Sweetwater Creek State Park, Georgia


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"Animals have come to mean so much in our lives. We live in a fragmented and disconnected   
culture. Politics are ugly, religion is struggling, technology is stressful, and the economy
is unfortunate. What's one thing we have in our lives that we can depend on? A dog
or a cat that loving us unconditionally, every day, very faithfully."
~ Jon Katz

This quote has become increasingly true for many people in the last year and a half during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim and I have been obsessed with our lovable Labrador retrievers for many years, but they've been even more of a comfort to us with all the disruptions the coronavirus created.

Our current Lab pack, L-R, by nickname:  Casey Ann, Holly-Holly, and Dapper Don (7-4-21)

Once again, I’m quite tardy starting my 2021 web journal, although I write notes every night on my computer.

Last year was so strange that I started off the 2020 journal in October with a summary of the monumental changes wrought by the pandemic, then added entries about the activities we did to stay sane and healthy. To the best of our knowledge, neither one of us has contracted the virus and we got our vaccines as soon as we were eligible in January, 2021.

We started this website in 2005 to chronicle our Appalachian Trail Adventure Run/Hike. I’ve kept it going ever since then, focusing first on our running and events in which we participated and/or volunteered, then more on RV traveling around North America.

My favorite place on earth:  Denali NP in Alaska on a clear summer day in 2012

We no longer run or bike ultra distances trail events, although Jim continues to walk 24-, 48-, and 72-hour events in his quest to reach 100 miles. I walk several miles every day for health and fun but no longer have any interest in competing. I trained hard for races for thirty years and I’m done with that in my early 70s.

We also enjoy riding our bikes on easy trails and Peachtree City's extensive network of multi-use paths.

Now my entries cover mainly our local activities, gardening, and three dogs, plus whatever walking events Jim does.

Dozens of Knockout and Drift roses bloom from April to the first hard frost in December. (5-3-21)

I do not cover everything we do or think, and I try to avoid controversial topics like politics. For privacy’s sake, I also say very little about our family or friends.  

I am active on Facebook and Instagram with dog friends, most of whom volunteer with either Southeastern Guide Dogs (guide and service dogs) or Warrior Canine Connection (service dogs).

As the saying goes, dogs aren’t our whole life but they make our lives whole.


Jim and I are retired (2004 and 1999, respectively). We are in our early 70s and still quite active physically, although we no longer run. We sure do miss mountain trail running!

We think of ourselves as much younger, which is typical of Boomers. In fact, I haven't quite come to grips yet with "middle age," let alone "senior citizen" or "elderly." It drives me nuts when young local news people talk about the "grandmother" who was robbed, and then they note that she's 60!

They love to emphasize when a person is a father or mother, too, apparently to gain more sympathy. Don't victims without children deserve some respect and empathy, too??

Many of us are happier with just fur-kids!  (Sue and Don, 7-4-21)

There are a lot of things newscasters say these days that annoy me, like describing past events in the present tense so they sound like "breaking news," but I digress . . .

Am I becoming a curmudgeon??

I explained in last year’s introduction, which was actually a summary of 2020, why our lives didn’t change as much as some other people’s lives during the pandemic.  

Our last long trip with the Cameo was during the winter of 2018-19 in AZ and NV.
This was our scenic site at Lost Dutchman SP east of Phoenix.

Since we sold our RV in 2019 and stopped traveling around the continent extensively, we’ve become homebodies. We never did like to go out to eat very often, attend movies or sports events other than running, or be in large groups of people. So “sheltering in place” most of the time for over a year hasn’t been all that much different.

We have a small but comfortable home, a large yard with lots of gardening tasks, vehicles that Jim maintains, various hobbies and interests, and three dogs to take care of. And we make sure to get outside every day to walk or bike regardless of the weather.

One of my favorite Life Is Good t-shirt images during the pandemic

Jim usually walks the girls together or separately a total of 3-5 miles each day.

He also does long solo walks to stay fit and/or to prepare for his 24- to 72-hour events. Although he no longer runs, he's usually able to reach or exceed his goal of 100 miles in a 48- or 72-hour race -- even just walking.

I usually walk Don at least 2-3 miles a day and more when we go to a park to hike on trails.

Jim and the girls at McIntosh Reserve Park in Carroll County (March, 2021)

Don (R) and one of his girlfriends, Buzzy, at Sweetwater Creek SP  (Jan., 2021)

I’ll have entries soon with lots of photos from Line Creek Nature Area in Peachtree City, Sweetwater Creek and Chattahoochee Bend state parks, and McIntosh Reserve, a county park.

I do some faster solo walking, too, up to about ten miles total in a day, since walks with Don are sniffaris at a very slow pace.


Jim and I are also involved in some volunteer activities.

Jim has been the Quartermaster for his VFW post for almost four years. In addition to keeping the books, he participates in their monthly meetings, fund-raising events, and various other projects. This year he joined the Honor Guard to serve at local military funerals.

Jim in his summer Honor Guard uniform, practicing the trumpet (May, 2021)

Puppy Don and I helped Jim and several other VFW members greet visitors and hand out
Buddy Poppies at the local farmers' market to commemorate Memorial Day. (May, 2021)

Jim (in center) and other VFW members pose for pictures after installing some new
commemorative bricks at the Veterans' Memorial in Peachtree City.  (May, 2021)

Some of the hundreds of commemorative bricks at the handsome
Veterans' Memorial in Peachtree City, GA;  Jim has a brick, too.

Jim is a member of our local CERT (Community Emergency Response Team).

In late March his team helped FEMA do damage assessments of homes and other structures in nearby Newnan that were damaged or destroyed by an EF4 tornado. This is a TV screen shot I took of some of the extensive damage:

That was a scary night at our house, watching the radar showing a tornado that appeared to be heading our way! Fortunately it didn't hit our town. They're still cleaning up Newnan more than three months later.

Jim also volunteers at Clothes Less Traveled, a large non-profit that accepts and resells used clothing and household items that people donate. And he’s a regular Red Cross blood donor.

My volunteer activities mostly revolve around dogs at this point -- our own three dogs and puppies training to become guide or service dogs.

During the pandemic our local Hounds About Town (HAT) group didn't meet as often as it did before the pandemic. I participated in a couple of outings with Don this spring since they were outdoors in a nearby park where I often take him on our walks. The sessions usually focus on loose leash heeling, dog distractions (i.e., ignoring the other dogs in the group), and enrichment activities.

Dapper Don and I are in the foreground during a HAT group session for pet dogs. Don's a
rock star because of all his guide puppy training. Note his focus on me.  (May, 2021)

Last summer I got Don certified as a therapy dog with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

I currently do one or two pet therapy visits with him each week. So far we've mainly focused on memory care and hospice patients in independent living, assisted living, and nursing facilities. He's a natural at this and the patients love seeing him:

I also help our local Southeastern Guide Dogs puppy raising group in various ways. We have a Three Lab Limit at our house so we can’t raise another guide or service puppy now, but we sometimes sit for pups in our group or for friends. Our dogs love having company.

Although Don is no longer in guide training with SEGD he's sometimes invited to attend our local puppy raiser training sessions when the pups are working on dog distractions. Don is an excellent role model for dogs of all ages.

I participate in social media with both Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) and Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), supporting and promoting both schools. They regularly share pups and breeders in their breeding cooperative, resulting in Don having some relatives at WCC.

Both pups are full Labs with different parents. The one on the right is
a relatively rare black & tan, the first one whelped at WCC.
SEDG has had a few black & tans over the years, too.

We were involved with WCC first because they focus on military veterans to raise, train, and receive their service dogs. We love their mission and their practice of naming all of their pups to honor or memorialize veterans. Almost all of their dogs are also placed with veterans in some capacity. See the 2018 topics page for entries focused on WCC.

We don't live close enough to their Maryland campus to volunteer regularly on-site or raise puppies for them, however, so we jumped at the chance to raise a puppy for SEGD when we discovered they have a group of raisers in the metro Atlanta area. I wrote a lot about that in the 2019 journal.

Aerial view of the SEGD campus in 2019; two more state of the art facilities have been built since then.
We got a grand tour of the beautiful buildings and grounds when we picked Don up 9-4-19.

Although SEGD raisers teach the puppies some early training cues for guide work, such as not chasing anything that moves, including balls, more than a third of the canine graduates have military careers as service dogs for veterans, facility support, emotional support, or Gold Star Family dogs.

OK, let's meet the rest of our family, since I've already been talking about them!


We have three lovable yellow Labrador retrievers who bring us much comfort, joy, and amusement.

I ended the 2020 journal with entries focusing on them. Not much has changed since then but I’ll continue to post photos of them for as long as I maintain this website.

This photo is from last year but I love it. It's so true! Labs are always hungry.
Casey is in front, Don L. rear, and Holly in her feed-me-or-else stance.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recently announced that for the 30th year in a row, more Labs have been registered with their club in the U.S. than any other breed. We can vouch for the excellent qualities that make them so versatile as family pets and working dogs.

Casey is our grande dame. She will be nine years old in August. She’s a beautiful English Lab with lots of thick, curly hair. Her dam and sire were champion show dogs and sometimes I think she was bred more for looks than brains!

You can see Casey's thick, curly hair in this photo after she got a bath.

Casey has settled down considerably from the Wild Child she was when she was young. She still gets the wiggles at times, however, and occasionally runs zoomies in the back yard. Indoors she sometimes likes to get a tennis ball and play keep-away with “the kids,” Holly and Don.

And she's a good sport when I take her picture or dress her up:

Casey rockin' sunglasses and a bandanna (April, 2021)

Eight years old, but still has a happy puppy face  (March, 2021)

Despite being the oldest of our three dogs, Casey is the most exuberant and impulsive.

At 65 pounds, she is strong and sometimes difficult to control if she spots wildlife before the person at the other end of the leash sees it. If it moves, she wants to chase it. Polite people greetings also remain a challenge.

Casey is sometimes leash-reactive with other dogs when we’re walking her, but just fine if she's off-leash or we have visiting dogs. Here she is with the two visitors we had for a week this spring. One's a male and one's a female. Casey got along great with them. So did Holly and Don.

All lined up while I was making a snack for myself with blueberries: 
L-R, Holly, Casey (see the difference in their coats?), guest, guest, and Don

Same bunch outside, L-R:  Don, guest, guest, Casey, Holly

Casey’s sire is Holly’s paternal grand-sire, so she’s like an aunt to Holly. They have different dams. Both girls came from Deep Run Farm, a private breeder in Virginia.


I call Holly and Don "The Kids" because they are younger than Casey.

Holly is also all English but she’s small (54-55 pounds) and athletic. Her sire was a large champion show dog, her dam a petite hunting champion.

Holly was four in June:

She remains very active despite a diagnosis last November of dysplasia in both elbows.

Surgery to remove a bone fragment in one elbow slowed her down only briefly. She is a manic ball-chaser. The veterinary orthopedist who did her surgery said her condition is genetic, not caused by retrieving full-bore.

Collage of Holly with the 2021 SEGD Walkathon fundraiser bandana and flag. (April, 2021)

Now that we know about her joint problem, we limit how much she retrieves to prevent her from limping. She doesn’t seem to be in pain so we gave her pain meds for only a couple months last winter.

Holly-Holly has loads of personality. She’s not as cuddly as the other two dogs but she’s very smart, well-behaved, and I swear she has a sense of humor.

This year she learned a new game where she likes to redistribute the washcloths I set on the wide "lip" of the bathtub in the master bath. We go through a lot of cloths and hand towels so I just set a few there instead of in the linen closet.

Holly thinks it's great fun to go in there several times a week and swipe just the washcloths off with her nose, not the towels. We don't usually catch her in the act but occasionally we'll see her in action. A few days ago she heard me laughing, turned around, and started wagging her tail because I was in on the joke.

Of course, our amused reactions reinforce the behavior! Since it's not harmful, we continue to let her do it. It's fun for her AND us.

Holly (photo below) and Don-Don have mastered the art of complete relaxation, which also amuses us:

They know that will usually get them some belly rubs if we see it.

Holly walks with a loose leash and isn’t nearly as impulsive as Casey. She only occasionally gets reactive with other leashed dogs. In a fenced yard or ball park Holly loves playing with other dogs even more than Casey does.

Holly tries her best to get Don, our youngest Lab, to play with her but he’s so laid back he never even played much with her when he was little. Holly will literally stick balls or toys in his face to try to get him to play. They do enjoy playing tug and keep-away together but it has to be when Don’s in the mood.

Casey's watching from the kitchen as Holly (L) and Don play tug with the ring toy.

As fun-loving and active as Holly usually is, she also has an unusual quirk that just melts our hearts. I've mentioned it in previous journals. During naps and every night when she goes to bed she mouths the head of “Puppy,” a stuffed dog toy, for five or ten minutes.

It’s like a child sucking its thumb. She holds the toy with her paws and sometimes rocks a little bit while she’s mouthing the top of its head. She gets totally zoned out:

January, 2021

Holly's been doing this with a Snuggle Puppy and subsequent stuffed dogs since we got her at eight weeks old. She looks so vulnerable and sweet when she does this. We’re surprised she hasn’t grown out of the habit by four.


Don turned two in early June. He’s the “Old Soul” of our pack, despite being the youngest. He's been mature beyond his age since he was a very young pup.

One of several head shots on Don's second birthday  (6-4-21)

Don-Don was purpose bred at Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEGD) to hopefully become a guide or service dog. We were his volunteer puppy raisers for about seven months -- from age 13 weeks, when we picked him up in Palmetto, FL, until just before he turned ten months old.

This is one of my very favorite puppy pictures of Don from early September, 2019 when we were all out for a golf cart ride three days after we brought him home:

SEGD is a large school that has about forty puppy raising groups in eight southern states and, more recently, remote raisers all over the country.

There are about 300 pups in raisers’ homes at any one time, and several hundred more on campus in the nursery and Canine University (advanced training).

Puppy raisers typically socialize and train pups from two or three months of age until they are 15-18 months old. At that point they are returned to campus for several months of advanced training for guide work or to be a service dog for a military veteran.

On walks, Don is always very alert to his surroundings. He's also
a good watchdog at home, and intuitive to humans' moods. (4-11-21)

Other potential careers include facility support dog, public work with first responders (usually scent work for arson, drugs, search and rescue, even COVID detection!), challenged kid’s companion, emotional support for a veteran, or Gold Star Family dog.

Don didn’t make it to advanced training. We were able to adopt him in the spring of 2020 at not quite ten months old when the school released a large number of pups in all stages of training due to pandemic-related staff and budget cutbacks. I explained this in more detail in the April 9, 2020 entry.

Although Don is no longer in the guide program, in many ways he's still
a wonderful unofficial ambassador for SEGD. Here he's sporting the
bandanna for the national Walkathon Day fundraiser.  (5-1-21)

We never expected to be able to KEEP Don, although we quickly grew very fond of him. He’s the most laid-back, easy to train Lab we’ve ever had (out of seven so far) – even more than Cody was. His very low energy, sweet personality, desire to please, and high social drive make him the perfect pet for us as we get older.

Don is also an awesome therapy dog for such a young Lab. I got him certified last summer through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

For about nine months during the first part of the pandemic we couldn't visit inside traditional therapy settings so I took Don to Home Depot, other pet-friendly stores, the farmers market, and outdoors at an independent living center.

This is soooo Don! One of the hospice staff gave this to him on his second
birthday, as we were visiting some patients for pet therapy. He gives kisses for free!

I'm pretty sure this employee at PetSmart knew what Don would do when he stuck his face down there!
Don's a licky boy. Associates at other stores also do this, as well as some residents in assisted living.

In March of this year, as more medical personnel and senior citizens got fully vaccinated against COVID, I was able to do an outside senior event and take him inside local senior day centers so he could fine-tune his pet therapy skills.

Finally in April we were able to start doing traditional pet therapy visits in assisted living, memory care, and hospice facilities. It's a good fit for Don's personality because he's so gentle and intuitive.


The decision to “career-change” Don was the right one. He doesn’t have the drive or stamina to be a guide or service dog, or even a facility support or scent dog, but he’s a near-perfect pet and therapy dog.

He lets me know when he wants to say hi to someone by looking up at me and wiggling his butt. He loves everybody -- dogs, too, but it’s their people he really wants to see on walks. He’s a real social butterfly, another personality trait that would have been hard for him to squelch in guide or service work.

Don poses with one of his favorite neighbors in her beautiful azalea garden.  (April, 2021)

Despite his interest in making new human friends and seeing old ones again, Don is a total Velcro Dog at home, staying very close to me almost all of the time. Part of that is his early guide training, but much of it is his temperament. He loves Jim, too, but he’s more of a one-person dog than Holly and Casey.

I’ll have a separate entry about our pet therapy experiences later in this journal.

Next entry:  an update on the pandemic in the first six months of this year

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Casey-Girl, Holly-Holly, & Dapper Don

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© 2021 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil