Leaving Pets to Pursue Travel Dreams

It was a difficult afternoon.  As we drove down the bumpy road that leads from Atenas to Escobal, I looked back to see my 2 kids in their car seats and my 2 dogs in the back.  It would be my last car ride with all of them.  Tears filled my eyes.  I tried to distract myself by looking at the beautiful countryside.  The clouds were brushing against the hills of Costa Rica and I tried to remember that my dogs were going to love living here.  I was on my way to give my dogs of 9 years to a new family.

This was a difficult moment.  We have had Magic & Shadow since they were puppies.

Magic & Shadow

Magic & Shadow


When I saw Magic at the shelter, a tiny little pup with the most characteristic eyes, I knew we were destined to be with each other.   We adopted him right away, but had to wait a few weeks for his kennel cough to get better.  We would visit him often, bringing towels from our home so he could get used to the smells and spending time at the shelter with him, playing in a janitors closet.
He grew up on 3 acres of beautiful Colorado land.  He would perch himself at the top of the hill and lay there so majestically.  He was a royal dog, you could just tell.

Magic protecting the front gate

Magic protecting the front gate


I remember waiting in line at the local Petsmart during a Saturday adoption fest.  We had to sign in to determine the order that we would see the dogs.  I only had eyes for Shadow, a black lab-chow mix.  But there were several people ahead of me and dogs were being adopted left and right.  Luckily, noone looked at Shadow.  She was a huge, black puppy.  It came our turn and we played with Shadow.  It took us a while to make a decision.  We wondered how huge she was going to get?  What a surprise to us that she became a speedy, lean hunting machine.  She hunted a lot.  Deer, rabbits, squirrels, lizards and chickens were among her favorites.  She didn’t eat them (well, the deer she did), but enjoyed the hunt.  The definition of muscles in her hind legs were purposeful.  Fast on her feet with a keen sense.

Shadow watches over Little I

Shadow watches over Little I

Bringing Magic & Shadow from the US to Costa Rica wasn’t even a decision for us.  Of course we were bringing them.  They were our first babies and part of our family.  The 1 1/2 years in Costa Rica was a great experience with our dogs.  They ran around the neighborhood like they owned it, and they did.  They provided us with a great level of security.  No Tico (Costa Rican) would go near them because of their black fierce looks.  We didn’t tell them that they were sweethearts. They became more agile, scaling 4 foot walls multiple times a day. They were fit, healthy and happy.

New travel plans without our pets

Now that we are moving from Costa Rica, we really had no decision to make.  It was made for us.  Our plan is to travel to multiple countries around this globe for the next 5+ years and traveling with dogs is quite an obstacle.  Although some countries don’t have a quarantine period, others do.

I refuse to put my dogs in quarantine.  They’ve never been leased up, much less put in a cage.

So the search to find a great home for them began.  Luckily we were able to find a home pretty fast.  When  the new family saw them, they fell in love, just like we did 9 years ago.

What a bittersweet moment.

We dropped our dogs off on their farm and spent time with the family explaining the diet that they eat (a raw meat diet) and other dog stuff.

We were happy to find a great home on a large property in rural Costa Rica for them.  It was a tough, teary eyed afternoon for me.   The morning after, waking up without them in the house felt empty. I missed their wagging tails and beautiful eyes. My heart literally felt broken.

We were so sad to have them gone and not part of everyday lives anymore.  They will take good care of their new family.

Magic on the beach in Costa Rica

Magic on the beach in Costa Rica

Feelings of Guilt & Public Criticism

We felt guilty and selfish.  We started questioning if we are doing the right thing, but know that this wonderful family showed up at just the right moment.  It was meant to be.

We have been criticized publicly for leaving our dogs.  People wrote “Dogs are part of your family, you wouldn’t leave you kids, would you?”.  They called us irresponsible and selfish.  They called our dogs “throwaway pets”.  This was nothing short of public blasphemy.  People can be so critical and terrible when they assume negative intentions.

We questioned our future plans briefly.  But at the end of the day we always came back to “the dogs cannot keep us bound”.  We need to move on and it would be silly to say that we stagnated our lives and didn’t accomplish our biggest dreams because of our dogs, even though they are a part of our family.  Although this was enormously emotional, we know and trust that this is a good thing.

But the guilt is still overwhelming.  We feel guilty for leaving them.  But, we also have a feeling of guilty freedom.  We have less responsibility now that the dogs are with a new family.  It’s time for us to start a new phase in our lives.

Shadow in the ocean

Shadow in the ocean

Magic & Shadow are going to take care of their new family just as well as they took care of us.  The family is very grateful to have such beautiful and compassionate dogs.  And we are fortunate to be able to live out our dreams. 

I said a final goodbye to my Magic.  I gave him a hug and kiss and he stood up and walked over to his new “mama” and sat beside her. He was telling me that he’s going to be okay and not to worry. I love him.

They’ve been gone for a week now (at this writing) and it is easier every day.  Since we will be leaving this weekend, we’ve had packing and plans to focus on which has made the grieving period easier.

Fond Memories with our Pets

We can leave knowing that we’ve had a wonderful time with our dogs. We’ve hiked mountains in Colorado, blazed through snowy patches of forest in Aspen, splashed around in Costa Rican oceans and many more adventures. We love you Magic and Shadow.  You are always in our hearts.

 “Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
Milan Kundera

Have you had to make tough decisions regarding your pets and travel?  I’d love to hear your experience.


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20 Responses to “Leaving Pets to Pursue Travel Dreams”

  1. Stacey November 9, 2011 at 6:27 am #

    This is one of the most moving blog posts I’ve read – it is partially because I understand where you’re coming from but I am so touched by how you expressed the way you (we) feel in re-homing your (our) pets. I’m so happy for you and for them that you found such an amazing home for them. They have, and will continue to lead such healthy, happy lives! (we feed our dogs raw too) All that sunshine and fresh air and room to run! Loving new owners/family! I especially love the quote you found & placed at the end – that one adds so much feeling and good closure to the idea you’re sharing. Thanks for such a good read. And good luck in the big wide world!

    • S King November 9, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

      Thanks Stacey! What put my heart at ease was a message from the family saying they are in love with the dogs. The dogs are off-leash and are fed their regular raw diet. I am happy that they have a great compound to run and discover.

  2. Mary November 10, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    I completely understand you on this. I also had to get rid of my 2 dogs and a kitty for the exact same reason. I did not have them for as long as you had your pups but it was still very difficult. Not having them now on our last couple weeks here has brought a real mix of sadness and liberation. My children had the hardest time but I am so proud of them for their ability to handle the situation knowing our pups are in a good place. Sounds like you’ve accepted your decisions but try not not feel too guilty, you are doing what is best for the pups and yourselves. Nothing wrong with that:)

  3. gail November 10, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    You just made me cry. I get the leaving your pets behind – it is a tough choice, but you did it in THEIR best interests, not yours. I left my beautiful Violet (companion of 7 years) behind when we moved to Costa Rica. She would not have survived the trip – not from health, but from heartbreak at being locked up and possibly anesthetised for the journey.
    Magic and Shadow are happy, and you can rest easy with that.

  4. Andrea November 10, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Lovely post. And shame on those who would criticize your decision. Dogs are part of a household and obviously you loved yours immensely. Good for you for being brave and standing by your decision.

  5. Vivian November 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    The best interest of the dogs shone through in your writings. I am glad you had the strength to allow another family to give your dogs a loving home. Knowing the dogs will be happy and well taken care of does not alleviate the pain of separation you are feeling. I still feel the pain of 9 years when I made this choice to give my dog a better, happier life. But knowing the dogs are in capable, loving hands with a wonderful new family, will make it easier.

  6. Kate November 15, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    We left our much-loved cat when we moved to Africa five years ago. It totally broke my heart, but as you say, there was no way we could let this opportunity pass just for his sake. If he could have talked he would have told us that himself. He lives with my in-laws now and when we see him on our infrequent trips home, the old loyalty is still there. He sits SO patiently while our little girls grab handfuls of his fur and pull his ears! But you can tell he’s glad he doesn’t actually have to live with them.

  7. paula segrest November 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    I just found your blog and understand you’re now in SP! Welcome from a newbie here! Love this place. Sharing about Magic and Shadow must have been hard. You’re a good writer and share from your heart … made me cry.

    • S King November 15, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks Paula. It was hard to leave them, but also very liberating. I shed many tears before and after.
      Looking forward to meeting you!

  8. Sandy Azancot November 17, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    At least you left your dogs with a loving family rather than just dump them back at the shelter. We had an old dog that prevented us from spending more than a couple weeks at a time at our Belize house, but she passed away. Now we just have 2 small dogs that we can take with us, but once they are gone (probably be a while, they are young), we will probably not get any more pets.

  9. Emily November 17, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    What a moving post. We brought our sweet Boston Terrier to San Pedro with us, and she does limit some travel we would like to do in the future. I don’t think I could ever make the decision you did, but I do respect it. Magic and Shadow will certainly not hold it against you; it sounds like they are living a wonderful life. Thank you for this thought-provoking and brutally honest post!

  10. Pablo Charpentier November 21, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Hi S & K,Greetings from Costa Rica (Escobal de Atenas). I just read your post,just wanted to say that Magic and
    shadow are precious and we are very happy that they are in our house.

    • S King December 2, 2011 at 7:26 am #

      That’s awesome Pablo. Pablo and his family are Magic & Shadow’s new family. I know all of them will be happy together.

  11. Hannah December 30, 2011 at 10:37 pm #

    I just found your blog and was very excited to read about your family’s alternative approach but then read this entry and was saddened. I haven’t read the public flogging and have no intention to participate in that, but I thought perhaps I could clarify a bit where the rehoming pets = bad contingent is coming from, because maybe in all the bile that got lost.

    I don’t think you have to assume negative intentions to disagree with what you did – I read your post above and I get that you cared for your dogs. But the reality is that you chose travel over keeping them. That’s a choice. Maybe it’s the right choice for you, I’m not saying it’s not, but it’s a choice you made based on your priorities. For many of us, our pets trump travel, trump lifestyle change, etc. They are our family and we would never give them up if we had any other choice. Is that better? Morally superior? I don’t know. I don’t even know how to know that. It’s just different priorities.

    I have worked in rescue since I was a teenager (I’m now in my late 30s) and I’ve talked to a lot of people giving up their animals. Many, like you, grieved over the process, but in the end, for most, it’s still a choice.

    I just wish that people who give up their pets because they have other priorities, acknowledge that that’s what they’re doing. I grow weary of hearing how the woman talking about surrendering her cat because she’s having a baby and is overwhelmed is suffering. My sympathy is with her cat who is shelter bound and will almost certainly die there, terrified and alone.

    I am glad you did not chose that route for your dogs. Unfortunately, the other reason that rescue people like me are upset by rehoming is we see where rehomed animals can end up. Even those that went to wonderful homes. Heck, it’s happened to me with my former fosters! I have placed animals in carefully screened homes with elaborate follow-up and support, as well as a no-questions-asked return policy and STILL have animals turn up in a shelter, only identified and returned to me by their microchip.It doesn’t happen to me a lot but it does happen. And how many rehomed animals are being passed from home to home? Or wind up God knows where? From the ads on Craigslist, it appears multiple rehomings are quite commons.

    So… when someone gives up their pet, finding that pet an apparently good home is a far better approach than dumping them at the shelter or worse, but it’s not necessarily a happy ending. When you adopted your dogs, you probably thought you’d keep them forever, but your life changed. The same thing can happen in the new home. And maybe this time they don’t take as much care placing the dogs. Or maybe in a year or two the dogs start having senior issues and without 9 years of bonding and love, they make different decisions that you would have. I know that’s nothing you want to hear, but I suspect it’s the reality that informs the perspective of many of your critics.

    Bottom line, when you rehome your pet, you are still sending them out into the larger world without your protection. I chose to do this with my foster dogs because if I didn’t I could never save more, but it’s because I place them that I know the pitfalls. I would not rehome my pets because I have made a lifelong commitment to them. My dogs can and do keep me bound. Having them involves a lot of sacrifices, but those are my priorities. You made a choice based on your priorities, priorities which are different. That’s not a value judgement. They’re just different. If you made the right choice for you and your family, then it is what it is. People who have dogs first priorities are never going to agree with it, but that too, is what it is.

  12. Hannah December 30, 2011 at 10:42 pm #

    Just saw that there’s a post from your dogs’ adopters, and that’s great! I urge you to stay in touch and provide a presence and safety net for your dogs should any situation arise in the future where they are no longer able to keep them. Hopefully that will not happen, but sometimes unforeseen situations do arise.

    • S King December 31, 2011 at 7:51 am #

      Thanks Hannah for your comments, you bring up a lot of wonderful points about re-homing animals. Luckily, we do have a ‘back up’ family in Atenas that would be more than pleased to take care of Magic & Shadow, just in case Pablo and his family find it to be too much. And that family is in contact with Pablo. We do keep in contact with them and everyone is thriving. Which makes us all happy.

      Thanks for not judging us on our decision…it was the best we could have made given the circumstances.

  13. Koren December 25, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    I am crying as I read this as I’m so in love with my 8 year old Chi. She has been a constant companion for almost a decade, but I also dont want to regret not living out my dreams. Sometimes I think she’d be happier with a family in a suburb with a yard and someone who is home all day (I’m a manhattan lawyer now). But in the end, I know how attached she is to me and it breaks my heart. What if the family doesn’t take good care of her? I’m so conflicted.

    • S King December 25, 2012 at 7:11 pm #

      know how you feel. This was SUCH an incredibly hard decision, as you know. Luckily, we still keep in touch with the family that has Magic and Shadow and we constantly see pictures of them on Facebook taking trips to the beach with the dogs. So, we are happy that they have an incredible new family.

      I guess we can only be grateful for the immense time that we did spend together. I believe Magic and Shadow are still connected to us spiritually and they know that we love them still. We are constantly thinking of them.

      Dogs love us so much and give their hearts to us unconditionally. It’s an incredible gift.

      Thank you for the comment. It brought tears to my eyes again.

  14. Living Outside of the Box October 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm #

    He could hunt and kill deer? Wow!!! I’m sorry for your recent loss, but I’m sure he lived his life in full Costa Rican comfort and glory!


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