Wild – but still trapped

polar bear sting on a small block of ice surrounded by garbage in the ocean

Shawshank Redemption - a very popular movie.   Perhaps you have seen it?

The majority of the movie was filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH and I was a visitor there recently for a business retreat.

A strange place for a business meeting...but Kary Oberbrunner, a Best Selling Author many times over, launched his book "Day Job to Dream Job" there and he holds one retreat a year at the prison...more on that in a moment.    

The prison, on the outside, is beautiful.   It was built between 1883-1910 and was operational until 1990.     

The outside of the prison

From the outside, the prison does not look like a prison. It is a beautiful building.

The Inside

The inside is a different story.   

As I walked through the cell blocks and listened to the stories about the lives lead by the prisoners, I was filled with such a huge feeling of gratitude and empathy.

Gratitude for the life I was fortunate enough to live, the opportunities to grow up in a safe neighborhood, with loving parents, making it EASY to stay on the "right side of the law".

Empathy for those that didn't.   Although true, we all make our own choices, for some, the choices are much easier than for others.

The cells are 5' x 8' and were originally designed for 1 prisoner.   Due to overcrowding, they were used for 2 prisoners and then 3.  

The cell scenes in the movies were filmed on a set where cells were built - and they looked like a Ritz Carlton compared to the actual cells where prisoners were housed.   

5' x 8' cell
one of the cells

The prisoners got to shower 1 x per week and that shower lasted 30 seconds.

Some of the "worst" prisoners, were housed in cells with doors like this:

doors that you can's see thru

These doors were to limit the "view" for the prisoner and cause more isolation.   Food was given through the little door opening and that's also where they would be hand cuffed to be allowed to go to the showers or meetings.

The largest cell block had 6 levels of cells.   The cell blocks were extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter with snow sometimes piling up inside the jail and the water in the toilets freezing.

the cells
sensory deprivation cell

And then, we saw the isolation and sensory deprivation cells.   These cells were either dark 24 hours a day or light 24 hours a day.  

There was a "door" inside the door for food.

This one shows a cot, but we were told there were no beds / cots in isolation cells.

I can't describe the feelings I had when walking through the prison because I'm not even sure what they were besides the gratitude and empathy as stated above.

And I knew that I would NEVER do anything that would put me inside these walls as a "guest".

So, why hold a business seminar here?  What is the parallel with prisons and business and life?

We had a 1/2 hour exercise where we went into the prison cells to reflect on our own inner prisons - in life and business.  

I didn't want to go into the cell.   I didn't want to be isolated, I didn't want to face my demons.   But I did.

It was a powerful exercise and one I am still digesting...

but one question Kary asked is the reason why I am writing this article in a wildlife centered blog - "how does the experience parallel with what we do ?"

Lisa in prison

What does prison have to do with wildlife?

The obvious popped into my mind first:

Animals in captivity vs. animals in the wild

but that is better demonstrated and discussed with pictures of animals in captivity and not me in a jail cell - and that article (or most likely articles) will come sometime in the future.

As I was pondering this outside my cell with Danielle Bernock, a fellow Mastermind Member and truly an amazing person (go check her out on social- she helps people get over their trauma and is truly one of those people that just bring light into your life), she made a simple statement which lead to my AHA parallel:

Animals in the wild, that live as nature intended, are still imprisoned by humans!

Wild animals depend on humans to make good choices for the environment.    

polar bear sting on a small block of ice surrounded by garbage in the ocean

Humans can save wild places and wild animals by the choices we make.

  • Wild animals rely on us to preserve wild places so they have a place to live
  • They depend on us to stop human-wildlife conflict so they can live their lives as nature intended
  • They count on us to stop trophy hunting (where the biggest and healthiest of animals are taken to display on someone's wall)
  • They need clean oceans and have to trust that we will stop polluting the waters around the world
  • They rely on us to stop taking babies out of the wild to live their lives in captivity (this is happening currently with elephant calves being ripped away from their herd and sold around the world - INCLUDING sales to the USA!)
  • Humans hurt them by taking selfies with wildlife and putting them in jeopardy (have you seen the viral videos of people passing around dolphin babies to take pictures and the baby dies because of it??   Or videos when people try to get to close to a bear or a moose.   This causes so much stress on the animal and is dangerous to both them and the human.)
  • The wild animals count on us to stop testing on them for the cosmetic and medical industries (have you seen the videos of chimpanzees that were used for medical testing being released to sanctuaries that have never been outside or stepped on grass?)

I'm sure there are many more examples that I did not think of where we humans are imprisoning wildlife even when they are in the wild.



WE DO!!!!

We, the humans, have choices.   We can choose to

  • Not take selfies with animals - both captive and wild
  • Boycott industries that test on animals
  • Support non-profits that help animals
    Boycott buying any animal trinkets - rhino horn, ivory, lion / tiger bone salves or creams, giraffe hair bracelets, animal skin rugs, etc.
    Get involved with local charities to clean up and preserve wild habitats
    Stay informed about conservation efforts
    Vote and contact your representatives about wild places and wildlife bills
  • Recycle
    Plant flowers and gardens that are wildlife friendly
  • Vacation in wildlife rich destinations

There are many things we, the human species, can do to help wildlife and wild places around the world to thrive.  

It is up to us to preserve the wild places around the world for generations to come!

What impact can you make?

As always, I'd love your thoughts about this article and other idea of what the human species can do to help save the wild places around the world!

Please share the article if you have friends that would enjoy it!

A glance into the life of a 6-month old LEOPARD cub

Leopards:   Elusive, powerful, somewhat scary.    One of the original BIG FIVE.   A safari goers dream sighting. 

There is something about a leopards amber eyes, the way he moves, the silkiness of his coat, the length of his whiskers, the pattern of his fur, the strength and athleticism that just draws people in and I am no exception.

The leopard - up close and personal

Look how he balances on that little branch! Athleticism

With the leopard usually being the most difficult to see of the big five (and even more challenging to spend time with), imagine the absolute thrill of seeing a leopard cub!

I've been one of the lucky ones to catch many glimpses of leopard cubs.

young leopard cubs

But this is the tale of one sighting of an approximate 6 month old leopard cub from Sabi Sabi, South Africa,  that gave us a peak into about 45 minutes of her day and her mom, known as Ntsumis, the hero.

I was on a group photographic workshop run by Wild-Eye.   Our vehicle got the call that there was a leopard sighting and we were in the general vicinity of the sighting trying to find the leopard mom and cub.

Then from nowhere, we heard an ANGRY elephant bellow.   It's an eerie sound that somehow touches you all the way to your bones.   We could FEEL it as well as hear it.

Elephants are one of my favorite animals.   I could sit in a herd for days on end and never get bored with watching and listening to them.  Their social structure is fascinating.  The sound the elephants make - even quiet walking and the sound of the grass being torn from the earth - keep me mesmerized.  Everything about them fascinates me.

However, angry elephants are DANGEROUS elephants.   The power behind them is enough to break trees and flip trucks.  They can kill lions and throw buffalo into the air.

We drove around the corner and saw one elephant eating in the thick brush.  We drove a bit further and we saw another elephant even deeper in the brush, at the moment, neither appeared angry.

Elephant deep in the brush

.... and then we saw HER.   A small 6 month old leopard cub.   She skitted from the open grassy area back into the thick bush where the second elephant was eating.  

There was a ruckus from the bush and a tree started shaking...

Where is she?  WHERE IS SHE?

A glimpse of leopard spots thru the branches

Leaves shaking further up the tree


She had definitely caught his attention again

His trunk up high in the air poking into the branches of the tree trying to find her

And further up, branches rustling and moving...she's climbing further up

A glimpse of the spot pattern

The elephant getting angrier

A loud crunching sound and the tree stats to bed over from the weight of the elephant pushing it over

Adrenaline and fear in the car for the cub's life...

Looking for escape routes for her - as if somehow we could telepathically help her escape

Then from nowhere -mom came  

Straight up the tree 

Larger spots through the tree branches

More shaking... more pushing...

Then, the elephant backed of

I would have LOVED to have heard the conversation between the leopard mama and the elephant

What did she do?

A leopard is no threat to an elephant

We had no visual of what transpired in the thicket except that the elephant stopped trying to knock the tree down

The mama leopard after the elephant left the area

And then mama and baby walked briskly out of the thicket

Phew... a relief that could be felt in the air

Can you imagine how scary that must have been for the leopard cub?

A huge elephant trunk pushing through those branches at her - smelling and snorting

Her normally secure footing in the tree being shaken by the elephant determined to knock the tree over

Confident by her mom's side again, we followed the pair thru the thickets of South Africa.  It was getting dark and we didn't know if mom was going to go hunting or taking her to a new hiding place.

Walking through tall grass and thickets

Mama and baby off to their next adventure

Leopards, although incredibly powerful are constantly in danger.  The cubs more so, but even adults can be killed by lions, buffalo, a pack of hyena, and even a troop of baboons can kill and adult leopard.  

Cubs can be easily killed by the above and also by male leopards.   They also don't have the experience that an adult has to evade a pursuer.

It was getting very dark and even though the reserve allows spot lighting nocturnal animals, since she was so young, she could not be lit with artificial light.  

It appeared that mama had hidden her to go hunting and we were gathering ourselves to leave also.

When all of a sudden, the title girl was back on the road, out of her hiding spot - and a distance behind her, we saw 2 hyenas approaching.

Hyenas will often follow other predators in hopes of stealing an easy meal.  They would not hesitate for an instant to kill the young cub.

Even though hyenas killing a leopard cub is the natural way of life in the bush, it is something that no one in my vehicle wanted to witness.   Some things in nature are so much harder to witness than others.

We held our breath - and you can hear in the video below..

the concern and relief when the cub scampered up a tall tree to safety. (Video courtesy of Gerry van de Walt of Wild-Eye.)

We had to back up the vehicle to allow nature to do what she was going to do and waited with bated breath - all we could see was the silhouette of the tree with the cub head and tail sticking out of the V in the tree.

We could also barely see the hyena and with a huge sense of relief, we saw them lose interest and leave the area.

We could continue our journey with the knowledge that the little cub had survived at least for one more night.

I don't know if this was an average 45 minutes for the cub, or if it was one of her more extreme hours... it makes me wonder - how much goes on in the wild that no one ever sees?   How remarkable is it that any cubs survive to adulthood?

I follow the Sabi social channels and have not seen an update...but the awesome Ranger Graeme from Sabi Sabi  read the story and messaged me with an update.   The cub is doing well and is growing like crazy!!!!

As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts about this little leopard cub and a brief look into her life!   

Did you like this safari tale?   


a picture of my beloved pet

It's been 15 days since Rocky passed to the Rainbow Bridge.   I've tried to start this memorial post for him many times over and there's a part of me that is still in disbelief that he is gone.

But this isn't about me, it's about Rocky, a beautiful soul that left the world way to quickly for me.

I was ready to add another pet to the family and had started looking in earnest.   This time, I went with a breeder.   I have adopted homeless dogs as well as dogs from a breeder and for some reason, this time I went with a breeder.

Rocky's breeder lived in Colorado.   

one of these puppies is Rocky
at 4 weeks old

Frank and I made a vacation out of and took the RV and the Jeep to Colorado and spent some time in the mountains before it was THE DAY for Rocky to come home with us.

It was LOVE at first sight.

The little man did not do so well on the about 1 hour drive back to the RV.   He threw up all over me.   Poor baby.   That was the one and only time he ever got car sick.

He recovered quickly and enjoyed his few days in the fresh air of the Colorado rockies.

He was a trooper in the RV for the long ride home and met his new brothers and sisters.   Shadow, Holly, Spencer, and Caesar (my mom's dog)

He came to the office with me every day.  His days were full of sleeping, eating, playing, and sleeping some more

He quickly learned to swim and would even put his entire head under water to get a sinking ball.    This, of course, made Shadow very panicky.    Shadow felt it was his duty to make sure little Rocky baby stayed in the shallow end near the stair and would constantly herd him back to the stairs to stay safe.   He was such a great life guard.

Time passed so quickly.   Rocky had many siblings that passed before him:   Spencer, Max, Caesar, Shadow.   And he helped two foster puppies:   Seven and Little Girl.    He is survived by his sister Holly and Frank's 3 dogs:   Buddie, Gunnar, and Rosie.    He loved playing with all of them.   

Everyone loved Rocky. He was forever my little baby and he was an absolute mama's boy. He always wanted to be where ever I was. He'd follow me around the house to be in the same room with me.

His favorite things were taking SLOW walks, playing with toys, getting snacks, swimming, SNOW, and laying on my lap.

He was a true angel for his entire life and now he is a real angel with the other dogs that have gone before him.

Below is a quick slide show of some of my favorite moments. He will truly be forever in my heart.

Rest in Peace sweet, sweet boy until we meet again. 

I love you.

Monterey, California: A photographer’s Perspective

orca pod coming in for more attacks

I traveled to Monterey California with a friend of mine who is a great photographer. We both love whales and were feeling quite restless, so about 6 months ago, we planned a long weekend trip, which we took last week.

The following is the summary of our adventure.

Adaptable and Flexible are necessary for any traveler.

In order to travel today, it is important to remain adaptable, flexible, have a good sense of humor and patience.

Between the two of us, we faced:

  • route changes
    (Michelle’s non-stop flight was terminated and she had to change her flights)
  • multiple weather issues
    (Denver was expecting snow, so I flew in the night before and stayed in a hotel and THEN, flying into Monterey – as we were landing, the pilot had to pull up and cancel the landing because Monterey closed the airport due to bad conditions and we landed in San Jose instead),
  • aircraft maintenance delays
    I was given an extra 4 hours in Denver on my way home because of an aircraft maintenance issue. It was great because I was able to have dinner with my college friend who lives in the area.

We had to pivot multiple times. Communication and being nice made all the difference.

And it was definitely worth it!

Day 1: Please pass me a “barf” bag – um, maybe better make that 10 bags

I easily get motion sick (small airplanes and big waves on a cruise ship can easily do me in, I have even gotten sick on a helicopter) so I purchased a “relief band” to try and help alleviate that problem.   This was going to be my first time using it.

When we arrived at check-in, they had a little sign up that said to take motion sickness pills that day.   I thought, ah..it’s only a 4-hour trip, I want to see how well the band does – it had gotten great reviews.

As we were getting our pre-briefing on the doc, the staff went on and on and on about motion sickness – so I decided to also take motion sickness medication.

After a little while on the water,  we found a pod of orca.

By this point, many people were getting seasick.

I was doing ok – not great but not completely taken over yet by the motion until I put my camera up and started looking thru the viewfinder.

The swells were so tall, to steal Michelle’s words – it seemed like a 30’ wall of water was coming right at us.    Big ships were disappearing from the swells – you couldn’t look at the horizon – it was there one minute and completely gone within seconds.

At one point the boat was surrounded by orcas, I didn’t see them.

I heard the crew talking about orcas at 1:00, 11:00, oh now they are at 5:00.

I didn’t see them because I was in the back of the boat throwing up – for 2.5 hours.  Probably didn’t use 10 throw-up bags, but it was pretty close.  I’ll spare you the details of how horrible I felt and the knots in my stomach.

At the time, I swore I would NEVER EVER get on a boat again!  Yea, it was THAT  bad.

In time, everyone (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) on the ship succumbed to seasickness except the crew.   They actually brought us back early.

Once on land, things got a little bit better.   We sat in the car – parked and not moving for about 45 minutes and ate our lunch that we had packed.

Afterward, we took the beautiful 17-mile drive.  The coastline is stunning and the waves were definitely active!   I was still not feeling great, so I mostly just enjoyed with my eyes and not my camera.


At one stop, we saw sea lions playing in the waves.   It looked like they were surfing.   It was so much fun to watch them.  They were too far to photograph, but I was able to get these sea lions playing in the water and resting on the bank.

Sea lions swimming on 17 mile drive

Day 2:  There is NO WAY in Hades, I’m getting back on the boat with bad seas!  How about some cute otters instead?

The next morning, we woke up early and went back down to the docks to take an 8-hour whale watch trip.

When we got there, we asked about the seas and were told they weren’t as bad as yesterday, but they were still bad.    The forecast said they would get better thru the week.    They also told us we should take a motion sickness pill at night before bed and then again in the morning.

So, we decided to skip the 8-hour boat trip.  (And we found out later, that we didn’t miss anything !)

Instead, we went up to Elkhorn Slough.

We were able to arrange a private boat trip with Monterey Eco Tours.    They have an amazing electric boat.   The boat was so quiet we didn’t even know it was running – and there were no vibrations and no diesel smell!

Their knowledge about the Slough was great and we learned a lot about the surrounding areas.   I highly recommend them if you are in Monterey for a trip!

We spent over 1.5 hours photographing birds, otters, and seals.

Seals on a pier wet sea otter portrait Mama and baby sea otter Sea lion biting a shell 2 adult otters hanging out Sea lions and babies resting on a beach panorama of a baby and mama sea otter

Day 3:  Orcas have a successful hunt

Fully drugged up with anti-sea sickness medication, we went on the 8-hour whale trip with Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

sea otter baby resting on mama

We saw some sea lions, otter, and Rizzo’s dolphins as we left Fisherman’s Wharf.



We quickly got a call that one of their other boats had found orcas hunting.   This boat had a Netflix crew on board.

Orcas come into this area during this time of year to hunt baby Gray Whales.   Gray whales migrate from Mexico to Alaska in late April and May and the orcas hunt the babies.

Gray Whale adults can reach 39 feet in length and reach about 60,000 pounds.    They calf in the Mexico warm waters and then return to Alaska in the spring and summer to feed.

Normally, they will stay in shallow water because it is safer for them.   In this case, for an unknown reason, the mama whale was in water that went to a depth of 600 feet.   A very dangerous location for the baby.

Orcas, known as killer whales, are not actually whales.   They are dolphins.   They are called killer whales because they kill whales.   Most of the sub-species of orca feed on mammals – which can include seals, sea lions, baby whales, and sharks.   The orcas known as resident orcas (found in the San Juan Islands) only feed on salmon.

It was hard to see and understand what was going on.   There were 5 pods of orcas all making the attack.    The goal of the orcas is to separate the baby from the mama and then drown it.

orcas on the hunt gray whale attack orca attack on gray whale orca tries to separate the gray whale calf gray whale baby spewing blood orca attacking the gray whale orca pod coming in for more attacks

The baby Gray Whale gets on the mama’s back to stay safe.   The 5 pods of orcas took turns ramming the mother underwater.    We couldn’t really see this from the boat (later I did see some drone footage).  And it was even hard seeing and understanding what was happening at the time.

I know that in nature, one animal must die so that the predator can survive, but it is still very difficult for me to watch.   Seeing both animals fighting for survival.    It’s hard.

At least in the water, we couldn’t see the brutality of the attack.   We couldn’t hear the screams or see the panic – until looking at the pictures – when I could see the baby laying on the mama’s back with blood spewing from its mouth.

It took about 1.75 hours for the orcas to separate the baby and then drown it.   The mama Gray Whale, very beat up from the repeated attacks, swam in the area for a little while and then departed as there was nothing more she could do to save her baby.

It is not uncommon for the orcas to breach and jump (we would call it celebrate) after a kill, but these orcas did not do that.    The naturalist on the boat said it was because they didn’t want the Humpback Whales to see them.   It is a common practice for Humpback Whales to protect the Grey Whales and other mammals from attack.   Even after the baby was dead, if Humpback Whales had come into the area, they would have “saved” the deceased baby and not allowed the orcas to feed.

I am in the process of creating a narrated video of the event but it will take me a while to finish it.   It will be posted on my youtube channel when it is complete.

The baby was about 14′ long and will feed many marine animals.   Adult orcas are 16-24′.

These two last pictures were after the Gray Whale Calf had succumbed to the attack.

Male orca female orca in the water

Day 4:  Orcas have a big dinner of baby Gray Whale

Not knowing how the seas would be, I medicated again the night before and in the morning.

I am not a “pill popper” and medication has a huge effect on me.  I was really feeling the fatigue from the pills.

As soon as everyone was boarded, we headed to the site of the kill from the previous day.

Several pods of orcas were in the area feeding from the baby whale carcass.   The whales will feed from the surface and will also then pull the carcass down and feed from underwater.

There was a lot of porpoising (when the whales were just swimming) and we were pretty much surrounded by whales all day.

We had some close encounters with the whales swimming under our vessel and all around.

There were 2 kayakers and it was really sad to see them chasing after the whales.

Orca spy hopping near the carcass of a baby gray whale Orcas swimming orca diving with his tail in the airSummary of the trip

I consider this trip quite an adventure.

Due to Covid, the aquarium was closed and most of the restaurants had a wait because of the limited capacity.   The stores on Fisherman’s Wharf were open and I will admit, we visited a few of the candy shops for saltwater taffy.

I actually prefer watching Humpback Whales over Orcas.   I think they are more active and engaging to watch so I’m not sure if another trip to Monterey is in my future.

If I do ever take an opportunity to come back to Monterey, I will definitely be prepared for rough seas and I would definitely go on Monterey Eco Tours and Monterey Bay Whale Watch again.

More Info

I am creating a narrated video about the hunt and will post that to my youtube page.

I will also be posting more pictures from the trip on my instagram page, facebook page, and the Wildlife Travel and Conservation facebook group.

I send a newsletter out one to two times per month.   Please sign up below for more information about Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and sustainable travel to wildlife rich areas around the world.

I would love your comments about this adventure or any questions!  Thank you.

Is it safe to travel during Covid?

With borders beginning to open, many people wonder if traveling is safe?   What’s the risk?   Should they / can they travel right now?  Some ask is it irresponsible to travel?

Traveling in the world today is a personal choice.   What are the risks and rewards?   I believe this varies from person to person.  For me, personally, I have read about how the people and wildlife are really suffering around the world due to lack of tourism.   Many wildlife rich countries rely on tourism for a large percentage of jobs.   The local people are really struggling to make ends meet and to feed their families.   With the lack of tourists, funding for rangers and therefore anti-poaching squads is limited at best and the wildlife is also suffering.  I chose to travel to support the tourism industy just a little and to support my own wanderlust.

I am certainly not an expert on traveling in these times, but below I detail my experience on the two trips I’ve made during Covid.   The first, a domestic trip in the USA and the other an international trip to Kenya, including a layover.

The travel requirements are changing rapidly and the information provided below is what I experienced.   Be sure to check with the destination and airline to make sure your trip happens without any glitches.


My first flight was the beginning of August on United Airlines from Chicago to Seattle.   I was upgraded to First class because of my status with United.   I thought that was a good thing as the seats are more comfortable in First class and it is a long flight.    The first class cabin was completely full while coach class was mostly empty.

I wasn’t sure what type of health checks they were going to do at the airport or how long security lines were going to be because of the policies of the employees not touching anything…so I arrived at the airport VERY early for my flight.    The airport was empty.   I checked in and got through the TSA precheck line within moments.   There were no health checks done.  No questions about symptoms.   That did make me nervous and I wish the United States would put in some flying policies to keep people safe.

All the staff at the United counter and the TSA staff were in masks.   Everyone in the main part of the airport that I saw were in masks.   I do not, however, believe that it was a requirement.   I was asked to remove my mask at TSA for a moment so they could verify the ticket matched my ID and matched my face.    There was a plastic clear screen between me and the TSA agent.    They did touch my ID and my boarding pass.   I used my hand sanitizer after putting them away.  I carried hand sanitizer, wipes, and multiple masks so I could change them if necessary.

A lot of the lounges were closed but I did find a United Club that was open.   The service was limited (usually there is a buffet of food to snack on pre-flight).   I used my hand sanitizer often.

On my outbound flight, they did have signs alerting passengers it was required to wear a mask on the plane and that they had some available if you didn’t have one.

When boarding the plane, they handed out a pre-wrapped wipe.    They also advertise that the plane is cleaned thoroughly between flights.   During the flight, several of the first class passengers moved their masks to below their noses.   This is not allowed and every time a flight attendant walked by, they would adjust their mask so they weren’t seen.   This did make me uncomfortable as there were no health checks prior to boarding.   The flight attendants made several announcements throughout the trip that is was required to wear them over the nose and mouth.

Food service was a choice of a box that you can normally buy in coach.   My seat mate bought one and so did I.   They were delivered at the same time.   As a precaution, I waited for my seat mate to eat his and put his mask back on before I took mine off to eat.   I did occassionaly take it off to drink water and again, was just conscious of when my seat mate had his off.

I used hand sanitizer often (ie. after unwrapping the plastic from the box, using the restroom, etc) and just periodically.

The Seattle airport was also not crowded.   I rented a car at Hertz.  They had a plastic screen up and lines on the floor for distancing.   The hotel near the airport was not crowded.  They had hand sanitizer everywhere.   They had the seats in the restaurant spaced apart and the wait staff was wearing masks.   Hand sanitizer was on every table as was a sign that showed a table had been sanitized.

On my return home, I again flew United and was upgraded.   This time, they made an announcement that the masks with the breathing vents were not allowed to be worn and they had masks available.   Pretty much the same thing – First class was full, coach was mostly empty.

I felt very safe on the entire trip but self-quarantined for 2 weeks on my return.   A quarantine is not mandatory in Illinois except when arriving from certain states.   I chose to limit my exposure just to make sure I didn’t come down with Covid.    After 2 weeks, I was still sympom free.

I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and for the most part was very happy with the safety procedures in place.   I felt safe the majority of the time and when in a situation that seemed risky, I made sure my own behavior was giving me the least amount of risk as possible.


In the middle of September, I went to Kenya.   As a wildlife enthusiast and passionate wildlife photographer, I’ve been researching the impact that the lack of tourists have been having on the animals – and it’s not good.  Many wildlife rich countries are dependent on tourism to pay the rangers.   With lack of funding, poaching has increased.   Many locals work at the lodges and in other tourism occupations.   Both the wildlife and people are really hurting due to the lack of tourism.

At the time I booked my flight, Europe was closed to American citizens.   However, many airports were allowing transit passengers from the USA. London, Paris, and Amsterdam have clearly written rules about transit passengers.   Frankfurt was allowing transit passengers from the USA but did not have clear rules and I had heard that some Americans were turned away from their flights.    After much research, I decided to fly on Qatar and I splurged for a business class seat – for 2 reasons.   1.  My camera gear weighs a lot and I had heard Qatar was very strict with their carry-on policy and their coach class policy is NOT generous (at least for a photographer) and 2. the business class has POD seats.   If you aren’t familiar with POD seats, it’s like you have your own little room with a door that closes.  The top is open for air circulation but you have no one next to you and this felt like the safest option for the long flight.

Qatar airlines has many awards and I can totally understand why!   Amazing service.

At the O’Hare international terminal, it was a little more crowded than domestic but still much emptier than on a normal travel day.

Even with the plane half empty, they enforced the carry-on rule for Coach customers.   They did not budge on the policy even when the customer was getting a bit billegerent.    I’ve had airlines question my carry-on until I show my camera gear and they have let me through.  I do not believe I would have been granted access on Qatar coach.    For business, they did not weigh or look at my carry-ons.   I did, however use a smaller back pack then usual as I was still a few pounds overweight and left some of my gear at home.  I wonder if I had my larger / normal back pack if I would have had a problem – something to look into before traveling again.

I was through security quickly (didn’t even have to wait in line) and went to the shared lounge.   The lounge had less food / drink options than non-covid days.   The seats were placed apart and although they did have a mask policy, several people were not wearing theirs.

The Qatar flight to Doha was 13.5 hours.   At each seat was a big bottle of hand sanitizer (the size of a hand lotion bottle).   On Qatar, you are required to wear a mask and a face shield.   They handed out the face shields to every customer.   They are required at all times in Coach but at your leisure in Business since you can close the POD door.    The POD was very comfortable.   I’m 5’3″ and about a size 10.   The seat was comfortable but not overly wide.   I would have enjoyed a wider seat.   I felt extremely safe with the POD door closed.   I was in a window seat which had over head bins, so there was not much space above the POD door.   In the middle seats, there are no over head compartments so there is a lot more space over the walls of the POD.   I felt cozy and secure in my POD.  I even got a pair of super soft pajamas to wear.   They too were cozy and very comfortable.

My POD on Qatar for the 13.5 hour flight









On the plane, they showed a video about the Doha airport.   They showed how they were sanitizing the airport and it was impressive.  They use state of the art sanitizing robots.    They have a spa and hotel inside the secure area that looked beautiful.   Lots of shopping too.   I didn’t have too much time to explore and decided to make use of the business class lounge.   They took my temperature before I could enter.   The lounge was very spacious and bright.   Hand sanitizer available everywhere.   They had a luggage check which was very nice as my carry-ons (with camera gear) weighed over 35 pounds.   They did have self-service drinks (so I used my own sanitizer) and I believe they had food, but I didn’t eat in the lounge as my layover was short.

The business class lounge in Doha was very comfortable



















My next flight was 6 hours.  The business class had sleeper seats but no PODs.   It was a 2 x 2 configuration and they had no one seated in the aisle seats – so that was great!    I kept my mask and shield on for the entire flight.  It was surprisingly ok to sleep with the shield on.   I felt comfortable taking off my mask to eat and drink.

The business class seat for the 6 hour flight to Nairobi








Upon arrival in Nairobi, we had temperature checks and had to show proof of a negative PCR Covid test that had been taken within 96 hours of the start of travel.   We also had to fill out a health form.   The risk in traveling to Kenya was if anyone had symptoms upon arrival, everyone seated within 2 rows would be quarantined for 2 weeks.   Since you had to show a negative COVID test to board the plane, I was hopeful that wouldn’t be a problem but was still quite relieved when I was through the aiport and out the other side.

I had heard from some of my contacts in Kenya that they were refusing to do at airport VISAs at random times.   So, it is best to have your VISA prior to travling, which I did.

As I had all my paperwork ready, I was through security and customs within ten minutes.   Collected my bags and was super relieved when meeting with my driver and leaving the airport.

Kenya has a tourism safety certificate because of the Covid policies they have in place.   At every hotel, a temperature check was done.   Hand sanitizer was widely available and most everyone was wearing masks.    All employees had to be tested before returning to work.  In my lodge reviews, I talk about the policies of each lodge that I visited.   The lodge reviews will be posted soon on the facebook group “Wildlife Travel and Conservation“.

Will I travel again?

I would absolutely travel again during Covid making sure to keep myself safe with masks, wipes, and hand sanitizer depending on the location and the policies and procedures they have in place.   At this time, I do not have plans to travel again until May due to photography trips being rescheduled but the wanderlust in me is strong, the wildlife and my cameras are calling… so you never know where in the world I may end up.

You can follow my journies on Instagram and Facebook as Lisa M Roberti.   You can also join my facebook group Wildlife Travel and Conservation to have conversations about both.   In the group, I post lodge reviews and daily recaps of my travels as well as wildlife wins and struggles.    If you aren’t on facebook, you can join my email list to get access to the lodge reviews and daily recaps.

As always, I would love your comments or questions below.


Shadow was one of the truly beautiful souls.   A gentle giant.   Written words won’t ever do justice to his life and what he’s meant to me.  I wish I was a poet so that I could illustrate how amazing his soul is.

Shadow came into my life because of Dusty, my yellow lab.

Dusty was diagnosed with PRA or progressive retinal atrophy – in short, his retinal cells were dying and he was going blind.

I had seen videos of blind dogs with their own seeing eye dogs and I decided that Dusty needed his own companion to help him navigate his life as a blind dog.

Dusty needed a gentle companion.  One that would be tolerant in case Dusty stepped on him, or got close when he had a treasured treat.   One that would be kind under all circumstances.   I researched different breeds for hours and days on end and decided a Newfoundland would be the perfect companion for my precious boy Dusty.

I scoured the rescues and applied for dog after dog and either got no response or was rejected for one reason or another.   As Dusty’s eyes continued to decline, I decided to buy a puppy from a breeder and the search was on for a good reliable breeder.

It was fate that I didn’t get a rescue dog, because I can’t imagine a better fit than Shadow, at least for me.   I found a breeder in upper Michigan.  She just had a liter and I described what I wanted, so I put my deposit down and was the proud new guardian of red boy from Raven.   (red was the collar he had and Raven was his mother)

It was an 8 hour drive each way to the breeder.   I went up two times to see the baby and meet the breeder to make sure it was a good choice.  It’s easy to see from the pictures that I was already in love.  Smitten from the first time I saw him and held him.








At 8 weeks old, it was time to take him home and introduce him to his new big brother.   My mom took the long drive with me so that it was easier to care for him on the long drive back.










He got to meet my dad first.

Shadow and Dusty became great companions.  Dusty was patient with Shadow’s puppy antics.


As all puppies do, he got into all sorts of trouble.  Rolled in so much stinky stuff and was continually getting baths in the laundry room sink.






















Shadow grew fast.  One minute I could hold him and carry him and the next he was huge!  He became the gentle companion that Dusty needed.  If Shadow was chewing on a bone and Dusty stepped on him, Shadow would just look at him with an expression of “oh hi”.




































Shadow loved to run and swim















and roll in the grass.








He loved the snow.










And he LOVED Christmas.   He learned from an early age that sometimes presents under the Christmas tree were for him.   He’d sniff the gifts out and if there weren’t any there for him, he’d throw himself on the ground and you could hear the “humpf” coming from him.   But don’t feel bad, he ALWAYS got Christmas presents.   I learned early on, I could only put them under the tree on Christmas morning when he was outside.   He always knew…I’m not sure how…but he’d come in and run to the tree and he was so excited to get presents.    Last Christmas, in our new house, I found him many times lying under the tree waiting for Santa to come and bring him his presents.
























About 6 years ago, he started having a strange walk.   He would hike his back leg up.   I took him to the vet and after seeing a specialist, he was diagnosed with neuropathy.   They thought he may have nerve sheath cancer.   He started going to physical therapy at Tops Vet Rehab.   At first it was twice a week.  After he could no longer do the underwater treadmill, he started going one time per week.   He loved the attention he got from the therapists and it’s because of the therapy that he lived as long as he did.










Over the course of his 13 years of life, he lived in 7 homes.  He has had 6 “brothers and sisters” and has helped me through the passing of 4 of them (Dusty, Max, Spencer and Caesar).   He is survived by Holly and Rocky.















Shadow was my rock and my companion for the darkest days (and nights) of my life.   He was not only a gift for Dusty but a gift for me and everyone that came into contact with him.   He attracted so much attention with his beautiful black tresses and his 155 pound size (at his prime).  People would just smile when they saw him.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and my words are not flowing to describe his life in a way that demonstrates how amazing he was…so I hope the pictures show how much he was loved and how much love he gave.   It was hard to pick just “a few” from the over 1000 images I have.























You are forever in my heart.   Until we meet again my sweet boy.  I love you.

It’s the space between heartbeats that really matters

They say everything can change in the blink of an eye.   For me, it was more like everything changed in the space between heartbeats, because that space which is usually un-noticeable and quiet, becomes very loud when the next heartbeat fails to come.

Eleven years ago today, and I still remember it like it was yesterday.   Well, that’s not entirely true, some details are now blurred.  I no longer remember the exact time he left this world.  I can’t remember who was standing where around his hospital bed when he drew his last breath and his heart beat its last time.  And although I do remember that I felt my heart explode into a bazillion pieces, I can’t actually remember what that felt like.

I remember so many emotions:  strength, anger, fear, disbelief, shock, worry, responsibility, loneliness, sadness, guilt, love, probably the entire gamut of human emotions was coursing through my body.

I remember the house full of people who loved him and so much “stuff” that had to be done.

I remember the fog I was in, acting more from instinct than from consciousness.

I remember walking through a grocery store, feeling utterly alone and being so angry because for the others in the store, life was just life, and for me, my world had ended.   That was one of the hardest parts.  You still have to buy groceries, do laundry, go to work, pay your bills, live – but how?

I remember waking up the next morning (not sure I even slept) shocked that I had survived one night with him gone.

then a day

then 2 days

I remember after one week and one month, thinking I survived, I can do this.

Each landmark was more shocking than the last because that night, 11 years ago, I didn’t know I could even breath with him gone, wasn’t even sure I wanted to.

What plagued me often in these last eleven years, and especially, in the beginning, was guilt.  what right did I have to be happy?  to have fun?  to laugh?  – really to live when he couldn’t?

How could I be happy when he wasn’t here to share it with me?

I became very responsible and serious trying to take over for him.  In hindsight, it’s funny because although my dad was very responsible, he was also always smiling and positive.

My dad loved the ocean.
Cooking lasagnas for Christmas dinner. Always smiling…always.

I know most little girls grow up thinking that their dad is the best, the most amazing special man – and I was no exception.

My dad had such a beautiful presence about him.  Whenever he walked into a room, you could feel the lightness.  Kids were always attracted to him and he made everyone he came into contact with feel special – from his family to his staff to strangers on the street.  He was just that amazing kind of a person.

I feel so privileged to have been his daughter.

Dad supervising me in the flight simulator.
Me and Dad in Switzerland visiting my sister and her family.

When I was young, we’d play catch while he was grilling dinner.  I helped garden and cut the lawn.  He taught me how to drive a tractor and tried to teach me how to pull a trailer (one lesson I never got the hang of.  I can still jackknife a trailer like a pro).   That thought makes me smile – every time I jackknifed the trailer, he’d have to come to fix it for me.  He helped me fix a lot of things.

He loved to dance and eat ice cream.  He loved people.  He loved life.


Me and dad dancing…one of his many favorite things.
When I was little…just a girl and her dad.
My mom and dad – doing what they did. Enjoying dancing together.
Always enjoyed spending time with my dad.      

I don’t really remember the sound of his voice but I remember it was full of love, understanding, encouragement, and sometimes, thankfully very few, disappointment.

I remember as an adult, how happy he sounded whenever I called him.  I could literally hear his smile through the phone.

I remember at his funeral, the line of people standing outside in the snow and cold for 2.5 hours to pay their last respects.  The stories they told us of what he had done for them and the impact he made on the lives of so many.   It was overwhelming how one man, my dad, could have such a deep impact on the lives of so many people.

I always pretended that I was just like my dad.  I definitely look like him but looks are only skin deep.   I have a far way to go to be the truly amazing person my dad was.

Always smiling.

I believe in spirits and I believe my dad is still here with me, watching over me.  I don’t know where this belief came from or if it’s something I just took on because the alternative is not acceptable in any way.

Even with this belief of my dad watching over me, I still was plagued with the guilt of living full out.  Yes, it had eased over the years and I started my wildlife photography travel again about 6 years after he passed and I found some joy in different areas of my life but it hasn’t fully lifted.

Not to long ago, I was shown something so obvious that I had missed (I will forever be grateful).  Since I believed so strongly that my dad was here in spirit, watching over me, wasn’t I hurting him by not enjoying my life to the fullest?   Would my dad want to see his daughter still in pain and suffering or would it ease his soul to see me happy and embracing life and embrace who I was meant to be?

My heart that exploded into a gazillion pieces eleven years ago is slowly coming back together to be whole.

The lessons that took me 11 years to learn (and still learning):

1.  life can change in small ways and big ways in the space between a heartbeat so make sure all your spaces are full of beautiful things and those that bring you joy

2.  not living to your fullest is punishing you and everyone around you and everyone you care about – so wake up, get up, and live

3.  time doesn’t heal wounds.  It dims the memories and pain but it’s up to you to adjust to your new circumstances and the sooner you do the more you can live

4.  no one benefits from you playing small – so don’t.  Your departed loved ones do not want to see you suffer – they want to see you live, so go dancing, build a snowman, play on the beach, chase your dreams and live happily

5. even though I’ve met so many wonderful people over these eleven years that will never get to know my dad, they can get to know a little of him through me.

6.  I get to be me, the me I want to be, not the me that I think others want me to be because in truth, that’s what they want for me too (thank you Bob Proctor)

Every day, my dad is with me in my heart and mind.  I respect him immensely so my new question is what would dad do?  I take it under advisement and then do it my way (which usually has some of dad’s way built in).

If you are lucky enough to have a parent, grandparents, or loved ones in your life, be grateful and take time while they’re still here to share your life with them and share in their life too!

So dad, for you, for me:  last year I went Kayaking, white water rafting, and tried downhill biking.  I made a snow angel, played in the ocean, and salsa lessons start next week.   I’m treking for snow leopards and seeing Komodo dragons.  Snorkeling in the Galapagos and watching the elephants.    I’m finding my way back to my creative side and I’m living.

–   Lisa

My amazing parents.


Looking regal.
Meeting Shadow
Always find the fun.


I have so many beautiful pictures of my dad, but since this is a public post, I didn’t post pictures with anyone else.

Lipstick – My tribute to this majestic lion, Masai Mara Kenya

My love affair with Kenya started 26 years ago.   Oh, I could tell you it’s because of the people – so kind, welcoming, and generous of spirit…or because of the amazing animals and wildlife areas.   But truly, it’s always been because of the way being in Kenya makes me feel.    From the first moment I placed my foot on the ground, I truly felt a sense of home, of acceptance, of belonging.

My emotions in Kenya run the gamut from awe and wonder to anguish and heartbreak.  Mother Nature is truly at her finest in Kenya and nature shows all of her sides.

After a 23 year absence, my love for Kenya was rekindled in August 2015 – and once again, my heart was set on fire.  During that trip, I “met” some of my favorite big cats.  My curiosity and desire to know more about them, has had me return time and again to Kenya.

This is my story of “Lipstick”.   I didn’t know his name the first time I saw him, but the first day I got to spend time with him is etched in my memory forever.

August 26, 2015

On our mad dash back to the lodge because it was late and getting very dark –  we spotted them – the BIG BOYS!    The ones I have been dying to see.    2 big black-maned lions!    We couldn’t stay – it was late and getting really dark….so a quick snap and then lots of prayers to the universe that we would get to see them again.

The Magnificent Lion, Lipstick, from the Masai Mara, Kenya. My first sighting of the big black mane lions of the Mara
August 28, 2015

The morning came quickly as it always did – crisp and cold, so unexpected when you are in Africa.   I was beyond excited for the day – because today, I get to be with one of my favorite guides, Edwin alone!   Everyone else in my photography group chose to visit a village – which left me alone on safari.

Edwin asked me what I wanted to see.  The guides really can’t control what nature shows us, but they DO have this uncanny 6th sense of finding situations and animals.

So, I told him – I wanted the big black-maned boys!   Like the ones we had seen 2 days before.  So off we went in the dark of the morning, headlights on, to search for these magnificent lions.

About 15 minutes out of camp, Edwin stopped the car and pointed.   I have no idea how he saw anything – the migration was late this year and the honey-colored grass was tall – probably over 5′ in some areas AND it was still really dark!  I figured he saw rocks – but we decided to get closer to see what we could see.

And there they were – 2 of the most beautiful lions I had ever seen.   They had these magnificent black manes and were HUGE!   There were also lionesses and cubs a little ways off finishing their meal from the night before.

Lipstick with his lady friend. Pre-dawn in August 2015. My first chance to spend time with the beautiful black-maned lions.

Edwin and I stayed with the pride for over 2 hours.   I didn’t see much of Lipstick that day, as he chose to stay in the tall grass with his “lady friend”, but my love for him and his brother, Blackie, their “girls” and cubs started that day.    I spent the 2+ hours watching and photographing the moms and the cubs, and Blackie came out of the grass for a little while too.

Blackie and Lipstick’s pride in the Masai Mara, Kenya. Mom with an older male cub. Notice his little mane tufts.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. I stayed with them for over 2 hours and watched the interaction between the lionesses and the cubs as well as the cubs playing together. Three cubs of different ages.
Lipstick and Blackie’s pride. A mother and her cub.
Blackie, Lipstick’s brother, interacting with one of the pride cubs.
January 10, 2016

My next encounter with Lipstick and his brother and pride was 5 months later.   My safari vehicle got a notice that there was a pride of lions on an eland kill.   The pride had successfully taken an eland sometime the day or night before.   This is a very difficult feat and demonstrated the strength and teamwork that the pride was able to maintain.   When we arrived, most of the eland was eaten.   The females and cubs, chubby from their meal were off a ways sleeping off their food coma (well, the mamas were trying – but the cubs kept using them as jungle gyms).   Blackie had just walked off and Lipstick was still feasting on dinner.   Lipstick’s tummy was protruding and round like a watermelon – but he was determined to have more.   We stayed with them for the remainder of the afternoon.

Lipstick with his super round belly continues to feast on the eland kill.


HE thinks that this is yummy!


Beautiful Lipstick in the grasslands.


A display of fleming – where the lion uses all his senses to “smell” the air.


Lipstick, such a beautiful specimen of a lion.
January 12, 2016

My group was lucky enough to see him, his brother, the cubs and mamas again a few days later.   We stayed with them most of the afternoon and mostly hung out with the mamas and cubs.   There were several ages of cubs, including one pretty tiny cub.   We thought he must have just recently been introduced to the pride because he was so little – the mom even tried to carry him a few times when he fell behind.

Regal Lipstick
Lipstick, one of the Kings
The females and cubs go off in search for shade.
Mom checking on the littlest member of the pride.
On a mission


The little one nuzzling with mom.

January 14, 2016

Mother nature showed her tragic side today.   It is always difficult for me to watch an animal die…but nature makes it so one animal has to die so others can survive…and whenever I see an animal being killed, I comfort myself with that thought.   Today, it was different.   Today, I had to bear witness to the baby cub from 2 days ago being killed – not for food – so there was no comfort here.    This is a very traumatic story and one for another day.

Blackie and Lipstick and the rest of the pride were not far.   But even as powerful as the two of them were, there was nothing they could (or would) do to save the little one.

After witnessing the destruction of a life so young, we went over to the Big Boys and the cubs.   The cubs didn’t seem to understand what had transpired, the other lionesses did.   Not sure if Lipstick and Blackie did or if they just “didn’t care”.   The cubs were trying Lipstick’s patience but it was nice to see them playful after witnessing such a traumatic event.    Even with Lipstick being grumpy, the
cubs still played around him anyway.

Lipstick tolerating one of the cubs.
Not too happy Lipstick being gentle with one of the cubs.
Good thing he knows how to be gentle.
July 17, 2017

I got to see my beloved Blackie and Lipstick again in July 2017.   He was with a lady friend on another honeymoon.   I only saw him on 2 occasions on that trip.  To my untrained eye, he looked to be in his prime and still extremely strong.

Looking healthy.
Beautiful Lipstick in the golden light.
Lipstick and his “lady friend”.
Creating the next set of cubs.
Wherever she goes, he will follow.
Ouch, a little blood.
Surveying his “kingdom”.
Taking a rest.
Sitting nicely for his portrait.


January 2018

I knew they were getting up in age and there are several young and strong coalitions in the area, so my goal on this trip was to spend as much time as possible with my beloved black maned boys.   Unfortunately, due to unexpected rains and river flooding, I was only able to see Lipstick and Blackie twice.

Lipstick starting to show his age.
Lipstick and part of his pride resting in the shade.
He looks tired here.
And he sleeps.

As I left the Mara, I had a feeling I may not see them again.    Through different facebook groups and Instagram, I am able to keep up with my beloved cats between trips.

It was with great sadness that on the morning of May 18, I saw the devastating picture of Lipstick – once a beautiful majestic huge powerful lion, reduced to skin and bones and no longer of this world.

A friend of mine gently reminded me instead of grief, I could rejoice in all the moments I got to experience his magnificence.   So, here is his tribute and some of my images of this incredibly beautiful and powerful lion.   A lion that made my journeys to the Mara that much more special and unforgettable.   May you rest in peace beautiful boy in whatever plain you belong to now.

Max (aka Highlander)

I can’t imagine the life he lead before he came to Last Day Dog Rescue…well, wait, yes I can and it’s not nice.

His teeth tell part of the story, no front teeth on the top or bottom.  Concaved canines – probably from gnawing on metal of some sort.   The condition of his body – so skinny even after a month of being in rescue, show that he had known hunger – a lot of hunger and probably thirst and that he’s been on his own for a while.

The fact that he was VERY afraid of guns – tells us that he was probably shot at some time in his life – and since he lived in the streets of Detroit for who knows how long and that fact that he was REALLY  afraid, I’m guessing that he had more experience with guns than I ever want to know about.

He had no hip joints and that caused him a lot of pain.  Pain that was manageable with acupuncture and medication…but not when he was out there all alone in the streets of Detroit.   My poor boy, I don’t want to imagine what his life was like before he found rescue.

I also know that once upon a time, before he came to Last Day Dog Rescue, he knew love.  He had a home, somewhere.   Because when he came to live with us, he had perfect house manners.   Even though he knew starvation, he was a perfect gentleman around his food and during treat time – even allowing the other dogs to take the food from him if they wanted it and people too.   He loved going on car rides and loved to snuggle.

Such a gentleman always waiting for treats

How did he get from a life of love to the horrible streets of Detroit?  That is a question I will never have an answer to.   I wonder if his first humans miss him as much as I miss him now.   Did they try to find him or did they put him on the street thinking he’d be better off?   I want to think the best of them but sometimes it’s hard.

In Spring of 2013, it all started when I was on a cruise with my mom.  Somehow I had gotten it into my heart that I needed to adopt another dog and went to petfinder every chance I could – searching for my next cherished family member.   That’s when I saw the cutest video of Highlander.

It was love at first watch.   I probably watched the video a thousand times.  I emailed back and forth on the terribly slow cruise ship internet with Last Day Dog Rescue – begging them to let me be his human.    Being such the cutie that he was, he got lots of applications and somehow, Last Day picked me to be his human.   I don’t know how I got to be the lucky one but I am forever grateful that I was.

2 days after returning from the cruise, on April 17, 2013, I took the 5.5 hour drive to Detroit with a dog bed in the back of the dog van and a new leash and collar to go meet my new boy.    5.5 hours back home and it was time to meet the family.   Since I had never introduced adult dogs to each other before, Vicky from the Illinois Alaskan Malamute Rescue (www.IAMRA.org) came over to help me make sure everyone would get along.

For the most part, Max fit right in – every once in a while, he’d have a stick up his butt and decide he wanted to be the big dog in the house and he’d go after Shadow, my newfie, who outweighed Max by about 100 pounds.   Shadow, the sweetheart that he is, would just look at Max with the expression of “seriously dude?”.  They would work it out for a while and then every once in a while, Max would be a jerk to Shadow again.   When they loved each other, they would lay together on one of the dog beds or on the floor next to the couch.   Most of the time, they ignored each other and peacefully coexisted.

Shadow and Max, peacefully co-existing 🙂

I think Max was secretly in love with Holly, my mix rescue girl.  He would follow her around like a lovesick puppy.  Holly would tolerate the attention for a little while, but if he got on her nerves, she had no problem telling him so.    They loved to bark at the deer and run up and down the fence line chasing them…and bark at the birds by the lake and of course at the people that would wander into the park next to the house.   I think Holly will miss him just as much as we will.

Max was super tolerant of the very spoiled boy Rocky, my golden.  Oh, Rocky – you really know how to push for more food.  Max would relinquish his food bowl to the “starving” fat boy Rocky whenever we weren’t looking.   So, we had to stay on top of that one – especially in the end when it was hard for Max to eat.  He also liked to play with Rocky.   They never got too rambunctious but they would wrestle now and then and run around together.

Rocky and Max

Max’s favorite place was outside.  He loved to be outside.   Walking the perimeter of the yeard, laying on the deck and watching the world go by.   It hurts my heart that the last few days he was of this world, he couldn’t be outside because the humidity made it too hard for him to breath.    He would lay outside for hours and we always had to double check he was in the house before we went to bed or left to go somewhere.

Max loved his tennis balls

Max also very much enjoyed going to daycare.   Somehow they knew what days were daycare days and Max would run to the laundry room and just dance around and jump around waiting to get in the car.  (how I wish I had taken the time to take a video of him doing his happy dance).

Holly, Shadow, Rocky, and Max at daycare

It made it difficult to put on his leash and collar – but his exuberance was infectious.   It was very hard on him and me on the days when he couldn’t go to daycare but the other dogs could – like when he was recovering from his 2 knee surgeries.

He was such a trooper through those surgeries and his recoveries.   12 weeks for both knees.   Although we knew how much he wanted to go outside and down the stairs, he was never pushy and just made it so easy for us during his recovery.   He took his ice packs and never chewed on his stitches – no cone head for this beautiful boy.

Laying on the deck recovering from knee surgery

Because of his hips and the 2 surgeries, we could see that he was losing strength in his back legs.  His brother Shadow, the newfie, had been going to rehabilitation therapy for a while because of nerve damage, so I thought it would be good for Max.

Max went twice a week in the beginning and then once a week for the last year.   He loved his Thursdays – going to Tops to see Dr. Kevin and especially to see Carrie.  He did underwater treadmill to keep his strength up and also laser therapy to help him with his arthritis in his joints, and acupuncture to also help with his arthritis and pain management.   It really kept him comfortable and helped give him an incredible quality of life with the ability to still do the stairs so he could spend time in his beloved back yard.   I’m going to miss watching him working in his underwater treadmill and him wearing his eye protection during the laser treatments and seeing him relax during his acupuncture treatments.

ready for laser treatment
at Tops ready for therapy

You never think “it” will happen to you.   You always think that there will be a tomorrow.   As I look through the pictures of Max, I realize there are none of him and I together.   There aren’t enough memories captured forever on “film”.  It all happens so fast and in a blink of an eye, everything changes.

Several weeks ago, we got the diagnosis that Max had mystastic oral melanoma – non-operable.   There were treatment possibilities – and we went through the tormented decision of do we treat or don’t we.   Radiation once a week to his throat – having to anesthetized and intubated.   Then to watch him suffer again somewhere down the line.   The cancer was in his nasal cavity, on the roof of his mouth and starting to block his airways.  Ultimately the decision was taken away from us as the cancer was so aggressive that treatment would not have helped in time.  So, we spent time with him and spoiled him and little did we know last night when we went to bed and when he came up on the bed with me, that it would be for the last time.

During the night his breathing became very labored.   I had rented an oxygen machine for him – thinking that if he could get more oxygen per breath, he’d be better off.   So, I sat with him all night with the oxygen machine.   While he was awake, he was fine – he could breathe through his mouth by panting slightly.  It was when he fell asleep – he had such a hard time breathing through his nose that he could only sleep for a few minutes at a time because he would wake up to breath – even with the oxygen.    He started bleeding from his nose – not a lot and I’m not sure from where.   He became a little disoriented from the lack of sleep and we knew it was time.

With the help of an at-home euthanasia vet, we said our final goodbyes and buried him this afternoon up at the family farm next to his brothers and sister he never met:  Caesar, Zoey, Dusty, and Spencer.   I know they were there at the rainbow bridge waiting for him and they will guide him until one day when we meet again.   I told him to tell my dad, my uncles, aunts, and cousins that I love them and miss them and asked that they continue to watch over me and my family.

So now my heart has yet another hole that will never be filled.   Each of these amazing dogs has taken a piece with them.

I will never regret giving Max a home, even though it was for such a short time and even though my heart is completely broken right now.   I wish I  had taken more pictures and videos and of course wish I had spent more time with him.

Everything changes so quickly, I just have to remember to take the time NOW, when I have the time, because tomorrow may be too late.

Frank and Max enjoying the family farm
Max, one of his last days, enjoying relaxing on the couch
Max spending time with me at the office 
Max always loved the outside
my beautiful boy, I miss you!