On March 21, 2023, at 4pm, we lost an integral part of Two Travelin’ Chicas and a Corgi. Gandaulf had been with us since he was a mere 10 weeks old. He was the cutest little corgi muffin we’d ever seen. It had taken me months to talk Chris back into letting me get a puppy again. I was up for the challenge of house breaking, training and cuddling and with Chris traveling so much, I’d now have a companion to keep me company.
We went and got him on February 22, 2010. He was full of energy and very sharp teeth. I spent the first 2 hours and last 2 hours of everyday, training and playing with him so that he would be able to go to work with me everyday. He graduated his puppy class at 5 months old, the youngest they’d ever allowed into the class, and I dare say, the smartest. He never did like car rides much, and being his moms were car dealers, that became a big joke. Maybe it was his tiny legs? Maybe not being able to see? Maybe because everyday we drive a different car, truck or SUV…he never did warm up to rides in the car until we started to travel in the van.
By the time he reached three years old, he had charmed his way into many hearts. He was a great greeter at Salt Lake Imports, our dealership, and an even better sales dog. He loved to play ball so he would distract the customers while they were buying a car. He would do the cute thing and lay his head on their shoes and look up with his big endearing dark brown eyes. It was at 3 he started training to be a service animal.
We started out with walking through malls, airports and riding the light rail. He knew all the commands but when it came to walking through buildings with multicolor floors, he’d lean back on his hind legs and stop abruptly. Everyone around us in the airport, would pile up behind us and laugh as he made quite a scene. Eventually he overcame whatever he saw that scared him and he’d walk, ears back, head held high and little legs scurrying under him to keep up.
It took about 3 months to get him fully trained enough to get his jacket and register him with the US Service Dog Agency. Gandaulf was now a registered service dog and could travel anywhere, go anywhere and knew how to behave. He was one dog out of his jacket, but once we put his jacket on him, he transformed into another. He was always quiet, never begged in a restaurant, and ignored other dogs like he had on blinders. He was just perfect.
Chris and I loved to travel, and now Gandaulf could go just about anywhere with us. His first plane ride was 4.5 hours from Salt Lake City to Virginia Beach. Then he went to Mexico, Costa Rica, he was even an honorary “corn dog” in Nicaragua on Little Corn Island. He has been on sailboats where more pictures were taken of him than the sunset the tour was about. He had become a traveling partner and just loved every adventure. We always joked that he thought we traveled awfully far just to play ball.
He took to swimming, streams, Alpine Lakes and loved body surfing in the Oceans. He would help land any fish we caught on the banks of a river or in our white water raft. He loved to ride on kayaks, paddle boards and even had his own backpack for coming along on bike rides. He owned a climbing harness, life jacket, vibram sole booties and a snow jacket for messy Utah winter days when the snow was deeper than he was tall.
When we decided to retire early, we had to figure in our boy into our plans. We originally wanted to move out of the USA and settle down but with Gandaulf, that wasn’t gonna work out as well. He was a world traveler but the amount of paperwork and rabies vaccinations and other requirements made it difficult to go to more than one country at a time. Vanlife was just becoming a thing so we decided that sounded like fun! On November 11, 2017, we bought a 2015 Ford Transit Cargo Van and begun researching solar, plumbing and how to build out the perfect travel van, and begun building.
After 3 long years of trying to sell our business, Salt Lake Imports, we finally had a buyer and on March 2020, we wrapped up the paperwork on the sale, finalized the sale of our house, and diligently finished work on the van. She was done in June 2020, just in time to escape the madness of COVID-19. We dubbed her SleepyTurtle and had a wrap put on her of a Turtle made of turtles from the Iroquois legend of Turtle Island. We hit the road and spread our new found wings of freedom.
Gandaulf traveled like a king, after all he was a Corgi. We bought a child’s beanbag and stuffed it between our seats, making a cushy seat even in height to ours and he was able to see out the windows and cuddle up to us if he chose to. He had his own vent for AC or heat. If a window rolled down, he was right there to checkout whatever might be thinking of invading his castle. He greeted everyone with a smile and butt wiggles, no tail…
From June 2020 to February 2023, we traveled all around the western US, Canada and Baja Mexico. We laughed every time we saw a “brown forest service sign” and took off on an unknown road. The beauty of this type of traveling. We had built up the van for going off road. She had the largest off-road tires we could put on her, steel skid plates under her belly and protecting the differential. We had custom “rock rail type” nerf bar running boards made and a custom roof rack to hold her solar panel. We could be off grid for up to 10 days or longer when we are by water.
In July 2021, I noticed a small clump of strange tissue inside of Gandaulf’s eye. We immediately called his vet and within a few days, had flown back to Salt Lake for a vet visit. He needed to be seen by an eye specialist, so we flew back to Idaho and drove home to Salt Lake. Gandaulf’s appointment was thorough and the doctor came back with the news. He had developed and interocular tumor, but the pressure in his eye was good so it wasn’t an emergency to have his eye removed so we kept having the pressure checked and took pictures every week and sent it back to the docs.
It was on a hike in July 2022 that we noticed the first big change. We were hiking down to a river to do some fishing, Gandaulf hiking as usual until he started to sneeze backward. We don’t know if he snuffed up a grass seed or just some dirt but the pressure of the inward sneezes, caused the tumor to rupture inside his eye. He was obviously in pain. The next morning, he was in for a complete work up at a new vet in Colorado. Full X-rays, blood work and pressure check. No issues found other than the ruptured tumor. We got some pain meds and eye drops and in a few days he was right back to normal.
Life went on as normal for us…As normal as it was after loosing both Chris’ dad and little sister in January 2022. Gandaulf was approaching 13 years old and we started noticing his mental state was declining. It was harder for him to get in and out of the van. He had become very reactive to being touched, putting on his life jacket or service jacket became dangerous if you touched him wrong. He had become a vicious dog just out of the blue. He had less energy and was definitely showing signs of slowing down. Ball time got shorter and shorter and bu September he was having a hard time seeing in low light. His hearing was going and he was loosing his mind.
October 2022. We came back to Salt Lake to have a ceremony for Chris’ dad out in the west desert as he requested. I had really become worried and was afraid of my dog, I had been bit twice by him during his little temper tantrums and was beginning to see the end coming. We took him to his vet, Dr Kara, and he didn’t recognize her. She sat on the floor and cried, while explaining that he had dementia and appeared to be in a great deal of pain. She prepared us for maybe needing to help him out of his pain and confusion. We gave him 4 days to respond favorably to a new medication regime, and as usual, Gandaulf responded well and we learned how to live with his dementia and crazy moments of rage.
We were off again on the road, heading for Oregon for a stint of house sits through January. We explored Bend, Maupin and finally Portland in all it’s rainy glory. Gandaulf was sleeping a lot and needing more help to get up and down stairs and in and out of bed. He still loved to go on hikes with us and ball chasing still was his favorite past time.
January 2023 found us planning our winter trip to Baja. We planned on heading down the Oregon and California coast, stopping along the way to visit old friends. The rain was relentless, with atmospheric rivers hitting the coast causing devastating floods and mudslides. By the time we reached Palm Springs, we were able to dry out and stop while awaiting our new tags for the van so we could cross into Baja and start our winter adventure. Three days from us planning to cross the border, the guys that bought the dealership called and told us they weren’t going to be paying rent and we’re vacating the property. Our plans had been dashed once again. We needed to pack up and drive back to a wintery Salt Lake City, frozen by a very snowy, very long cold spell, needless to say we weren’t happy.
We lucked out and found an AIRBNB in a friends basement that served our needs while we sorted out the empty building, repairs and release or sale. Gandaulf slept a lot and was patient while we made repairs, painted and shuttled back and forth from home to the shop for the next 6 weeks, 6 weeks we could’ve been in Baja, toes dug into the sand, playing ball and hiking around. Six weeks that should’ve been all about our last hurrah with Gandaulf.
On the morning of March 20, 2023, Gandaulf woke up as he always did, lying on the bed waiting for his moms to help him down and give him his morning meal, scratches and walk. When I got up to help him down, I noticed his eye was weeping and he seemed to be reacting to bright light. The tumor in his eye looked normal so I didn’t give it a second thought. All that day and the next, his eye continued to weep and he was being more cuddly and needy than was his norm. On March 21, the eye had gotten worse and he wasn’t opening it at all. I knew in my heart that this was not going to end good.
We called his vet, who was in the Caribbean for the week, texted his other vet and a good friend who adopted older ailing Corgis, looking for someone to tell us what we wanted to hear, but all three gave us the same sage advice. It’s always better to go out on a good note, while he still remembers you and before he is so far gone with pain and confusion, that he’s not the dog you’ve known and loved. We took him to the only vet that could see him the same day. The tears started as we left him with a strange vet and waited to hear what could be done. At 10:30 the phone rang, the vet said she needed to remove the eye but needed to do all these tests first to be sure the “cancer”, first time I heard anyone call the tumor cancer, hadn’t spread. Of course we agreed to do whatever it took to get our boy happy again. The phone rang again, Gandaulf needed to be sedated just to do the ultrasound. It was time to stop all treatment, keeping in mind the advice we had been given. We went to the vet and picked him up.
The next few hours we played ball, ate ice cream and ate hamburgers through the tears. Gandaulf seemed to be perfect, enjoying his playtime and extra special treats. I held his paw as he napped one last time on his throne in the van and Chris and I cried asking each other if we were doing the right thing. We just wanted someone else to make the decision and speak the words. At 3:30 we took him back to the vet and we’re escorted into “the room”, the finale to a great life and the most compassionate act in our lives together. At 4pm, as I held him in my arms, Gandaulf went to sleep, never to wake up again in pain in this world.
We truly thought we would die right there along with him. We knew however that he would not want us to stop living our life of adventure and travel. We knew that this little guy was a tremendous part of our lives and he was going to be missed dearly. We knew that the tears would flow, some days would be good, some not so. It’s been almost two weeks, we are still struggling but slowly getting on with our lives. He will always be remembered by all those he touched in his short life. He had a huge impact on ours. Someday the pain will not accompany the tears, the tears will dry up and a smile will replace them when seeing his pictures, his beautiful smile, all our memories that he was part of. Someday…