Before Clayton Kroeker adopted Kipper, his chocolate Labrador retriever, the Saskatoon man used to write stand-up comedy about how dog owners would pamper their pooches.
"Five years later, I'm the one buying these [dog] sweaters. I'm buying these booties," he said with a chuckle. "This dog completely changed my life for the better."
When Kipper was a year old, Kroeker said she began to lose sight in one of her eyes due to a moisture issue in her tear duct — something Kipper's veterinarian believes was triggered by an autoimmune disease.
"It was kind of like The Undertaker — how he rolls his eyes back and it's just white," Kroeker said in reference to the famed wrestler. "That was my dog's eye."
Months later, after several tests and a couple of surgeries, Kroeker and his wife decided to make the tough call to remove the eye all together.
Fast forward to this year, and a similar situation was happening with the dog's other eye — this time leaving her with less than 20 per cent vision.
But before having that one removed, Kroeker and his wife decided to make the most out of Kipper's remaining sight and planned a road trip.
"We thought, 'You know what? She's still got 20 per cent [vision]. She can still see some stuff, so let's take her on an epic adventure,'" Kroeker said.
Comfort in hard times
The first stop was camping and hiking in Airdrie, Alta. From there, they drove to Kelowna, B.C. and made stops at dairy farms and other COVID-safe pit stops along the way, making sure to stay outside as much as possible.
"It was just awesome having our dog enjoy the last of her sight, and I think she had fun. I mean, swimming in lakes in the mountains and going on big hikes — that doesn't sound like a bad time," Kroeker said.
When asked why he and his wife chose to book 10 days off to take their dog on a vacation, Kroeker said it was to reciprocate the kind of love Kipper gave them when they experienced a miscarriage earlier this year.
"If it wasn't for our dog, I don't know where we would have been," he said. "Our dog was right there during the sad times; pawing our knees, wanting to be in the hugs — just making us feel so much better."
Kroeker said they found it heartbreaking that Kipper was seemingly penalized with blindness.
"When something like that happens to your dog, some people might think, 'Oh, it's just a pet, whatever.' But to me, she's not just a pet — she's my best friend and she got me through a lot," he explained.
"After this trip, it just proves I have the best dog ever and I'd do anything for her."