When You Need a Sign, It Will Appear. Just Not Before.

In my eighth year of blogging about Honey, I’m beginning to face her mortality. Unfortunately, it’s easy to live in the future instead of the present.

I need to remember that the signs to help me navigate her life will appear when I need them. But not before.

Honey the golden retriever boat dog relaxes in the cockpit.

If you ask me, all signs point to snacks.

Signs And Life Lessons From The Coast Guard

Do you ever wonder how we find our way on the water? After all, there are no signs telling us “This way to the St. Mary’s River.” Or dotted lines down the center of the waterway showing us our travel lane.

We rely on the Aids to Navigations (AToNs) placed in the water by the United States Coast Guard.

Smith Point Light near the Potomac River.

Gotta love lighthouses. They’re hard to miss when you’re crossing the Chesapeake Bay.

AToNs might be sexy like romantic lighthouses on a rocky cliff. But more often they are buoys, cans (floating green cylinders), nuns (floating red cylinders with points on top), and day markers (poles in the water with red triangles or green squares on top). By following our chart and watching the nav aids, we can (usually) keep from getting lost.

Dolphin with day marks near Solomons, Maryland.

Day marks on a dolphin (the name for that stack of piles), point the safe way to Solomons, Maryland.

In 2½ years traveling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (AICW) and Chesapeake Bay, I’ve noticed something interesting about the AToNs: when they’re strung out over a great distance, you often can’t see the aid coming up next until you’ve passed the one closest to you.

Red buoy on open water.

Approaching a red buoy. But it’s the only one we can see.

In other words, if you want to look ahead to see where the next aid is, you often can’t find it. Sometimes it’s too distant to see with the naked eye. Other times it’s hidden around a bend.

But once you pass the aid closest to you, the next one ahead mysteriously appears. You just can’t see it until you absolutely need it.

Red buoy number ten.

With the buoy right off our bow, we should be able to look ahead and see the next mark.

I’m starting to realize that life is very much like traveling the waterways. At least when it comes to looking for signs.

Worrying About The Boat Dog

Honey has struggled with some minor health issues this year. We’re seeing signs she’s aging.

Honey the golden retriever gives a urine sample on the dock.

Do you think Swiffer would be happy if they knew what we were using their duster for?

She developed a urinary tract infection while we were traveling through northern North Carolina. It was severe enough that Honey did something she hasn’t done since she was ten weeks old—woke us up at 3:00 a.m. crying to go outside. Because conditions were rough and we were at anchor, we invited her to relieve herself on the deck of the boat. And despite being reluctant when we had encouraged this before, she did.

Swiffer tool rigged to get a urine sample.

It looks weird. But it’s hard to argue with success.

(Quick note to longtime readers asking if this means we’re headed to the Caribbean because Honey has finally learned to pee on deck: Honey still says no way. This was strictly an emergency measure.)

We sought treatment from two different vets before clearing up the infection. But when getting a urine culture, we had a scare when the doctor using ultrasound to get a sterile urine sample thought the thickening around the bladder entrance looked potentially cancerous. You see, the vet had lost her own golden retriever to bladder cancer and she was particularly sensitive to this threat. And she worried that continuing with the test could disturb cancer cells and send them throughout Honey’s body.

Honey the golden retriever with her friend on the boat.

Y’know, Kenzie, your vet took good care of me. But if I had known that’s what my people were asking your people about, I probably would not have invited you to visit my boat.

We eventually decided that the thickening could be due to the fact that Honey’s bladder was very nearly empty. That gave the organ an appearance that was unusual compared to most dogs.

You see, typically dogs arrive at the vet by car. Even if they urinate before leaving, they probably have some residual urine shaping the bladder.

But we anchored Meander in the Ashley River in Charleston. We had to walk more than two miles to take Honey to the vet. By the time we arrived for the test, you can bet that Honey had emptied her bladder every few steps the entire way there.

No wonder her bladder looked weird.

It appears I made the right choice by staying focused on the urinary tract infection and not seeking out other tests to rule out cancer. But I’m sure you can understand how worried I was. And how often I asked myself if I had made the right decision.

Honey the golden retriever poses with a sign warning of alligators.

If you’re looking for signs on how to take care of me, you might not want to pose me next to the alligator warning.

Asking Doctor Google About My Boat Dog

If we were back in our house in Ithaca, I’d just take Honey to her regular vet for a check-up. But as floating nomads, we’re on our own.

And googling dog symptoms is devastating. For example, what does Dr Google say are likely causes of loose stools in a dog?

  • a virus
  • food sensitivity

What does it mean if she is limping?

  • injury
  • debris in her pad

How about the reasons your dog is scratching her ear?

  • ear infection
  • allergies
  • CANCER (okay, not really; but it seems like that)

You get the picture, right?

As you can imagine, after our last round of vet visits, I was watching Honey every moment for signs that she was beginning to decline. It was horrible.

Eventually I realized how living in the future when Honey would (as we all do) inevitably decline, was hurting my ability to enjoy being with her in the present.

It was time to learn a life lesson from my boat life.

Honey the golden retriever relaxes in the cabin on a chart.

A chart helps you find out what to do on the water. Why don’t you just get a chart that helps you take care of me?

When You Need A Sign It Will Appear

When we’re traveling, we can waste a lot of energy trying to find marks way off in the distance.

It’s not that we aren’t vigilant. We follow our charts. We use binoculars to look at the way ahead. We pay attention to the shoreline and take clues from the water.

But in the end, we can’t expect to see the next sign on our path until we actually need to see it.

Honey the golden retriever as a puppy.

You should have followed a sign to a camera store. These puppy pictures are terrible.

I think it’s like watching out for the health of our beloved animals; looking for signs they’re aging.

Yes, we need to be vigilant by giving them healthy food, exercise, and mental stimulation. We need to watch them carefully for signs of injury or illness. And take them for routine professional care.

But constantly living with the fear that Honey will eventually get cancer or tear a ligament is no way to live. And besides, if she has health issues in the future, that’s when I’ll need to address them. Not before.

When I need to think about how to best care for her, it will be after I’ve passed the most recent marker. And not before.

In the meantime, I’m better off just loving and enjoying her the best I can.

Honey the golden retriever naps in the cockpit wearing her life jacket.

While you’re trying to figure out how to live in the moment, I’m just going to nap in the moment.


  1. Congrats on 8 years!! I think a bunch of us all started about the same time. I’m so glad Honey is feeling better, but I sure wish she would pee on your boat.

    • From your mouth to dog’s ears… If she would pee on the boat, we wouldn’t be looking at a 10 hour travel day tomorrow to avoid the crappy dog walk options in Daytona Beach. 🙂

  2. Congratulations on 8 great years, and how exciting that you’re working with Jessica. I can’t wait to see where the next 8 years take you.

    I’ve also been dealing with Ty and Buster’s mortality and one thing I’ve found that’s helping is to follow their lead. While we’ve had some health issues and some serious scares, the boys are happy. They’re not thinking about anything but the moment, and if I spend my time worrying about what’s down the road, I’ll miss these precious times. It’s so easy to get lost in the heartache we know is coming eventually, but we’re not there yet, and feeling that grief now isn’t going to make it hurt any less when the time comes. So, there is no sense giving away these days. Instead I’m choosing to follow their lead. Hugs to you and Honey!

    • Love your words of wisdom about the boys. I’m not in a hurry to give away a single day with Honey either. But I will say Dr Google and seeing my friends and their pups facing health scares does make it hard at times.

      And yeah, I hope to see some exciting things in the next 8 years. It has been a source of many blessings so far. Just imagine what would happen if I actually learned what I was doing? 🙂

  3. http://Edie%20Chase says

    Happy Blogaversary!!!

  4. Canine-grats on reaching the 8 year milestone! Bravo. You have a good handle on your remaining time with sweet Honey girl. Living in the moment like our dogs do is the best advice anyone could give (or take). I’m looking forward to your developing relationship with Jessica and seeing that video on a DIY retractible leash video! All the best now and down the road.

  5. http://Meagan%20&%20Merlin says

    Happy Anniversary ❤

  6. OMD, Pamela! I can so relate to the Dr. Google scenario! After Callie was diagnosed with the lymphoma and then succumbed to it, I was paranoid about Shadow for months. Those days are past. Now I’m “just” observant. And I work with our vet to keep her as healthy as possible.

    As for your super leash – I’m definitely interested! I know someone who might benefit from using it.

    • And, before I forget to mention it again – Congrat-U-lations on 8 Years! Goodness, has it really been that long?? And I’m looking forward to seeing the friuits of your work with Jessica. Give Honey some ear rubs for me!

  7. 8 years is awesome, and with the last couple from a little boat, it is actually amazing! Hope Honey is doing alright. It has to be tough with a boat and no car sometimes. The best way to live is in the moment, like a dog, but humans have trouble doing that.

  8. Happy 8 years of blogging! I started about 4 years after you 😉 I hope Honey’s feeling better. I’m also dealing with one of my pups’ mortality these days. Ugh, that freakin’ cancer.

  9. Congratulations on 8 years of blogging! When I started my blog Stetson was 6 months old and Linus was 2 1/2 years old. Now they’re 11 and 13 years old! When I first took Linus camping he refused to pee on the dirt because the first 9 months of his life I only took him to potty on the grass. I thought I was going to have to drive about an hour down the mountain to find grass. Luckily after over a day without peeing he finally took the longest pee on the dirt (think Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own). Today he will pee on a few different surfaces, but I’m pretty sure he’d never go on the deck of a boat. I’d love to see a Something Wagging DIY video and how exciting you’ll be working with Jessica!

  10. http://Glenda%20R.%20Walker says

    Happy 8th anniversary of allowing us to read your writing, Pam. I enjoy your comedic talent. I am happy to hear that my baby is feeling better. I’m not entering the contest, I just wanted to say hi to you and Michael and ask you to give Honey a hug for me. Let me know when you are anywhere near Ithaca. Missing, seeing and talking with you… Glenda