Our Dealbreakers from L to R: Rory & Emmy Lou

I think that anyone who has ever set off on a RTW trip has had some kind of dealbreaker – one thing that, should it happen (or not happen), would take the prospect of traveling off the table. Maybe it’s failing to sell your house, getting offered a life-changing job opportunity, a family member getting sick, or failing to meet your savings goal. I don’t know what the trump card is in your life, but for Tony & myself, our dealbreakers have two names: Rory & Emmy Lou.

Rory is a 7-year-old Welsh Corgi (who Tony has had since Rory was just 4 months old) and Emmy is our 6-year-old ??? We think she might be a Tennessee Mountain Cur, but given that Tony rescued her from a kill shelter when she was just around 8 months old, there’s no real way to know. What matters most is that to know our dogs is to love them, and in the five years Tony and I have been together, the four of us have formed a family. Tony and I are unapologetic dog lovers, so to say we love our pooches more than pretty much anything on the face of this planet is putting it lightly.

Remember when I said that living your dreams wasn’t always a walk in the park and that sometimes you have to give up something you love in order to have something else you love? I wasn’t kidding.

Much has been written before about the hardship of leaving pets to travel, and I’m not so much of a narcissist to think that our story and turmoil is any different from the many travelers out there for whom seeing the world has meant leaving behind a furry best friend. Still, when Tony and I were back in the stages of making good on our dreams to travel, we ran through all the typical worst-case “what if” scenarios and realized that we could deal with essentially anything EXCEPT for two things. Under no circumstances would we be able to: 1) give up the dogs permanently; 2) separate the two. Emmy and Rory are like peanut butter & jam, bread and butter, and yes, sometimes dumb & dumber! They are best friends and the only thing more traumatic than us leaving them for a year or two would certainly be breaking this dynamic duo up. Ultimately, if we couldn’t find someone who would welcome both dogs into their home for 12 – 18 months (a big ask, to be sure), then our big trip wasn’t going to happen. Period.

Our little man, Rory (aka Bug)

Thankfully, I happen to have a set of pretty amazing parents.

When I first pitched the idea of this trip to my parents a few years ago and casually asked my dad whether they would be willing to look after the puptatoes for us, he said he thought that was something they would be able to do for us. Fastforward three years and my parents are now faced with the knowledge that we were 100% serious about taking this trip. After a little panicking that our nebulous “some day” plans were now going to be happening in a few months, they were still good to their word and agreed to spend a year with their “grandkids” while Tony and I traipse about the globe.

Words cannot express just how grateful Tony and I are to my parents, because—and I say this in all seriousness—were it not for their selflessness, Tony and I would not be taking this trip. And they are being incredibly selfless, because both my parents are retired and have their own travel plans… plans that they have agreed to put on hold so that Tony and I can take this trip now, rather than having to wait 5, 10, or even 20 years to do so. I feel incredibly lucky that my entire life, my parents have always done what they could to help me live my dreams, even when they cause me to take a path that they themselves would not necessarily take. To have their support in this way has been critical, and while Tony and I still face the impending reality of leaving our babies behind for a year, the guilt and anguish is greatly mitigated by knowing that the dogs will be incredibly well taken care of and loved during our absence.

Emmy Lou sitting on her bench engaging in her favorite pastime: looking out the window

We have been living with my parents (rent free… as if we didn’t already owe them a lifetime worth of favors!) for the past three weeks and it is already clear the dogs will be happy in ways they never could have fathomed. They have a wonderful neighborhood to walk in (complete with nearby park and a neighbor who gives out treats!), the weather is nicer, their allergies have calmed down, both dogs have started to make new puppy friends, and both are already being doted on and spoiled the way they (and all grandkids—human or no!) deserve. For instance, realizing that both the dogs love looking out the front windows for hours on end, my mom moved a bench she had up in her bedroom down to the living room so that the dogs can stare out the windows as much as their hearts desire. It’s now their favorite spot in the house. Although it will likely take some additional time before the dogs fully feel like this is their home, they are already 80% there, and I am sure this will be another one of those situations where Tony and I feel the weight of this choice far more than they ever do. It is so obvious that this is the kind of life the dogs were meant to have; their quality of life is so far beyond that which they were experiencing in our 700 sq ft apartment in sweltering, walk unfriendly Nashville, it isn’t even funny. I know when Tony and I return from our trip, this is the kind of life we will continue to try to provide for them.

Tomorrow we leave for Minnesota, and as much as the past few months have been all about looking forward and counting down the days until dreams become real, this is the one day I wish would never end. This act of leaving those you love rather than gathering them close and carrying them with you is truly the hardest part of travel. But once again, I know this pain, this sorrow, is felt so keenly only because I allow myself to love so fully and completely. When it comes to Emmy & Rory, it is the only way Tony and I know how to love.

So as not to end this post on such a bittersweet note, I will instead stress once again that running deep beneath these currents of sadness are endless pools of happiness and gratitude that my parents were so willing to offer us this solution, but I never want them to think we felt they made this offer lightly or that we don’t fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift they have given us. So: Thank you Mom & Dad. Thank you for sacrificing a year of your retirement so that Tony and I can live our dreams. It means so much to us that you have opened your home and your hearts to Rory & Emmy. We know that you will shower them with so much love and will do your best to make sure that by the time we get back, the dogs’ loyalties have shifted and they love you best of all. Thank you for supporting and being part of our adventure.

Tony sitting with the dogs in my parents’ backyard
Me and my babies

Written by: Stephenie Harrison


In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (28)

  1. July 23, 2012 at 8:40 pm
    Jul. 23, '12

    Oh my gosh, this post got me in the gut. My Maddie is my companion. Having living alone for 8 years and with Maddie for seven of those, I can’t imagine. When I went to New York for 10 days in June, it was hard. I dropped her at my parents’ house the night before and could barely sleep without her padding around the house.

    Your parents sound amazing. My mom calls Maddie her grandpuppy, and I know she loves her, but it is definitely a commitment to care for animals. I’m just glad your babies will be in such good hands. From another mommy to a sweet canine baby to another, good luck tomorrow.
    jenn aka the picky girl recently posted..Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Imperative by Eric Van Lustbader

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:09 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      Yeah, prior to leaving for this trip my mom had a picture of the two dogs up on the refrigerator door that she always referred to as “a picture of the grandkids”, so I knew they would be in good hands while we were away.

      We have left the dogs for trips before, but nothing of this scope. It was really hard to leave and know that we wouldn’t be seeing them in 1 or 2 weeks… I cried for the first hour or so of our drive out of Toronto, which is silly because I know they will be so well loved while we are away. But they are our babies and I can’t help it!

  2. July 24, 2012 at 4:24 am
    Jul. 24, '12

    Have you thought about taking the dogs with you?

    http://gigigriffis.com/traveling-with-your-dog/
    Gigi recently posted..A Story of Some Really Delicious Food, People

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:11 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      We have traveled locally with the dogs before, but for an international trip of this scope, it really wasn’t feasible, unfortunately. Japan alone requires dogs to be quarantined for a minimum of 6 months, which really wouldn’t work for us!

  3. July 24, 2012 at 9:18 am
    Jul. 24, '12

    I know just how you feel about your dogs. I can’t even think of what it must be like to leave them behind as you travel the world, but thank goodness for your parents who are able and willing to care for them. It must be an incredible burden off your mind to have them well taken care of in your absence, and now you can go on to your trip in harmony and ease. Have fun!
    zibilee recently posted..The Virgin Cure by Amy McKay — 336 pgs

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:14 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      Yes, I am seriously so grateful to my parents for “taking one for the team” and looking after the pups for us. If not for them, the trip would be off the table… in many ways, it is a selfish trip for us to take, but even so, we would never overlook the dogs. They will always be our number one priority, so if we couldn’t come up with a solution that had their very best interests at the forefront, we would simply have had to wait to take this trip.

  4. July 24, 2012 at 10:51 am
    Jul. 24, '12

    When we took our RTW trip, Bob’s parents took our two deal breakers, a little chihuahua/ beagle mix and a corgi/jack russel mix and while it was so hard to say goodbye, It was okay knowing that they were going to get so much love with his parents. In fact, we came back and they were so fat! I am pretty sure his parents fed them treats morning, noon and night.. and for snacks! Now we are trying to get them to lose the weight!
    jade recently posted..Cadaques Wine Tour: Mas Perafita Winery

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:16 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      Your dogs sound amazing! I can only imagine how lethal a corgi/jack russel mix would be (could anything be cuter? I highly doubt it!).

      I have warned my parents not to get our pups fat, but we will see what happens I suppose. Just today my mom had already given the dogs some pineapple and cheese, so by the time we get back they will probably be used to three-course meals! 😉

  5. July 24, 2012 at 2:32 pm
    Jul. 24, '12

    I can relate to this 100%. I have a Husky named Scotia I repeatedly leave at home with my parents. It breaks my heart to leave her every time. But I know I’ll love my travels, but I also know I’ll come home to her again soon (may it be 1 week or 1 year). I’ll always have my Husky to come home too! So Lucky Rory and Emmy Lou for finding a super duper interim home for them while you two go traipsing this beautiful world of ours!
    Chrystal McKay recently posted..Dubrovnik From Within

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      It definitely helps that both dogs are healthy and relatively young, so barring the unthinkable, we know we will be reunited with them at the end of this trip. I don’t think we could have left if we knew there was any real chance that they might not be able to hold out for us before we made it back home. I think that as much as we’ll be out adventuring this next year, they will be too!

  6. July 25, 2012 at 12:33 pm
    Jul. 25, '12

    You all look so gorgeous, and your dogs certainly look like happy fellows! I can imagine how hard it would be leaving the pets behind; it would be my dealbreaker too. Happy to read your parents to generously offered to take care of them! 🙂
    kay @ Infiniteshelf recently posted..Wordless Wednesday : Summer at the Botanical Garden – the Chinese Garden

    • July 25, 2012 at 6:18 pm
      Jul. 25, '12

      We were so happy with how those photos turned out, and I am sure that this will wind up being our “most viewed” post on the site, if only based on my own continual referencing of it so that I can stare at the pictures! 😀

  7. July 26, 2012 at 9:41 am
    Jul. 26, '12

    Hooray for your parents! I can’t imagine how hard it was for you to leave the pups, but it sounds like they are going to have a fantastic time with the grandparents. 🙂

    • July 27, 2012 at 11:25 am
      Jul. 27, '12

      Yes, having met my parents, I think you can see how easily the dogs will be spoiled while we are away! My dad has already promised to “walk their legs off”, which Emmy is sure to love (though Bug may be a bit more reluctant, given how lazy he is).

  8. July 26, 2012 at 12:49 pm
    Jul. 26, '12

    Oh man, that makes thinking about leaving my kitties behind next year hard. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker for us, but I couldn’t give them away. I could separate them if necessary since they seem to hate each other, but it would be hard.
    Carmel recently posted..Grilled Chicken Banh Mi & Hoisin Glazed Corn

    • July 27, 2012 at 11:26 am
      Jul. 27, '12

      Ha ha ha! Yeah, our dogs are best friends (Emmy is pretty much the only other dog that Rory genuinely likes… all others he merely tolerates), so it would just be far too cruel to break them up (plus Emmy has crazy separation anxiety, so to lose us AND her brother would be way too hard for her).

  9. July 26, 2012 at 2:41 pm
    Jul. 26, '12

    Awww…Steph, I LOVED this! At least you and Tony were able to spend a few weeks with the babies while they were transitioning at your parents house…I’m sure that made all the difference in the world..not only for them, but for you guys, as well 🙂
    Tiffany@theUnImaginedLife recently posted..The Ultimate Swiss Train Challenge. Part 2.

    • July 27, 2012 at 11:28 am
      Jul. 27, '12

      It definitely was important for us to spend a good chunk of time in Toronto so that the dogs could start to view it as home and our leaving was less traumatic (I hope!). And of course it was nice to just spend time cuddling with the dogs and not having many other distractions. Plus we got to have that lovely photoshoot, which produced the pictures we used in this post (which I will always treasure)!

  10. July 26, 2012 at 2:51 pm
    Jul. 26, '12

    Such cuties and they sit so well for pictures. Nice to know they will have a good home while you are away.
    Thomas at My Porch recently posted..Bits and Bobs (the 1918 edition)

    • July 27, 2012 at 11:28 am
      Jul. 27, '12

      Coming from you, Thomas, that is a huge compliment because I know how cute and photogenic your own pup is! 😀

  11. July 28, 2012 at 8:13 am
    Jul. 28, '12

    These dogs look adorable! That’s so kind of your parents to take them in. I really miss my dog back at home so every once in a while I make my parents skype with the dog on camera. 😉

    • July 28, 2012 at 3:44 pm
      Jul. 28, '12

      Already we have had one phone call home where my parents put me on speaker while Rory was in the room… Apparently when he heard my voice his little nub started to wag at high speed! We haven’t had great luck Skyping with the pups in the past, but I’m sure we’ll try at least a few times while we’re away!

  12. Miriam
    August 12, 2012 at 9:41 pm
    Aug. 12, '12

    Of course I had to read this — Glad the dogs are doing so well! And such absolutely beautiful pictures of them!
    Hope you are enjoying your travels!

    • August 14, 2012 at 4:06 am
      Aug. 14, '12

      The dogs have been with their grandparents (and without us!) for about 3 weeks now and they are doing GREAT. We get updates almost daily and they are being pampered and spoiled beyond belief! Emmy already has a raincoat, a new harness for walking, and a backpack, so you can imagine what heaven she is in! Also, the dogs went to Lake Ontario where she had so much fun chasing waves (and running away from them!) while Rory refused to step one paw in the water. So, pretty much exactly what you would expect….

  13. October 6, 2012 at 11:57 am
    Oct. 6, '12

    That would’ve been a dealbreaker for us too. There’s no way we’d abandon our pets… You’re lucky to have such supporting parents (and very adorable furry kids).
    jill recently posted..What’s It Like to Live in San Francisco?

    • October 7, 2012 at 12:58 am
      Oct. 7, '12

      Yeah, my parents have been so awesome about the dogs – they give us plenty of updates and they have obviously been spoiling the bejesus out of them. I don’t think it has been nearly the hassle they feared, and they are quite having enjoying having some canine companions. Last night I gchatted with my mom and she made sure we got some face time with our babies; after a rough month here in China, it was exactly what we needed!

  14. February 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm
    Feb. 22, '13

    Oh my gosh, I just clicked over here after updating a post I wrote last May on getting a housesitter to take care of your pets when you travel. I noticed your comment on the post about how lucky you were to have parents that would take care of your dogs on your trip, and I realized I hadn’t been by your site in a while so I clicked over…

    Only to find this post now on your front page! Crazy! They are both adorable. I have quite the thing for corgis — I think our Posey is part corgi.

    And you are so lucky to have such supportive parents! I THINK my husband’s mom would watch Posey for longer than we’ve left her so far, but I’m not sure. I do know we would miss her so much, she is the main reason 1 month is pretty much the max we are willing to travel for.
    Cassie recently posted..In Cold Blood: Galapagos Marine Iguanas

  15. November 26, 2013 at 2:37 pm
    Nov. 26, '13

    Hi Steph & Tony, Although I have come back to your site off and on for some time, I had never seen this post before and am crying just thinking about you leaving your pets! We were incredibly fortunate that our 14mth RTW took place about 6mths after our Basset Hound passed away so we didn’t have to make such difficult decisions. With two black dogs now in our home, we made the decision to drive the PanAm highway so they get to come along. I know that at times it’s going to be incredibly challenging and yet, I just can’t imagine leaving any of the family behind. Thank goodness your parents are willing and able to provide them a home, still in the family 🙂 , while you are on the road!
    Rhonda recently posted..Foto Friday

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