How my dogs helped me cope

“Change is the only constant in life.” ~ Heraclitus of Ephesus

Some people adapt to change well, while others are slow to adjust. I’d like to think I cope easily, but honestly, change is very hard for me. While the idea of moving to Florida was very exciting (what’s not to love about living just a mere 2 miles from the beach?), it was also very scary for me. After all, I’ve spent virtually all of my life in State College, a small town in the middle of cow country Pennsylvania. I left my family, my home and the business I built up behind. All to chase a dream of mine. 

There’s nothing wrong with rolling hills, farm lands and lush forests. But the beach resonates with me more. The soft lapping of the waves on the shore, the endless ocean and the oh so beautiful colors of the sunset is where I find myself most at home. So when the opportunity presented itself for my husband, our dogs and I to move to the sunshine state, it was hard to say no. 

The two day drive was exhausting. When we crossed the Florida state line, it suddenly hit me - I can’t just run back home anymore. Well, I can, but it’ll take me over 24 hours to get there. I truly am stuck here now. No problem, right? I have my husband and our dogs to lean on.

Unlike me, my husband copes well with change. Well, much better than I do anyways. His family has lived in Florida off and on for decades. For him, this wasn’t exactly new territory. Sure, he may not know all the street names and restaurants, but he had a general idea where everything is. He’s spent extended periods of time growing up and even living in Florida early in his career. I’d hop on the road and couldn’t figure out how to get to the grocery store which yesterday I swore I drove by a short mile down from our home. Unless I used a GPS, I’d get lost. My husband would tell me, just head to the wawa, stay left and then turn right. I’d go to wawa another way, stay left and end up in front of a pond with an alligator staring me down, not the grocery store I intended to shop at. 

At first it wasn’t so awful. It kind of felt like being on vacation - except with my furniture. As the days went by, I started to feel discombobulated. Nothing was familiar - my house, my routine, my meals, my work. My husband got impatient with me because he couldn’t relate. I found myself in tears more than once. Wondering if perhaps I had made the worst decision of my life. 

But I kept plugging away. At least I could watch the same shows on TV, wash my hair with the same shampoo and sleep in the same bed I had for years. But even sleep began to elude me. I started to experience mini panic attacks. Tears fell easily, Suddenly, I didn’t care about my dreams. All I wanted to do was to go back home. 

My dogs picked up on my sadness and anxiety. Izzy, who has always been able to read me like a book, especially noticed. They became my shadow, sat beside me, pawed me to pet them and in general just asked for more attention. I found comfort in their fur, their pleading eyes, their hugs. The more anxious I got, the more needy they became. They helped me feel better, reminding me it’s all going to be ok. And slowly, day by day, hour by hour, I felt like myself once again. I’m sure I would have gotten there in time anyways, but I have no doubt knowing they were there for me - waiting for me to come home from work, encouraging me to take them for walks, cuddling with me before I fell asleep helped me not feel so overwhelmed with all the changes in my life. 

I’m happy to report life is good here in Florida. As I write this, I’m listening to the waves, watching the sunset, enjoying my view. After the death of my friend, I’ve felt lost for much of this year. But my heart is happy again. I have much I want to do and explore, however long I’m in the sunshine state. I look forward to what each day brings, thankful for this experience. But I’m especially grateful for my furry kids who helped me get through one of the biggest transitions in my life. 

Florida summer sunset

Florida bound!

It's been two years in the making, but finally a dream of mine is coming true! My husband, our furry kids and I are moving to Florida!!! While I am so excited to be living life in the sunshine state, I've had a lot of trepidation about leaving Happy Valley, my home of over 40 years. But so many things have fallen into place in the last few weeks, it felt as though this is what the universe has planned for us. I'm going to miss the four seasons, Penn State football games, my family and all my pet sitting clients whom I've come to know over the years in quite possibly the best job on earth. 

It's been a year full of much sadness as my husband and I have said goodbye to some dear friends and family in recent months. It's made me aware of just how precious life is and how there are no guarantees. I have so many things I want to see, explore and experience in this world and I'm afraid that if I wait, it will be too late.  

The beach is my happy place. It's where I find peace, connection and inspiration as an artist. I'm looking forward to putting my toes in the sand, feeling the ocean breeze in my hair and ending my days watching the sunset over the gulf coast. We've chosen to rent a house that's just a short bike ride away from the west coast of Florida and a mere 20 minute drive from some of the best beaches in the United States! This will be a huge change for me, but a chapter I am so ready to begin!

I'll be taking a break from my photography as we get ready for the big move. If you'd like to follow our adventures, I'll be sharing updates on Instagram. Click HERE to follow me if you aren't already. I'll be taking on new clients in September once we have settled in, serving the Sarasota, Osprey, Venice, Boca Grande and Englewood areas. 

Don't worry Happy Valley! This isn't goodbye as I will definitely be back in the area from time to time and will be scheduling sessions while I'm in town.

I appreciate all the encouragement and support I've received these last few years as I've chased my dream of becoming a professional pet photographer. As we embark on this journey, I will be expanding my photography and look forward to sharing southwest Florida as seen through my lens. 

Australian shepherd puppy on Venice beach

 

 

This is my why

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to live life following your true purpose. Finding your way is not always easy. We have so many voices out there telling us, prodding us or even pointing the way to the life we should be living. But the only voice that matters is the one inside your head. Are you listening? I mean, really listening and paying attention?

Are you really listening to the voice inside your head?

I believe I'm one of the lucky ones who discovered my life’s mission at a young age. And while I’ve stumbled and fallen along the way, I never lost sight of what that is. But before I talk about that, I need to dive into my childhood and share a little bit of my history. 

When I was in fifth grade, my teacher gave the class an assignment to write a paper. I don’t remember all the specifics, but I do remember that I chose to write about the panda bears. As I did my research, I learned the plight of these cuddly black and white bears - how their numbers were dwindling due to deforestation and population growth. I wrote a proposal on how I could solve this problem. In the mind of a ten year old child, it was easy. Set up a table at the base of the mountain where the panda bears live and stop anyone from further destroying the habitat and developing the land. Simple, right? 

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Well, that was just the beginning of my awareness for my love of animals. Like so many adolescents, I struggled with finding my place amongst my peers. I was probably more insecure than many of my classmates, and I definitely was one of the shiest kids in my class. I struggled with fitting in and feeling like I was well liked…or even liked at all. My self-confidence was low - something I eventually outgrew, but only as a young adult. My teenage years were tough, to say the least. I know I fought depression to boot and often wondered if my life would ever get any better.

While at the time puberty seemed to be a very painful experience, looking back, I’m glad I went through everything I did. I believe it made me a more compassionate, emphatic and caring person. Getting through those years wasn’t easy though. And the single thing that probably helped me the most was a cat. Yes, a crossed-eye, loud mouth siamese named Ke-O-ke. 

She was born a year before me. I’m sure when I came along, she wondered what was this creature that cried, smelled and babbled. Then once I was crawling and could pull her tail, her ears, her fur, she probably hated me. But eventually I got bigger and calmer and we became the best of friends. Even though she was my parents' cat, the baby before me, she ended up being mine. She hung out in my room during the day, followed me everywhere and slept beside me every night. 

She was the one I told my secrets to.

She was the one I told my secrets to, who listened to my sobs whenever I cried, who made me feel like I mattered when so many days I wondered if anyone really loved me. She didn’t care that I had a face full of angry red welts otherwise known as pimples, was moody because of PMS (or just all the time!), or that all the girls, except me, had gone to the movies. She didn’t care if I was the most popular (I wasn’t) or the best dressed (I wasn’t), she still greeted me at the door with her purrs when I came home from school. 

When I doubted anyone would miss me if I ran away, I knew she would. When I felt alone, she was the one who kept me company. When I didn’t feel I had anyone to talk to, it was Ke-O-Ke who meowed at me. You see, she didn’t see me the way I saw myself. She didn’t judge me the way I judged myself. She loved me in a way I couldn’t.

And now that I’m all grown up, I still struggle with self-worth sometimes. Don’t we all? But isn’t that what we love about our furry best friends? They love us unconditionally. They stand beside us even when we make mistakes. They don’t care if we are single, married, are parents or not. It doesn’t matter if we are dressed to the nines or wearing yesterday’s dirty clothes. Or if we take them to the park in a fancy SUV or a beat up old car. They don’t care if we make an appearance at friday night’s happenings around town or stay home curled up with a good book. They make us laugh, give us purpose and make a difference in our lives. In a way we sometimes can’t do for ourselves. 

It’s no accident that dog is God spelled backwards.

I don’t think it’s an accident that dog is God spelled backwards. While I can’t say for sure there is a God, I do believe in something bigger than myself. I believe this higher power, or Supreme Being, created me. And in His or Her eyes, I am perfect in every imperfect way. 

I also believe that one of the struggles every human being faces, is the ability to see ourselves the way our Supreme Being does. The way our dogs (and cats and other pets) do. That we are worthy of life, love and human experiences. I believe that every thing happens for a reason. It all serves to get us to the point where we believe and know that we are enough. That we are all connected. That we all matter. Our life purpose is to discover who we are, to unearth the treasures hidden deep within ourselves and share them with the world. 

For some of us, the way to this truth is though the furry best friends we meet, care for and love along the way. They teach us so much about life. About ourselves. About human kind. About connection. Because in the end, the only true thing that that matters is love.

The only true thing that matters is love.

This is my why. Why I’ve made a career out of working with animals. Why I am a photographer. And a pet photographer in particular. To capture the connection, the bond we share with these creatures who play such a huge role in our lives. To show you what they see in you. And what you see in them. Your teachers, your protectors, your best friends. Because animals matter. And so do you.

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This is my why

What's in your will?

It’s perhaps one of the most difficult conversations you’ll ever have. But it’s one that every single person should have. Because at some point in your life, just as sure as you are living, you will one day pass away. What’s in your will? 

Recently I lost a good friend of mine. She was originally a pet sitting client of mine, the owner of a border collie named Alex. Working long hours at her corporate job, I walked her dog Alex every weekday at lunchtime. Over the years Alex became one of my favorite dog clients. She fought 3 different types of cancer, and was a trooper through all of the vet appointments and treatments. When it was her time to go, saying goodbye was hard for both her mom and me. A sweet, strong girl, she was sorely missed. 

Australian.shepherd.border.collie.mix.dog

My client knew she didn’t want to come home to an empty house, and so a brown and white border collie/Australian shepherd mix Tillie came into her life. Tillie quickly won both of our hearts as well as the hearts of everyone she met. A spunky, talkative girl, the house came alive again. From a rescue, this eleven month old puppy was playful, energetic and fun to be around. 

A few years later, Tillie’s mom left the corporate world and started her own business. I was sure that would be the end of our relationship since she was planning to work from home. But she wanted to keep the schedule pretty much the same, knowing she would be working hard to get the business off the ground. The years passed and we got into a comfortable pattern. As we got to know each other, our business relationship evolved into a friendship. We would chat about all kinds of things when I arrived for my walks with Tillie. We covered pretty much everything - current events, weather, family, politics, what we’re reading, what’s happening around town and so on and so on. Being business owners we enjoyed bouncing ideas off each other regarding marketing, social media, blogging, etc. And of course we talked about our dogs. I brought Izzy often to walk with me and Tillie. My friend enjoyed seeing Izzy too, always ending our visits with a special treat for both of the dogs.

Then just over a week ago, I got the dreaded phone call. My client, who I now considered my friend, had passed away. I was sure I misheard the name and took several minutes processing this horrible news. I had just seen her a few days before. She had the flu and had been battling it for weeks, but was slowly getting better. I wished her a great weekend of rest and relaxation and looked forward to seeing her back to her old self the following week. It turned out she didn’t have the flu, but was battling other health issues. The details don’t matter. What does, is that she left behind her beloved dog Tillie.

When her family came into town, they found a will my friend had drawn up, but there was nothing in it about her dog. My friend and I had talked about this a couple of times, but neither of us believed our dogs would outlive us. And really, who wants to talk about death? 

Volunteering at an animal shelter is a constant reminder of how many pets end up displaced because their owners have passed away. While Centre County PAWS is a no kill shelter, and every animal finds a home eventually, it’s still hard on these pets. They’ve lost their family, their homes and everything they ever knew.

Make a plan. Make a backup plan to the backup plan. Then tell your family and closest friends. Call your attorney and make it legal by including it in your will. Be clear. Be specific. Make it easy on your loved ones so they don't have to try to second guess what your wishes are.

In my friend’s case, my husband and I knew that if no one in her family or any of her friends wanted Tillie, we would welcome her into our home. Knowing that she already knew us helped us cope with the sudden addition of another dog and a very full home. It’s been a tough transition, Tillie went through a lot that week. But she is adapting little by little every day.

Kita, too, has had a hard time adapting and honestly we weren’t sure she ever would. But we’ve been seeing progress from her as well as she accepts this scared, nervous and anxious big dog into her life. We’re beginning to see signs that she wants to play and be friends with Tillie. Who knows, maybe one day these two will end up being the best of friends. 

These last couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride for sure. I’ve been overwhelmed by everything and slowly, I, too, am finding peace with all that has happened. Death is inevitable. No matter how hard we try to hide from it. One day instead of shedding tears, the memories I share with my friend will bring a smile to my face. In the meantime, I will give her beloved dog the best life I can give. And go re-write my will.

 

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What's in your will?

Happy holidays!

It's hard to believe another year is almost over and a new one about to begin. I've learned a lot about myself this year as a person and as an artist. In some ways I grew more than I dreamed I would and could a year ago, in other ways there is so much more I want to learn and do. I'm looking forward to a new beginning and the promise of new dreams come true! From my family to yours - I wish you a most merriest of holiday seasons! May 2018 be all that you dream of - and more! 

Izzy.golden.retriever.holiday.photo