This New Year’s eve, on the cusp of another trip around our tiny little Sun, we join billions of people around the world in reflecting on the last year of our lives – and wondering what the future may hold.
November 17th marked the three-year anniversary of the day we walked into the Pacific Ocean and brought a vibrant chapter of our lives to a close. We look around now and see a life that was unimaginable to us only a few short years ago. Living the “domesticated” life, our pilgrim’s sense of wonder is easily eclipsed by work, paychecks, bills, meetings, and social commitments. The truth is that we cannot be who we were as pilgrims while we are living in one place like this. Neither one of us can be as wide open to every experience – it’s just too overwhelming. We put on the blinders as needed, keep our heads down, and try to push forward a little every day. We keep a hard eye on the big picture of our goals, but it’s unnervingly easy to lose sight of the small victories and steps we take every day.
It is funny how we’ve come to measure our year by Walk anniversaries and where we were this time in 2012, marking the calendar in states crossed and lessons learned in hopes of holding on to who we were out there on the road. When I am looking for answers in my life, I meditate on where we were on that day during the walk, how I was feeling, and what I was learning about myself and the world. I think this is why we revisit places from the walk whenever we have the opportunity: It puts us in touch with who we were at our best and fans the little flame of inspiration that we still carry with us. I miss the clarity and peace of the Walk most of all – the kind of peace that washes over a person when they are able to fully accept themselves and each thing around them as a beautiful piece of the intricate tapestry of time and space; when we can embrace this opportunity to be “part of the mystery”- or something like that. That’s the thing – there really aren’t words for it. That’s why it can be so hard to hold on to. You just know when you’ve been there.
“Don’t let your dreams be dreams”
When we planned the walk, I could see it before it happened – a vision of the future we wanted to have. A year and 1/2 later, we found ourselves on the Atlantic coast looking west and facing challenges we still couldn’t even anticipate. With a daily regimen of positive thinking and sheer stubbornness, we made the walk happen. The long game that we are playing now is harder to see. The steps are not clear and simple like items that can be crossed off a grocery list or miles walked to the destination. This time, it is difficult to even make a list in the first place. I am holding dozens of related pieces of a puzzle without knowing exactly how they’re going to fit. I just have to have faith that they will come together when it is time.
On that note, 2015 has been a year of many hard-won milestones for our little family. The biggest decision we made this year was to buy a house here in Louisville. We searched for quite some time before we found the right house with a small, simple floor plan, big private yard, affordable mortgage, and a location that gives us access to this city’s parks and vibrant neighborhoods. After many turns of fate and incredibly stressful days and nights lining up our priorities and finances, we finally settled on a 100-year old shotgun-style home in the Germantown neighborhood. Our new house is cozy with less than 1,000 square feet, but it has everything we need. It’s funny how living in a tent can make any house feel like a mansion.
Now I know what you’re thinking (because we sometimes wonder the same thing:) How can we go on another big Walk Across Somewhere if we are stuck in the middle of a city paying a mortgage? Patience, kiddos – it’s all part of the plan. Buying a house in the city was not a passive decision of convenience. Training dogs – particularly those who work in public like service and therapy dogs – requires a great deal of socialization. They need to be out the in world seeing, smelling, and hearing as many new people and things as possible. For those of you who have wondered how we could live in a metro area like we do, this is why: We can expose our dogs in training to cars, buses, motorcycles, sirens, other dogs, and strange cats just by walking out our front door. For public access work with service dogs in training, grocery stores, restaurants, and malls are easily within reach. I always saw myself on a farm by 30 and yet here I find myself living in downtown Louisville. It is a calculated sacrifice, but well worth it as a dog trainer.
At the beginning of 2015 I left the restaurant after 14 years in the service industry and began working full-time as a dog trainer and building our company, Good Job Dogs, LLC. This past year, I have been able to train professionally, take on new clients, and focus on developing our business. It’s slow going, but we have made so much progress! We have business insurance to cover almost every dog-related activity we could think of. We are building a strong network of trainers and organizations, including (but not limited to) Best Friends Animal Society and the Kentucky Humane Society – Kentucky’s largest animal welfare organization. Just this fall, I took and passed my “Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed” certification exam – one of the only nationally recognized dog training certifications. I’m officially Kait Whistler Seyal, CPDT-KA.
Our company motto is “helping dogs in need help people in need.” In that spirit, we look for special dogs in animal rescues and shelters and train them to work as therapy or service dogs. We have had a parade of incredibly talented and loving dogs through our home over the last few years. Each one has found a home and we learn something new from each experience. Max, Jenny, and Grace – the house dogs – have been great mentors to our dogs in training. They work very hard to set a good example when we bring new dogs home and I think they enjoy the playmates. Even Old Grace seems to like the activity. It is true that everybody breathes a sigh of relief when a dog in training finally moves on to their forever home, but it never stays quiet for long – there is always another dog on their way in our door. Our home is never a dull or quiet place and we like it that way.
Now that we have our home base of operations established, we are once again plotting our escape back to the nomadic life. It seems a little backwards, but the bottom line is that we don’t want to hit the road again until we can make the lifestyle sustainable – hence all the business building. We don’t want to be tourists; we want to be residents of the road. Back in 2012, somewhere in Indiana, we started dreaming up this life where we would buy a big RV or a bus of some kind and convert it into a mobile home/ dog training center. We could travel from place to place finding good working dog candidates in need of homes all over the country and training them on the road before placing them in new homes. As we continued walking west, we kept kicking this idea around and refining it as we saw the benefits of integrating our dogs into our nomadic adventures.
We ran a formative experiment out there on the road. Everywhere we went, Max and Grace went too. And we noticed that they were good – not because they were perfect when we adopted them, but because of how we live with them. Their environments and situations were constantly changing, but the rules and their people – their foundation and confidence – were consistent. “Listen to me and follow my lead, little buddy, and everything will be just fine.” Perhaps we we were just lucky and adopted two fantastic dogs. But the more I have studied and learned, the more convinced I am that so much of who they are is largely a product of having a reliable foundation as we go new places and do new things all the time. Generalization is the key – learning that no matter where we are or what we are doing, the expectations and rules are the same. “Sit” means “sit” at home, in the woods, riding on a boat, or shopping at the mall. Some of the best mannered dogs we have met are those living with hitchhikers, street kids, nargles, and trekkers. These dogs’ lives are chock full of exercise, exposure, socialization, and generalization.
When we picked up Jenny, we were as transient as ever – living out of a car and slowly walking our way across Iowa. By joining us, she unwittingly signed up to be our guinea pig for a grand experiment. She never knew a life with us other than one where she always got to go places. Our surroundings were changing constantly when she joined us, but we always gave her the same guidance no matter the situation. Within 11 months, Jenny was taking and passing all of her AKC and Service Dog exams. Jenny is our success story. She showed us what a vibrant life on the road could do for a dog and gave us the inspiration for a crazy dream that we are still chasing to this day.
So, about that bus…
Old Greg is a 25-foot 1987 International school bus. We bought him from a good friend this past May – just a month after closing on our house. He is currently sitting and waiting, safely parked in our backyard (that we specifically selected to accommodate such a vehicle). There is much work to be done – we need solar panels and water storage among other things in order to be more self-sufficient, but he is converted to run on waste vegetable oil and has had extensive work done to the interior. When it is time to get back on the road, Greg will be our first mobile training unit. We have had plenty of people laugh at us and tell us our plan is too crazy to work, but that sort of talk has never stopped us before. It is slowly becoming a sign that we might just be on the right track. The first bus adventure is still a ways off, but we have plenty of projects to keep us busy and move us toward our goals until it’s time to hit the road once again.
But wait – there’s more! This summer our bestest buddy, fellow dog trainer, talented musician and support driver extraordinaire, Jon Jon Jon Slater, moved to Louisville from San Francisco with his dog-training fiancée Rachael and his good Old Brown Dog. They are planning to help us train good dogs for good people and build the next project. We are stoked to finally get the band back together.
As we plan and build our next steps together, I think a lot about how much we were able to accomplish with just a couple of therapy dogs, an idea, and the support of our loved ones and new friends. Perseverance pays off. If the Walk was possible with so little, there can only be greater things to come. We have built so much since then and learned so much more. Great things have happened and more are on their way. We couldn’t be more excited for 2016. From our little family to yours, let us offer a toast for the new year:
From where we have come, and to where we are going.