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Griffin, an English Bulldog, is a very popular dog. He’s followed by thousands of supportive and adoring Facebook fans and has his own T-shirt line. He’s earned every ounce of his fame: he was born with an enormous and riotous personality and a certain star quality (his nickname is “Boss Applesauce”). He was also born with Swimmer Syndrome, a disease that is initially treatable, and neglected by his first owners. These days, he moves quickly and confidently through the world on his two front legs and a specially outfitted wheelchair. Since early this summer, he has been battling Canine Lymphoma with bravery and the unwavering support of his doggy and human family. Throughout his chemotherapy, he lost some fur but retained his love of cardboard.
Lisa and her husband Chris care for Griffin with immense amounts of love and humor. They are the unsung human heroes behind the canine hero. Along with Griffin, they own Barney, another goofy bulldog with a playful spirit and very long legs, who is just a teensy bit of jealous of Griffin’s popularity. After this interview, Lisa and Chris adopted a third bulldog, Lila, who had spent her life in a puppy mill, pregnant or nursing and bound to the confines of a kennel. Lisa welcomed Lila to their family with characteristic love and a very cushy new dog bed. Then, she introduced her to Facebook. Within an hour, there were nearly 1,000 “likes”.
HOW DID GRIFFIN AND BARNEY, YOUR BULLDOGS, COME INTO YOUR LIFE?
Griffin came into our lives in February of 2011, after the sudden and unexpected loss of our first English Bulldog, Basil. Basil passed away at the young age of four from inexplicable renal failure, and we were completely devastated. After many weeks of sadness, my husband and I decided to look into bulldog rescue. We pulled up the Long Island Bulldog Rescue website (LIBR covers all of New England), and Griffin was the first bulldog we saw. At first, we thought it would be crazy to adopt this extra special guy when we were still in the throes of grief over Basil. We were also terrified that we would not know how to properly care for him and that we would somehow fail at being his parents. As it turned out, Griffin has been the ultimate medicine for the pain of losing Basil. We were able to become immersed in taking excellent care of Griffin, which helped to heal our hearts.
Barney came into our lives in March of last year. At the time, our doggie family consisted of Gretchen, our 13 year old female boxer (who had been with us since she was 8 weeks of age) and Griffin. Gretchen’s health was beginning to fail, and we knew that in all likelihood, we would be facing our lives without her in the near future. Griffin has always thrived as a member of a multi-dog family, and we did not want him to face even one day as an only dog. Plus, honestly, we would have ten dogs if we could! So, the search for a new family member was on. A friend of mine learned that we were looking to adopt, and it just so happened that she had been facing the painful prospect of re-homing her bulldog, Barney, due to her schedule. She reached out to us to see if we were interested in adding him to our family, brought him over for a visit, and he became a permanent member of our clan the very next day. Barney has always been very well loved and very well cared for, so his transition to our home was as seamless as we could have ever dreamed of. He is a perfect brother to Griffin; he loves him very much and is so kind, patient and respectful to him. We could not be more happy to have Barney in our lives.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU BRING GRIFFIN INTO THE SPOTLIGHT? HOW DID YOU BEGIN SHARING HIM WITH AN ONLINE COMMUNITY, AND WHY DO YOU THINK PEOPLE RELATE TO THEM THE WAY THEY DO?
When we adopted Griffin, I began sharing photos of him on my personal Facebook profile. Over time, more and more people were sending me friend requests just so that they could see what Griffin was up to, not because they were really interested in me, really. I had lots of people saying, “My friends love Griffin, but they feel weird sharing his photos from your personal page. Please create a public page for him!”
Truthfully, I was very hesitant to expose Griffin to the whole world. We have all read the comments section of blogs and news stories and have seen how insensitive and rude some people can be. I definitely did not want to open him up to that kind of negative attention. I waited a full year after we adopted Griffin to create his GRIFFIN Facebook page in January of 2012. And you know what? Those fears were instantly erased. I can count on one hand the number of undesirable posts I have removed from his page in the last two years. The people who have come to love Griffin are absolutely incredible, respectful and kind. The love, kindness and support that has literally been showered upon Griffin has been life-changing for him and for us.
I think that people relate to Griffin because we are all inspired by his approach to the obstacles in his life. He is a little bulldozer. He spends zero time feeling sorry for himself and 100% of his time LIVING. He is confident and proud and happy no matter what. We humans aspire to be like this, but are really good at complicating things for ourselves. Griffin reminds us what is important in life, and he leads by example.
HOW DO YOU WRITE AS GRIFFIN ON FACEBOOK? WHAT IS HIS VOICE LIKE?
I just look at Griffin and translate what it is I see him saying. We are very closely connected, as his routine of care involves a lot of trust and a lot of handling. It is easy to absorb his personality and to know what he is thinking, and I really find it effortless to be his voice. Griffin is sweet, independent, bossy, hilarious, strong, brave, and stubborn.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR PETS?
Animals truly live in the moment. They do not worry about the future. They are incredibly adaptive and inherently positive. When I begin to sink into a whirlwind of worry over what might happen with Griffin, I stop myself and instead ask, “What is Griffin concerned about? Oh-his dinner.” I follow his lead.
MANY PEOPLE WOULD HAVE TROUBLE WORKING WITH A DISABLED (OR INCONTINENT) PET. HAVE THERE BEEN MOMENTS WHERE YOU’VE FELT OVERWHELMED BY THE TASK OF LOVING AND CARING FOR A DOG THAT NEEDS SO MUCH?
Never. Whatever effort Griffin requires, he enriches our lives tenfold in return. We look at caring for Griffin as if we have the honor to care for some kind of exotic bear cub. He is so adorable and appreciative. There is no limit to the amount of time I am willing to devote to his care and his happiness, as well as the happiness of our other “kids”: Barney, Liam, and Hope (both cats).
YOU ARE INVOLVED IN AND WORK WITH ROLLER DERBY. BOTH YOU AND GRIFFIN ROLL ON WHEELS! HOW HAS ROLLER DERBY IMPACTED YOUR LIFE?
I played competitively with Maine Roller Derby for four years. I now lead a roller derby-inspired fitness program in Southern Maine called Derby Lite. We use the non-contact skills drills of roller derby athletes for a full body, on-skates workout. Women of all ages and walks of life make up our over 100 skater membership. Roller derby and Derby Lite has had a huge impact on my life. Many of my now-lifelong friends are former teammates or Derby Lite skaters. Playing roller derby revealed strength and fearlessness in me that I did not know existed. I learned that being aggressive and assertive is not the same as being violent and mean. The lessons of roller derby have in large part made me the confident, happy, athletic woman I am today.
WHAT IS MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Not letting one day pass without paying full recognition to the beauty and gifts that surround all of us. Spending time doing things I love. Spending time surrounded by the people and animals I love. Eating, drinking and moving my body.
TELL ME ABOUT A LESSON YOU HAVE LEARNED OR ARE LEARNING IN YOUR LIFE?
I am learning that although we cannot control everything that happens, we can absolutely control the way we approach and frame each situation. This releases me from a lot of stress that I could choose to bear.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST STRUGGLE RIGHT NOW?
Implementing the above. Griffin is fighting lymphoma. I struggle with worry over each treatment we choose for him and for what others might think of our choices, because Griffin is so loved by so many. I struggle with the vortex of sadness and despair over how unfair it is for him to have to deal with cancer on top of his other obstacles. I struggle with self-pity because we were so looking forward to many more years with him and statistically speaking, that may not happen.
To wallow in things is to waste my time, my energy, and my strength. Why should I cry over Griffin when he is right here in front of me, not worried about a thing in the world? So, here is the flip side: Griffin has access to Holistic and Conventional treatments. There is no stone unturned in providing him with excellent care. Griffin has the love and well wishes of thousands & thousands of people all over the world. Griffin has never once felt sorry for himself, nor is he capable of determining what is fair or unfair. Griffin has provided us with so much love and so many incredible experiences in the three years that we have loved him; the fact is: we would never be able to get enough of him.
WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GIFT (OR BLESSING) RIGHT NOW?
My faith in humanity has been completely restored, and then some, as a result of the response to him from people all over the world who will never even meet him. I am completely overwhelmed with gratitude and filled with joy every single day when I see the love and well wishes people take the time to articulate on his page. When Griffin was diagnosed with lymphoma, we did an online fundraiser to help with his medical costs. Within 24 hours, his Facebook friends had raised $9,500 for him! When I set up his fundraiser, I had tears streaming down my face; I was full of dread and worry, and was even a bit ashamed that we needed help to cover his treatments. The love and support that immediately streamed in lifted that burden, not only financially but emotionally. There are so many wonderful, kind, selfless, generous people in this world.
WHAT IS THE BEST MOMENT OF AN AVERAGE DAY?
All of the moments. Okay, maybe not all, but most. There’s definitely too many to choose from. If we are alive, we all have something to be thankful for.
To follow Griffin on Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/GRIFFIN