Filed under: Random Swellness

Pet Swellness: Welcome home, Billie Jean

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“What have I gotten myself into???”

This is what I asked myself late the night of February 3rd. This was the night my first official Save Our Scruff foster dog, Billie Jean, was dropped off at my place by a transport volunteer (fostering means I open up my home to a rescue dog until it is adopted, and while in my care, help train it, bring it to vet visits, meet with trainers if needed and learn the dog’s personality so that the organization can find the right home for the dog).

Billie Jean had just landed from a rescue org in the Dominican Republic and she was cowering in sheer fear as far back of the crate as she could. I’d opened the crate door and was trying to convince her it was fine, and had reached in to pet her, and she had snapped at my hand. And I freaked out a little.

I left her alone for a bit, but then sat outside her crate chatting to her, thinking that’d be comforting. After awhile I went to add a blanket so she’d have something soft to sleep on, and she went to snap at me again. WTF. I went to bed and figured I’d figure out what to do in the morning.

I found out from the awesome team at Save Our Scruff that I was basically doing everything you shouldn’t do with a very terrified dog. The talking, the eye contact, the trying to pet her — this is all intimidating and scary. So I spent the day just cooking and hanging out at home, reading online about how to handle scared dogs. In the early afternoon, I saw Billie Jean had exited the crate and was sitting near it, so I sidled up to her slowly and just stood next to her and let her sniff my hand, which I just left by my side (I didn’t reach out — but had I, I would’ve done it palm up; learned this from the reading I’d done that day). She quickly returned to the crate, but a couple of hours later, she exited the crate and went straight onto my bed.

I’d have just let her hang out there alone til she felt less scared, but my cats were hiding in the closet, and I wasn’t sure what would happen if they emerged, so I thought I’d better be in the room, so I shuffled in slowly backwards and lay facing away from Billie Jean. After about 10 minutes, I reached back to let her smell my hand, and then later I pet her. She sat upright and tense, on guard, for about an hour before she felt comfortable enough to relax a little and lie down more comfortably.

That was one of our breakthrough moments in terms of our bonding, but getting her to go outside to walk was extremely draining, physically and emotionally, for both of us, I think. She’s only about 42 lbs but Billie Jean is surprisingly strong if she’s using every ounce of her being to resist me. I had to wrestle her into my arms to get her out of my door (and carrying a 42-lb dog is awkward!) and then she would burrow herself close to the wall or into the bushes.  So “walks” were really just me standing there with a terrified dog that was hiding. And there was no such thing as a quick walk, since the entire ordeal would take over an hour. The trainer’s email said that me facing away from the dog with light tension on the leash would be motivation for BJ to stay with me…which I had a good laugh about at the time, because Billie Jean had zero motivation to stay with me at all. Her only goal was to not be outside at all, and hiding and not moving in any way she could was her life mission. Neighbours would walk by with their dogs and chuckle sympathetically at me with the dog refusing to budge.

I was frustrated, heartbroken for this scared dog, and simply didn’t know how long I could foster this dog for because I didn’t have time to spend four hours a day walking her. I was low on patience. But I don’t like to give up, so I vowed to commit to two weeks of fostering her and seeing whether she’d improve. But I felt that maybe I simply wasn’t cut out for the commitment fostering calls for. Perhaps I’d been lucky with the rescue dogs I’d dogsat for SOS; they’d all been relatively well-behaved and mostly trained. Billie Jean was proving to be a lot of work and caring for her was all-consuming and I had stuff I had to do on top of fostering.

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And then, seemingly out of nowhere, on day 5, Billie Jean decided to walk outside. Getting her out the door eventually got easier as well. And after about a week we were walking more than an hour some days. After a visit with a Save Our Scruff trainer, we started on crate training and she took to that really quickly. Now she understands that meals take place in her crate and sleep time. This also helped her to learn that the bed and sofa are off limits, unless I allow her to (she still attempts to make it happen though! She’s persistent, we share that in common!).

She also got more affectionate with me. One day I walked into the bedroom and I thought I’d scared her, but it turns out Billie Jean was wagging her tail at me. I’d never seen her do that, which is why I didn’t realize what was happening at first. Another day, she was lounging in her Casper dog bed (which Casper generously gave me for my foster dogs) and I was on the sofa and I said “Hi, Billie Jean!” and she walked over, put one paw on my shoulder and licked my face. And I thought my heart would explode.

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I saw that she was great with the cats, and is very quiet (to this day, I’ve never heard her bark; I’ve only heard her growl at some dogs). And given her energy level and lean build and her breed (hound cross), I thought I’d try running with her, and she runs really well. She keeps alongside me at a good pace…but who’s kidding who, she could go much faster, she just maintains my now slow pace.

I can’t recall when I started considering adopting this cutie pie, but I knew with every day that it’d be hard to give her up. And when I got the email two weeks into fostering that it was time to fill out the Save Our Scruff paperwork so that an adoption listing could be written up, I was filled with panic that Billie Jean would no longer be in my life. I told SOS I was considering adopting her, and they gave me more time to think.

And over the next week, I talked to other dog owners about the realities of owning a dog.  I tried to work out which friends would be able to take care of her when I have to travel. I thought long and hard if whether this was the right dog, and the right time of my life for a dog.

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Because I’ve always wanted a dog. When I was living in Montreal, I’d often visit the SPCA there just to see the dogs. I’m always the one petting dogs on the street, even ones I probably shouldn’t be (street dogs in foreign countries, for example). I asked for a dog as a kid (denied!) and as an adult (also denied!), despite dropping hints each and every year how a dog would be the most incredible gift ever. About 10 years ago, I’d read several books about dog breeds and narrowed it down to a handful (with key factors being “good with cats” and “low energy” — this was before I became a runner!). I photocopied the chapters so that when I was ready to adopt, I’d have the info on the breeds that would work well with my lifestyle. It’s my love of dogs that lead me to volunteer with Save Our Scruff in the first place. I have the cats and have volunteered with cats, but I love dogs and cats equally (I think you can be both a cat and dog person!) so when I heard about SOS, I realized it was a way to get some time with dogs, or in the case of doing home visits initially (that is, making sure potential homes for the dogs are safe) that I’d be helping dogs in need of a loving home in my own small way.

And after more than a week of consideration, I decided Billie Jean had to be part of my family, and applied to Save Our Scruff and within a week, was told that Billie Jean would be joining my fur family. That week or so I spent debating the adoption, I truly needed that time to make sure I wasn’t making an emotional decision. But I believe the timing is right. And as much as I may have helped her, she’s also helped me. Last year was a hectic one, and 2015 was an awful one personally. In 2016, I ran around like a crazy person; I know to many people this will sound like first-world problems and that it’ll fall on deaf ears, but I simply traveled too much. I ended the year burnt out and knowing I need to travel less and have  more of a routine and make more time for me. And after five straight weeks at home in 2017, four of them with Billie Jean, who forces me to have a routine (minimum of three walks daily, meals at a certain time — although she’s not that demanding of a dog, tbh), I felt so much anxiety and stress melt away (except for that first week with her — then stress was at an all-time high trying to help this terrified pup adapt to life in Canada!). I’ve already started to turn down travel opportunities (both personal and work-related) so that I can be more rooted at home, but when I do travel, I have support of friends who I know will care for and love Billie Jean as much as I do. And life, thanks to Billie Jean, is better. Happier. More focused on the things that matter.

I’m looking forward to a lifetime of adventures with this new member to my family. I wasn’t expecting to be a foster fail, but am so thrilled that I am.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Save Our Scruff for bringing this beauty into my life and for all of your help along the way.

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Leave a Comment March 15, 2017

2016 Swellness: My year in review

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I honestly feel like I just wrote my 2015 year in review, like, last month. And that has me feeling a bit panicked. Time is passing too fast. I need things to slow down.

At the end of 2015, I had a one goal for 2016: for it to be better than 2015. And thankfully it was. Although, I can’t even fathom it having been worse than 2015; 2015 was rough. Yes, it had some bright moments but it remains in my memory as the worst year of my life (and trust me, 2010 was not pretty).

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This year had its own waves of amazingness and low points. I traveled more this year than ever. 27 trips (and some of these included multiple destinations) and four road trips — mostly for work, but a handful were personal. And if you’re wondering how much travel is too much travel, well, I know that for myself, this is too much travel. While I look back on every trip fondly and do not regret any one of them, traveling this often is stressful. I recently read a research study about how the week or so before a trip brings on stress and low mood, and with this many trips, I felt like I was constantly in this state. Because the constant packing and repacking of luggage, having to cram most of my responsibilities into the limited time I do have at home, and the complete lack of routine, it wore me down. Often, I’d be so stressed about everything on my plate that things I should be looking forward to and enjoying — like meeting up with a friend for dinner or going to a park to spend time with them and their dog — I instead felt resentful and anxiety about, because that was taking time away from scrambling to get organized, or just have some plain old down time for myself. And that’s a sign that I was overwhelmed.

But for a slew of reasons, I did my best to fumble through it all and maintained the non-stop travel, and looking back on the places I’ve been to this year, I feel very fortunate for all of the experiences. But I’m seeking better balance in the year to come…

As for this past year, memories and achievements that made it great?

I ramped up my skiing skills. With very sporadic ski days in my life (with the exception of Chile last year), I went on three longer ski trips, to Vail, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and Telluride (all in Colorado) and a trip to Kimberley, B.C., and am solidly past my beginner snowplow and at the very least am an intermediate skier. I tackled one black diamond in Colorado (although there was a blue in Kimberley, B.C. that I swear was tougher than the black diamond in CO!) and I’m clamouring for my skiing in my life.

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I went surfing (and maybe got a little bit better at it). With not great waves in Huntington Beach last fall in my first surf lesson, I was eager to do more surfing this year, and I had the chance to during a week in Sayulita, and lessons in Barbados and Puerto Rico. I’m not great at it, but I have so much fun doing it. Now I’m keen on trying to spend a chunk of time in a beach destination so I can surf daily to really build on my skills. That feeling of riding the wave is absolutely exhilarating, and worth all of the wipeouts.

I visited incredible cities and towns that made me pause and appreciate how very lucky I am. This year brought me to places around the world including China, Istanbul, Croatia, much of the U.S. (including several trips to L.A. and Healdsburg — and my love for Cali just grows more each time), down to the Caribbean a few times (including Puerto Rico, which has always been on my wish list, and where I got to do this phenomenal hike in a river and rappelling down a waterfall; and Saint Lucia, which is as gorgeous as I’d envisioned it), and a sailing trip in the Greek Islands. This year also was a year I explored much of Canada, and I’m so thrilled Canada is being named on so many 2017 top destinations lists because it actually makes me quite sad to think that many of us in Canada don’t bother to explore our own country when there is so much to explore and I hope this gets us all to check out our home and native land. My time exploring Banff, Lake Louise, Canmore, Kananaskis and Lake Moraine? I think that trip overall counts as the most beautiful place I’ve been. Although Fogo Island is pretty darn gorgeous, too. I can’t forget that I went there andstayed at the Fogo Island Inn, and I also got a chance to visit Charlevoix, Montebello, Priddis, Kingston and Ottawa and Canada is pretty effing awesome.

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With each trip, I soaked up the views and culture, met locals, ate foods that I still dream about (like the tea cake in China), and I feel like I end this year as a better person with a broader perspective than before (travel does that to you).

I had solid quality time with friends and made new ones. With my stress about having no time to do anything, it made me really appreciate the time I did manage to carve out with my closest friends, even if it was something as simple as an impromptu night out grabbing ramen, or going for a run to talk things out. Home is where the heart is… And I made new friends along the way, it’s always nice when you meet people and you just click.

I did my first triathlon. And while this tri in Gulf Shores, Alabama, may be my last, and even now just thinking about the swim gets my heart beating faster now (and not in a happy excited way but I’m going to have a panic attack way), I am proud that I tackled it and completed it semi-decently despite my terrible, terrible swim.

I drove more than I ever have. This is a personal victory. Driving can stress me out, and the fact that I drove fairly regularly (including road trips to Buffalo and WayHome) and for an entire week by myself and with my phone GPS not working properly through a province I do not know when I was in Alberta for the Calgary Half-marathon and exploring Banff National Park, I’m giving myself one huge pat on the back.

I didn’t let running rule my life. Don’t get me wrong. I still love many things about running and plan to continue running, and I still hope to qualify for Boston. But I didn’t do any marathons this year, and ran fewer races overall (halfs in Bahamas and Barbados, the Scotia half, Calgary half, the RBC Race for the Kids 15k, and the Great Canadian Beer Run 5k — I think that’s it, I’ve lost track…) and I tried to add more variety to my life, including taking tennis lessons (and I plan on doing some rockclimbing in 2017). I think this departure was good for me; marathons twice a  year (although I did three one year) had drained me mentally four years in a row. But I am excited to immerse myself back into running more in the coming year, with at least one marathon already planned, Chicago!

I worked with amazing brands and outlets. I love the brands I get to partner with, and this year was no exception. Booking.com, Expedia, Scotiabank, to name just a few, along with the outlets and awesome editors I write for, such as iRun, Metro, amongmen.com, VITA Daily, Toronto Magazine, and more. I get to do some pretty amazing things as work, and growing my brand in partnership with such top notch companies and brands is something I’m proud of.

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Last but not least, possibly the  best part of the year has been getting more involved with volunteering with Save Our Scruff. This year I decided to see if dogsitting was possible with my two cats at home and for the most part, it worked out well. I wrote about why I dogsit for CBC Life (and I’m now officially part of the Save Our Scruff foster roster). While I admit my heart still feels achey because I miss the amazing dogs I had a chance to dogsit, I just think of the small role I played in helping them find the best home for them and it’s worth it and I plan to continue to volunteer as much as my schedule allows next year. (Turtle and Dobie, if you’re reading this, I miss you both so much, my sweet lovable buddies and think about you all the time!)

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I was reminded on Facebook recently of my #2015bestnine, and my caption refers to how every single one of my best nine is related to fitness, and how I’d strive for more balance in 2016. And while this whole best nine business is based on “likes” and not reflective of my thoughts or feelings about this year, I am pleased to see that my best nine this year shows more of a mix including, yes, fitness, but also travel, the all-important ootd — although I tend to think of them more as fun times with friends — and well, a cute coffee (everyone loves a good coffee Instagram, after all!). Two, though, tie into my love for Canada, and I am more happy (and relieved) than ever to be Canadian right  now.

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A friend recently shared her husband’s motto with me: “It could be worse.” And while it made me giggle initially, it has indeed gotten me through some moments this year. When running a half and feeling tired and dejected? It could be worse, it could be a marathon! When stuck traveling with someone whose personality clashes with mine and I want to wring their neck? It could be worse, I could be stuck in an office with that person daily if I had a regular 9-to-5 job! I can often fall into a wallowing state of mind, and this saying helps to jolt me out of my pity party.

That said, I’m looking forward to 2017 with a more positive and determined approach and I’m all in. It’s going to be great, people, I’m convinced of it.

Wishing you a very happy new year and here’s to fresh starts and exciting adventures for 2017!

(And, oh, let’s not forget that this is the year I MET TAYLOR LAUTNER.)

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Leave a Comment December 31, 2016

2015 Swellness: My year in review

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This was not an easy year.

And I’ve been putting off writing this post as I wasn’t sure what to write. But I see from friends on social media today, also reflecting on the year, that it’s been a tough one for many of us, and I suppose there’s some comfort in that, knowing that we’re not alone in our struggles and knowing that we are all looking forward to a fresh start in the year ahead.

As I mulled over this past year for a few weeks, as much as things were rough, and as stubborn as I can be, I have to admit that there were bright, happy moments and lessons I’ve learned. Indulge me if you will as I reflect on them (and take a moment to remember your top highlights of the past year as well, if you haven’t already — it helps, I swear!).

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Travel is a huge part of my life and this year, although every trip always gives me something new to enjoy, having the opportunity to travel to Chile was beyond incredible. Without me even realizing it was a dream of mine, it was a dream come true. Standing there in the stillness as the sun set and taking in the fresh air and feeling so fortunate to be alive and there seeing such beauty is something I think of often and it’s a moment I hope I can keep fresh in my memory always. Add in skiing in the Andes Mountains, glamping beneath the stars and laughs with new friends (love you guys!), well, this Chilean adventure is one for the record books.

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Truth be told, there’ve been many terrific trips. I also had the chance to travel for work with one of my closest friends to Southern California, where I fell in love with the beaches and lifestyle, and tried surfing for the first time. I plan to go back for more surfing as soon as I can. I visited Squamish twice and became equally obsessed with the hiking and views there (I also did a via ferrata climb for the first time). Early in the year, I went to the Cayman Islands for the first time and not only got to swim in the gorgeous blue water of all three islands, I also attended Cayman Cookout where  I got to eat food from and meet Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud, Marcus Samuelsson, Jose Andres and so many more top chefs that those days are a bit hazy because my head was spinning — it was almost too much for this food lover to handle. Palm Springs, Calgary, Cayman Islands (for a second time), Los Cabos, Las Vegas, St. Martin, Banff, Montreal, Portland, my passport got well stamped this year.

And, for once, I took a vacation. I know many of you think I’m always on vacation, but most of my travel is for work.  And this year, I took my first trip in several years where I did not write a thing about it. And it was glorious. Just poking about on my own schedule, and exploring the things I wanted to.

When it comes to work, this year included lots of great opportunities to partner and work with brands including Purina, Gatorade, Shoppers Drug Mart, McDonald’s, Scotiabank, GM, Adidas, and so many more. And I also started working on iRun magazine as editor at large, with a super fun team. This year, though, one of my favourite jobs is unpaid: I began volunteering with Save Our Scruff, and learning that a dog that I’ve helped in some way find their forever home is the best news in the world. My heart feels like it could explode when I find out via email about a lovable dog being adopted, and I look forward to doing more with the organization.

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Ah, running. This year was not a good year for running. No personal bests, and some of my slowest races. Which made it mentally difficult as I raced more than usual this year (I think, I haven’t actually done a tally). But I crossed the finish line and now I will figure out how to tackle what to race in the year ahead. Silver linings include the fantastic 15k race Nike put on (if only the weather had cooperated, that would’ve been even more stellar), and having my running buddy run the last leg of the Scotiabank Marathon with me (which, although, it was a slow race, convinced me that I can indeed qualify for Boston).

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What I take away from this year…well, I felt more than ever that I was running around on empty. Scattered and disorganized. And so I’ve been forcing myself to take a step back from things, which is not my natural inclination, but for my own sanity I know I have to. And as much as I post on social media (and I know I do), I also put away my phone more often. “But you’re not getting a photo?” said a friend surprised as we watched a fireworks show. “I know, but when I’m taking a photo, I can’t get to take it all in,” I explained. At the NKOTB concerts (yes, I saw them two nights in a row this year! Best decision ever!), instead of snapping away with my camera, I took the time to fully enjoy Jordan’s abs. And it goes without saying that oh yes, it was worth it! Tee hee

This year flew by even faster than the last somehow…but that’s enough looking back. Here’s to looking forward, and for 2016, my heart is hopeful that exciting things are happening, and that new adventures are in store both with old friends and new ones that are still to be made.

Wishing you a very happy 2016! — Karen xo

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1 Comment December 31, 2015

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