October 22, 2018

Dutchess My Friend

Note: This article was originally written in June 2013. My road trip with Dutchess from Indiana to Florida in November 2011 after my Dad died was the start of my journey with her and my becoming a professional financial planner. I signed up for the CFP® coursework the first week of January 2012.

We all face transitions in our lives, some good, and some bad. When my mom and dad both became ill in 2011 within months of each other, I was not prepared to deal with the sudden change in life’s circumstances. I was not sure I had the strength, courage, or wisdom to provide the support and help needed. But somehow, we just do what needs to be done and we make it through. That experience with my parents became the catalyst for me to focus on becoming a professional financial planner and advisor so I can help other people reach their personal and financial goals, and be there to help them through life’s transitions.

Taking care of Dutchess, studying the CFP® coursework, and passing the CFP® exam became my primary focus for the next few years. Dutchess was by my side and was my loyal friend until June 2016 when I had to say goodbye to her. You can read Another Life Transition, A Promise Kept, to learn more about saying goodbye to Dutchess. I loved that dog as much as I loved my dad. I was proud and honored to take care of Dutchess for him and I was determined to give her the best dog life possible. I felt my dad’s presence every day that Dutchess was in my life. 

I was on the phone talking to my dad when he asked, “How would you like to take Dutchess to Florida?” I was startled by the question and totally unprepared to answer him. It was the Saturday before Labor Day 2011. I was out walking Dutchess in my dad’s neighborhood, and decided to call him to try and make him laugh by telling him about how stubborn Dutchess was acting, and how she wanted to go a different direction than I wanted to go.

My dad had just been moved to a nursing facility in his hometown the day before. I answered him, “Dad I do not understand. Do you want me to take her to Florida for a little while and bring her back?” He replied, “No I mean take her and keep her; your mom cannot handle her by herself.”

Those words pierced through my heart and my soul as I slowly began to understand what they really meant. My dad had started reconciling the fact that he was not going to make it and that time was likely short. “What do you think is the best way to get her to Florida?” he asked. “Dad there is no need to think about that right now, we have plenty of time.” I responded. “I will take care of the expenses to get her down there. Should we put her on a plane?” he asked. “No dad, if she comes to Florida I should drive her down. Driving would be less stressful for her but we can talk about that later.”, and with that I ended the topic of conversation.

My dad loved that dog. He and my mom got her when she was about 10 weeks old sometime in 2001. Dutchess is a beautiful black and white Australian Shepherd who has very strong guarding and protecting instincts. I understand this is typical of the breed. She is also a one master dog attaching her loyalty to a single person and that person was my dad. I had been around Dutchess on and off her entire life when I saw her during visits back home; so she knew me. However she would never let me take her for walks or for that matter, even allow me to give her much affection on those visits home. When I would try and walk her she would get excited and appear as if she wanted to go, but once we got to the end of the driveway, she would abruptly sit down and refuse to move. I tried several times over the years but she would only allow my dad to walk her.

When my dad entered the hospital for the first time Dutchess was lost. She would go outside and run around the garage searching for him and then would run into the back yard and the sun room trying to find him. For the first few weeks after Dad had gone to the hospital, each time I tried to take Dutchess for a walk, she would let me get her ready, but when we got outside she would only go a few steps then sit down and refuse to move. After several weeks of this, one day when we got outside, she looked at me then looked towards the road, and suddenly started walking and pulling me along with her. That was the start of our loyal friendship and little did I know at the time, that was also when I became her new master.

I brought Dutchess to Florida in November 2011 about one week before Thanksgiving. I canceled my return flight and rented a Jeep for the drive home. I put the crate Dutchess had grown up with in the back of the Jeep for her to securely ride in. She was nervous and excited. She was use to riding in cars so that was not a problem for her. However she was only use to short rides around town with my dad to the hardware store, the grocery store, or a run through the car wash. Perhaps the longest ride would have been to Walmart in the next town over about 30 minutes away. Riding for hours on end was not something Dutchess was use to, so every few hours she would get restless and start whimpering and shuffling around in her crate. That’s when I knew it was time to pull over and take a break. This was the beginning of many lessons that Dutchess was about to teach me on how to pull over and take a break to enjoy the moment.

My parents could not remember the exact day Dutchess was born so my dad decided that her birthday would be on the same day as his – June 22. On June 22 that first year after Dutchess came to Florida, I made her a doggie birthday cake. I think my wife, friends and family thought I was crazy. Even though I said it was for Dutchess, I knew that doggie birthday cake was really for my dad. Through Dutchess I have a special connection to my dad, and by taking care of her, loving her and giving her the best life I can possibly give her, I am able to honor my dad each day and keep the promise I made to him to take care of his dog. In return I have gained a loyal friend who gives me unconditional love each and every day.

For the past eighteen months Dutchess and I have been on a journey restarting our lives day by day. She had to restart with a new life and new master in Florida while I work on a restart into a new career. Along the way Dutchess has taught me to stop and enjoy the moments. She is my loyal and faithful friend here by my side each day as I study. I walk her twice a day and take her out numerous times throughout the day. Often times when Dutchess wants to go outside she really just desires to get out and roll around in the grass and enjoy the beautiful weather for a while. When Dutchess decides to sit or lay down outside I cannot get her to move until she is good and ready. Pulling on the leash just causes her to stand her ground even more. When we are out for longer periods of time than I originally planned and I am in a hurry, I sometimes plead with Dutchess to come back inside so I can return to my studies, or tend to the household chores; she just stares at me with a twinkle in those brown eyes and refuses to move. It is as if Dutchess is saying “slow down, take a deep breath, feel the sunshine, and enjoy the moments.”, and so I do.