Most pet lovers get sentimental around their pet’s birthdays, and I’m no different. In fact, as our dogs get older, the more emotional I am. But Buster’s birthday always holds a deeper significance. Partially because, by all rights, he shouldn’t be ours. And partially because this stray dog has made such an unbelievable impact on our lives.

Buster, the German Shepherd Dog on a path in his dog wheel chair

A Stray Dog Changes Everything

Exactly eleven years ago, a stray dog wandered into our lives and changed everything. Rod, Ty, and I had just moved into a brand new house in the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia, and life was good. We ran a successful business from our guest bedroom and spent most weekends at our cottage in the Poconos. Adding another dog to our family – much less making any drastic life changes – hadn’t even crossed our minds. We never could have imagined what was just around the corner.

Buster the German Shepherd dog laying on a blanket with a squeaky ball

When I think about the astronomical odds of Buster, running terrified through the city, ending up in our cul-du-sac, I’m beyond amazed and grateful. We’ll never know if he was dumped, got lost, or dropped straight from heaven. What is certain is that no one responded to the “found dog” posters or reports we published.

But, even after we legally had the option to keep Buster, there were many tear-filled days when I thought he’d better off with another family. I was way over my head trying to train this year-old, reactive German Shepherd. We had no yard, so we spent several hours everyday walking together. And Ty and Rod made it clear they didn’t want him to stay. But through it all, I saw Buster’s potential. And I couldn’t shake the feeling that he was with us for a reason.

Hitting the Road Made Things Clear

Back in 2008, traveling with pets was much harder than it is now. Having won Rod and Ty over, Buster was just beginning to settle into our family when I started planning our summer vacation. The resources to find pet friendly accommodations, restaurants, and activities didn’t exist back then. With two dogs, and Buster breaking hotel weight restrictions, the process was even harder. The frustration nearly caused me to cancel the whole trip.

That’s when I knew we needed create Rod was on board, and a year later we launched the site.  Bringing pet friendly hotels, vacation properties, campgrounds, beaches, restaurants, attractions, and activities together in one place – and providing a road trip planner to make travel planning easy – was all thanks to Buster’s inspiration.

Life Takes A Left Turn Toward Freedom

Around the time we launched, it became clear that traveling with Ty and Buster was the most effective way to encourage other people to use the website. But we needed to make those long distance trips comfortable for us all. We needed a Winnebago. And that meant selling our house. And our cottage.

Buster the German Shepherd dog standing beside purple flowers

When we left Philadelphia, we told ourselves it was only for a year or two. Just long enough to help the website gain some traction. Little did we know that, because of a stray dog, we’d fall in love with the nomadic lifestyle. Now, after more than nine years on the road, we have no desire to “settle down.”

Tribute To Our Stray Dog

We celebrate the day we found Buster as his birthday, though I was the one who received the gift that day. Each year I reflect on how much we owe the dog who wandered into our lives exactly eleven years ago.

Buster the German Shepherd dog with a birthday cake on his 12th birthday

Buster, my sweet boy, you are the best dog. We’ve traveled well over 100,000 miles since you landed on our doorstep, and those memories are precious. But what I treasure even more are these lessons you’ve taught me along the way:

  • Approach every day with a happy heart and a smile. For you, everything is fun as long as we’re doing it together.
  • Be present. You never waste time lamenting the past or worrying about the future.
  • Embrace what is. You have no expectations, so you approach every detour, speed bump, and change of plans like it’s an adventure.
  • Find joy in the little things. Snow, a squeaky ball, and your favorite people all make your eyes dance and your heart sing.
  • Busy is not better. You spend hours at my feet, watching or napping, content to just be.
  • Age with grace. Now that your body is slowing down, our walks are shorter, but you’re every bit as pleased to be outside. You do what you can and make the best of what you have.

My love, time passes far to quickly. And I know that we have more days behind us than ahead. I’m so grateful to have spent these eleven years with you. I’m living my dream because of you. But, more importantly, you’re showing me how to be a better human being. I hit the lottery the day you showed up, and my love and gratitude for you knows no bounds. I promise you, wherever life takes us next, we’ll go together with happy hearts and pockets full of treats.

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  • If I had written my feelings I could not have done a better description of what my German shepherds have meant to me over the years, Amy. As I read what a jewel Buster has been in your life, my mind raced through the many blessings I have had since I first began my adventures with my beloved German shepherds by my side…how lucky I have been…My journey began back in 1969 when I began my senior year in college and got my first GSD … I was never without one (or 2 or 3) for the next 40 years of my life…and when my health and subsequent living circumstances dictated that I could no longer have my beloved German shepherd …I have grieved for and missed my best friends terribly… I started out way back when people were not traveling with their dogs like they do now…I can’t tell you how may time I’ve sneaked a 90 lb 4 legged friend into a hotel room, or napped on the roadside when I couldn’t find a pet friendly place to stay… Trust me…It was REALLY hard to find places to live for many years… and the number one influencer for me was to make sure I could have my big dog… I still don’t like where I live now for no other reason then they have a weight restriction on dogs…. as sick as I was when I came here I still can’t believe I actually moved to a place that wouldn’t let me have a German shepherd. (yes I love my little rescue Dachshunds dearly, but it’s not the same..). At any rate… as always I love your Buster and Ty stories…I cherish your stray dog story especially, and it warms my heart to read the comments of others who feel much the same way. Happy Birthday Buster dog!!! Janie

    • Thank you so much for your note, Janie. It brings tears to my eyes knowing that my boys have a place in your heart. You’re a life-long Shepherd lover, so it might surprise you to know that if I HAD been looking for a dog, I never would have chosen a Shepherd. I knew enough to understand that Shepherds not only require a lot of time and attention, they push you to grow in so many ways. But when Buster showed up, I knew he was there for me and that I’d do whatever it took to give him the best life. I could never have imagined the ways he would change our life, but I couldn’t be more grateful for all the gifts he’s brought us – including wonderful friends like you!

  • Category: Travel Tips / Tagged with:, RVing With Pets