With a love of photography and a fun Instagram account for Lucy, because who knew there were that many Saint Bernard lovers? I discovered how great the Instagram dog community was but truly didn’t know how passionate they were until I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. They gave me love and support from all over the world while I was in the fight of my life, so while in a hospital bed I decided that I needed to give back.
The Saint Bernard wasn’t a breed I ever expected to love, I was a die hard animal rescuer and shelter dogs were my choice of breed. But over the years I’ve also learned that you should find a dog that suits your lifestyle or maybe they just find you.
I encountered my first Saint at a dog lovers festival called Woofstock. Watching the owner stubbornly try to push a 230 pound, also stubborn dog into a Toronto water fountain to cool down on a hot summer’s day kept me rooted in one spot. I marvelled at how well behaved and gentle he was when the owner gave up, dropped the leash, and let a dozen or so kids literally climb all over the massively hot, slobbery dog like he was a pony. All the while being photographed by a huge crowd of people and clearly he loved every minute of it. I knew then, that was the dog for me.
I then spent the next several years photographing my sweet Lucy while exploring the beautiful forests of Ontario, Canada and built up a following of other die hard Saint lovers (and other dogs!) on Instagram. All the while, buying up anything and everything I could for big dogs because I couldn’t find anything for Saint Bernards that I liked.
While on a camping road trip with Lucy down the east coast of the United States we stopped in the little town of Senoia, Georgia, otherwise known as Woodbury of the AMC show The Walking Dead. We jokingly said, Lucy is so perfect, let's get another one and name him after Norman Reedus! So along came Norman, a 25 pound puppy full of beans. Soon after, another camping road trip, a hot, sleepy Norman in my husbands arms so he could be closer to the air conditioning, we drove down the road for another adventure. I snapped a quick 30 second video of the extreme cuteness that was a giant puppy in my husbands lap, and just as quickly moved him back to safety. I uploaded the video to Instagram without thinking and then it went viral. As in millions of viewers. My instagram account blew up to tens of thousands of followers and they wanted more.
They cheered Norman on when he was afraid of the stairs and happily watched his silly antics in extreme cuteness overload that only a giant puppy can do. They loved Lucy even more watching her teach him how to be a good Saint.
They even kept following when I couldn’t post about their daily lives as I was diagnosed with a life threatening cancer that came out of no where.
I couldn’t live without weekly blood transfusions and needed a stem cell (bone marrow) donor to save my life. Without one, I only had a 10% chance of survival. Luckily, someone, somewhere in this giant beautiful world was a 100% unrelated match and they agreed to be my donor. And if it wasn’t for all the wonderful people who took the time to donate blood, I would never have even had a chance for a stem cell transplant. So, I began many treatments at the Princess Margaret Cancer centre in Toronto that lasted over a year and is still counting.
During my treatments my doctors and nurses kept my spirits up by chatting with me about my dogs, and how amazing my followers were for sending me gifts and cards in the mail, and sending me strength from all over the world. Buzzfeed even created a few videos of Lucy and Norman, here's one here, here and this one. And then there is this one of me coming home from the hospital after not seeing them for over a month.
The moment I started feeling better in the hospital, I started designing. I was still beyond exhausted and had very little energy to even sit up in bed but I was determined and stubborn just like my Saints. Even chemotherapy and radiation treatments wasn't going to stop me. And just days after receiving my stem cell transplant I stubbornly kept designing.
As a professional graphic designer, I wanted to give back by designing great dog owner apparel that also raises awareness for blood cancers and blood donation and what better ambassador is there than the original rescue dog, the Saint Bernard? And I just happened to have two that were beloved by thousands.
I then spent the next several months building a business while fighting a battle.
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