“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

Dr. Jane Goodall

If you have not heard of Esther, check out her website and Facebook page. I was introduced to this page over a year ago and fell in love with her instantly. I was intrigued with the story, entertained by the pictures and videos and inspired by their passion. Esther was unable to stay in the city, so her dads decided to move and during this process decided to start a farm sanctuary, Happily Ever Esther. They announced an Indiegogo campaign to see their Farm Sanctuary dreams come true and were able to raise just over $440K in 2 months. We contributed to the campaign and received the perk of an invite to the Get Dirty work day, which Kris and I participated in on April 11th.

Before I get to our time at Happily Ever Esther, earlier this same week we also had the privilege of meeting and hearing Dr. Jane Goodall. Like everyone in attendance, listening to this amazing woman always brings me to tears and fans the flames of my desire to do more for all living creatures on the planet. Like many others, she has been a tremendous influence throughout most of my life and I was so thrilled to see what a commitment she still has to educate and inspire the youth of today.

My favourite part of the night was when Nenshi spoke of her being asked her age (she’s 81 years young!) and questioned on why she didn’t feel that she should be settling down. Her response was simple; this was the opposite that she should be doing as time had become even more precious and she still has a lot of people to connect with and needs to continue getting her message out to the world. She truly utilizes every possible minute, her determination is unbelievable and she is forever an optimist who spreads this positivity amongst many heartbreaking situations. I think of how often we spend our times complaining, consuming ourselves with negativity and making excuses for why we are limited. We could all learn a great deal and make an impact with even the smallest of changes or a fraction of the effort that the inspirational Dr. Jane Goodall does. After this motivational night, I felt a shift within and reaffirmation of my path.

That weekend, Kris and I boarded a plane on route to Toronto for our day with Esther, her family and close to 100 donors and supporters. What an amazing day it was. We toured the farm which is situated in a tranquil and beautiful spot surrounded by trees and bordered by water, and then spent the remainder of the day hauling branches and clearing out the trails and forest areas. This is a farm that had not been used for 20 years and was still full of the damage from the ice storm and minimal upkeep. The job looked daunting at first but how amazing it was to see how quickly work was accomplished (and we even finished early) when a group of people work together. It was a remarkable day of hard work, love and inspiration.

Kris loving his work with the chainsaw!

It was a privilege listening to Steve, one of Esther’s dads, speak with such passion and enthusiasm about the progression of Esther’s story. He shared the surprises, the challenges with things such as house training and what happens when a 450 lb pig (she is now over 700 lbs) outgrows the kid’s pool transformed to a litter box, the potential heartbreak of considering rehoming Esther and the mutual love they shared. I loved listening to the strength and commitment of the two men who had never dreamed of a farm sanctuary or being the voice for so many who do not have voices themselves. And it was astounding to hear them explain how they faced each challenge and just followed the path laid out before them. They forged ahead despite their fears and demonstrate what we can accomplish if we face challenges and keep moving forward.

Megan getting love from Shelby

My favourite and the most impactful part was listening to Steve talk about the challenges of training a pig, integrating her with the other animals and so many stories that are in line with what we hear in dog training. He discussed purchasing dog and pig training books but how none of them helped enough. He was unhappy with the mechanical approach with training and felt like Esther was more than just a robot to be taught a sequence of behaviours. This especially struck a chord with me. How did they get through the challenges? They just loved her and listened to what she needed. They created fair boundaries and structure but understood it was a process and they needed to guide Esther to make the right choices. And the results? A happy pig who settles and lives in their home happily with a variety of animals. Their dogs, Shelby and Reuben also demonstrate this calm, happy demeanour. It is impressive and really got me thinking about dogma and life for dogs in general. I left feeling determined, inspired, emotional and proud. I reflected back on the past few years and looked forward with more clarity than I have for some time.

Kris and Megan posing with Steve and Derek and the cape they made for Esther

So what were the lessons I learned?

1. Do not underestimate the power of a group of like-minded individuals. We must work together and focus on our goals versus worrying about everything else that is happening around us.
2. Ignore the nay-sayers. They are the ones that are just too scared and are not likely to take big steps in life.
3. Focus on the good and be optimistic. Do not let yourself be overcome by all the wrong-doing. Keep your head held high and fight harder to get your message out.
4. Use your time wisely. Life is too short so make the right choices on how you want to live it.
5. Never give up. Where there is a will, there is a way.
6. Keep that passion fired up. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-day and forget why you are here doing what you are doing in the first place. I will ensure I am reading, attending or surrounding myself with individuals/organizations who inspire.
7. Compassion is one of the most powerful traits we can have. I am lucky in that I can surround myself with so many compassionate individuals. Esther’s story taught me that dogma is on the right path. We must teach dogs obedience skills, but our focus on relationship building and helping owners understand the dog’s perspective is what we do best and what will make the most impact on today’s canines.
8. This is the greatest lesson I can share with you from my week: Step back, appreciate what it is that you love about your dogs. Rather than feeling upset by their actions or hard on yourself, think instead about what they may be experiencing. Is your dog scared? Are they stressed, confused or over-aroused? See what happens when you focus on what they need and ways we can make their time easier, or be clearer in what you expect of them. Ignore society’s high expectations for dogs. Forget about perfection. Set up times to just enjoy your time together. Learn from their forgiveness. Share in their joy for life. Play. Cuddle. Love.