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Years ago, my first soulmate dog, Finn, and I took a hiking trip to Asheville, NC. Finn loved walks and exploring and was far enough out of a second ACL surgery that his veterinarian had no concerns about our rambling through the Blue Ridge Parkway. 

My spunky boy wasn’t great at self-regulation, so I searched for short strolls before we ventured into the mountains to ensure he didn’t overexert himself. We found the 1.9-mile loop around Beaver Lake. The walk was peaceful and tranquil, with glistening still water on one side and emerald, lime, and chartreuse trees or big, beautiful houses on the other.  

When Gavin and I revisited Asheville in 2017, thinking we might move there, I took my sweet boy to the same lake and meandered around, feeling the same sense of serenity, calm, and connection with a dog who also filled my heart with love.

After bears were sighted in the parking lot of my hotel last week, I chose Beaver Lake instead of mountain hikes to reconnect with nature and myself before and after exhibit hours at the IAABC conference.

As I circled the lake, I felt Finn’s strength, resilience, and mischievous sense of humor. And when I saw a red heart spray painted on a path sign, I felt my lug’s presence deep in my soul, his vibrancy and adoration. I walked the path a second time and thought of Gavin, how he taught me to love myself, give myself more grace, and have compassion, which I didn’t know I was capable of, and I looked down and saw a heart-shaped rock buried in the dirt path right at my feet. My connection to my sweet boy’s soft spirit and sparkling light was palpable. 

I left Beaver Lake full of love and grateful for every second I had with my boys; both changed my life’s trajectory and helped me connect with parts of myself I want to nurture. I was thankful for Mabel, who reminds me to play, laugh, and connect with nature on quiet walks with her. 

And I was so appreciative of the beautiful human connections I made in Asheville, a cruelty investigator, a talent acquisition manager, both with the ASPCA, and a fellow pittie lover and entrepreneur, all three I hope to stay in touch with and see again.

I was ravenous after I left my walk and stopped at the first place I found, a dive restaurant serving burgers and sushi (not a likely choice for a vegetarian). Still, I found a few things on the menu while chatting with a local farmer who gifted me CBD ointment, which has helped drastically ease the pain of a persnickety shoulder. Ah, gratitude and connection again. 

So, today, I offer you this: may you find sacred, deep connections with humans, dogs, nature, yourselves, and anyone you encounter. May we all say a silent “thank you” when we’re blessed with togetherness, community, and kinship. 

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