I grew up near the ocean in Lake Worth, Florida. My parents and I spent long months wandering the Abacos of the Bahamas on an F27 Trimaran Sailboat.
I wandered the flats and shorelines with our loyal and somewhat insane Jack Russel terrier by my side. A rugged old walkie-talkie hung on a strap around my neck, from which my mom’s disembodied voice periodically called out for updates. I circled islands and, finding myself without new ground to cover, took the little dingy to other islands.
I liked to plunge into the deep, oppressive heat within the Australian pines in search of the curly-tailed lizards that live there. Hot, sweaty, and pursued by a cloud of horseflies, I would run back to the ocean, throwing my walkie-talkie and hat on the beach as I leaped into the waves.
I crouched for long periods by the tidepools, which seemed empty at first but came alive when I was still like the herons and egrets. Damselfish were flecks of brilliant color defending their pebbles and shells among the anemones waving ghostly arms.
My parents and I fished for our dinner or gathered conch, diving down to the sandy grass bottom and kicking hard to come back up again with the heavy shells.
In the still of the evenings, I lost myself in worlds of my own drawings and stories while my parents cleaned the day’s catch and cooked it, the delicious smells sizzling up from the tiny galley and torturing the dog, who stood in the cockpit with his nose inches from the pan.
At night the dark water sometimes lit up with iridescent worms and invertebrates like wiggly stars. A light cast over the side revealed squid darting after the little minnows and huge dark sharks circling the edge of the light. Overhead the stars made the sky more bright than dark. We lounged on the boat’s hammock-like tramps and watched for shooting stars while my dad played with the dog, who snarled like a demon over his tug toy.
As I got older, I continued to spend most of my time reading, writing, and drawing, whether on the boat or in class.
Art and writing, both bad and good, poured out of me. My teachers were aggravated by my constant doodling and daydreaming. I was frustrated by the lack of an outlet for what I loved to do.
When I was in my sophomore year of high school I applied to and was accepted to Dreyfoos School of the Arts.
At Dreyfoos I fell in love with words in a way I never had before. Collaborative writing and peer review elevated my experience of writing. For the first time, I was freely exchanging ideas with my peers. I knew I wanted more of that when I went to college.
When I was accepted to Stetson University I chose an English major with a focus in Creative Writing. This allowed me to keep workshopping my writing with talented peers for the next four years, under the instruction of patient professors and published authors. My mind wandered freely, finding its way into minors in Psychology and Philosophy as well.
I met my now fiance, Justin, and we fell in love. We spent our senior year in a little house near the college, with two kittens and a succession of foster dogs.
I had always loved animals, but for the first time, I came to appreciate something really special in dogs. We bonded deeply with each dog in an incredibly short time, and while saying goodbye was always hard, we felt lucky to have known them. They defined a lot of that year for us, with much of our research and writing being about dogs.
When we graduated from college we moved to Taiwan to teach English. We earned our Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certificates through Hess Education Organization.
I saw English in a new light through the eyes of my students. I had thought about syllables in the context of poetry, but now I was using them to distinguish the sound of a word. Rules of grammar and word usage that I hadn’t thought much about before needed to be clearly demonstrated and explained. As my students frequently pointed out, English doesn’t make much sense sometimes.
Living in Taiwan was a constant adventure. We learned to use a scooter as our primary mode of transportation and navigated by matching Mandarin characters, which we didn’t understand. In the city where we were stationed, Hsinchu, we loved going to the weekend flower markets and admiring the bonsai and orchids.
We got a puppy, a Maltese mix. She brought constant joy to our lives.
You can’t help but smile at Sofie. Going places with her creates the illusion that everyone around us is happy. I think that it is because she loves everyone without suspicion that she has that effect. We took her everywhere: to the weekend flower markets, the wide beaches at the coast, even camping in Taroko Gorge.
When we returned to the US we settled down in Justin’s hometown of Gainesville, Florida. He began a career with a local publishing company. I pursued a fascination with dogs that had been sparked in college and fed by our first puppy. I took a job with a small, family-owned dog daycare.
Hours were long and lonely, pay was low, and the work was hard and sometimes dangerous. I loved it. I loved being immersed in dogs.
I wanted to understand everything about them: the meaning in their social interactions, the ways in which they communicated with me, and how they understood the world around them.
Dogs became some of my closest friends. They were always talking to me, constantly letting me know their opinion about what was going on. A glance from one of them was enough to tell me whether they cared for a new dog or that someone was about to walk into the lobby.
There were as many feuds and friendships between dogs as between kids in a class.
The daycare was barely staying afloat, and few if any dogs were turned away. I found that dogs who were rejected from other daycares were able to have positive social interactions with the right guidance and positive reinforcement.
I learned that the important communication signals between dogs are often the small ones. Dogs generally say an awful lot before resorting to a snarl, much less a snap. Watching dogs that had been labeled “aggressive” playing well with other dogs gave me deep satisfaction.
Eventually, I knew I had to make more money than the little daycare would be able to offer. I was thrilled to get a job as a client liaison with UF Small Animal Hospital.
I helped people and their pets to and from rooms and cashed them out, as well as going over paperwork like estimates and pet insurance. I soon became the liaison for the integrative, neurology, and zoo medicines.
The work wouldn’t have been interesting, except that it was in the most fascinating place I could imagine. As far as I was concerned, I was working with the most intriguing disciplines in one of the most interesting places I had ever been. I loved listening to the doctors and technicians as they shared their vast wealth of knowledge and quizzed the students, glad that I didn’t have to answer the questions, but thrilled when I knew an answer.
I took any excuse to go into the Zoomed treatment room, where I caught glimpses of wildlife, exotic pets, and zoo animals from behind shrouded cages. I watched procedures when I had time. Clients loved to talk about their parrots, squirrels, monkeys, and foxes.
The doctors in neurology were skilled surgeons. I saw pets that were paralyzed or in debilitating pain made healthy again. Sometimes they couldn’t be healed, or the costs were astronomical, and owners faced incredibly difficult decisions.
In integrative medicine, dogs received therapy for all kinds of ailments, from managing chronic conditions to recovering from procedures. I liked lounging on the exercise mats with the dogs when I had downtime. I got to know some of these dogs very well since they often came frequently and for long periods.
One of these dogs found his way into my home. Winston would never be able to walk again, although we found he did have his own unique ways of getting around. He came to work with me every day and received incredible care from the UF Integrative Medicine Department. I will be forever grateful for the patience, care, and creativity of the veterinarians and techs who supported us both.
Winston’s enthusiasm for life inspired me. Caring for a paralyzed dog is a huge decision, and Winston’s disability affected our family every day. Most of the time, however, we didn’t think about it. He was just part of the family.
Now, he lives a happy, spoiled life with a wonderful person and five other King Charles Cavaliers. She keeps me updated on how he’s doing, and while I miss him, I am so thankful that he has found a home with someone who values him for the incredible dog that he is.
Now, I am a freelance writer and artist. My fiance and I live with our dogs and our flock of chickens, in a little purple house in Gainesville, Fl.
Dogs are an integral part of my life. Much of my professional writing and photography centers around dogs and products made for dogs. We’ve fostered dozens of dogs from the local animal services. Many of my weekends are spent photographing, training, marketing, and playing with homeless dogs.
Rescue Dog Home is an organization that I created to help volunteers work with rescue dogs better and spread awareness of the plight of homeless dogs in America, especially in the south. I know that if people understood how wonderful, loving, and special each one of these dogs are, they would volunteer, foster, or adopt.
I work with Fix Them All because, after working with my local shelter for years, I am coming to understand that no matter how hard I try to find homes for all of the dogs who need them, the homeless dogs keep filling and overfilling the kennels. Low-cost spay and neuter is the only solution to pet overpopulation. Fix Them All does amazing work to bring that service to the rural communities who need it most.
I am so lucky to live somewhere with a county animal services, private rescues, and dedicated volunteers who go so far to save every dog and cat that they can. I am proud of the volunteer community that I belong to and grateful for the hard and largely thankless work that they do for these dogs.
Check out my site for rescue dogs, Rescue Dog Home.
Coral Dawns Content is my business site for content production.
Most of my paid writing is currently done on Upwork. Check out my profile and what clients are saying about my work.
Don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions at all about my work with dogs, writing, photography, art, or anything else.