How has love changed your life for the better? Today I want to share a story with you about how one couple’s life was forever changed--and maybe saved--by their dog Jerry. This is the ultimate story about how love triumphed over all else.
Tragedy creates change
In 2006 Rene and Jim lived in Eureka, CA with their dog Jerry. They owned a 4000 square-foot house and ran a small business out of their home. Because it was just the two of them running the business, they worked 12 hours per day. They were home with Jerry, but they weren’t really “present” with him because of how much they worked.
Then Jerry got sick. It was a tumor, and they needed to amputate one of his arms at the shoulder. The recommendation was for chemo to extend his life by a few months, but what would the quality of that life be?
Rene shared with me that she and Jim had already been having conversations about their own quality of life. With most of their time revolving around running their business, they felt they weren’t on a sustainable path. Rene recounts that while Jerry was happy with a trip to the beach once per week, they felt he deserved more from them. And they deserved more, too.
So Rene and Jim did something radical: they did the amputation and then declined to do chemo. They wanted Jerry to enjoy however long he had left for as long as possible. But they took an extra step beyond that to give Jerry even more: over the course of six months they bought an RV and a truck to tow it, sold their house, business, and put the rest of their stuff in storage. In 2007, they hit the road.
Their story was part of a PBS show, “Why We Love Cats and Dogs.” You can see the clip with their interview here:
Jerry sees the sights and spends more time with mom and dad
The idea was that Rene, Jim, and Jerry would take a year off and travel around. Did they intend to come back? I questioned. Why not just try to rent out their house? Rene explained that their home was “too funky” to get them a decent rent. They were also getting sick of the weather in Eureka and wanted to move to somewhere more temperate.
Rene said that Jerry loved camping trips and so they decided to travel so he could spend as much time outdoors as possible. Why an RV? I asked. They could have camped in a tent, or stayed in hotels, or a combination of the two. Or rented a place for a few months, then moved on to somewhere else. They didn’t want to live out of a tent, but they did want Jerry to have easy access to nature. Staying in an RV just made the most sense.
They now had the proceeds from the sale of their house and business to support them for a bit, but eventually, they wanted to buy some property in a new place and buy or start another business. In 2009 they found what they thought was going to be their forever home in Colorado, and named it “Jerry’s Acres.”
A new chapter without Jerry
Although Jerry didn’t live to see the home named in his honor, he lived far beyond the few months the veterinarian originally predicted. Rene believes spending more time in nature (and with the parents who loved him so much) extended both his life and its quality.
Rene and Jim went back to Eureka to retrieve their furniture from storage. When they left, they had the movers pack up everything they’d wanted to keep directly from the house, and store it to the tune of $250 per month. They thought they’d gotten rid of most of their stuff, but they never actually saw how much it was until they returned to bring it to Jerry’s Acres. Rene remembers their shock at seeing everything sitting outside the storage area. They’d rented a 27-foot U-Haul truck to transport it--the biggest you can get. Their belongings didn’t all fit in the truck! “What were we thinking?” Rene remembers asking. They’d spent about $3000 store all this stuff that they clearly hadn’t needed over the past two years.
After hauling their things from California to Colorado, Rene and Jim had barely enough time to get everything into the house before the first snowfall came. They weren’t planning on staying for the winter, so everything was still in boxes until the following summer when they returned.
They kept coming back for part of the year, but still wanted to travel. The idea of fully settling down in one place no longer appealed. At first, they thought being full-time RVers over the long term wasn’t possible. But then they met another couple who’d started traveling at 40, and were also self-employed. They’re almost 65 now and still RVing, and were able to retire from their business. A shift occurred in Rene’s mindset; living in an RV didn’t need to be something they did temporarily.
The road was calling
In 2017, they sold Jerry’s Acres and became full-timers again. Rene reflects upon how they spent a lot of time and maintenance on yet another place to store their stuff when they bought that house. Even though they owned it outright (Rene and Jim have been debt-free for many years), there was still effort and expense involved.
Jerry’s illness and death were devastating to Jim and Rene, but it also irreversibly changed their lives in positive ways. First of all, they realized they couldn’t be without a dog in their lives. So after Jerry’s passing, they adopted Wyatt, another 3-legged dog.
They also found fulfillment in providing education and support for dogs who have three legs, whom they fondly call “Tripawds.” They even started a community at tripawds.com, which now has over 13,000 members, and a non-profit organization at tripawds.org, which offers financial assistance for veterinary care.
Rene and Jim also know they will never go back to homeownership. Rene declared that they have no interest in being homeowners again. We discussed how both of us have seen the shackles placed on our elderly parents by owning and maintaining a home, and that we never want to end up in that situation ourselves.
Rene doesn’t really consider herself a minimalist, just a “traveler.” I asked her if she misses any of her stuff, and she said “no.”
So do they still have anything in storage? I asked. Yes but it’s a 5x7 unit, containing only sentimental items, including wedding china and crystal. Rene says that at some point, they will be “too old and decrepit to travel.” They want to have a few things to settle down with when they move into a rented abode.
Rene also asserts that right now, they’re willing to pay the $55 per month to keep their things. But if the price goes up, “I may just see my stuff on TV on Storage Wars,” she joked. She’s not too worried about having to serve guests on paper plates if she loses her china dishes. “I’m way past trying to impress people.” In fact, they just drove by their current storage unit a few months ago. They considered whether they needed anything from it, and decided they didn’t.
Advantages and disadvantages of RV life
I asked Rene if there are any disadvantages to her RV lifestyle. She said the biggest one is bad weather. RVs are not as well-insulated as most buildings, so heat and cold always seep through more easily. Also, we both agree that high winds are bad when living in an RV. They make driving very dangerous, and being parked in them is no fun either. However, she recognizes this is a situation that can’t be controlled. And when they’re outside the RV, their weather exposure is the same as someone who lives in a sticks-and-bricks house.
She also misses the sense of tangible community that you can create when you’re stationary. They enjoyed participating in and giving back to the local community and knowing their neighbors. It’s just not possible to the same extent when you’re moving all the time. But they still contribute and are active community members. As we sat talking outside, many people stopped by to say hello to Rene; she and Jim are friendly, approachable people. And with Tripawds, she’s created an online community that reaches well beyond the borders of her former hometown.
RV life can also be challenging when you’re moving a lot. Sometimes, they only stay in an area for a day or two. To get to the next place, they might drive all day and then try to cram two hours of work in at the end of the day. Luckily, they are self-employed, but their income requires hands-on involvement.
If Rene could go back and change anything, she says they would have gotten rid of more stuff sooner and not paid to keep so much in storage. They don’t regret buying the house in Colorado; it was on their bucket list and they enjoyed it while they owned it. But, she says the person she is today would not buy that house.
On the other hand, by getting out of her comfort zone, Rene is not ever wondering what life would be like. What’s out there? What’s that place like? They don’t have to wonder, they can go see it now. Rene says “There’s a lot of wishing and “somedays” when living in a house that you lose whe the commitment of a house is gone. You’re free to go do whatever.”
Advice from Rene
After being nomadic for the better part of more than ten years, Rene and Jim have learned a lot, and actually have lots of advice on their blog for people who want to try RVing. I asked Rene what advice she had for anyone considering making changes as she did. Here’s what she said:
“As fun as it might seem to chuck everything on a whim and get out and go, if you want to be successful, there’s a certain level of planning that needs to happen. It takes some of the spontaneity away but it makes the experience better.
“Stay out of debt. A huge burden is lifted off of you, and you will have so much more flexibility. Everybody’s just working to pay bills [when they’re in debt]. If you don’t have to work to pay for your furniture and lawnmower,…you don’t even realize how much free time you can have.”
If you want to check out more information about Jim, Rene, and Wyatt’s life, visit www.liveworkdream.com.