I adopted Layla as a companion for Archie—and then three days later, he died. Here’s the story of who Layla is and how she helped me open my heart to yet another old, abandoned Boxer in need of love.

Layla is the sweetest, easiest dog I’ve ever had—and I really did not want to fall in love with her.

I adopted Layla as a companion for Archie.

He missed his sisters, Lily and Georgia, who had died within two months of each other. After so much loss, I wasn’t really looking for another dog, but I thought it would be good for Archie and help him heal.

Archie and Layla hit it off immediately. They acted like old friends from the moment they met. They cuddled, went on walks and did everything together…

…and then Archie died three days later.

I’d just lost three dogs in exactly six months, and now I had this dog I’d only known for three days. A dog I didn’t really adopt for myself. A dog who was already 11 and who would just add to my grief if I fell in love and kept her until the end.

I didn’t think I could do it. I just wanted to grieve my other dogs. I didn’t want to care for Layla all on my own, with no other dogs to play with or keep her company.

The boxer rescue said they wouldn’t blame me at all if I brought her back. They gave me a couple of weeks to decide.

Layla had no such hesitation. As far as she was concerned, she was home.

She attached herself to me like a little shadow, and she patiently waited for me to come around.

Obviously, I did come around. I knew deep down that I wasn’t going to give her up—it’s just not in me. And when you see how she looked when she came to me, you’ll understand why.

This is Layla on the day I met her.

This is Layla now, three months later!

She has put on 11 pounds of fat and muscle, and no longer feels like you’re petting a skeleton. Her coat has gone from coarse and dry to shiny and so soft. She’s gone from not being able to stand long enough to eat her meals to walking a half mile or more at a time. And she’s met a doodle friend down the street who gives her some time each day to be a dog.

When Layla wakes up in the morning, she comes prancing over to me, butt wiggling and tail wagging. This girl does zoomies as soon we get up, she’s so happy to be alive and getting another meal.

Unlike all the other dogs I’ve had, Layla has no major illnesses, she’s not bossy and she doesn’t bite, and she has all her parts. She’s so easy! She’s just pure love.

After all the grief, the Universe sent me pure, easy love.

I’m so glad I didn’t turn my back on that.

I know we still have a ways to go to get to know each other. Rescued dogs are like that, they sometimes take a while to show their true personalities. Maybe she’ll get bossy or weird like the others, but when I needed it the most, she was simply a sweet comfort to have around.

Welcome home, Layla.


Thank you to Lapeer County Animal Control and Great Lakes Boxer Rescue for giving Layla and me a chance. 

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature



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

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


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

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature
The Dog Moms’ Guide to Going Back to Work: Easing Canine Boredom and Separation Anxiety After Quarantine

The Dog Moms’ Guide to Going Back to Work: Easing Canine Boredom and Separation Anxiety After Quarantine

After weeks of uninterrupted time together, a sudden change in routine could be upsetting for your dog. Here’s how to help her get ready. 

It’s likely that no one has enjoyed the COVID-19 quarantine more than your dog.

The uninterrupted time together, the daily walks, and the extra attention lavished as you sought comfort during this stressful time are pretty much a dog’s dream come true.

While we’ve agonized over how long social isolation is lasting, your dog has been blissfully unaware of what is to come. Stay-at-home orders are being lifted, business is resuming, our schedules are getting busier.

Even if your “new normal” has you working from home or reduced hours, your dog is going to have to cope with more frequent and longer absences. Taking steps now to prepare your dog can help ease the unexpected loneliness, boredom and anxiety.

What Happens When We Go Back to Work?

I personally have a sinking feeling about how Georgia and Duke will handle being home alone again.

Georgia had severe separation anxiety when I adopted her 7 years ago, and I still can’t leave her alone for more than four hours. And Duke hasn’t been left unsupervised since his enucleation surgery in November. He is perfectly safe and capable of finding his way around on his own now, but the end of his recovery just happened to coincide with the beginning of Michigan’s stay-at-home order. After six months of constant togetherness, how will Duke react when he’s suddenly left alone?

I’m a little nervous to find out.

So I reached out to two local dog training and behavioral experts to see what I could start doing now to ease the transition.

It’s an issue that Jill Sackman, DVM, PhD, owner of Animal Behavior Consultants of Michigan, has already been working on.

“I’m anticipating lots of emails and phone calls once everyone goes back to work,” Dr. Sackman said. “A major life change like this throws our pets off. It shifts their behaviors.”

Start Now to Build Better Behaviors

Duke is a prime example of what Dr. Sackman sees a lot of in her clients: dogs who don’t know how to entertain or soothe themselves in the absence of people.

If your dog is with you all day, being entertained, enriched and cuddled, he’s not being encouraged to soothe or entertain himself. If you suddenly leave the house for the day, not only will he miss you and be anxious about when he’ll get his next meal and bathroom break, but he’ll also struggle with how to calm himself and find a feeling of safety.

Dr. Sackman works with her clients to build more independent behaviors in the home.

Simple things such as encouraging some alone time for your dog with a food toy or a sit and stay while you leave the room to get the mail or refill your water will help set the stage for feeling safe and secure during longer absences. You could also occasionally go for a walk without your dog, especially if you’ve been going for multiple walks per day with your dog.

Return to Routine

Kristie Swan, certified dog trainer and owner of A Dog’s Life GR, Grand Rapids’ first concierge dog training company, also recommends a return to routine, even if you have to fake it for a while. If you typically wear a uniform, pack a lunch or take a car to work, do things like putting your work clothes on or jingling the keys before calmly saying goodbye and stepping outside for a few minutes. You can even get in the car and start it up for a minute or two, or pull out of the driveway and drive around the block. Then return home calmly.

What’s important is to not make a big deal about leaving. By bringing back (or creating) short, routine absences now, they get de-escalated. Instead of feeling sudden confusion because you left, your dog feels safe, knowing that they’ve seen these behaviors before and that you always return.

Dr. Sackman also encourages making enrichment changes so that your dog feels less deprived when you’re not around. She suggests easy things such as taking a walk in the morning to get your dog tired before you leave; leaving a Kong filled with treats or hiding treats around the house; or running home at lunch to break up the day.

If you’re able, consider enlisting additional help by hiring a dog walker, visiting a doggy day care, or recruiting a neighbor to stop by during the day. Or turn to technology, such as Furbo or Wyze, which let you check in and even communicate with your dog over video. These don’t need to be long-term solutions, but if you’re able and your dog enjoys them, they can go a long way toward breaking up the deprivation of a day spent alone.

Free printable download

preventing dog separation anxiety after covid-19 quarantine

Boredom vs. Separation Anxiety

If you are encouraging independent behaviors and your dog is still struggling in your absence, you might be dealing with true separation anxiety.

Separation anxiety looks a lot different than boredom and a little naughtiness.

“If it’s boredom, they may have escaped their crates, gotten into a little mischief, and then fallen asleep on their favorite spot on the couch,” said Swan.

“Separation anxiety happens soon after the people leave. You see the dogs trying to escape their crates, to the point of hurting themselves. You’ll see excessive salivation, urine, defecation, diarrhea—things that show a very stressful panic response.”

If you suspect your dog is experiencing true separation anxiety, start by video recording your dog while you’re away. Most likely, you’ll want to hire professional help at this point, and a video is the first step in understanding how your dog is reacting and how he can be helped.

I didn’t understand that Georgia was suffering from separation anxiety until I recorded it. The video showed her biting at her crate so desperately that she cut her gums, face and nose. She drooled so excessively that it pooled on the floor. And she made a screaming cry that I had never heard a dog make before. It broke my heart, and I want to do what I can to make sure she never feels that unsafe again.

If she experiences some separation anxiety after I go back to work, I’ll be prepared for it. But Dr. Sackman warns that even dogs who have never experienced separation anxiety before could be prone to develop it now. Especially senior dogs.

“When dogs are older, we can see an increase in separation anxiety. They are more sensitive to shifts in routine. They can have cognitive declines or sensory loss, which can add an anxiety component to [your absence].”

If you suspect new or returning separation anxiety in your dog, reach out for professional help from an animal behaviorist or a certified dog trainer. Chances are it won’t go away on its own.

Managing Anxiety—Yours and Your Dog’s

Finally, don’t forget to pay attention to your own anxiety.

“We’ve had a lot of stress, and our dogs sense that and know that,” said Swan. “They are able to smell stress on us because we have stress hormones. Start getting them back to feeling, ‘You’re okay. Things are going to be okay.'”

Given all the traumatic events of 2020, a lot of us have really leaned on that unconditional feeling we get when we bond with our dog or when we go on that walk, or pull them close when we cry.

For your dog’s sake, take an honest look at your own stress and anxiety level, and see if you can take steps to soothe and care for yourself.

Whether you do it for yourself or for your dog, taking steps to lower your own stress will be good for both of you.

We know our dogs feel what we feel, so above all, be patient.

Your dog is not “mad” that you went back to work; she’s genuinely confused and distressed. We can’t explain this unprecedented situation to our dogs, but we can speak to them with consistency, patience and understanding. Your calm, proactive approach to rebuilding a routine and supporting independent behaviors will speak volumes to your dog about how to navigate your new normal.

Make sure to grab this free download:

Dog Mom’s Guide to Going Back to Work: Easing Boredom and Separation Anxiety after the COVID-19 Quarantine.

Then let us know: how are you getting ready to go back to work? What suggestions could you add to this list? What has helped ease your dog’s boredom, or what are you still struggling with?

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature

Duke’s Recovery from Enucleation

Duke’s Recovery from Enucleation

Three weeks ago today Duke had his eyes surgically removed. Recovery did not go as expected.

My beautiful boy.

Three weeks ago today Duke had surgery to remove an eye that was painful and swollen from glaucoma. I elected to remove his other eye, which was covered in a cataract, mostly blind, and had a high risk of needing to be removed down the road.

I’d love to tell you that we spent the last three weeks snuggling and healing, but the truth is, the recovery was much more difficult than expected.

I don’t even have many pictures because he was such a handful. He needed constant supervision. I wasn’t able to leave the house or take on any work. He seemed angry, stubborn and fearful. He crashed into things, repeatedly and with too much speed. He wouldn’t let me guide him. He’d fight me if I tried to lead him with a leash or his collar. He would walk along a wall and repeatedly crash into it with his cone. His stitches held, but he often cut the sensitive, swollen skin around his eyes. Even the places that he should have been familiar with seemed to confuse him, and he wasn’t making any progress mapping things out.

I didn’t understand any of this because he was mostly blind before the surgery. When I adopted him in August he could see some light on good days, but by the time he went into surgery, he couldn’t see anything. This shouldn’t have been such a big adjustment. I had thought he’d feel relief from the glaucoma pain, but instead, he was a bit of a beast.

A friend of mind told me he would have put Duke down instead of remove his eyes. I admit to a few moments where I wondered if I’d made a mistake.

At his two-week checkup, I told the vet all this. I didn’t want her to remove the cone because I thought he’d hurt himself. She could see for herself how he was behaving. She did some consultations with other staff and suggested that we take the cone off in the office for a few minutes to see what happens.

We removed the cone—and he INSTANTLY went back to his sweet, loving self. All the crashing around and fighting he had done was because he was scared—not of being blind, but of the cone.

blind boxer dog after recovery from enucleation

That was a week ago, and since then we’ve been figuring out how to navigate together. We’ve been for walks in the woods, and field trips to Chow Hound and Must Love Dogs. I’ve taught him “step up” and “step down” and we’re working on “stop.” He can’t locate my voice very well, but he’s like a laser-guided missile when I snap my fingers to bring him to me.

blind boxer dog in pet food store

Last night, I swear he even played a little prank on me. He acted like he was stuck in the backyard, so I went out in my pajamas to help him. When I got there, he jumped into a play bow and hopped all around, happy as could be, and definitely not stuck.

boxer dog outside after recovery enucleation eye removal surgery

And today, I tried to get pictures of him eating a banana, but he ate the whole banana in one bite. No great pictures, but at least I have my Duke back!

Georgia and Duke during his recovery from enucleation eye removal surgery

Thank you to everyone who sent Duke and me support, love and even donations and dogsitting during this recovery. I know now that I did make the right decision. Duke has a lot of love, life and happiness left in him, and I have one of my bestest friends back. A silly, blind, beautiful Boxer who loves bananas. (And hates cones!)

blind boxer dog eating a banana

Better with dog,

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature



About two weeks ago, I got a text from Cathy Bissell of the Bissell Pet Foundation. It was a photo of a blind, deaf, 14-year-old Boxer named Duke. His family had let him wander away from home, and now he was sitting in a kennel at Kent County Animal Shelter, confused and afraid.

Cathy wrote, “I thought of you.”

Friends, you can already guess how this story ends!

I get sent a LOT of adoptable dog photos. There’s not a Boxer up for adoption that doesn’t get sent my way. But there was something about Duke—the sadness in his face and the way his paws seem to be gripping the ground for stability—that made me write back, “I can take him.”

“He needs me,” I texted. “And I need him.”

A couple of hours later, Duke and I had each other.

I was not looking for a fourth dog. Three was more than enough. But there was just something about this particular moment in time and this particular dog that made me think, “I can do this.”

Of course, later that day—when a blind, intact, skinny, smelly, lumpy dog with diarrhea and one eyeball popping out of his head tumbled out of the car and onto my lawn—I panicked and thought, “I can’t dooooo this!”

blind senior adopted boxer dog

I’ve never had a blind dog before, and I let this poor guy bump into everything I own for the first couple of days. He had this incessant drive to keep moving, and even when he smashed into something, he’d just turn his body a different direction and keep going. I had expected a 14-year-old blind dog to just…stay still. I mean, that’s what I would do if I were in a strange place and three other dogs were surrounding me, telling me I didn’t belong.

But he never stopped moving. He always had to be on leash because he would just walk toward the brightest light and keep on walking. After a few days, I learned how to keep him from bumping into things. He learned the house and the backyard. And we got the house Duke-proofed enough so that he could be safe.

senior boxer dogs in their dog beds
It was only after a week or so, when he started slowing down, that I realized why he kept moving. He was trying to go home.

After living with his family for 10 years (and another family for four years before that), and giving them nothing but a dog’s love, he had been kicked to the streets for going blind and needing too much attention. His family knew he was picked up as a stray, they knew he was in a shelter, and they refused to come get him. They didn’t want Duke, but Duke still wanted them.

Despite all the attention and love I was pouring into Duke, he would have left me in a heartbeat that first week. I was not his person, and he wanted to go home. He was constantly trying to find the way out. It wasn’t until he stopped trying to walk away that I realized how much he missed his people. There came a day when he finally relaxed, when he seemed at ease, and when he stopped walking away. He slept deeply. He cuddled. And I saw more of his true personality than I’d seen before.

happy dog mom jennifer waters with adopted senior boxer dog Duke

About the same time, I got him to his first vet appointments. For his age, he is remarkably healthy. (He seems more like a 10-year-old dog. If you’ve seen previous posts where I said he was 10, it’s because that’s what my vet and I thought. But his former family has since reiterated that they are certain he’s 14.) He has one eye with a severe cataract, and one eye that was extremely swollen. Everyone thought the swollen eye would have to be removed, but it turned out to be early-stage glaucoma and so far it has responded very well to treatment. That eye even has about 15% sight left, so I want to do what I can to keep it healthy and pain-free. Incredibly, all he needs right now is eye drops twice a day.

Eye drops twice a day. A neuter and a good dental would be helpful, too. But that is all such basic care. Just your basic level of health care if you’re going to commit to having a dog. For as much love as Duke gave his family, it makes me sad that he didn’t receive that love back. I don’t know their story and I have no doubt that he was treated well—he’s very trusting, loving and well-behaved, which is a testament to that—but I can’t wrap my head around the idea that senior dogs are somehow disposable. At his age, I don’t know if I’ll have Duke for days or for years, but I will be with him until the very end. And he’ll be in my heart for eternity after that. It just isn’t part of my operating manual to do anything less.

That’s not to say that I’m any type of hero or saint for adopting a blind, deaf, senior dog. I will be honest, I was a bit surprised by the reactions when I first posted about his adoption on Facebook and Instagram. What I expected is that people would say some form of “Are you CRAZY???” or just say nothing at all. But the world is sweeter than we sometimes give it credit it for, and the responses were overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of “You have such a big heart!” and “You’re a wonderful person!”

But I want to be very clear: I needed Duke as much as Duke needed me. This was not a completely selfless act, even if I wasn’t exactly sure what I would be gaining from it. It was a very intuitive decision. As I said in the beginning, people send me Boxers up for adoption all the time. I knew in my gut, in an instant, that Duke was meant to be with me. I knew he had lessons to teach me, I knew he would help me grow as a person and as a dog mom, and I knew that this was the particular time in my life when I could do this.

I did do a quick reality check by crunching some numbers, thinking through the consequences, and getting the kids’ blessings and cooperation. But my intuition on this was very clear, and I am convinced that Duke is adding as much to my life as I can add to his. He is teaching me lessons about life, love, patience, intention, intuition and so much more. I will be writing a lot more about Duke as his personality unfolds and as he continues to teach me what I need to learn.

senior boxer dogs in their backyard
senior boxer dogs in their backyard
senior boxer dogs in their backyard

And here’s one of the BEST things I’ll be writing about: Duke has transformed Georgia! They either are in love, or she has become his seeing eye dog, or a little bit of both. She is a different dog since Duke has come home. She’s always had a lot of anxiety and was always kind of the odd dog out, since Tyler and Lily were totally bonded before she arrived. But now she has a job and a constant companion. This is absolutely fascinating to me, so get ready for lots of heart-bursting stories as this situation unfolds! I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know Duke as much as we have.

senior boxer dogs

In the meantime, if you are a blind-dog mom, tell me what I need to know! What are your favorite tips and tricks? Is there anything a blind dog can’t do? I’d love to have you leave a comment below or post on social media.

Thank you to Mosh Pit Rescue and Sasha’s Angel Rescue Network for facilitating Duke’s adoption and keeping an eye on him those first few days!

jennifer waters happy dog mom signature


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