagine this is also true, and likely amplified, for how parents feel about their children. I expect to feel that way about my kids (if I ever go down that path)....but I never expected to feel that way so strongly about a dog. And perhaps that unexpectedness is part of what makes those moments with our dogs so touching....I'm always still a little suprised every time I feel that swell of emotion. And I hope I always will be.

As I watched my neighbour and his own dog last night, while Sophie lay at my feet, I knew I wanted to write about it today and began searching for the right words to describe what that is between dog and owner that captivates me so. As I began to form eloquent phrases in my mind, I saw my neighbour hold his dog's head in both hands and bring his face close to his own. He looked into his dog's eyes and just grinned. At that momement, I mentally threw out my grandiose phrases....because what I saw, in a word, was love. Simple, unabashed, all encompassing, love. And it doesn't get any more grandiose or any more simple than that.

Friday, May 7, 2010

sophie and the city

(photos by Angie McKaig Photography)

Sophie and I had the opportunity to attend a media event that my company was hosting downtown Toronto. One of the reasons I love my job....Sophie can often be a part of it. It was her first visit into the big I am sure she won't forget.

I am always at my best when Sophie is by my side...and even though she was little out of her element in the middle of the cityscape, she still won the hearts of everyone who met her. I never tire of seeing Sophie's effect on always warms me to my core.

And while both of us are more comfortable on the's nice once in a while to glam it up a bit; to throw on a pair of heels and to feel the cool pavement of the city streets beneath the paws. We enjoyed our morning in the city....but we loved our evening running free on the trails.

Sophie and the city....she was fabulous. :)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

a dog remembered - dedicated to buddy and starsky

A few friends have recently gone through the difficult task of letting go of canine loved one. My heart goes out to each of them...and I hope that many of the wonderful memories that they have of their time with these great dogs provides a bit of comfort to them over the next few weeks and months and years to come. I can't help but think of my own great dog when I hear about these sad passings....and, even though Sophie and I have much time together still, I have been thinking about how I will remember her.

When Sophie and I run into a familiar face in the dog park or on our favourite trail, we are often met with a comment like: "Oh I remember Sophie...she is so well trained!" or "I remember her because of that trick!" or "...because of those freckles!" And while I am glad that Sophie is bit of a memorable dog for all of these reasons, and while I will never forget these wonderful qualities of hers....this is not what I will remember the most when I think of her twenty years from now.

Through my photography, my writing and this blog I have documented all of our time together. Every adventure, every story, every emotion has been captured either with my camera or with my words. And I am so thankful for be able to have this story of us for the rest of my life. I didn't think about recording moments with my first cat, Cosmo, so I only have one or two photos of our short, but important, time together and I often regret that. And while I know that I will read and re-read this blog when Sophie is gone, and will study every photograph I have ever taken of her....this is not what I will remember the most when I think of her twenty years from now.

I have often written about dog love....this wonderful, powerful thing that these amazing creatures can bring into your life and light up the world with. And as much as I appreciate Sophie showing me the power of dog love....that is also not what I will remember the most when I think of her twenty years from now. What I will remember the most is my love for her. I will remember how this tiny presence opened up a part of my heart in a unique and unexpected way. I will remember how my love for her changed the way I saw the it changed me. My love for her will stay with me forever...and, beause of that, as long as I have breath in my lungs...she will be a dog remembered.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


There is a theory (I was reading about on Jon Katz's blog) that I have been thinking about lately that revolves around the notion that "in all of us there is an undamaged, unbroken core...the spirit of us that is pure and intact"(Katz). There is a part of us that views the world like we did when we were five....without the influence of ugly truths, or the experiences of disappointments, hurt and pain. And, as I fell in love with this theory, I thought about dogs...I thought about Sophie.

photo of sophie by scruffy dog photography

In my continued quest to understand and appreciate the human connection with animals, I've conversed with many pet owners...listened to their stories, felt their passions, pondered their theories about why and how these connections develop, why they are important and how they can run so deep. I believe this unbroken core theory is central to this connection.

photo of sophie by scruffy dog photography

It seems possible to me that our animals touch this spririt in us. Through their innocence, their exhuberance for joy and for love, their simple way of being, they are able to connect us periodically with our unbroken core....and we feel five years old again and see the world with awe and with hope and with wonder. And even if it's only for a few minutes at a time, it is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. I know this because I have found my spirit with Sophie in many we danced with the snowflakes across a wintery field; as we swam in silly circles under a warm july sun; as we lost ourselves on the trails without a care for the time or the world; and everytime she has made me laugh out loud or my heart burst with love. She found the unbroken me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

letters to hazel

My first blog post of 2010...where does the time go? It was with that thought in mind a year ago that I began my letters to Hazel...

My best friend in this world moved to Florida several years ago and now she has beautiful daughter who just turned two this past December. My friend and I stay connected via email, phone calls, facebook and through a few in person visits throughout the year....and it is relatively easy to do because she knows me. Every part of me. So even if we don't talk due to busy lives for a few weeks, as soon as I hear her voice I feel instantly connected to her...we just pick up where we left off. I realized, in the months following her daughter's birth, that I wanted her daughter to really know me, too.

So on that little girl's first birthday I gave my friend the first letter to Hazel, positioned on the first page of a scrapbook...the beginning of a collection for her. And I would send her a letter each year for her birthday...a letter that contained: bits and pieces of my journey that year, my wishes for her, stories about her mother and I, my thoughts. And through this collection of letters she would come to know me.

I can imagine now, her mother's voice as she reads what I have written to her daughter...and that makes me smile. I can imagine, in the near future, a little girl sounding out letters and vowels as she reads my words herself in a voice that sounds just like her mother's...and that makes my heart swell up. And perhaps one day, I can imagine a letter in return...addressed to an older woman and filled with the writing, hopes and dreams of a young woman....and that will fill my soul with joy. And she won't just know me...we will know each other.