When most people want to take a hike they just grab their boots, their dogs, and head out the door. For others, there a number of factors that affect their decision to get outside.
Kelly is a thirty something year old Canadian who is a proud dog mom to Corn and Melon (@odd.dogsquad). When she’s not working as a Registered Nurse, she enjoys getting outside whenever she can. She shares her life with her boyfriend, two dogs, a tortoise, a parrot and a chronic illness called Multiple Sclerosis.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is defined by the Canadian MS Society as an autoimmune disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The disease causes damage to nerves that result in a variety of symptoms that include vision disruption, extreme fatigue, difficulty walking and trouble with cognition. Its cause is unknown at this time. Canada actually has one of the highest rates of MS in the world and women are three times more likely to be diagnosed.
As with many people who have MS, Kelly wasn’t born with symptoms – she didn’t know she had it until she was in her adult years. In December 2015 she woke up in the middle of the night with tingling pain and numbness below her knees. The next day the sensation had risen almost up to her chest which landed her in the hospital as the pain continued to worsen. It wasn’t clear at first what the cause of the pain was, but extensive testing was conducted and her diagnosis was officially confirmed in April 2016.
Kelly admits that she has been incredibly lucky so far. “Some days I forget I have MS until I take my medication. However, when I was first diagnosed, it was challenging to understand and cope with the uncertainty of the disease. Mentally, I struggled for several months.”
But Kelly knows this won’t always be the case. As time goes on, she will face more challenges, in particular fatigue and nerve pain in her legs. Extreme temperatures, stress and lack of sleep can all exacerbate this pain. Due to the uncertainty of the disease and the variety of possible symptoms, these challenges will be ever changing. But that doesn’t mean that adventure has to stop.
Corn was the first dog that came in to Kelly’s life. Her boyfriend told her on their first date one of his life goals was to get adopt a dog. After some research he decided that a retired greyhound was the right choice for him. He reached out to a local group and met a few dogs before meeting Cornelius. Cornelius was a greyhound mix who had been in rescue for a while as he was “more dog that most greyhound people were looking for”. Her boyfriend knew that Corn was the one and much to Kelly’s excitement he decided to adopt him. “We knew he would be a challenge but his outgoing personality and rugged good looks were worth giving him a forever home.” said Kelly.
While Corn was enjoying being an only child, Kelly and her boyfriend knew they had room in their home and their hearts to adopt another dog. Kelly explains “The story of Melon is a bit more near and dear to my heart. We had been looking for a second dog for several months. We had met a couple but nothing just seemed to click. Two weeks after my official MS diagnosis, we drove to Calgary to meet a dog by the name of Rhubarb from a local rescue and took her to Edmonton for a trial period. That dog never went home and became our Melon. I think the moment I knew she would be staying was when I crouched down to meet her, she knocked me over and licked my face. Sealed the deal right then and there. Because of the timing of my diagnosis, she really came into our lives when we all needed it most.”
As most of you are aware, dogs can have a significant impact in our lives and our mental well-being. Having two dogs can create interesting dynamics. For Kelly, each dog has their own unique role in helping her face challenges. Cornelius is her social butterfly – he helps keep her energized and engaged. They are involved in many fun dog sports like agility that push her to get outside and face the world. On the other hand, Melon is her emotional barometer. She is in tune with how Kelly is feeling, sticking close to her side when Kelly is struggling mentally. Melon is the perfect mix of encouraging physical activity and rest days (who doesn’t like a good couch cuddle session). While they both have different roles they do have one thing in common – they bring joy, laughter and adventure to her life every day.
In learning to live with MS, Kelly has focused on stress reduction and staying physically active. Both of these are more easily accomplished by adventuring with her dogs. “I have found a new love of the outdoors from watching the way they interact with their surrounding environments. Seeing Cornelius wade into a mountain lake or watching Melon scent the alpine air makes me appreciate our natural world and want to explore more of it.”
We all face struggles in life but it’s important to make your life your own. “I used to try and compare my abilities to others and I quickly had to abandon that mentality. What may be a more challenging hike to me would be an easy hike for others, and that’s ok. There’s no need to compare. I also had to learn it’s ok to strike a balance between pushing yourself and knowing when to rest.”
While her diagnosis has changed her life, she chooses to not let it define her. Kelly explains “living with a chronic condition will have some impact for the rest of my life. Some days are better than others but what I do know is my life is better with dogs at my side.”
Want to see Kelly’s inspiring adventures with Melon and Corn? Head on over to Instagram and give them a follow @odd.dogsquad.