Category Archives: pets

Cancer, Camping, and Cool Tunes

Depending on how well you know me, you may be aware that when I was ten I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the third stage. (Actually, I’m pretty open about it to whomever I speak–even to the point of joking about it. So chances are if you’ve met me even in passing you know this about me.) Six months before I was diagnosed, the doctors thought it was mono, and so it spread from my neck to my shoulder, spleen, and the lymph nodes by the spleen. Long story short, the photo below is me at ten after six months of chemo and just before my radiation. (Yes, I kept all my hair. I was not as fortunate as I got older, but it’s hard to complain about such things when statistically I shouldn’t even be alive.)

 

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Mud Island, Memphis, TN. 1982.

This was the first extended road trip I had ever taken with my family. For three weeks, my sister, mother, uncle, and I all journeyed from Winnipeg to Disney World in Florida. We travelled in that yellow (or green, depending on whom you asked) VW camper van and stayed in campgrounds. Even then I knew we were on that road trip because there was more than a fifty percent chance it was going to be my last. We were making memories that my sister, mom, and uncle could have of me for the rest of their lives.

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c. 1982

I obviously survived, and have remained healthy for the last three and a half decades. After that trip, my uncle took me on many other road trips. New York, Drumheller, and countless camping expeditions. At a time in my life when I had no male role model, he was the one that taught me how to appreciate life. I was pretty lucky to have had an uncle who was that interested in having me with him on his journeys.

 

a New York Trip
This would have been while I was in grade five or six. c. 1983/84. That’s when I was obsessed with that hat — and I had no idea it was for a sports team.
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This would have been from our trip to California when I was thirteen or fourteen. c.1985/86

That time in my life had a big impact on me. As an adult, I road trip because of the appreciation I was taught as a kid. Up until now, my trips have been day trips or overnight stays in hotels. Now that summer is here, I’m planning on rekindling my fond memories with campgrounds. You’ll notice in my tent, beside my sleeping bag, is a dog bed.

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Now that I have Grinfinn, I want to include him in as many trips as I can. So this week as I head to Leavenworth, WA, we’ll be camping for a few nights together. Leavenworth rates well being dog-friendly, so I plan to test this out.

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Prior to the trip, I set up the tent in my living room and let Grinfinn jump in and out of it to get used to it. He seems to like it, and I suspect that as long as I’m there beside him he’ll think it’s the time of his life.

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If all goes well, we’ll take a further trip to the ghost town Trinidad (Washington) and Quincy for a look. All the while, I’ll keep a blog of the best dog-friendly places to visit!

Hard to believe that this is a tradition I keep up from all those trips my uncle took me on while I was growing up. Uncle Les, thanks for passing that on to me!

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Grinfinn and I at Terra Nova Rural Park. I’m still alive, road tripping and enjoying life! 2017.

My theme song for this post is just a really cool version of John Henley’s “Boys of Summer,” not for the lyrics but for the road-trip worthiness of the tune.

James in his Jeep Getting Java — and Grinfinn the Pekingese!

For those of you who follow my blog, you may recall that last Christmas I had to say farewell to my 17-year-old shih tzu, Conan. I adopted him when I was 28 and he was with me for what had seemed my entire life. It was not an easy adjustment.

At first I thought saying goodbye to a beloved pet was something I could never do again, and then I thought I’d wait a year to spend some time on my own, and then I realized that for the first time in my adult life I was actually lonely. I’ve spent most of my adult life alone, but I had never before experienced loneliness.

I took to Petfinder.com and started looking at dogs. The first one I applied for I never heard back from the agency, and then a couple weeks later the dog was adopted. My assumption is that the foster family chose to keep the dog, as that particular agency had a “foster to adopt” program.

The second dog was named “Grinfinn,” and later on I would learn that it was just a misspelling of the name “Griffin.” He was a six-year-old Pekingese (possibly crossed with a Japanese Chin) and had come here from Taiwan. The write up claimed he was relaxed, good with people and pets, and house trained. So I applied.

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After the initial application, there was a phone interview. After the interview, there was a home inspection where I got to meet Grinfinn (yes, I kept the misspelled name). He seemed like the perfect match, so I told them I wanted him. And they wanted me to have him. Most importantly, it really seemed like Grinfinn wanted to have me. It was ideal.

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It would be easy to make the claim that Grinfinn came into my home and all was bliss. But just in case you ever consider getting a shelter dog, I feel it’s important that you know bliss comes with patience and hard work.

1. Stress On the Dog

The first night Grinfinn was stressed. He made loud grunting noises, and he would sit near me but not with me. He was still excited about walks, but he really wasn’t sure what to make of all that was happening. I think in his mind he wondered when he was going home.

I slept on the couch because Grinfinn wanted to wander the apartment all night. He finally fell asleep around 3 or 4 am, and he snored LOUDLY. He sounded like a 500 lbs human snoring. This was less the second night, and by the third night he was sleeping in a bed of his own beside mine. (His legs are so short I’m worried about having him on my bed just yet in case he jumps off.)

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2. Eating.

He didn’t eat the first day. He was energetic and seemed to be adjusting, but he turned up his nose to his dinner and to treats. I had some of his old food that he was familiar with, but he was just not interested. The second day I made him an egg, and he ate it. The third day I made another egg and mixed it with his food. He ate all of it. Today, I mixed a little bit of egg with his food and he ate all his food with no fuss. Eventually, he’ll just eat his own food–or maybe it’ll be a bit of egg all the time. We’ll see.

3. Playfulness.

I bought him a toy that he had no interest in. I kept it on the floor, and figured when he was ready he’d let me know. Today, he took the toy in his mouth and brought it to me. He was ready!

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He and I are adjusting well, and Grinfinn is starting to show signs of really taking to his new environment. I’m on holidays, so all my time so far has been hanging out with him at home and taking him on walks. He even has his own Instagram where you can see his adventures!

It is all bliss having Grinfinn as my companion in the sense that we love going for walks together. People love meeting him, and he’s making a lot of new friends.

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We have a whole lifetime together to adjust to the rest of it, and as I wrote earlier we will — with patience. For now, I’ll leave you with a couple more photos. And a theme song.

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Dungeons, Dragons, and Dreams

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Conan at four months

It’s been a month and a half since I lost Conan. For awhile, I thought things were getting easier and I started perusing dogs on shelter sites because I miss having a dog around. Then the dreams came.

The first one I was at a party. A friend arrived (I don’t know who), and they brought Conan. In the dream, it turned out that I had given him up to a friend and they were allowing me a visit. I couldn’t stop apologizing to Conan.

The second one I was at a shelter. I was looking at dogs, when I found Conan. In this dream it turned out he wasn’t gone, I’d just accidentally left him at a shelter. I was so happy to find him again.

What these dreams taught me is that I am not really wanting a dog again (yet), I’m wanting Conan again. My searching through adoptable dogs was me looking for one that might be Conan. None of them are.

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The above photo is my party of adventurers (I’m the monk ). I’m not sure what connection this has to my dreams about Conan, except that Dungeons and Dragons is a place I go to once a week where I am surrounded by friends who make me smile and help me forget for a bit the world that weighs on me.

I once claimed that Dungeons and Dragons had saved my life when my appendix became infected during a game. Now, dealing with life without Conan, Dungeons and Dragons continues to save me. It allows me to be creative, to escape, and to spend time with a group of friends who make me laugh and smile.

People ask me all the time, “How are you?” and I say, “Fine.” It’s true, I am, because when grief hits again it will do so in a wave when I’m not expecting it. Such as on my way home from work, when I suddenly feel happy about walking Conan when I get home. Or first thing in the morning when I expect to see Conan at the foot of my bed. Or when I vacuum my suite and there are no dog dishes to move out of the way. Ask me then, and I am not fine. For those tiny, fleeting moments, grief takes over.

Grief isn’t always about being sad or depressed. Sometimes, grief is about appreciating the moments that made you happy when the one you lost was still with you. So, when I’m asked, I will say, “I’m fine” and that will be an honest answer. But if you do catch me when I am not fine, just remember that it is a fleeting moment. An important moment. A moment I need.

If you want to help me, grab a set of polyhedron dice, and let’s play a game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Conan, 2000-2016

I haven’t posted in a long while since there haven’t been any great days for road trips. In other words, I haven’t had much to say, and I don’t like posting just for the sake of posting.

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Conan, 2000

 

A few weeks ago, I said goodbye to my pet and friend, Conan the shih tzu. I’ve been debating if I wanted to post about this, or if I wanted to keep the blog light and fluffy. It was during Christmas festivities, when a friend started asking questions about my decisions because he will one day soon also have to make the same decisions, and then when other friends who lost pets recently messaged me telling me about the comfort they took in my openness, that I knew I needed to make this post.

For months while I was trying to make that final decision, I googled for advice and found help online. So, for all those who have pets, I will pass on what I have learned.

1) The Natural Death

When we think of this concept, we imagine our pets passing painlessly in their sleep into the next realm.

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Conan, 2012

That’s what I was hoping for since the day that Conan was diagnosed with liver disease in 2014. The truth is, this concept just doesn’t exist. Conan’s liver disease was probably cutting the air off to his brain, and it was starting to cause his lungs to fill with fluid. If he was going to pass naturally, he would have died in pain, probably when I wasn’t home, and filled with fear. Don’t consider the “natural” option. Natural sucks.

2) Where You Say Goodbye

I considered saying goodbye in our home. It seemed like a place where he’d be most comfortable, and perhaps that would have made it easier. However, that would have meant finding a vet I didn’t know, and there was always a tiny part of me clinging to the notion that someone was going to say to me, “Are you sure about this? He’s fine. Look at him!”

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Conan, 2015

I chose the vet we’d been going to for the last seven years. In the end this was the healthy decision, because the vet had a chance to say goodbye, to tell me that he was going to miss the two of us, and to remind me that I had done more than most would have done. He was amazed that Conan had stayed healthy for so long.”He’s a fighter, that one. You should have no regrets,” is what he told me.

As for Conan’s comfort, his place of solitude was anywhere I was–just as it had always been. Cradled in my arms, his gaze staring up at me, his tiny body completely relaxed.

3) After

I spent so much time preparing for the event, that I didn’t think much about what I was going to do after. I chose to be in the room with him alone, which was a mistake. Take someone with you. I had plenty of people offer, but for some reason I thought it needed to be a moment for me and him. And maybe that moment did–but the moments after was when I knew I needed someone for me the same way Conan always needed me there for him.

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Conan, 2016. Just before leaving for the final vet visit.

When asked if I wanted the ashes, I initially thought no. But thankfully I understood how final that decision was, and decided to say yes in case I changed my mind and wanted them. I did change my mind, and am now very glad I have them.

Grief will come in waves. I can’t tell you what to expect or how to prepare as it comes to everyone differently. I cleaned up and put away his things immediately as having them out just made me sad. However, I keep going on our walks and I say goodbye to him each day when I leave for work as I always did. Sometimes I cry when  memory hits, and sometimes I just smile and remember him.

4) Memories

What I came to understand is that although I loved him no matter what, I was missing him long before he died. I was missing that happy puppy that wagged his tail at the sight of other dogs, who chased my feet when we walked, who jumped onto the couch to sit on my lap, who sniffed out the crumbs when I dropped food, who ran to the door to greet me every day when I came home. That’s the Conan I miss, even if it wasn’t the Conan I loved and said goodbye to.

I take comfort in remembering the many good times we had together. I may blog about that for a while, because Conan was a part of my life for a very long time–from when I was 28 until 16 and a half years later. We had a lot of really great times. And that is my last piece of advice: don’t fear the memories. Sometimes they may make you sad, but mostly they will bring you comfort.

 

Godspeed, little buddy.

James in His Jeep Getting Java – Snoqualmie Edition

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My 2014 Jeep Wrangler.

A few weeks ago, I was in an artist’s store and had a conversation with the proprietor who seemed a little down. We spoke a lot about what she was doing, and the art in the store, and after a few minutes she asked, “What is it you do?”

“I travel from place to place reminding people that they have purpose, and what they do matters,” I said to her, meaning it as a joke, but in a really serious tone. (Blame it on my dry sense of humour.) There was a silence for a few seconds, and at that moment I could just tell that she really did need to hear exactly that. She needed me to be that person who travelled from place to place reminding people that they have purpose. And so for her, in that moment, I was.

“You have purpose,” I said to her, “and what you are doing matters.”
Then came a big smile, and a really sincere thank you. I nodded and smiled back, and told her it was time for me to find my next place. And I left, thinking that this was probably the strangest encounter I have ever had and yet realizing that this is exactly what this world needs. (My theme song at the end of this post relates to this very incident.)

I’ve been thinking a lot these days about Purpose, and what it means to matter and to have a desire to matter. So this week, as I travelled to Snoqualmie Falls, I had a lot of time to ponder this very thing. It’s a three hour drive from Canada to Snoqualmie, with beautiful countryside that is just starting to bloom. The flowers in the fields, and the many colours that are painting across the landscape, is nature’s way of reminding us that no matter how dark and dreary the past may have been everything can be made fresh and new again.

My first stop was Fall City, a population of just under 2000 and a centre that exists right on a very busy highway.

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Fall City
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Fall City
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Fall City

I found a burger shack called Small Fryes that was quite busy, so I figured that would be a good place to stop for lunch. I ordered a cheeseburger, fries, and drink special for $5. It was very greasy–and perfect.

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While on one side of the highway is the town business centre, on the other is the Snoqualmie River. There are benches and tables and places to rest, so I brought my food there (it’s a two minute walk from Small Fryes).

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Me at Fall City.
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Snoqualmie River.
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He wanted my lunch.
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Snoqualmie River.

A few more photos of the town:

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The elementary school.

It’s a twelve minute drive from Fall City to Snoqualmie Falls, and by this point it was just after noon. What I hadn’t considered on my way here, was that this was the Easter weekend and so there were HUNDREDS of tourists at the falls all scrambling for parking. It was seriously insane. I took one try around the lower lot, chose not to cross the highway and die to get to the upper lot, and headed for Snoqualmie City.

This was not a disappointment.

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Along the way, there’s an old train that sits on unused tracks adjacent to the highway. Immediately when you enter the town, you see a train museum and the history of Snoqualmie City. It’s amazing!

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I was about ready for some coffee, so I found a place called The Bindlestick Coffee and Beer House. They were really busy, with regulars phoning in orders and only the owner behind the bar making food and serving drinks. But she greeted me straight away, was polite and cheerful, and it was obvious by the way she interacted with her patrons that she loved them and they loved her. Even though I had to wait ten minutes before she could serve me, it was kind of a pleasure to watch this mutual respect happening right in front of me. If I hadn’t just had lunch, this would be a great place for a meal as well as a coffee.

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Bindlestick Coffe and Beer House.

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After I had my latte (it was very good and well worth the wait) I sat outside on a bench and watched the town. Snoqualmie City has over ten thousand people, so it is by no means a small town. However, it is a very picturesque and historical city–with the Bindlestick situated right across from the train museum and a park.

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I took a walk down to Sandy Cover Park. There were a few families there enjoying the warm day (at this point it was plus 17C and sunny) plus…Amee. (Yes, I am spelling that correctly.) She was with her family, and when she saw me it was love at first sight. In fact, she knew immediately that I had purpose and I mattered. Once our eyes locked, she ran straight for me.

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Sandy Cove Park.
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Snoqualmie River.
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Snoqualmie River.
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Snoqualmie River.
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Snoqualmie River.
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Snoqualmie River.

Her owners shouted, “Sorry! She never does this! She’s friendly!” and I kneeled and scratched her head. Amee knew that I was the kind of guy who would love to give her some attention, and so of course she ran right for me. Her owners were pretty cool, too.

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Amee.
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Amee.

When I felt it was time to head back, I decided to give Snoqualmie Falls another shot. I was situated in the right direction to check out the upper parking lot, and I did manage to find a spot. The crowds, however, were not diminished by the amount of time that had passed.

I’m glad that I got to see the falls since that was my main reason for heading this way. Had I not seen them, I would have just as gladly returned another day.

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That was my road trip to Snoqualmie Falls. My purpose that day: to bring a dog happiness. Today, it was something new. And tomorrow, it will be something else. Each day our purpose changes, whether we know in that moment that we are affecting someone’s life or not. What you do matters.

(In case you don’t get the significance of this song, click here.)