Saturday, December 31, 2011

a good year

Sophie and I took what has become our annual trip up north to the cottage for a few days after Christmas. It has become one of my favourite traditions for the holidays....leaving the hustle and bustle of work and the city behind for a couple of days so my girl and I can hang out by the fire and walk on the snowy trails together. So we can just be. I don't even take my ipod on those winter walks up north. I listen to the branches of the fir trees dip and creak under the weight of the snow, I listen to my dog's paws hitting ground as she jumps over logs on the path and I listen to the quiet. And I often think about the year that has past and the one that lays before us.

2011, like most years, was filled with a few big moments and many small ones: Sophie and I ran our first 10K together; I won the Buddy award and was promoted at work; a nephew was born, a nephew started walking and a nephew started school; there was sunshine for Girl's Cottage Weekend; the whole family was together for Christmas and many of the long weekends in the summer; I watched my Sophie fly over an agility course again. It was a good year.

Like most people, I have big plans for 2012...resolutions have been made. And I will do my best to see them through so that this time next year, I am looking back, proud of what I have done. However, even if all those plans don't get accomplished...even if all I can say at the end of 2012 is that: I gave my Sophie and Elora a great year; I spent some wonderful summer weekends and the holidays with my whole family; I laughed with my very best girlfriends; I worked hard at my job, then I will be able to was a good year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

my true north

I was at a training course for work this week where I was asked about meaningful moments in my life...moments or events that have affected me and changed me. And even though I work in the pet industry, I still found myself hestitant to mention that bringing a dog into my life was one of most profound, life changing, events ever for me. I was still unsure about how people and even my colleagues would react to it might be percieved. But this course emphasized the importance of finding your true self...and how that would impact and help me as a leader. So, I got brave about the lessons my Sophie, and all the other dogs I have met along the way, have taught me, and I shared that experience with no holds barred.

And what I found was the same reaction that I find everytime that I talk about Sophie: I found comraderie...and empthay....and engagement....and that people were inspired. I found like souls. Or as Anne Shirley from Green Gables would say...I found kindred spirits. And it wasn't because I was speaking "dog" persay to group of pet was because I was being genuine...and authentic about the experiences in my life. If I had to put it in it's most basic and fundamental language...Sophie guided me to my most authentic self. And that is what has made the difference. That is where I have found joy...because that is where I have found me. And that is what truly resonates with people...authentic experiences.

It took me a long time to get here...and I never saw it coming....a life found from following a dog. And the lesson, I think, is to be open to unexpected experiences because you never know where they will lead matter how small they may seem. If you are willing to throw your whole heart into those experiences they will change you....and you will never see the world the same again. I looked into the eyes of a dog one day and felt life change....I felt a shift in consciousness. From a dog, of all places. And it's a story that I tell again and again, even when I am unsure of how people might react, simply because it's the most profound truth that I's a story that has real meaning. And I am hoping that my truth not only helps other lost souls find solace , but that it will help them realize that inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of long as you are open to it. I do know that I was I was lucky...Sophie found me when I needed her the most, even though I didn't know it then. Because I never would have guessed that when I brought this tiny puppy into my life that she would end up being my true north...guiding me to the life I was meant to be living. So find your compass in this world..find your true north....because it will never fail to lead you to authentic joy.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

at the heart of it

I like to believe that most of what we do in this world starts out with good intentions...and starts out being aligned with our hearts. But life has this way of running away with you. I took a job three years ago becaused I loved my dog and my cat. Which sounds like an odd reason to take a job....but at the most basic level it really is why I chose to work in the pet industry. And it has been the best decision that I have ever made.

Fast forward three years and I find myself in a more senior role in the same a role where corporate dynamics are harder at play...things like office politics have become more relevant and my day to day work feels more connected to business bottom lines than to pet owners. I was starting to wonder if I had fallen back into the same trap of being more concerned about advancing and climbing the corporate ladder rather than simply engaging in work that I was passionate about. Was I making the same bad choices all over again? And then a cowork said something this week that made me see it differently.

I was venting to this coworker about a meeting I had been at earlier in the day and was visibly frustrated. And she said to me: "Go home and walk Sophie and remember why you love what you do." And I realized she was right...the reason I loved this job and this industry was still there...still relevant. It wasn't the fact that my role at this company had was more about me. I needed to remember why I chose this job, this company in the first place...and it was never about the day to day tasks, titles or advancement. It was about my passion for pets. At the heart of that decision was my love for Sophie and Elora. And if I remember that, then it doesn't matter what my day to day to work involves....those are just tasks....that love is still at the heart of it. And I believe that if love is at the heart of what you work, on the weekends, whenever...then you are making good are living an authentic life. Even if things have changed from where they started, if you remember what's at the heart of it, you'll remember why it was the right choice for you. At the heart of my choice, I found a dog and a cat....and a love that I will have forever.

Friday, September 23, 2011

the legacy of a lifetime dog

I've spent the last four and a half years paying attention to dogs and dog owners. And I can easily spot now when the connection between that dog and that owner has developed beyond the standard "This is my pet dog and I love him". I think most dog owners would agree with me, that there are times when you see an owner and their dog and you can tell that they are completely intertwined in each other's lives...that they speak a secret language with one another. You can tell that the right owner found the right dog at the right time and that something truly magical happened. And those are the "lifetime" dogs.

After my last blog post, I received a fair bit of email regarding this notion of lifetime dogs. Just to clarify, Jon Katz, my favourite author, is the one who coined the phrase and idea...but it is a notion that has stuck with me as I believe he has articulated a very real truth within the world of pet ownership. It has also stuck with me, because I know that Sophie is my "lifetime" dog and when you know that fact and you know that you are already in the middle of your all-too-short-time together, it can start to weigh on your mind how much time you only have left together and how you will cope when she is gone.

Anytime a cherished pet is lost, owners experience loss and grief and a heavy sadness. But when an owner loses a lifetime dog, I imagine that they must feel something on a completely different level...that a piece of them has gone missing and is never coming back. Because I feel that already, when I think about a world without Sophie in it. And it's in my nature to prepare myself for the inevitable by thinking about it in advance....and it knocks the very breath out of me everytime. But I can't change the inevitable. So, even in this instance, I take a lesson from Sophie, a lesson from our dogs....focus on today. Live in the moment together and know that whatever happens in the future, she and I will face it together. Because even once she is physically gone...and my heart is broken...her lessons, her love and the changes she brought in my life will comfort me and will endure....and that is the legacy of a lifetime dog.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

a bucket list

I was editing a photo of Sophie the other day and was startled to see a bit more grey in her face than before. Just a sprinkle, where her white blaze meets black...but still a sprinkle. And it got me thinking about the time we have spent together...and about the years still ahead for us. We have spent four and a half years together. And in that time we have done a lot. She guided me to writing, to blogging, to photography, to a new career, to a new perspective in life. And together we have run agility courses, have herded sheep, have attempted dock diving, have raised funds for the Terry Fox Run, have run a 10K race, have embarked on road trips around Ontario and even into upstate New York, have camped and cottaged and hiked hundreds of kilometers of trails. And those are just the big things.

I know, without a doubt, that even though I will always have (and love) a dog in my life, that Sophie is my "lifetime" dog, to use a phrase from my favourite author, Jon Katz. She is a dog who came into my life and changed things...she changed me. So as I think about our next few years together, I think about the things I want to do with her...such as take a ten day road trip to PEI -- just Sophie, me and my camera where I can watch her dip her paws in the ocean. So, we now have a "bucket list", Sophie and I, for the next few years...and I intend to cross every single item off that list. Because that's what a lifetime dog does....they spark love and joy and change in you and show you how to soar.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

a girl and her dog

I recently had the pleasure of photographing my cousin's dog for her. And through the lens of my camera I saw something so familiar during one photo that it made me smile right to my very core....the kind of smile you feel in your heart. It was the same kind of smile that I get when I see an elderly lady in our neighbourhood walking her Maltese....a little dog also in her twilight years. What I see in both these cases that is so familiar....that makes my heart smile me and Sophie.

I have come to realize this: It doesn't matter if you are a sixteen-year old girl with a new puppy with your whole lives ahead of you....both of you learning to walk in this world together as you become the adults you are going to be, as you decide which paths you are going take with each other. Or if you are a thirty-something year old woman with a five-year old Border Collie, a pair that found one another when it mattered most, that have blazed some important trails together, that are looking forward to the next fork in the road they take together. Or if you are a seventy-year old lady with a mature and dainty able to reminsce about the footprints and pawprints you have left on this earth together, both with hearts that are full from your life with one another. It doesn't matter what breed the dog is or how old the owner is or how long they have been together, because once you strip away all those details...what is left is just a girl and her dog. What is left is their love....and that love brings that dog great joy. And that love makes that girl soar.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

no fear

There are many times, even though I am there in the moment, that I don't see the story until I develop the photo. That happened to me recently when I watched my 4 year old nephew jump off our dock at the cottage for the first time. I didn't think much of it then, other than wanting to digitally capture another first at the cottage for Ben, but when I was working on the editing of the photo, I saw the story....a story of no fear.

In the photo I saw a little boy leap into the great unknown...unknown for him, having never jumped off a dock or never been swimming in a lake...and he leaped not just with no fear but with enthusiasm and joy. I was reminded how that is the one of the very qualities that I love about kids and that makes them so easy to photograph...they live their lives with no fear in their hearts. When I was editing this photo of my nephew, I was also able to see why he was able to leap with no fear, as the picture shows him jumping into my brother's (his daddy's) arms. He was able to jump because, instead of feeling fear, he felt love and trust. And I think this ability to live with no fear because of love of trust also exists in many dogs...I definitely recognize it in Sophie.

She follows my commands to jump on this new table or run through this unknown tunnel without hestition because of her relationship with me...she knows I would not send her into peril. She trusts me...and that trust is founded in my love for her. Our kids and our dogs are able to take these leaps of faith because they know they have someone to catch them....and because they know the person advising them to "jump" only has their very best interests at heart. And I think, as adults, we should follow their lead. I have, in the last two and a half years, done more "leaping" than I ever thought possible....and I did it because I knew I had my wonderful family and irreplacable Ya Ya's to catch me if I fell...and that it would be okay if I did. I was also able to leap because, just as Sophie trusts in me to guide her, I trusted in her to guide me and she showed me the true path I was meant to walk in this life. Granted, as adults, our leaps get a bit more complicated than a little boy's first jump off a dock, on a warm summer afternoon, into his daddy's arms. But I can remember my first dock jump as a kid....and I can say with certainty that the adult leaps take just as much as support from the loved ones in our lives as those ones as a kid....and they can bring just as much joy. Living a life with no fear in your heart....I think the kids and the dogs have got it right.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

a walk with a dog

There are two things I have realized of late with startling clarity. The first, is that life is busy....and I don't even have kids! But my work is demanding...and I've realized that it is very easy to become a victim of job creep...where despite your best of intentions, the hours that you begin to spend on work (even work that you love) start to take over other facets of your life. And about 2 1/2 years ago, I had made a promise to myself that I would not do that...that I would not become defined by my job. And yet, here I am: blogging infrequently, taking few photos, even missing walks with Sophie in order to work on that presentation, send that email, finish that analysis. And so, I discovered my second is important, every day, to remind yourself of what you value in this world...of what is worth spending time on...of what is truly in your heart.

My job, that I do love, is important and worth spending time on...but not so much time that I miss out on other pieces of my life. And it is not more important than Sophie. I was reminded of that again today. In the last few weeks, Sophie and I have started running after work by the river that flows through our neighbourhood. Halfway into our run, there is spot where she can access the water. On every run, as we near that spot, she kicks it into high gear and throws herself into that river with gusto...delighting in splashing and swimming around. And to see my girl so blissfully happy makes my heart soar. It makes me grin from ear to ear every single time. And I have yet to find a presentation or a spreadsheet or a meeting that does that. Taking some time each day to hear the sound of Sophie's paws hitting that water is a small thing...and, I realize, is one of the most important things in my life. Because work will alway be there, that water may always be there...but those paws won't.

Sometimes, in this busy life, I forget that a walk with a dog will often remind you what is truly in your heart.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

the house that dad built

I moved into a house just over four years ago that, in the kindest of terms, could be called a "fixer-upper". The only reason I bought the house was that I could see through it's current state to it's potential and that I knew what my Dad could do. Not a contractor by trade, but a contractor by hobby, my Dad has had a hand in building some parts of, if not all of, most of the homes and cottages that I've had the pleasure of living in during my life....and they.were. fabulous.

So four years ago, he began with the backyard here and has worked on a piece of this house every fall and winter since...the basement, the front foyer, the kitchen, the main floor bathroom, the second room in the basement, the laundry some crazy stair and closet renos in between. And this house is like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates...once you start tearing down, you never know what you are gonna get.

Throughout the last four years I know, even though he would never tell me, that my Dad has encountered days of frustration working on this house, due to it's intricacies, that would have caused a lesser man to abandon the project in search of the nearest pub. And through his perseverance, what I have ended up with is not just a house with some fantastic renovations...I've ended up with a house that, as I move from room to room, I can see the reflection of my Dad in.

I can feel his presence in the design of my kitchen; hear his "whistle while he works" in the walls of my rec room in the basement; see his eye for small details in my bathroom. And those nuances will be there forever for me. My Dad lives in the very walls of my is not just the house that Dad is the home that he built...for his work is part of the very essence that makes my house a home. And that is one of the things that I love most about this is the thing I will never be able to put a price tag on.

Friday, April 22, 2011

a moment with buddy

There are those rare times in your life when you realize you are in the middle of having a great moment...a moment that you will remember forever. And to realize it when it is actually happening....not the next day or years later...lets you savour it even more. Many of you who have been reading this blog for while know that, thanks largely in part to my Sophie, I ended up stepping a bit backwards on my planned career path in order to take a job that was more aligned with my values and what I was passionate about -- a job where I get to spend my days talking about pet owners and dogs and cats. And, as I have come to see time and time again, when you follow your heart, great and wonderful things happen.

I was surprised and honoured to be the recipient of a prestigious award at my company's annual banquet this past week. It is an award named for the dog that was the inspiration for my company's very beginning: the Buddy Award. Knowing the caliber of past recipients and of the entire team of people that I work with, who not only excel at their jobs, but are truly passionate about pets, to be chosen for this honour left me absolutely speechless. And when I walked up to accept my award, the entire Canadian company was on their feet clapping and cheering. As I looked out at the crowd, the warmth and affection that I felt for these people and this company welled up in my heart and I knew I would remember that moment, that feeling, forever.

As I took my plaque I thought about Buddy, a dog who had inspired not only a man but an entire company and I couldn't help but think of my own "Buddy". The only thing missing from that night was having Sophie by my side...because she not only helped me find the path to this company, this work and these people, she is at the heart of what motivates and drives me every day. Sophie may not have inspired the formation of an entire company like Buddy did, but because of Sophie an entire company was on their feet for a minute or so one April evening, giving a girl the best moment of her career so far. My moment with a dog named Buddy....thanks to a dog named Sophie....I will never forget it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I have written often about the lessons that I have learned from Sophie...from dog love. I am still suprised, however, every time I catch myself seeing something differently in this word, or that I may have missed all together if it wasn't for Sophie...often things that have nothing to do with dogs.

In the last four years, since Sophie entered my life, I have become very tuned in to the moments, the tenderness, that often happens between a dog or a cat and their owner. I love when I catch a glimpse of those owner kneeling down in the dog park, taking her dog's face in her hands and kissing him right on the end of the nose; a co-worker's entire face lighting up as she tells us the antics her cat got up to the night before. Because of how I feel about Sophie, I am always aware of those glimpses of tenderness between other owners and pets...and now I realize that awareness has moved beyond just moments with dogs and cats.

On a recent trip to the US, while staying with my best friend, her lovely little three year old daughter quietly slipped into bed with me early one morning. She lay her head on my shoulder and said, "I think we should get up and start our day now." And it was a perfect I will carry in my heart always. Then, in a hotel in Orlando, I saw an older couple in the corridor in front of me notice a crib outside of one room. The man turned to his wife and said: "Remember when we were living in those days...when the kids were just babies?" And he gently took her he has probably done a million times before. And I smiled, unnoticed by the couple, at the tenderness I saw exchanged between them. Sophie brought those kind of moments into my life, made me really see them, and that has enabled me to appreciate them where ever they may turn a hallway in a hotel or snuggled under the covers early on a Friday morning.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

a swell of love

There are times when I look over at her...

as I am working or cooking or reading a book...

and I can feel my love for her swell up and spill over in my heart.

She is the greatest gift I have ever known.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

granola and manolos

Around this time back in 2009, I wrote a post about how I had abandoned my quest for a more stylish someone who pined for designer labels and a keen fashion sense....and instead was more content in comfortable, functional attire and on the trails in the outdoors with my Sophie. I had gone "granola" my little sister often said to me during that year. This same sister recently reminded me of this post as I babbled excitedly about a new handbag I had been coveting for a few months and, having saved enough, was off to purchase the week after Christmas. Her words have stuck with me these past couple of weeks....was I being a hypocrite? Or what had changed? Which one of these people was the real me? And I came to the conclusion today, that nothing had changed nor was I being a hypocrite....I was in fact both of these people. I didn't have to choose...and that is something Sophie has taught me.

I have seen Sophie in pure Border Collie working mode....herding sheep, tail low, eyes focussed...and then two days later have seen her rolling around in the snow, leaping in crazy figure eights out of pure silly joy. I have seen her quiet and cuddly on a couch with my Dad while he read the paper for an hour and I have seen her, in those early days, crazed and manic on an agility course, spittle flying with every piercing bark. The point is she is all of those dogs rolled into one loveable Sophie. And in every instance she is just being herself. And that is the yourself in every moment. Whether it's in a stylish boutique in Yorkville or on the trails in northern Ontario, you can be anything you want any day of the week.

So, after Christmas, Sophie and I headed north to the cottage for a few days and we loved every minute of it. With a huge grin on my face, I walked the frozen lake with her and simply enjoyed being outside, in the peaceful, cold, quiet of winter, with my girl. And then we headed home where, with a huge grin on my face, I walked into the boutique and bought my handbag. I can eat granola while wearing my favourite pair of Manolos...a lesson I learned from one hard working, playful, subdued, manic border collie.