My New Year’s Intention

And How it Took me seven years to get clear on what I value Most.

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Seven year’s ago while on vacation, I started reading a book recommended to me called The China Study. The book’s author,  T. Colin Campbell, PhD,  advocated a “whole foods plant-based diet”.  Thankfully when I bought the book,  I had no idea what that meant.

Plagued with digestive issues since I was a toddler,  I had been on a life long pursuit for a diet that my body would tolerate.  My search started long before holistic medicine became popular and conventional medicine was way out of the nutrition loop.  I tried eating for my blood type, a buffet of high protein diets, and even a diet that suggested combining certain foods would make me feel and look like Suzanne Somers.  After years of trial and error, I settled on a healthy diet of veggies, lean meat with limited dairy and processed foods.   I still battled with some digestion issues, but figured this was as good as it was going to get.

As I delved into the China Study, Dr. Campbell  suggested a diet made up of whole plant based foods would prevent, reverse and cure just about every major health problem afflicting our North American culture.  It all sounded like a simple solution, but really, could I see my self rock’n the vegan lifestyle?  I was a marketing director for a large shopping centre, not a  Birkenstock wearing hipster.

In the  final chapter of the China Study, the author challenged readers to eliminate all animal protein for just 30 days – a month of eating veggies, beans, whole grains, fruit and tofu.  It also meant a month of no dairy, no eggs, no chicken, no fish, no beef, no animal protein of any kind. Having subjected myself to just about every other diet,  I knew I could do it for 30 days.  I went to the grocery store and stocked up on organic leafy greens, beans, tofurkey, veggie burgers, almond milk and a slew of other faux meat products to aid in the transition from omnivore to herbivore.  Shopping the small health food section,  I found products I didn’t know existed like nutritional yeast that when combined with other key ingredients could make a mean mac & cheese without the cheese.

As I piled all my new found faux meats in the fridge, I eyed the left over roasted chicken and decided I would start my vegan diet the next day.  But as I started hoeing into what felt like my last supper, the chicken wasn’t going down so well.  The metamorphosis had already begun.  I took my plate back to the kitchen, left the chicken for my husband and heated up some Amy’s organic lentil soup.

Within four days of eating a vegan diet, my colon was doing the happy dance.  No more chronic bloating, gripping abdominal muscle spasms, and constipation that would send me to the emergency room for an enema.  On top of that, I was feeling lighter and sleeping better.  I was so ecstatic with this drastic improvement, I started shouting my new found veganism from the the rooftop.  If this diet made me feel better than ever, then it could do the same for  my family and friends…right?!!

Wrong.  Most reactions I received ranged from mild amusement, “Oh it’s just a phase. She’ll get over this quick enough,” to downright anger, “How could you even suggest this is healthy and what about protein?”

I quickly retreated and learned to keep my veggie mouth shut.  If asked about my diet, I used my standard elevator pitch, “I eat a vegan diet for personal health reasons.  It happens to work for me. It’s not for everyone. ” It was safe, didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, and kept us on the dinner party circuit with our friends.

I’m not the perfect vegan and I’m not sure if there is such a thing. I live with an omnivore, most of my friends and family are omnivores and a few close friends even farm and hunt animals. My friends will tell you I’ve been thrown off my vegan high horse more than once. I’ve had a life long love affair with pizza, and while I have found satisfying vegan options, once in awhile I indulge in the real thing with my friends at our favourite wood-oven-fired pizzeria.  Our cottage is in Pictou County, home to the Lobster Festival where at the end of the season, fishermen race their boats down the harbour as we dip our lobster in warm melted butter.   And while my fox hunting club may be faux (no animals are harmed), the meals served at the end of an afternoon of chasing hounds on horseback are filled with tempting homemade dishes enough to make any vegan go rogue for at least one meal.

My vegan diet might have been motivated for health reasons,  but in the search for nutritional information and recipes it was impossible to ignore the ethical and environmental arguments made for a plant based diet.  A plethora of animal cruelty videos and documentaries on the effects of industrialized farming flood the internet and are enough to have any compassionate human question their food sources.

I have been drawn to everything four-legged and furry for as long as I can remember.   No dolls for this girl.  My room was filled with plush animals that were tucked into bed with me every night. Years later, I filled my home with the real thing and created a life where I am surrounded by animals and other humans who love them.

So, if I loved animals so much, why didn’t I consider a vegan diet years ago?  Like most of us, I was completely disconnected from the meat sources that were presented in my grocery store to the reality of how they got there.   I would rescue injured squirrels and birds, condemn those who would take a shotgun into the forest to hunt deer,  gasp with disbelief at animal cruelty stories in the news,  all while filling my freezer with neatly packaged chicken, beef and fish.  The food industry made it effortless for me to disconnect the pets and wildlife I admired to the animals who are bred and killed for food.

I’ve made that connection now and while I still don’t have Birkenstocks in my closet, I have traded in my mall career for one where I am closer to nature and the animals that feed my soul.  I’m still enjoying the health benefits of a vegan diet, but my motive has shifted and now my food choices consciously align with my value to respect and have compassion for all animals, beyond the ones I share my home with.
This year, my intention is to honour that value beyond my diet, and be more conscious of how all my actions can contribute to a sustainable planet that respects all beings.  It might mean giving up a few of my favourite conveniences and making some tough choices, but if there is anything I’ve learned from this experience it’s that by connecting my heart to all of actions, I can live up to what I believe in most.

The good news is, it doesn’t need to take you seven years to get clear on what you truly believe in.  As you move into 2017, think about your own personal values.  Once you clearly define them, you’ll move from a place of reaction to self-direction.  You’ll focus on what is most important to you and your actions will reflect what your heart truly desires.

 
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Tails Wag for PTSD Service Dog Charity Hike

14409648_1129940547097610_4529927360485618838_oOn Saturday September 24th, almost 100 dogs and even more humans hit the trails at Uniacke Estate Museum Park with a goal to raise $10,500 – enough to provide life changing service dogs for three Nova Scotia first responders living with PTDS.

Hosted by Muddy Paws Adventures,  the third annual Trails N’ Tails  charity hike invited the general public, first responders and their canines to participant in a 60 minute nature hike with all proceeds going to the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s First Responder PTSD Service Dog Initiative.  Along with spending time on picturesque trails, participants enjoyed the Salty Dog BBQ, sWAG bags, prizes and an action-packed demonstration from the Halifax Regional Police K-9 unit.

Koko and I extend a huge thank you to our family, friends and MHFNS volunteers who helped with everything from baking hundreds of dog shaped cookies to traffic control.  Two paws up to all of our sponsors who helped us get the word out, provided swag and prizes, BBQ supplies, and a beautiful venue.

Most of all a big thank you to all who took part. It was especially heartfelt to see so many first responders, military and service dogs join us.    If you haven’t yet donated and would like to support the police, fire, EHS, search & rescue, and military personal who have sacrificed their own mental health to save lives and protect our communities, please visit our Gofundme page. With your support, we’ll reach our goal!

A Walk In the Park For Those Whose Life Isn’t

hero1Humans and hounds will be hitting the trails on September 24th for Muddy Paws Adventure’s annual Trails N’ Tails charity hike in support of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia’s PTSD service dog matching initiative for first responders.

Trails N’ Tails was born three years ago out of a desire to create a social enterprise to my newly formed dog hiking business.  After spending 20 years in a corporate industry that always gave back to its community, it was important for me to carry that culture over to my own little company, how-ever small the contribution might be.   I was having a hard time wrapping my head around where my help would be best served, until I attended a  conference featured presenters from around the Maritimes who were all doing their part to improve the lives of people and pets.  Medric Cousineau, military veteran and founder of Paws Fur Thought, was one of those presenters.

As  I sat spell bound with the rest of the attendees listening to Medric share his life threatening struggles with PTSD and how one Yellow Lab saved his life, his message was hitting very close to home.  My father, a Naval Chief Warrant Officer, struggled with his own mental health until he ended his life at the age of 43, just shortly after retiring from a decorated 25 year military career.  I was twelve years old and it was 1981, a time when suicide and depression were kept in the family vault.

As  Medric ended his talk, he asked everyone in the room to help – to lobby government, increase awareness, and raise funds, so more veterans and first responders living with PTSD could receive the same life saving support of a trained service dog.

Along with being a Navy brat, I’m also the wife of a police officer.  For over 20 years, I’ve witnessed the day to day stress that our emergency service personal endure.  While one significant event could very likely have a devastating effect on their mental health, it is also the cumulative years of serving their communities that can take a tole on their well being.

I tried to find the courage to introduce myself to Medric after his presentation, but I couldn’t trust my own emotions in that moment.   I felt 12 years-old again and while I wanted to reach out, the thought was paralyzing. It wasn’t until months later that I introduced myself to him through an email and a proposal to host a charity dog hike in support of his organization.

The first year, Trails N’ Tails raised just over $2000 for military veterans in need of service dogs.  The event was a family affair with my sister, mother, husband and good friends all pitching in to make the day a success. We were thrilled by the contributions, but even more gratifying was seeing the very people we were raising money for brave a day at a public event for a cause very close to their hearts.

By year two, Medric had joined forces with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia due to the overwhelming requests he was receiving  from first responders in need of help.  That year, Trails N’ Tails raised enough funds to dramatically change the life of one Nova Scotia first responder living with PTSD.

This year, our goal is to do the same for three more first responders.  Along with raising funds through participant pledges and a Go Fund Me page (for those who can’t join us at the event),  we’re also challenging first responders throughout the province to enter teams. My husband and our dog Koko will be heading up this challenge and are inviting fellow emergency service personnel to support their own living with PTSD.   For more information on this year’s Trails N’ Tails event, click here.  See you on the trails!

5 Tips For Winter Treks

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One of the most enjoyable things about our long Nova Scotia winters is watching the snow fall from the comfort of our homes preferably in front of a crackling fire.  But before you get too comfy and settle in for a long winter of hibernation, Koko and I have a few good reasons why we all should embrace winter, throw on our boots, and head out for a snow covered hike.

  • Our winters are far too long to spend away from nature and all of the physical and mental  benefits it has to offer.
  • You’ll burn lots of calories and can reward yourself guilt-free with your favourite hot sugary beverage.
  • It is beautiful.  The sun is lower in the sky and when it glistens off the snow, it is breathtaking.
  • It is the one season the trails are completely bug free!
  • Our dogs love it.

Before you hit the trails though,  we have  five tips to ensure you and your pooch have a safe and enjoyable hike.  Please remember to always consider your dog’s age and heath when taking part in any physical activity.

1) Find a dog friendly trail – Always go where dogs are welcome.  Look for trails where people have cross country skied and beaten down the trail, so your dog isn’t sinking chest deep in the white stuff.  Until you are familiar with the terrain, keep your dog on a leash.  Partially frozen lakes, icy trails and deep snow are all potentially hidden dangers in winter months. 

2) Shorten your hike – Because your dog is working harder and burning more calories when moving through snow, consider shortening the duration of your hikes. Throughout the winter, they can build endurance and work up to longer treks.

3) Take frequent breaks –  Most dogs don’t know when they’re getting too much of a good thing, so take frequent breaks and allow them to catch their breath. It’s also a perfect time to check for snow build up between their toes and re-hydrate them with a drink of water.

4) Gear up – Many dog breeds are well equipped to handle cold Canadian winters and have incredibly efficient built-in paw warmers that keep their toes toasty.  Other dogs with thinner and shorter coats may need a bit of help.  Investing in a dog jacket and even booties might make your dog’s outdoor winter adventures more enjoyable and fashionable!  Don’t forget to bundle yourself up, preferable in layers that you can easily shed if you get too warm.  This dog walker doesn’t leave home without her “clamp-ons”, studded attachments that fit on to your boots and provide grip on icy trails.  Highly recommended to prevent bruised tail bones.

5) Apres Hike – Be sure you give your dog’s paws a good cleaning after your hike, especially if you’ve traveled over salt covered ground.  And finally when you’re back home, curl up with your pup for a well deserved nap.

Trails N’ Tails

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A Walk In The Park For Those Whose Life Isn’t
Last September, over 50 dogs and almost twice as many humans rubbed noses at the inaugural Trails N’ Tails charity hike raising over $2000 for canine rescue and veterans living with PTSD in need of service dogs. 

This year, tails are wagging as Muddy Paws Adventures teams up with the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia to raise funds for their First Responder PTSD Service Dog Initiative.

The Foundation, in partnership with military veteran and PTSD service dog advocate Medric Cousineau (Paws Fur Thought), launched the initiative in November 2014  and has since raised enough funds to match 32 service dogs with first responders in need.

This year’s Trails N’ Tails charity hike takes place on Saturday September 19th. The 60 minute nature hike will weave through some of Hants County’s most picturesque trails in Uniacke Estate Museum Park, a perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors with your favourite canine.  Participants have the option to make a donation or collect pledges.   In addition to helping first responders, proceeds from the on-site BBQ, draws and games will  go towards local animal rescue.

Along with raising funds for our favourite canine related causes, Trails N’ Tails is designed to expose the mental health benefits of spending time in nature and the therapeutic advantages of dogs.

For more info, visit  https://muddypawsadventures.com/trails-n-tails-fundraiser/.

Live Life Off Leash

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Last year, a friend gave me a bumper sticker that read, “Live Life Off Leash”.  I thought what a perfect mantra. For me, it means putting fear and worry on the back burner, so I can get on with doing the things I love and leading the life I want to live. Sometimes that  means making decisions that may be scary to take action on, but knowing in the end that action will get me closer to the life I want to have.

Our Charlie Dog took the “Live Life Off Leash” metaphor more literally.  Many days we started our hikes together only for me to be walking home alone because he had found a scent that deserved further exploration.   There have been a few times over the years when I have counted on the kindness of friends and strangers to help get Charlie back to me. Most of the time though it just required some patience on my part until he trotted out of the woods wearing a sheepish look on his face.  Each time, I would tell him, “That’s it!  No more off leash adventures for you!”…and then a week would go by and I would ask myself why was I projecting the fears I managed so well in my own life onto his.  He deserved to live life off leash too. 

A month ago today,  Charlie went on one of his adventures just five minutes from home. This time he didn’t return to us.  I have  spent the month filled with worry, grief and guilt.  In between the searching and praying for his safe return, my mind kept returning  to the “what if’s” and “Why didn’t I’s” –   Why didn’t I just keep Charlie on a leash.

We adopted Charlie from the Truro SPCA 11 years ago after the loss of our first two dogs just months prior.   I had been searching on Petfinder for the next four-legged love of our life when I came across a nine-month old beagle/lab mix at the Truro SPCA.  We  brought Charlie home three days later on the heals of the most massive snow storm to ever hit Nova Scotia. We spent our first month getting to know each other playing snowball catch.  He was a timid, but affectionate,  little guy who would often welcome visitors by unintentionally taking a nervous induced piddle on their feet.

It wasn’t until years later when the two of us  took up hiking did Charlie grow out of his timid tendencies.   As he got better at sniffing out squirrels and manoeuvring at high speeds through brush and fallen trees, his confidence grew off the trail.  His nervous accidents all but disappeared and he began greeting  strangers with a wagging tail.  His off leash adventures transformed him into a confident little man.

As much as it breaks my heart that Charlie is not with us today, it fills my heart that he enjoyed the same freedom and sense of adventure I value so much.  All dogs are special and for me Charlie was my inspiration for creating a life off leash – one that provided a livelihood where I could spend my days with him by my side in the countryside and in the community I love.   He may not be by my side today, but he is always with me.   

The best way I can honour Charlie now is to embody the same qualities I loved in him – his sense of adventure, his strength, his gentle way, his trust in others and his kindness – the same qualities we saw in so many of you who donated your time, resources and talents to help us try and find Charlie.  What  was a tragedy for Sean and me has also become a gift.  The massive outpouring of help we received has opened our hearts and our eyes. It has given us a deeper connection and  appreciation for each other,  our family and friends, and our community.  I’m grateful for this and grateful for the 11 years, almost to the day,  we had with such an inspiring life-changing little dog.  We will never stop looking for you, Charlie Dog.

Humans Welcome!

West Hants-20120406-00130The only thing better than spending some time on the trails is sharing it with a truck full of fuzz faces. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday morning by 8:00 am, Charlie and I jump in the Sierra to pick up our pack members for the morning’s hike.

The fun starts before we even hit the trail with every dog acting like they’ve won the lottery when they hear me walk in their home. You can never get tired of feeling that appreciated.

Once all the dogs are collected, we make our way to one of our favourite trail sites. When it’s time to release the hounds, I open the tail gate and the dogs explode out of the truck busting with excitement.

Sometimes we stick to the tried and true trails and other times, we find ourselves blazing new ones often in search of Charlie who has decided it’s time to shake things up.
The dogs are happy on whatever trail we choose as long as we keep moving. If we stop, I’ll hear barks of protest and be

slobbered with passive-aggressive licks. Even stopping to do something out of necessity, like tying my boot, needs to be done with a strategy. Most times, a bit of stick throwing does the trick.

During our hikes, I always feel a sense of gratitude. Even on the rainiest of mornings and the Siberian-like winter days, I feel like a lucky dog. My packs keep me smiling (their happiness is contagious), focused, and moving forward as we explore the trails we are so privileged to use.
After 90 minutes in nature chasing, wrestling, sniffing and swimming, the dogs are happy to jump back in the truck to get their treat. There’s always the odd hold-out who will hide behind a tree and stay perfectly still hoping they can’t be spotted. But they can’t resist a gluten-free sweet potato treat for long and eventually succumb to their bellies.

After dropping the dogs back home, I feel just like they do – relaxed and happy. And ready to do it all again the next day.

Join us!
So now you have an idea of the day in the life of a dog hiker, it’s time to join us on the trails.
Muddy Paws Adventures now welcomes humans the first Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every month. In return for joining us, we ask for a monetary donation of your choice towards one of our favourite canine-related charities.

So if you want to laugh, live in the moment, feel at peace, and in general – be a more relaxed and happy human, call me, email me or message me on Facebook. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

Christmas Traditions

boobyWe all have our holiday traditions. For the Townsends, it’s opening our home to our God Dog, Reuben. Reuben is a beautiful, well behaved English Setter, but a few indiscretions have almost landed him on the Naughty list.

The most memorable Reuben holiday mishap was his attempt to make off with the Christmas turkey by discretely snatching it from the kitchen counter.

Reuben’s faux pas always take place at my Mother’s home where only a few select dogs have ever graced her doorstep. Every year, my mother protests Reuben’s presence and every year we show up with him. He’s brought her flowers to make up for his indiscretions, such as throwing up on her rug and goosing my Uncle’s new girlfriend. My Mom just shakes her head and goes on record that she already has enough to do without worrying about another dog in the house. I appeal to my Mother by telling her that Reuben has gifted us with stories to share for many Christmases to come. “See you on the 25th, Grand-God Mom!”

For more stories, read our mpa winter newsletter 2014.

Trails N Tails Fundraiser

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On Saturday September 27th, humans and hounds alike will hit the trails of Mt. Uniacke Estate Museum Park in support of canine rescue and veterans battling PTSD.

Presented by Muddy Paws Adventures, Trails N’ Tails is a 45 or 90 minute nature hike (participant’s choice) through some of Hants County’s most picturesque trails. Participants will have the option to make a donation or collect pledges with all proceeds going directly to Paws Fur Thought and Atlantic Small Dog Rescue.

Along with raising funds, the event is designed to expose the mental health benefits of spending time in nature and the therapeutic benefits of dogs. “Two years ago, I left my career in the city to launch Muddy Paws Adventures. It wasn’t long before I realized what a positive impact hiking with a pack of happy, energetic dogs had on my well-being both physically and mentally,” says Linda Townsend. “My goal is to share the experience with others while helping two very deserving canine-related causes.”

When: Saturday September 27th
10:00 am Registration
11:00 am Hike begins
12:30 pm Presentations & BBQ

Where: Mt Uniacke Estate Museum Park, Registration in Carriage House

For more details: Trails N’ Tails Brochure & Pledge Sheet

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About Paws Fur thought: Conceived through “The Long Walk To Sanity” by Veteran Medric Cousineau in 2013, Paws Fur Thought advocates and fundraises for veterans with PTSD in need of service dogs. Paws Fur Thought

About Atlantic Small Dog Rescue: ASDR’s mission is to provide foster care for small dogs in need while working to place them with permanent, committed and compassionate adoptive families. ASDR

An Advocate For The Misunderstood

camilliaMost of us are familiar with the good work of animal welfare organizations like the SPCA, but there are also many dedicated individuals who have taken it upon themselves to help homeless animals in their own unique way. Camellia Saunderson has differentiated herself from the pack by helping dogs of certain breeds who often fall into the wrong hands like American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Boxers, Bull Dogs and Rottweilers. Named after her own loveable Pit Bull, Buddy’s Bully Rescue is on a mission to find homes for misplaced and misunderstood dogs who, despite their origins of being farm herding and cart dogs (Rottweilers) and nanny dogs (Pit Bulls), have gotten a bad rap for being bullies.

“Unfortunately many people take advantage of these breeds’ size and strength and use them as, protection, status symbols or for illegal fighting,” says Camellia. One by one, Camellia trains and rehabilitates her rescues transforming them into the well socialized, loving, family dogs they were meant to be.

While Camellia is the driving force behind her rescue, she has had the help of her partner, Luke Therrien, and many other supporters who have been instrumental in providing temporary accommodations, grooming, training, adoption coordination and endless fundraising for Camellia’s cause. Dances, auctions and spa days are only a few of the initiatives that have raised enough funds to feed, house, train and provide veterinarian care for the 71 dogs Camellia has rescued since April 2013.

This September, Muddy Paws Adventures is going to do its part to help these pooches by hosting “Trails ’n Tails”, a 90 minute fundraising hike for humans and canines in support of Buddy’s Bully Rescue and Mental Health. More details on our ‘good for the mind, body and soul’ fundraiser coming soon!

Bully Breed Truths….

1.  In tests conducted in 2009 by the American Temperament Test Society, bullies scored better than several breeds that are rarely associated with aggression, including beagles and collies.

2.  Research conducted at the University of Georgia shows that bully breeds don’t show any mechanical or morphological differences in jaw structure when compared to other dogs — nor do their jaws come equipped with locking capabilities

3.  The Centre For Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, but bully breeds are less often to blame than many other breeds. To date, there is no scientific proof that bullies are more commonly involved in fatal attacks than all other dogs.

4.  There is no actual evidence to suggest that bully breeds are a riskier adoption choice than any other types of breeds.

For more information on Buddy’s Bully Rescue and their adorable adoptables visit buddysbullyrescue.vpweb.ca.