Three Lessons I Learned from Reading 150 Books on Health and Happiness

Three Lessons I Learned from Reading 150 Books on Health and Happiness

Plus a Free Download: My Top 10 Favorite Book List on Dogs & Humans

In 2016, my mind and body shut down. For about six weeks, I was unable to complete thoughts or sentences. I struggled to get out of bed. I started having PTSD and anxiety attacks that I’d never experienced before.

At the same time, I lost my health insurance. In my time of greatest need, I could no longer afford medical health care.

It sure didn’t feel like it at the time, but this has turned out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life.

I became obsessed with figuring out ways to heal my depression and anxiety using whatever I could get my hands on, short of a prescription pad.

books on dog and human health and happiness

Since that time, I have read more than 150 books on natural healing, health and happiness. (I started with human health and happiness but quickly expanded my interests to dog health and happiness, too.) I’ve taken countless more courses and earned certifications from Duke University and Berkeley University. I’ve joined groups, learned from experts and opened my mind to therapies I never would have known about if I hadn’t been in this situation.

Three things happened as a result of this health and happiness obsession:

  1. I healed.
  2. My dogs healed.
  3. I found a new passion and purpose in my life.

What I learned from absorbing so many different viewpoints, practices and experiences absolutely transformed me—and my dogs.

Today, I am radiantly happy and living my truest, most fulfilling life. My dogs have added healthy, active years to their lives. And I am now on a mission to share what I learned so that others can create their happiest, healthiest lives, too.

Through Dogkind, I’ll be bringing you the mindset shifts, practices, foods, herbs and other therapies that have made the most difference in my life and my dogs’. None of this is meant to replace Western medical care. But what I found is that there is an entire world of healing available to us that most people never get a chance to take advantage of, because their doctors weren’t trained in it, their culture doesn’t accept it, or it wasn’t passed down through their families.

Adding natural healing to your medical toolbox doesn’t make you a witch or a weirdo. It makes you a more empowered and complete healer, both for yourself and your loved ones around you.

books on dog and human health and happiness

I hope that sharing the top 3 lessons I learned from my healing journey will inspire you to take a deeper look at your own health and happiness (and your dog’s, of course). Are you as happy and healthy as you want to be? What is standing in your way? Are you overwhelmed by the options? Or frustrated by a lack of options? Do you wish you could do more, but know you don’t have the time to do the research? Do you feel the pressure to become an expert in something before you get started? Do you worry what your friends, family, veterinarian or doctor will think if you ask questions or suggest alternative ideas?

I get it, I’ve been there.

Opening your mind to new ideas, doing the research and facing the fear of criticism involves creating some new neural pathways in your brain, and that can take some practice and bring up some resistance.

A great place to start is by exploring the three key lessons I learned on my healing journey. These aren’t actual techniques; they are mindset shifts. If you can read them and feel curious about the possibilities, I highly encourage you to join the Happy Dog Mom tribe as we grow and evolve. If you resist the ideas below, think that you have the “right” answer and you need to convince everyone of it, or don’t want to change a single thing about what you’re doing, this will not be the place for you.

Ready?

Lesson #1: Only One Thing Can Actually Heal Us

This is so simple and yet so forgotten in modern society. The ONLY thing that can heal us is our own bodies, our own immune systems. Medicine doesn’t heal us. Nutrition and herbal supplements don’t heal us. They may repress the symptoms and give us boosts where needed, but in the end it is our bodies’ own repair and regeneration systems that get in there and do the actual healing. If you cut your finger, Bandaids and salves are great tools, but they can’t actually put your skin cells back together. Only your own body can make that magic happen.

The key to healing is to give our immune and repair systems the best environment possible. Pharmaceuticals can do that, but so can nutrition, supplements, mindfulness and so, so, so much more. Why not give you and your dog all the tools you can to create the best environment for a strong immune system and a happy, healthy, longer life?

Lesson #2: “Alternative” Therapies Aren’t Always Alternative

In many cases, alternative therapies are ancient, time-tested healing practices passed down from generation to generation—because they work. We’ve come to think of “alternative” therapies as a little bit out there, unproven, and not worth our time. I know I certainly had the belief that only modern medicine could be trusted. After all, I was raised by a nurse, married to a doctor for 20 years, and I managed hospital websites for a living. It took a real crisis in my life for me to open my mind, and even then I was a pretty skeptical nut to crack.

I still am. I still believe in research and evidence. I don’t try a single thing on my dogs or myself that doesn’t have evidence showing it is safe and has a record of getting results. The difference is that I no longer narrow my definition of “evidence.” When did we start requiring evidence to come from a laboratory or a rigorous clinical trial? Those things are excellent to have. But what if our evidence comes from HUNDREDS of years of native or generational wisdom, rather than a published paper?

ev-i-dence
/noun/
the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid

In Blue Zone areas around the world, people have been documented to have a greater chance of living past 100 years old thanks to their natural diets, exercise and mindsets. Studies, books and even documentaries have legitimized the findings, but the results were real even without all that. These societies had unlocked keys to health and longevity, and they did it without clinical trials and published papers. They used the natural resources around them and passed down what worked through their generations. Science caught up with them later, did the research and then presented what these people have always been doing as “evidence” that whole foods can be a longevity tool.

When we close our minds to healing options that don’t have a white lab coat’s stamp of approval, we cut ourselves off from the overflowing wealth of well being that is available from the collective history and wisdom of humanity (and animals).

Lesson #3: There Are No Right Answers

There are no proven, “right” answers in healing because there are no two identical dogs, humans, lifestyles, philosophies, health histories or budgets. Anyone who claims they have the “right” way to do anything is working more from their ego-driven desire to be liked than from their compassion for your actual healing.

We see this a lot in dog nutrition. Some raw feeders in particular can get vehement that raw meaty bones are the only way to feed the friendly little wolf descendant who lives in your home. Feeding dogs raw food is great. I tried it. But I had three big dogs at the time who needed a lot of food, and the cost and the cleaning were overwhelming for me. That means raw feeding was not right for me, period. I didn’t need to be shamed or made to feel guilty about it. I just started to look for other healthy options.

There are always other healthy options.

The only time you run out of options is when you let yourself believe there are no other options.

When I opened my mind to healing options outside of Western medicine, I was blown away by the simple, common sense, time-tested methods that were available—and which I had never heard about because my society deemed them “alternative.” I felt like I had been robbed of decades of health and happiness because I was never taught these methods. In truth, though, the only person who robbed me of them was myself, by keeping my mind closed to them and by judging other people as “weird” or even unintelligent for using them.

The key to your greatest health and happiness is to find what works for YOU, no matter what label anyone else puts on it. Our drive to conform and not stand out is probably the biggest factor in our mental health struggles today. When you can learn how to find the mental strength to be an advocate for yourself (and your dog), you WILL create a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life than you can even imagine right now.

It’s Time to Re-Imagine Health and Happiness—for Us and Our Dogs

I want to be clear that I am not trying to sell you any miracle products or “fix it fast” techniques. What I can offer to other dog moms is deep knowledge and experience from doing what I love—research, asking questions, and breaking down complex ideas into simple baby steps. I know that having the time and drive to do the amount of research and exploration that I did isn’t available to everyone. It is now my mission in life now to offer the lessons I learned to others because I want EVERYONE (and every dog) to feel the profound levels of health and happiness that my dogs and I enjoy.

I know it’s possible because I’ve radically transformed my own life and the lives of my five senior Boxers. I want to show you how you can do the same.

If this interests you, join with me on Facebook and Instagram. Learn the psychological and spiritual transformations that took me from feeling depressed, lost and unlovable to living in unconditional love, happiness and energy—and that pulled two of my dogs back from the brink of death.

Let’s create the more beautiful world that you know is possible, for you and your dogs.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

Bonus: My Top 10 Favorite Books on Dogs & Humans

library of dog books

How the Full Moon Affects Your Dog (And You)

How the Full Moon Affects Your Dog (And You)

Police officers, emergency room workers, teachers and even doggie daycare staff all know that sh*t gets weird on a full moon. We joke about it and maybe draw straws to see who has to take the night shift, but have you ever thought deeply about why that is or how the full moon is actually affecting our brains and bodies?

The sun also has a gravitational pull on earth, although much weaker than the moon’s. Full moons (and new moons) are the most powerful because that’s when the sun and the moon are in line with the earth, combining their gravitational pulls to cause VERY high tides (and very low tides).

We see this effect clearly on our ocean shores, but we don’t give much thought to what this gravitational pull is doing to our own bodies.

Human bodies are made of 60-70 percent water.

Did you know that your dog’s water percentage is even higher?

Dog bodies contain up to 80 percent water.

Surely, if the moon and the sun are able to influence our massive oceans so dramatically, the little oceans of water inside our bodies are not immune. 

In fact, studies have shown LOTS of measurable impacts to our human bodies during full moons—including less sleep, lower heart rates and blood pressure, increased mental health disorders, and even synchronized menstrual cycles. Emergency rooms, maternity wards and veterinarian clinics all report increased activity around full moons.

We Are Not Immune to Nature’s Power

I was in a Moon Circle (@ichelfrancis) for a couple of years, where we paid attention to each moon phase. As a group, we talked about how we were affected and how we could use the powerful energy of the moon to heal and grow.

There were two ways that most women felt the moon’s pull: physically and mentally/emotionally. I tended to be in the mental/emotional camp, meaning that I experienced moon energy as strong urges to let go of things that weren’t serving me, take steps toward my goals that scared me, and uncover truths about myself that I had never seen before. Plus lots of crying my face off.

Thankfully, I didn’t experience the more physical manifestations of the moon energy, such as headaches, exhaustion, anger, unexplainable sadness, sleeplessness and even nausea that some other women felt.

However, because I was paying attention to anything that came up during these powerful gravitational pulls, I did notice that my dogs were physically affected. Most often, it showed up as very interrupted sleep during the full moons. My dogs would all wake up several times during those nights. They would settle back down quickly, but it made for pretty poor quality sleep when I had four dogs in my room all moving around at different times.

Another effect I was able to document is that my dog, Tyler, was more likely to have a seizure on full moons than on other nights. Tyler had infrequent seizures for many years—sometimes he only had them once or twice a year. But when they happened, they were almost always on a full moon.

I wouldn’t have noticed this correlation if I wasn’t in a group where our attention was brought to the moon phases and what we experienced around them. Indigenous cultures of the past (and present) would be more aware and accepting of this phenomena, because they respect and honor the power of the moon. In recent times, we’ve become disconnected from the natural world and no longer pay attention to how the weather, seasons and moon cycles affect us.

Western medicine doesn’t ask you what phase the moon was in when you had your latest anxiety attack.

Modern culture has somehow decided that even though the moon and sun can visibly affect the oceans and land masses of Earth, we as humans are not susceptible to their power. And because our dogs are now extensions of our human family, we don’t consider the effect that the natural world has on them, either.

Unless our attention is brought back to it.

It took being connected to this beautiful moon circle for me to even begin to become aware of what we have lost and how we are operating at less than full knowledge when it comes to our health—and our dogs’ health.

The Power of Reconnecting to Nature

Let me give a clear example of how important this natural knowledge is, and how we are shorting ourselves and our dogs by not paying attention to it.

As I mentioned, Tyler’s seizures were notably almost always on a full moon. When he had one, his vet would have me give him a heavier dose of phenobarbital right away and then increase his dosage going forward. He would be seizure-free for a while until another full moon came along and he’d have a “breakthrough” seizure. Then we’d repeat the heavy dose that day and increase his daily dosage going forward. This pattern continued for years.

What if, instead of reacting to his seizures, we tried to be proactive instead?

What if I had given him the higher dose of meds BEFORE he was most likely to have a seizure, rather than permanently increasing his dosage AFTER he had already had one? If I had given him a higher dose around the full moons, would I have been able to prevent the breakthrough seizures and avoid the steadily increasing dosage that came as a result?

Tyler is gone and there is no way to test this now. And I AM NOT SUGGESTING that everyone give medicines by the phases of the moon.

But I am suggesting that we become AWARE and CURIOUS again.

By letting modern science and medicine deny our connection to the natural world, we are not giving ourselves the full picture of the causes, triggers and solutions to our health issues…for us and our dogs.

The first step to becoming aware and curious is to simply ask yourself what you believe, or what might be possible? Do you believe that humans and dogs might be affected by the pull of the moon? If so, then become aware of how it is showing up in your life. Pay attention during the full and new moon phases, and keep a record of any unusual behavior you observe in yourself or your dog. The patterns might surprise you!

I know exactly how full moons affect me and I have an awareness that my dogs also feel some sort of disruption. Even if Western medicine never acknowledges this link, I know it for myself and it allows me to give myself and my dogs extra compassion and support during these powerful events. When sh*t gets weird on a full moon and I am crying my face off for no reason and my dogs won’t settle down, I don’t take any of it personally.

There is nothing wrong with me.

There is nothing wrong with my dogs.

We’re just tiny oceans getting tossed around by that beautiful, powerful Grandmother Moon, Mama Quilla.

As it always was, as it always will be.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you notice any strange behavior from your dog (or yourself!) during full or new moons? Would you like to have a reminder on every full and new moon so that you can pay better attention to what goes on? Drop your thoughts in the comments below and I will read them all and respond.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

Introducing…Archie!

Introducing…Archie!

From abandonment and amputation to hogging all the dog beds and snuggling with Georgia, this is Archie’s beautiful, brave story.

Please welcome the newest weirdo to the family!

Lily, Archie and Georgia

Archie is a 10-year-old, abandoned, three-legged Boxer with cancer…my total dream guy!

I took one look at his seriously grumpy adoption profile and I knew we would be good for each other. Tyler even confirmed it: I heard him say, “You can do this, mama” in my head when I was considering filling out the application for Archie.

Archie’s adoption photo courtesy Boxer Haven Rescue. Look at that grumpy face!

 

I don’t know what name he went by for the first 10 years of his life, but he was picked up as a stray on Archbold-Whitehouse Road near Toledo, so now he’s Archie. He was underweight and had a softball-sized growth on his front shoulder. It had split open, causing a lot of pain and lameness in that leg.

Archie’s intake photo, courtesy Lucas County Canine Care & Control

The day after Archie arrived at the shelter, he had surgery to remove the mass.

He woke up in the shelter without a leg. He was weak and lethargic and wouldn’t eat for two days, and then he was transferred to a foster mom in Detroit. He battled through pneumonia and then a hip injury from slipping on the floor. As soon as he was stable, I adopted him and he made the long trip from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula.

That’s a lot to go through in 10 weeks.

Archie now, getting healed and healthy at home with me and the girls.

The mass was diagnosed as soft tissue sarcoma, and it had grown so large that the surgeon couldn’t quite get clean margins.

That means there are some soft tissue sarcoma cells lingering, and there is a chance they could grow back, and grow back more aggressive. I’m not worried about that right now. I don’t look at him as a cancer dog. He is a scared, healing dog in need of calm energy, dependable safety, lots of healthy meals and all the love he can handle.

I am giving him supplements to boost his healing and prevent cancer regrowth:

  • turmeric paste
  • mushroom powder
  • CBD oil
  • green tea extract
  • green lipped mussel powder
  • homemade bone broth
  • home-cooked food
  • and more.

He trembles with excitement at every meal time, so that alone makes it all worth it.

Archie doesn’t let his missing leg hold him back. He’s a fast runner and a fearless jumper, and his nose is picking up so many scent trails in the yard. He loves to watch the deer from the window, but he can’t be fooled into chasing them outside. He’s just a skinny little bean, so winter is never going to be his favorite season. He wears a coat outside and loves to get covered up with a blanket when he’s inside. When it’s warmer out, I think he’s going to love exploring the woods and waterfalls with us. I’m excited to see what he thinks of our first warm days and laying in the sun on the deck, watching the bay.

Georgia paired off with Archie right away. ❤️ She will be a perfect healing companion to him, just like she was for Duke. They all go to bed in their own dog beds at night, but every morning I wake up to Georgia laying next to Archie.

For the first few hours after we got Archie, Georgia was the only one who could get close to him. I couldn’t touch him at all—he would growl and snap—but she was smooshed right up next to him within minutes. We had a four-hour drive home with this growling, biting dog, and there was a moment when my daughter and I had to quickly get out of the car because he suddenly jumped over the barrier into the front seat! A few French fries made the rest of the drive go better, and by the end of that night, he was well on his way to opening his heart and letting down his defenses.

Archie’s first hours with us in the car.

Very quickly, Archie went from this scared, scrappy street dog to a velvet teddy bear. During the adoption, the word that was used most to describe him was “grumpy,” and he definitely was. He growled, glared, snapped and bit. He was protective of his body—I couldn’t move him, pick him up, take off the sweater he came in, or help him in and out of the car. His incision was still healing and I had to be very careful not to touch around it.

Today, I wouldn’t use the word “grumpy” to describe him at all. It just doesn’t fit him anymore. The words “melty,” “gooey” and “teddy bear” come to mind instead. I can now pick him up, put his coat on, cut his nails and give him hugs and kisses. I don’t go anywhere without Archie following me, he sleeps on my lap every evening, and I’m happy to say that he even gives the best little kisses. He does this thing now where he rests his cheek against my cheek, and I swear I want the world to stop in those moments so that we never have to move.

He warms up to people fast now, and he’s fallen hard for both of my kids and my parents. He’s learning he’s safe and well cared for, and in return he is bravely letting his defenses down. I can’t think of many things more rewarding than gaining the trust of a dog who’s been so let down.

When I think about everything he has gone through in such a short time, I am so proud of my resilient little bear. There is a big heart inside his vulnerable body, and I love working to gain his trust and make him feel safe. He is teaching me things I never learned from Tyler, Lily, Duke and Georgia. He’s easy to fall in love with, and I hope you’ll help me cheer on our beautiful tripod for however much time we have with him.

After losing both Duke and Tyler in 2021, I really did try to enjoy the “ease” of going from 4 to 2 dogs. But something was missing, and I knew I had room for more. These weirdo seniors that no one else wants have my heart.

Archie is the third special needs dog in a row that I’ve adopted, and I’m coming to terms with the fact that this is my place, this is one of my roles in the world. I have a serious soft spot for the “unadoptables,” and it doesn’t matter to me one bit that he’s old, has three legs and was diagnosed with cancer. He still deserves a soft bed, freedom from pain and fear, and the last best days ever with a family who loves him. I know my heart is strong enough to give him that and still stay open for more.

Thank you to Lucas County Canine Care & Control, Boxer Haven Rescue and his foster momma Lori for giving Archie a second chance at a happy life.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

Rest In Peace, Tyler

Rest In Peace, Tyler

On November 6, 2021, after almost 14 years of love and adventures, Tyler went to join Duke in spirit.

A Celebration of Life for the Dog Who Changed My Life

After almost 14 years of life and love, Tyler has gone to join Duke in spirit. The timing was perfect. We had beautiful moments until the very end, and then it was time. He didn’t suffer, but he also had no time left to spare.

senior dog boxer tyler

The last photo I took of Tyler, the day before we said goodbye.

There was a dark time in my life when I honestly didn’t think I could survive losing Tyler. He and I had a bond like no other. So it is a bit of a surprise that my overwhelming feeling in the days since his death has been one of gratitude for his life, rather than grief over his death. I miss him deeply and am grieving, of course, but I’m also aware that I couldn’t have asked for a moment or a memory more than he had already given me.

happy boxer dog in red flowers

The last photo I took of Tyler before we moved from the house where he lived for 13 years.

Tyler changed my life. It’s hard to describe his complexity and presence in words. If you met him, you knew: he wasn’t like other dogs. He was stubborn and demanding, but he also had a huge heart and an old-soul wisdom. He showed me a deeper, wiser, more emotional side of animals that I’d never seen before, and it opened up a passion and purpose in me. Tyler was my inspiration to leave corporate and become a pet photographer. A decade later, he continued to inspire me to go beyond pretty pictures and start advocating for greater dog health, happiness and longevity.

boxer dog in lake michigan

He was a model for what is possible when we see the inherent wisdom, divinity and unconditional love in dogs, and learn to give back to them as much as they give to us. He healed me, and he pushed me to learn how I could heal him in return. The end result is that we had almost 14 years of beautiful moments together. To have a Boxer reach almost 14 years is no small feat. I promised him I would keep showing others how they can do the same for their own dogs.

boxer dog in fall grass field

Tyler loved our new life in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and I’m so grateful he got to experience it. Apparently, he had waited his whole life to be a “farm” dog, and he finally got to live his dream. He loved “checking the perimeter” with me, walking the borders of our property to make sure everything was in place. He loved doing “chores” with me, jogging alongside me as I did yard work. He loved watching sunsets on the deck with me, staying by my side for as long as I chose to stay and watch the sky. He played in Lake Superior, waterfalls, the mouth of the Huron River, forests, lighthouses, and ate dinner at the Mackinac Bridge and just about every roadside park between L’Anse and St. Ignace. One week after he was given a week to live, he was standing in the wild waves of Point Abbaye, grabbing mouthfuls of the Lake Superior water he loved so much. My boy wasn’t one to rest. (Fun fact: Tyler didn’t let me sleep in or take a whole nap for a single day of his life!) He was my constant companion, protector and co-adventurer until the very end.

boxer dog in lake superior point abbaye upper peninsula michigan
senior boxer dog watching sunset from deck lake superior keweenaw bay upper peninsula michigan
boxer dogs eating dinner point abbaye lake superior upper peninsula michigan
happy senior boxer dog
happy senior boxer dog fall field

The day before Tyler died, I had a dream that Duke was a deer and he was waiting at the fence line for Tyler. The day after Tyler died, two deer ran full speed into traffic at a busy intersection, darted right in front of my car, and leapt off into the field on the other side. (At exactly 11:11am. If you know, you know.)

It was an unmistakable sign. Duke found Tyler, and my boys are running through new adventures of their own now. And obviously causing all sorts of trouble, as all good Boxers would

Run free in love and joy, my heart dog.

Thank you for all you gave us. 

I love you more than words will ever be able to say.

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

 

It’s Time for a Whole New Life

It’s Time for a Whole New Life

In August 2021, I left my hometown of Grand Rapids and moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to a little house on Lake Superior. I am nine hours away from anyone I know, I can no longer offer photography sessions to my West Michigan clients, and I let go of 2/3 of everything I owned.

 

Here’s the surprising truth about why I moved and how it has made me the happiest I have ever been in life.

April 2021

Just days after Duke died, my son and I traveled to Sedona, Arizona for his 18th birthday. We were exhausted from caring for Duke day and night and fragile from losing such a beloved dog. A few days hiking in the sun, away from the reminders of Duke’s illness and death, seemed like a good way to recover.

That first night, I slept 11 hours straight. In the moment that I woke up, I “heard” a voice say something very strongly.

“It’s time for a whole new life.”

The words were clear, but the meaning was not. I’m still not sure of the full meaning of why things happened the way they did after that moment. But exactly six months from that day, as I write to you FROM my whole new life, I am in awe of the massive changes that took place. I marvel at the speed and ease of how everything fell into place. And I am learning to lean in to a whole new level of happiness that I never even knew was possible.

magical sedona at sunset

Sedona at sunset

What Do I Truly Want?

I didn’t want a whole new life, I can tell you that. My divorce in 2017 had been the catalyst to start improving the life I had, working with amazing life coaches like Jim Fortin, Lisa Carpenter and Ichel Francis. Thanks to their transformation programs, I had dramatically increased my inner peace by changing the way I thought about myself, my purpose, and the world around me. My thoughts were no longer trapped in all the sadness of the past, frustrations of the present, or fears of the future. My outer world hadn’t changed as much as I wanted, but it was good enough. I had a big, beautiful house, a business that had survived COVID, and I always found ways to make sure the kids and dogs were taken care of.

What I really wanted was to downsize my house and have less to take care of and clean every day. After the divorce, I had worked hard to keep my kids in the house where they were raised, but it was draining me physically and financially. Moving hadn’t been an option while our blind dog, Duke, was alive. Now Duke was gone and both kids would be moving away to college in a couple months. I dreaded the idea of keeping up this house alone, waiting for the kids to come visit a few weekends out of the year.

May 2021

One look at the spring housing market, though, and all thoughts of moving were gone! So much for a whole new life. I could sell my house in a heartbeat, but buying a house in this high-demand, high-price market would take a lot of luck, and even a smaller house would end up being a bigger mortgage than the one I currently had.

I resigned to staying where I was. Since I wasn’t actually going to move, I started playing around on Zillow, looking at dream houses instead of practical houses. It was just a game. Most of the houses I saved were million-dollar houses on Lake Michigan or huge plots of land that I could build on in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Impossible, no way, not-gonna-happen houses—but fun to daydream about!

pine prow house from vision board

One of the dream houses from my 2021 vision board

That’s where things started to get interesting.

I had reached out to my mortgage lender earlier in the month, just to see what amount I might get pre-approved for. She never called me back, which didn’t matter since I no longer thought moving was an option. But then she did call back, and she dropped a bombshell on me.

She told me she could do a loan for me, for the exact amount I had expected, but ONLY if I bought the new house IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS.

As a self-employed borrower, I need to show three solid years of income. I had that—right up until COVID dried up my income sources. If I waited another 30 days to ask for a mortgage loan, the bank would be looking at my 2020 quarantine income and I wouldn’t get approved. I would need to wait another three years to build up my income history again.

I needed to get out of this big house. NOW.

I lined up my realtor and ran to Zillow to schedule some showings.

Out of all the dream houses I had saved, there was only one house that was available and within my price range. It was a beautiful little house in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP), overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. It had acres of space for the dogs to run. It didn’t need any work, and the walls were even painted my favorite color.

But it was nine hours away.

Was this seriously my most viable option? I loved this Lake Superior house, and I desperately wanted to downsize, but wouldn’t it be more practical and safe to find a small house near my family, my clients, and the town where my kids had grown up with their friends?

I talked to my kids, my family, my friends and my neighbors. Some were very supportive, some weren’t at all. Everyone had a different opinion of what I should do.

That’s when I had to turn to myself. I got quiet and asked: “What do I truly want?”

My heart answered back: “Wild nature outside my door.”

Believe me, my mind was hoping for a different answer!

“Okay, but wouldn’t it be safer, easier, more practical to just find a little house around West Michigan? I don’t know a single person in the UP. I don’t have a job there. I can’t take any of my furniture, it won’t fit. So many people are upset that I’m talking about moving so far away. Can’t we try again?”

Wild nature outside my door. A slowing down. Space to roam. Quiet. That’s what my heart wanted. More than it wanted to please the people around me, more than it wanted to stay safe in a job I knew, more than it wanted to avoid the discomfort of moving somewhere unknown, where I knew nobody.

And that’s the truth of why I moved. I knew it was what my heart and soul truly wanted, and I was willing to go through mountains of discomfort to make my heart happy.

If I don’t honor what makes my heart happy, who else will?

I went to see that one house. As I drove up the driveway for the first time, a bald eagle flew over my windshield. Does it get more “wild nature” than that? I knew I was home. I bought the house, and sold my house. I got rid of nearly 2/3 of everything I owned in order to downsize. I took care of my kids and got both of them moved into their new college housing. I packed up the dogs, said goodbye to everything we knew and headed off into absolute uncertainty, newness and change.

 

my dream house lake superior prow house

The actual house I bought. Go back and look at that vision board photo again!

Our Whole New Life

Now that we’ve had a few weeks to settle, I am blown away by how BLISSFUL I am. How deeply, intoxicatingly, almost-can’t-handle-it happy I am. Moving isn’t easy and not everything is going right. Every single day is like navigating a foreign land, from my own house to the town to the culture. But the external circumstances—the things that happen outside of me—no longer determine my happiness. My HEART is happy, my heart is home, and my heart is being listened to. That’s where I’ve discovered a level of happiness that I never even knew existed.

If I had listened to other people and to all the stories of what could go wrong, I would still be in my same life, living more of the same. But I listened to my heart, and I chose stories of what could go RIGHT, and now the only thing I want is to show other people how they can feel this happy, too.

What’s Next?

Something I haven’t announced yet is that on the day I moved in, the property next door went up for sale…and I bought it. So much for downsizing! I now have two houses, one of which is a 100-year-old farmhouse. Anyone want a flip? I also have a pole barn, 4.5 acres total for the dogs and me to run around on, and 250 feet of Lake Superior shoreline. I will have lots of time this winter to cuddle up with some seed catalogs and plan a vegetable/herb/flower garden! I am in awe every day that this is my new life.

The southern side of the shoreline

bald eagle upper peninsula

Bald eagles everywhere

prow house keweenaw bay baraga l'anse

The house from across the Keweenaw Bay

Lily is basically feral now—she loves it here in ways I never expected, and she could stay outside exploring from dawn to dark. Tyler has finally realized his dream of being a farm dog. He helps me with chores and again, I’ve never seen him so happy. Georgia still wishes she could be a Pomeranian carried around in a purse, and I’m not sure how I can make that dream come true for her. Wish her luck this winter. I’ve promised her lots of new sweaters.

(And sweet Duke. He rode shotgun with me on the way to the UP. His urn is on a sunny windowsill overlooking the Keweenaw Bay. It was exactly six months ago this week that we lost him, and I could still cry for him every day. Part longing, and part pure gratitude at whatever role he played in clearing the way for this new life, with 30 days to spare. I would give anything to have him back, but his soul had a better plan for us.)

dogs at falls river falls

The dogs regularly play in waterfalls now

Announcement

As for Happy Dog Mom, I am no longer able to offer client sessions in West Michigan. I am redefining my business to be less reliant on photography and more focused on information. Specifically, how to create a happier, healthier life for you and your dog. It’s something I know a little bit about.? Stay tuned for more posts on dog health and happiness, two different podcasts in the works, Clubhouse sessions, some cool dog mom merchandise, and a game-changer course on how to increase your dog’s health and longevity.

To my beloved clients of the last 10 years, I thank you and I am sorry I can’t offer the same services anymore. However, you deserve to be left in the best hands. If you haven’t already, please head over and say hi to Trish at Tailwagger Dog Photography. As competitors, we did the (un)natural thing and became good friends! She is a wonderful person with a beautiful photography style and it would thrill me to keep seeing pictures of your pups, even if I can’t be the one to take them for you anymore. (Be sure to ask her about her nickname for me!)

Finally, if you’re ever near the Keweenaw Peninsula, don’t hesitate to let me know. I’d love to show you my little slice of heaven, my whole new life.

milky way from upper peninsula

The Milky Way from the driveway

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How Is Georgia?

How Is Georgia?

Understanding How Dogs Grieve and How to Help Them Through It

“How is Georgia?” Bless your kind hearts, I’ve been asked that a lot since Duke’s last day.

My answer is a slightly unsatisfying…I think she’s fine, maybe?

The reason I can’t give a definite answer is because it’s more complicated than whether or not she is grieving Duke.

Dogs absolutely feel grief, and I have no doubt that she misses her constant companion for the last year and a half.

From the first day Duke arrived, Georgia was so attentive to his every move, helping him navigate when he needed it and simply being in close proximity when he didn’t. It was a fact that I couldn’t bend down to pet Duke without Georgia zooming in alongside him to join in. I would laugh and call it POGO…Pet One Get One free.

Georgia had a bond with Duke that is unlike any other relationship I’ve seen her have. It would be hard to comprehend if she didn’t miss him.

But is she grieving?

Signs of Grief in Dogs

These are the signs of grief in dogs that I’ve been watching out for:

  • sleeping more (or less) than normal
  • eating less
  • having accidents in the house
  • withdrawing from people and other pets, or becoming more clingy
  • showing more aggressive or destructive behaviors
  • making more noises (like whimpering, whining, barking or howling)
  • separation anxiety
  • unexplained personality changes

Overall, Georgia seems happy enough. Nothing seems “off” about her personality. She is eating, exercising and playing with her new favorite toy, the stuffed avocado I gave her to cuddle when she was done saying goodbye to Duke. She also has been cuddling a lot with Lily, which is what they used to do before Duke came. It’s amazing how my camera photos used to be filled with pictures of Lily and Georgia together, then Duke and Georgia together, and now back to Lily and Georgia.

She has shown some signs of grief, though.

She slept in Duke’s bed the first night he was gone. She occasionally sits in front of me, ears back a little, and just stares into my eyes, almost seeming to plead for something I can’t give her.

She also has been sleeping a lot.

But they ALL are sleeping a lot. And that’s where the question of grief gets complicated.

The extra sleeping could absolutely be a sign of grief, or it could be them settling into the normal patterns they would have had if Duke wasn’t around to wake them up every two hours.

Duke had a fairly busy schedule for an old blind dog. His world was dark, so his stimulation came from getting up and walking around. We had a routine where he would wake up about every two hours, and I would escort him around wherever he wanted to go, usually ending up outside and then helping him back inside. The other dogs would always come along, of course, because where mom goes, everyone goes.

But the other dogs didn’t actually need to go outside every two hours. They just went because they didn’t want to be left behind.

So, are they sleeping more because they miss Duke and feel the heart-heaviness in their people?

Or are they sleeping more because Duke isn’t here to wake everyone up every two hours and give them a reason to go outside?

If in the next couple weeks they start to get more active, I think we could say it was grief. If they don’t, then we can say they’re just settling into the routines they would have had if Duke didn’t keep interrupting their naps!

How to Help a Grieving Dog

Either way, losing a family member is a big adjustment, and I’ve been doing several things to support them through it.

All the dogs are getting extra attention. That is one of the best things you can do for a surviving or grieving dog. Attention doesn’t have to be long, drawn out cuddle sessions if you don’t have time for it. It can be as simple as talking to your dogs while you’re doing other things, meeting their eye contact when you find them looking at you, or maybe an extra walk or extra time outside together. One of Georgia’s absolute favorite things is when I sing songs to her with her name in it, such as Georgia on My Mind by Ray Charles. She wiggles her tail and butt every time I get to her name, and luckily she’s not much of a voice critic.

Another thing I’m doing to support my dogs is keeping them on their regular schedule. There is enough change in their life right now that I don’t want them to have to navigate unexpected schedule shifts, too. Keeping them on the same feeding, walking and bedtime schedule they had before Duke left gives them the comfort of knowing what to expect out of each day.

Letting them say goodbye to Duke after he left his body was possibly the most important part of their grieving process. Georgia hasn’t had to look for Duke (a common occurrence when a dog dies away from home) because she was right there with him. I was so fortunate to have Heaven at Home Pet Hospice minister the euthanasia at our home, on blankets in the sunshine and grass in our own yard. Each dog took turns smelling Duke after he took his last breath, and then the vet pointed out what happened next: each one of them turned their back to Duke, including Georgia.

I don’t know what this means, but they stood like a wall around him, heads pointed out away from him, until a silent understanding passed through them and they all walked away. Tyler and Lily seemed to go back to their regularly scheduled business, while Georgia came back and spent quite a bit more time with Duke. She stayed very close to him as the vet gently moved his body onto a stretcher, and as my boys carried the stretcher to the car. She spent more time sniffing him and reaching her face close to his once he was in the back of the car, and Dr. Amy Hoss was gracious enough to give her all the time she needed. I believe this understanding of exactly what happened to Duke and where he went is the main reason they seem to be navigating this change so well.

Finally, I’m managing my own grief around them. I am not crying into their fur when I’m reminded of Duke, such as those moments when I’ve grabbed four leashes to walk three dogs, given Duke’s name to the vet when I meant to make an appointment for Tyler, or habitually reached to pick up a fourth food bowl that is no longer there. Those moments will bring you to your knees, but I prefer to handle them on my own. Not that my dogs wouldn’t gladly cuddle up for a cry if I needed them to, but I want to be considerate of the fact that their hearts might be hurting, too.

In time, I know that my grief, as well as theirs, will fade.

I love this beautiful message sent to me by life coach Lisa Carpenter last week:

“Just keep surrendering to the waves as they roll in, knowing they’ll roll back out and feel more gentle in time.”

Additional Resources

If you or someone you know would like extra support while navigating the grief of pet loss, please check out these resources.

Joy Session Network

Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet (book, Amazon.com affiliate link)

Heaven at Home’s Memorial Page 

Local Pet Loss Grief Support Groups

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