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Human Epik Journeys

The Way It Ended

It is with sadness I let long-time readers of Abby & Keeper's adventures know that both, at age 12, have passed away, in fact, within a single month of each other, Abby in late in October, 2010 and then Keeper late in November, 2010.

Both were victims of Hemangosarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer that is like a ticking bomb inside of them. When it finally bursts, the end is only a short ways away. For various reasons in both cases, an operation to save them would not have been in their interests.

Abby seemed to be recovering well from an earlier cancer surgery but the more aggressive version of cancer, aided by an already weakened immune system, had been building and then finally, unknownst to ourselves, had burst inside her. We had thought her difficulty a complication from the earlier surgery but then found out the grim news and had to make an immediate decision as she was in pain and her time remaining with us limited to only days in any event if nothing had been done. 

It was a sudden, stunning departure that left us heartbroken, particularly for a Golden girl who had been so strong and indomitable in life.

Five days after Abby's passing, our heartbreak was doubled when we learned we would have less than a month with Keeper  . . . . . . and, 26 days after seeing her sister-in-life pass away, Keeper quietly left us as well.

In the end, unlike Abby, Keeper was not in pain and we were grateful to have the few weeks we needed to have the gentle goodbye which we weren't afforded with Abby. 

Keeper, a week before her passing . . . . her strength had been fading but she was not in pain and seemed to enjoy her days, although she spent a lot of time sleeping both inside and outside. 

Keeper was the most innocent being I think I've ever known, completely without guile or pretense. It was a privilege to have known such a beautiful, unguarded soul. 

Abby was very smart, if not clever and, as such, was acutely aware of all her minor crimes before, during and after she had committed them but was nevertheless a wonderful personality who pursued all her adventures with a determined spirit and sense of adventure. 

Abby a few days before her sudden passing . . . . . doing what she loved to do right to the end.

While Abby & Keeper played a large part in our lives in the time we had with them, through Goldentales they also impacted the lives of others who had never met them.

Through the years their guestbook and other cyberspace avenues drew messages from people who told us Abby & Keeper's stories and ongoing photo blog became a warm blanket to periodically return to, comforting those who had lost their own pets or humans.

And when they passed, through cyberspace, from around North America and beyond, we received hundreds of messages of condolence from those who knew them only through this medium but were touched by their absence nonetheless.

We could not have known their lives would have had such an impact when we originally set up this site for the specific use of my two godchildren in Ottawa nearly ten years ago and a kind of "how to" project for myself. 

But, such was their gathering fame that last Fall, on a walk out west in the mountains, Abby & Keeper were recognized on sight by a pair of their fans, a lady and gentleman in their 50's, who asked; "Are those the dogs with the website?" 

That's when I knew they'd become rock stars.

We live longer than they do. That's the way it is. Always. So this moment was going to happen at some point  . . . . but to have news about both of them within a single week and then have their ultimate passing within a single month all seemed somewhat cruel. 

It was a great 12 years with Abby and 11 years with Keeper (she came to us as a rescue at 1 year of age). 

They've brought a lot of energy and joy into our lives and yours as well I'm sure. That's what we will remember and we hope they are once again adventuring without pain wherever they are right now.

We will maintain Goldentales as a memorial to our wonderful chums and, I will hint right now, we do expect other Golden bums to to be wagging their tails in our lives at some point in 2011.

I do not doubt our little corner of cyberspace will be renewed again when that time comes.


Keeper, a few days before crossing the bridge, weakening but wanting to enjoy more outdoor time, listening to the sounds of the valley, barking at any perceived intrusions . . . . but it was 20 below zero celcius here . . . . so time outside was limited.

A relaxed Keeper at daybreak in early November . . . . . after her diagnosis.

Late October

Dear friends,

It is with sadness I tell you that Abby passed away today, October 28, at the age of 12 years.

A new, much more aggressive form of cancer, Hemangiosarcoma, had invaded her liver area and burst, causing massive internal bleeding.

Her red blood cell count was dropping rapidly and she wasn't being oxygenated, leading to shortness of breath and a great deal of abdominal pain. This basically came up within the last two days.

An aggressive operation could have saved her but would have bought her only another six to nine months . . . . and the cancer is of a type where this situation stood a good chance of coming up again within that time frame, perhaps several times. On top of the leg issues and other cancer, with this new one also needing chemo . . . . and the fact she'd have only, probably, into the Spring and would have been confined a lot of the time indoors through the winter, we felt it was time.

Without the operation, she had only a short while to live, perhaps only days.

With the earlier cancer, an outlook of 18 to 24 months after the chemo finished seemed like a reasonable tradeoff but this was too short a time frame with too much debilitation.

We did what was best for Abby.

She was in pain in the end and as we saw her a last time and were with her at the end, any grief I might have had melted away . . . . I was happy to relieve her, even eager for the nurse and vet to come back and get on with it, but for Carol, although also agreeing it was time, the pain is probably deeper. I get all the press but Carol spends far more time with them on a daily basis and is their primary care giver. The daily routine of caring for them, with Abby's high energy absent, will be more difficult.

On getting home, I took Keeper outside and even though she probably needed to pee like a racehorse after being cooped up for six hours, she stood beside me and kept smelling a pant leg, perhaps sensing it might be her last whiff of Abby. Or that might be sentimentality speaking.

We outlive them. That's just the way it is. If you go through it once, it colours the way you look at the next one. We have said goodbye to a dog before, a Sheltie named Becky, and when we got Abby as a puppy, I remember looking at her and thinking this day would arrive and when it did, I wondered how I would feel . . . . the memory of Becky's departure still raw a year later. 

Our farewell with Abby was not a lingering one, the circumstances coming up very suddenly. We awoke in the morning only knowing she would be going to the vet for a check-up, to see what was ailing her. We honestly thought it was just another complication - expected - from the earlier chemo.

One of my favourite moments with Abby, among many, was earlier in her life, on a crystal clear, cold, mid-winter night, strong moonlight lancing down and creating shadows even in the lateness of the evening . . . . just the two of us out on the endless expanse of the prairie, chasing each other, bounding, crashing through crusty snow and eventually falling into a heap, laughing and wrestling. A personal moment of purity, just the two of us, the moon and stars our only witnesses.

Never to be repeated.

Raise a glass to Abby and a life well-lived.

Below, one of the last images I have of Abby (foreground), two days before her passing, out exploring with Keeper . . . . and then a rapid descent.


Abby . . . . . and the first taste of the coming winter. At this point, she was recovering well from earlier cancer and leg surgeries.

Keeper barks at some distant coyotes while Abby watches and Polly balefully ignores them . . . . 

Keeper at daybreak . . . . 

An abandoned homestead filtering the morning sun . . . . 

Early October

Abby is feeling better after some rough days from the first effects of chemo . . . . . and her hair is starting to fill in again.

Keeper in the Fall . . . . .

Abby and Keeper, lounging in the early morning of a fading Fall . . . . 

As her chemo kicks in, Abby has had a rough few days, but her white cell count remains in a normal range which is the key thing as she grinds her way through the chemotherapy process. Basically, it's an upset stomach which is preventing her from eating much, or certainly anything with any odour to it (the good stuff), so that means biscuits and treats and carrots, etc . . . but she's gradually perking up. Her leg was also acting up a few days ago but she has no limp or stiffness today. A visit to the hospital to check her white cell count happened to nab her leg surgeon to give her a quick once-over and he said she was doing fine. She also got some extra stuff to calm her stomach. Five more chemo treatments to go.

Abby's hair, post-surgery, is gradually filling in. The chemo might mean losing her whiskers though. Normally allowed to range freely over her four acres, Abby needs to be leashed for the next while to prevent her re-injuring her leg after her recent surgery.

Life is not-so-fun for a sick Abby . . . . but better days are ahead. She just plunked down in this spot and went to sleep . . . . 

Abby's on the move again . . . . . albeit on the end of a leash. Her leg is much better but chemo injections are now upon her . . . . . and that will weaken her again. It will be an unpleasant four months for Abby as she recovers from various surgeries and undergoes her chemo treatments . . . . but she seems to have an indominatable spirit . . . . . and hopefully still some years in her favourite place.

Polly in the Fall

Fall colours, on the Sheep River, west of Turner Valley

Fall colours, west of Turner Valley

Curious Polly

After a solid 10 days straight days of rain and cold, Abby gets some days warm enough to lay outside, on a leash pinned to the apple tree, as the long convalescence for her injured leg continues. 

Unfortunately, Abby will have to have three or four months of chemotherapy injections, which we are told should give her 18 months to two years of "quality life" from January onward. At the end of that, both Abby and Keeper would be 14.5 years old, heading to 15 (we hope) but already long-lived as far as Golden's and other mid-sized dogs are concerned.  Without the chemo, Abby might have a year to live. Abby's next four months were going to be trying anyway with recovery from her leg surgery so we've decided to put the chemo in there as well. Hopefully, she and Keeper will have an energetic few years still ahead of them. 

We'll have to get Abby a thick sweater for the coming Fall and winter months  . . . . but on this day she was retreating to the shade to keep cool.

Mid September

Abby's stark new reality . . . . . a frosty September morning and on a leash to prevent her from running, tattered and shaven after surgery to remove a cancerous mass from her lung and the other side of her not so nice as well with a shaved leg, surgery there to repair a torn cranial cruciate ligament.

Abby's moments outside are limited this week . . . . . . a few times a day and only for five or so minutes at a time . . . . . but enough to explore a frosty fence line.

 . . . . and then back into a confined space in the house to while away her days recuperating, even as the sun shines outside . . . . . she's expected to make a full recovery and be off on Epik Journey's again in four months.

The ever-scheming Abby waits patiently outside the garden, hoping to score some peas or carrots or potatoes from the humans. 

For Abby, this was the calm before the storm. She had surgery the next day, this time to correct yet another self-inflicted wound after she tore her cranial cruciate ligament in her back left leg whilst doing something out in the field.

That would have seemed to be the big news but a precautionary X-Ray looking at her larynx - she'd been coughing a bit lately - also revealed a cancerous mass in a lung. 

Fortunately, Abby won the lottery as far as cancer goes as the mass was deemed to be "primary," meaning it was the original source rather than a by-product of other cancer throughout her body as would be more common.

Abby had a second surgery a few days later and the mass was successfully removed. It may have been caught early enough that she may not need follow-up chemotherapy. We are awaiting pathology results to see if that is the case.

Abby, 12 years-old this summer, is now home, torn and tattered, missing a lot of hair from being shaved for the operations and with a plate and bolts in her "knee."

It's not nice but she will be fine and the prognosis for the cancer is very good.

Largely confined to a narrow area of the house and on limited, leashed walks outside for the next while, the ever energetic, high-tempo Abby is going to have a pretty boring next four months. 

But she's made it through a difficult period and we hope to see the start of more Epik Journies when the snow is the deepest.

This has been a painful summer for Abby after earlier surgery to remove the two (2) six-foot leather leashes she had eaten, the removal of three teeth and then a painful hobble she developed after ripping up tendons and ligaments while ripping out a nail clean to the root whilst mining for rodents. 

At 12 years of age, Abby's zest for life was starting to write cheques her body can no longer cash . . . . . but we don't expect her to slow down. 

Thank you for all your best wishes.

Keeper is also a cancer survivor, having endured three operations and follow-up chemo as a ten year-old in 2008.



One never tires of this walk so you see it many times in this blog through the year, in all seasons. For Abby, a peaceful glide through the tall grass where we found . . . .

 . . . .a bald eagle angry at the passage of Abby & Keeper. It is very rare to see them in our area this time of year but a nesting pair have stayed for the summer.

Keeper in the weird forest . . . .

Forest flowers

A weird photo in the weird forest

Abby has turned 12 years of age . . . . 


Abby wends her way through tall prairie grass . . . . .

. . . . after the storm

A prairie landscape

To Hailstone Butte

Abby and a new friend explore the Hailstone Butte fire lookout on a warm summer day. This is too long a trek for Keeper, who stayed home this day.

Another new friend. This grizzled gentleman has been occupying these fire watch stations for 30 years, arriving in this case in May and planning to be here into mid-October. Last year (blog 2009) a lady was here when we visited, but she had been substituting while the veteran above had some medical issues taken care of in that year. He doesn't have internet but he does have a television and he says the ferociously named "Hailstone Butte" doesn't necessarily live up to it's name, but he does watch storms forming over his head go on to beat up the prairie in the distance. It's a fairly sheer drop on the left.

Abby, on top of the world

Abby, heading home

A grassy respite

A day earlier, a hot day and cool swimmin' for Abby & Keeper at Upper Kananaskis Lake . . . . some winter snow still lingering in the background

Moose Miss on the prowl

Mid July

A useful skill for every dog on the prairie . . . . . getting through a barbed wire fence. Keeper used to run into them and bounce off them. She's still nervous about them.

A favourite walk for Keeper . . . .

. . . . yields the final resting place of a cow . . . . 

Free ranging . . . .

and endless walking on the prairie . . . . 

Old Gold . . . . . . Abby will soon be 12 years of age.

Another day and a higher-up walk for Abby . . . .

Abby sleeps in the clover . . . . 

Middle of summer explorations with Keeper and Abby . . . . . . 

Gold at the end of the rainbow 

Abby on the run . . . . .

Summer in the rain-dappled forest . . . .

Early July

Keeper on the blooming prairie . . . . .

Abby resurgent . . . . . . more than a month after her surgery and three weeks after tearing ligaments and tendons in her left front foot, Abby is once again energetic and running on the prairie.

It's hot, hot, hot . . . . .

End of June

Enjoying the early evening, Abby and Keeper

Abby at sunset

Mid June

Abby resurgent . . . . . less than two weeks after her surgery and with her vet's permission, Abby is once again braving the prairie. 

Keeper listens . . . . . and listens.

Abby and Keeper turn 12 this summer . . . . . . through all those years they've carved out their own trails through our property, trails that will probably linger for decades after they're long gone, a perpetual reminder of who once lived here.

Explorations on a foggy day . . . . .

Early June 

Abby is feeling better after her operation, here at sunset and off on another exploration. The shirt is a temporary thing to help convince her not to touch the stitches across her tummy.

The spectacular Spring plumage of the Ornamental Plum doesn't concern Abby. The purple show should be over in a week.

Days after her surgery, the normally energetic Abby is still glum and sore.

 . . . . . but there were some fun times too.

Keeper engages a coyote . . . . the beast was trying to lure Abby and Keeper away but the fence keeps everyone apart. Chasing the coyote along the fenceline wasn't good for Abby, who needed to rest half the day to get her strength back.

A passing storm leaves some coolness

Keeper checks out a happy Abby, her epic 24 hours of poking, prodding and finally surgery with a night away from home now in the past. Rick had cleaned out the garage and left two (2) six-foot leather leashes out on the sidewalk in a pile of other leashes. Abby chewed them up and swallowed them, leaving only the metal clasps. The debris didn't come out of her at either end, she couldn't be made to throw them up and finally she had to have surgery to remove it all. Upon getting home, a groggy Abby, an eight-inch incision still fresh, went for a run around the yard before settling in this pose with a concerned Keeper finally able to catch up and check her out. No Epic Journey's for Abby for about two weeks. 

Late May

A late Spring snowstorm engulfs Abby . . . . .

And more snow

Abby can spend an hour or more patiently listening for movement in the tall grass surrounding the willows of her home. Catching a mouse is the potential reward.

Abby and Keeper at home on a Spring morning . . . . .

Abby is comfortable in the deepest, darkest forests

Mid May

Spring has finally arrived for Abby

Early blossoms for Carol

Maude never misses a chance to cuddle up to Abby

Daisy and Maude are like-coloured sisters . . . . and Skyler is their friend. 

Polly in the Spring 

Baby Bighorn Sheep make an appearance

 Early May

Keeper and Abby, adventuring on the Sheep River Trail

An earlier weekend, up, up, up in the snow . . . . . in May, Keeper and Abby forge ahead anyway

Keeper calls it a day . . . . . in the morning while Abby gives her head a shake.


The day before, Keeper treads through the remnants of a Spring snowstorm, west of Turner Valley  

Mid April

We waited patiently as Keeper implored us with dough-eyes for help in jumping this jumble of logs. We waited and waited . . . . and then she figured it out.

Keeper welcomed the icy conditions on this otherwise hot, hot, hot walk in the sun. 

Lingering winter at Upper Kananaskis Lake . . . . but it was a hot day, about 19 Celcius. 

Early April 

Run hot in the cold with Abby and Keeper . . . . .

. . . . . and cooling down . . . . .

Abby lost in the immenseness of it all

Creeping through a canyon, trying to sneak up on a bald eagle . . . 

. . . . but enjoying the moment as well 

Our unsuspecting quarry, seen from the canyon floor, surveying the valley on the other side of the cliff. We had spotted this large shape coming up a hill the other way. We circled widely around, all the while being watched with mostly disinterest, then out of sight we had dived into the canyon and come up behind . . . . . . but he/she eventually spied us. You may not believe it, but It's hard sneaking up behind a bald eagle and anyway, what do you do if you're successful?

A mucky trek as lake ice retreats. This was making a loud, continual whummming and thrumming as the wind shifted the sheet around.

Mid March

First swim of the year for Keeper . . . . although pretty chilly for anyone else without lots of hair. West of Bragg Creek on the Elbow River. The path we were walking was virtually impassable with slick ice, a peril at this time of year. 

Keeper finds lotsa snow up in the mountains . . . . 

. . . . . but not as much as the last time we were here.

A sure sign of spring . . . . somebody wrecks up trying to cross Threepoint Creek. There's still rotten ice under the water and he's fallen into a crack. This is a very handy shortcut - known by the locals - most of the time but not all of the time. 

Early March 

Spring is early . . . . . Abby and Keeper enjoy a warm, snowless early evening at their home . . . . . .

. . . . . . but Keeper can still find lots of snow if she looks hard enough

Abby found a bone . . . . . and this is the spot to chew it

Where's breakfast? Hey!!! Wake up in there!!!!

Late February

A philosophical Keeper wonders where all the snow went . . . . . a recent Chinook has melted it all away, pushing it back into the mountains in the background. But it can and probably will be white in this place again in the next three months, perhaps into May.

Abby and Keeper explore the forbidding forest.

On another day, In the early morning, mid-winter light, Abby charges down a Marscape mountain, a snowy overhang ominous in the distance . . . . . actually the ominous snowy overhang wasn't too ominous up close.

Keeper takes a break while Abby waits for us to catch-up. Abby is always charging ahead. 


Keeper comes up on a shark fin frozen into the ice while cruising Barrier Lake in Kananaskis Country . . . . . or maybe it's oddly formed driftwood.

Beachcombing on ferociously windswept Barrier Lake

It was an "Epik" Journey for sure . . . .

Later in the day, Abby amid the hoar frost encrusted tree's of her home as a heavy fog finally lifts. . . . .  

A different day, an introspective Abby, mining for rodents in the depths of winter at her prairie home

The big picture . . . . . Keeper on a resplendent, fog-bound morning. Photo by Carol

Glittering afternoon hoar frost

Following tracks to nowhere


Abby looks uphill to the slope yet to climb

Another day, another mid-winter adventure for Abby and Keeper. Some warmer weather recently brought the snow pack down a bit to make this excursion possible. We were staying on this side of the valley because of the avalanche danger from the cliffs in the distance.

Keeper had fun this day . . . . . lotsa room to roam.

So did Abby

Early January 

Abby back on patrol at her country home. It was the end of the longest sub-zero cold snap of 11 and a half year life . . . . . or since 1996.

Hangin' on the deck on a warm winter day . . . . .

On Mt. Black Prince Cirque, Keeper and Abby pause to investigate . . . . .

This is what Abby saw . . . . the low-lying sun doesn't come into this place in the winter

Keeper and Abby on the descent . . . .  

Keeper . . . . relaxing at home with REO Speedwagon on the TV

The previous weekend, blizzard conditions marked the end of Abby and Keeper's walk along Stoney Trail near Nakiska.