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A long, tough goodbye

I don’t normally become attached to “things.”

Things are disposable. They’re replaceable. They don’t hold your memories; your heart, your head and your blog preserve those special moments.

For a long time then, “things” were easy to toss out.

Until recently.
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Remembering Shep: A solemn escape

How do you make the best of the anniversary of the worst day of your life?

Aug. 20 marked one year since Shep left us. I hadn’t been looking forward to the day, knowing I was the one who made the painful decision to end his life. I still struggle with that, even with the awareness it was the best course of action for him and ailing, aging body.

I wanted to find a way to honour him.

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A gem in the middle of nowhere

It’s been all over my Facebook and RSS feeds.

Some people tag or DM me and say, “You’d be perfect for this.”

I smile and think, “Been there, done that.”

Associated Press picked up a recent story from The Missoulian, detailing the droves of volunteers who signed up for the opportunity to spend a month at the ghost town of Garnet, MT.

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A farewell to my best friend

I dreamed of a covered wooden bridge this weekend.

Shep was on the other side with his big goofy smile and his tail wagging. He stood in front of mountains, blooming with alpine flowers.

Neither one of us could cross the bridge for one last hug.

But he let me know he was happy, healthy and free.

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Hey, look!

I’m finally getting around to editing our pictures from camping at Heyburn State Park.

Stay tuned for more!

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Happy anniversary!

It’s been nine years.

Almost a decade since this idiot hairbag came into my life.

And I say that with love.

On the May long weekend in 2004, I made the drive from Calgary to Carstairs to pick up a homeless dog. He was the abandoned child of a pending divorce, a marriage that wasn’t ending amicably.

He was stressed. I was nervous to be taking on the task of caring for another being.

I bought the wrong food. Or he was just so stubborn that he refused to eat.

It took us a while to bond. This is our first picture together, taken in Fall 2004, and I think you can see we were still learning to trust each other.

Shep the Maremma sheepdog and That Angela

Our first family picture

Two years later, I realized he was changing my lifestyle.

I wanted to do fun stuff with him, like explore and hike and see wonderful mountains and lakes.

So, I trade in my beautiful red Mustang and bought my truck.

This is his first time in the truck.

Maremma sheepdog in his truck

In my truck

The two of us, in our little truck, have traveled many miles together.

We’ve covered most of southern Alberta, seen a lot of B.C. and wound our way through Washington, Idaho and Montana.

Maremma sheepdog

At the Drumheller hoodoos

Maremma sheepdog at Koocanusa Lake

At Koocanusa Lake, Montana

Maremma sheepdog in autumn grass

At Big Hill Springs

In late 2010, we added a third member to the family. Our American is one of those shy guys who appreciates his privacy, so his name and face rarely show up on my social media profiles. Our little family made a cross-country trek last summer and Shep dipped his nose in the Atlantic Ocean.

He wasn’t a fan of salt water, growling at it every time he tried to take a big gulp. After a few times, though, he learned his lesson and just laid in the water, letting the waves run over him.

Shep and I make many trips to Spokane and now we’ve started to explore this area, getting to know its history, landmarks and scenery.

Maremma sheepdog on a highway

En route to Spokane … highly skilled driver, do not try this at home

Our little truck is soon due to roll past 200,000 kilometres (stay tuned for that sentimental post!) and Shep is heading into his twilight years.

Last week, he was assessed with Stage 2, possibly 3, arthritis in his hips. This is no shock when you have an extra large breed dog who’s 10 years old. It adds some stress and some worry … and some expensive medication to keep him moving and happy.

But if he’s ready to move on from this lifetime, I sure don’t see it in his eyes.

Besides, we haven’t seen Oregon or the Pacific Ocean together.

Is that trip in our near future? Fingers crossed!

In the meantime, we’re spending the U.S. Memorial Day weekend at a campground in Idaho. Hopefully, we’ll have lots of cool pictures to share next week.

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The cooling vest: a summer exploring necessity

In memory of Rufus, the St. Bernard

He was a lovely, old fellow.

Rufus would rumble along the path at Tom Campbell park in Calgary, far behind the chihuahua, the two Maremmas and their humans. He was 15 or so, this St. Bernard gentleman, and his back was covered with benign tumours and lumps of fat deposits.

One warm spring day, he wore a bright blue jacket and I asked his human, Cindy, about it.

It was a cooling vest, she said, and it helps old Rufus bear the heat from the rays of the sun.

“You should get one for Shep,” she said. “With all that fur, I bet he’d really appreciate it.”

I looked around Calgary pet shops but found far less expensive models online. The Ruffwear Swamp Cooler was at Dick’s Sporting Goods for super cheap (and  I could ship the vest to My American’s house, so I saved a bundle on shipping.)

The cooling vest blocks harmful UV rays and works on evaporative technology:

evaporative technology for dogs

From Ruffwear’s blog

Help your dog beat the heat with this innovative cooling vest.

Just soak it in cold water, wring it out, and fasten around your dog. Evaporative cooling (like an actual swamp cooler) exchanges the dog’s heat with the coolness of the stored water in the coat to keep them comfortable and ready to run that extra mile.

Shep doesn’t run miles anymore. As my 11-year-old BFF heads toward his twilight years, he’s starting to lumber along like Rufus, who passed away last fall.

The Swamp Cooler vest has been one of our best purchases yet. It especially came in handy last summer when the three of us embarked on our cross-country road trip to Nova Scotia.

Maremma sheepdog wearing a cooling vest

The heat, complicated by intense humidity, was suffocating through the midwest states. We survived by blasting the air conditioning in the Escape, while Shep doubled up with cooling vest.

We’d stop occasionally for a jump in the lake, and we kept a spray bottle full of water to spritz Shep when we thought the vest might be getting dry.

I think — I hope — the vest helped Shep deal with the hot, hot weather a little better than he might have without it.

When I pulled it out of the closet yesterday for his daily walk, I thought saw his head dip a little, as if he was saying ‘oh no, not this again.’ After all, he wore it for almost four weeks straight last summer and the chest clasp rubbed his fur right off.

The bald spots have grown back in and I don’t imagine we’ll be doing a three-week road trip this summer.

But living and exploring in Kamloops, which is located in a semi-arid belt, makes the vest a necessity. We’ve already faced a handful of 32 C days (so not complaining) and Shep isn’t really inclined to spend much time outside.

He does love a good road trip, though, and I can’t imagine one without him.

So there he’ll be, my trusty co-pilot, all decked out in his Ruffwear.

Cooler than Joe Cool.

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A walk along the river

It was time to get out of the house.

Entrepreneurship can bring with it a serious case of cabin fever. Sure, I got out of the house on Wednesday for coffee with a friend.

But nothing compares to a walk in the fresh air with my best pal, Shep.

We jumped in the truck and made a beeline for the river. There’s a little parking spot along Schubert Drive, with a gazebo and a dedication plaque to Catherine O’Hare Schubert, the only woman among the Overlanders of 1862. The Overlanders were 150 Ontario settlers who trekked across Western Canada for new homes and the lure of gold.

An Irish lass by birth, Catherine took her three children with her and gave birth to her fourth, a baby girl, only hours after arriving in Kamloops.

Cedar totems at park in Kamloops

The little park is also home to the above cedar poles. A work from Great Britain’s Giles Kent, they’re “Carved Cedar Poles” and they come from the Okanagan Thompson Sculpture Symposium of 2008.

We walked along the Rivers Trail, soaking in the view of Mount Paul and Moutn Peter on the other side of the South Thompson River.

And the Dome Hills:

Bench overlooking South Thompson River

I wanted to get the train tracks next to the Halston Bridge near Batchelor Heights. I’ve ridden through there on my bike several times and thought, “Man, I bet that would look good on my DSLR.” But it seemed a little far for old man Shep to walk, so we hopped back in the truck and went a little farther down the road.

The river was calm on the surface, a perfect opportunity to capture the bridge with a reflection in the water. I would have only been happier if a train had gone through.

Train bridge over South Thompson River

And just when I thought it was time to go home, I saw just up ahead the surest sign of spring you can get in Kamloops. In Calgary, it’s the Prairie crocus. In these parts, it’s the cherry blossom:

Cherry blossoms

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s a cherry tree. I’m no botanist. If I’m wrong, let me know!

Until our next escape …