Lessons Learned on the Road to Happiness with Rene and Jim: Creator Series
by Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson
Welcome to our new series Creator’s Creations where creators submit their stories. We are sharing highlights from transformation stories and how we are creating FIT Life Creation and the community.
In this Creator series feature, we are featuring Lessons Learned on the Road to Happiness with Rene and Jim.
Highlights of Story and Creations:
Turning Tragedy into Triumph
Content creators and influencers filled the packed conference room, eager to learn how to grow an online niche community. Jim stood at the podium and told them how. “If we can do what we've done with our Tripawds site for three-legged pets, you can grow a successful business around your blog.”
Then he drove home his point. “No niche is too small, and you are all an expert about something.” He spoke at the popular pet bloggers conference to expand the reach for our labor of love – the world’s largest support community for amputee pets and their people. Why did we do it? We owe it all to our first dog.
Jerry was our heart and soul dog, the Chief Fun Officer of a full-service marketing firm we had grown from scratch over a decade. He kept us sane and centered during long, stressful workdays while teaching us how to work together and keep our marriage intact.
In 2006, he turned eight years old. And one month later, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a deadly bone cancer with a grim prognosis. Back then we didn't even know dogs got cancer. And the shocks kept coming when doctors told us amputation could get rid of the pain and improve his quality of life for a few more months, maybe a year.
It seemed impossible that our best friend and hiking partner could cope on three legs. Feeling lost and alone we turned to the Internet, but what we found back then wasn’t very helpful – nor was it hopeful.
Photo Credits: Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson
It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four. Jerry's Motto.
We overcame our reluctance to amputate and went ahead with surgery. Then we started a small blog to update friends and family about his progress. A few weeks later, I turned our life upside down once more. “Hey what do you think about taking a road trip?”
I suggested to Jim after handing him a gin and tonic. “We could sell all of this and take time off. A sabbatical!” We were both burnt out on the business we had grown. It was time to expand or get out, and I knew in my heart if our time was limited with Jerry, I wanted to make the most of it. Surprisingly, my cautious risk taker husband agreed.
Over the next six months we planned for a year off and sold everything to give our retiring CFO the road trip of a lifetime. It was our way of paying him back for all those long workdays he waited patiently for us to play. We didn’t make a killing on our sale, but it allowed us to buy a pre-owned diesel truck and brand new fifth-wheel trailer.
For two amazing years, our beautiful three-legged dog beat the bone cancer odds. Maybe it was the constant change of scenery, maybe it was just a fluke. But we had the time of our lives roaming the country and making the most of every moment we had left. Along the way, PBS sent a film crew to capture our life on the road for the documentary, Nature: Why We Love Cats and Dogs.
Jerry left us in 2008. After that fateful day in Yellowstone National Park, we focused on building his legacy by making Tripawds the best resource for people facing amputation for their beloved pets.
Today, we’re still on the road in our RV, nurturing new members, managing the non-profit Tripawds Foundation and hosting 1600+ three-legged dog and cat blogs. We tell Jerry’s story in our book Be More Dog: Learning to Live in the Now – with a foreword and original illustration by MUTTS comic strip creator Patrick McDonnell.
The Amazon #1 New Release teaches readers about the important life lessons Jerry taught us, and everyone he met. It also details how we turned our passion into a full-time labor of love.
Our Accidental Brand
Your brand is more than pretty photos, a logo and tagline. It stands for what you believe in. It tells a story. Ours evolved organically. When Jim first registered the tripawds.com domain, he wanted to reclaim and empower the “tripods” term vets use to describe three-legged dogs and cats.
At first, we only wanted to share Jerry's story, and his motto: It's better to hop on three legs than to limp on four. But soon passionate pet parents reached out to us, concerned for their own pets facing amputation. Once Jim installed discussion forums so we could all talk with each other, the community took off from there.
Our new calling had found us. We vowed to provide free educational resources and create a platform for discussion where anyone could share their own pet's amputation stories, treatment plans, and results. Before we knew it, we were content creators writing helpful articles, producing videos and podcasts with veterinary experts.
The social aspect grew when we added a live chat room. Then Jim built the Tripawds Blogs network to give members a free way to blog about their own Tripawd. Our calling wasn’t making any money, since charging for access just felt wrong when we considered the financial stress all our members face.
But we knew that if Tripawds were to survive, it had to earn us an income somehow. It finally started to pay for itself, once we curated our existing content into e-books and started selling helpful assistive devices we personally tested with Jerry, or our new spokesdog Wyatt Ray.
Today, our Tripawds logo that Jim designed is a badge of honor for amputee pets everywhere. The encircled three-paw trademark also symbolizes a merit badge for pet parents who do their homework by finding the best pet amputation recovery and care resources we have to offer.
Thirteen years ago we never would have dreamed that our calling would arrive in a community that helps three-legged pets and their people everywhere – from an RV.
Biggest Success Factors
Measurement of Success Matters.
Being featured on PBS was just the beginning of many ways that Tripawds has rewarded us. Publishing our book, with Patrick McDonnell creating the foreword, are two other milestones. But the one that I get giddy over is when Oprah said she loved our story.
Long before we finished Be More Dog, I called into the Gayle King Show on Sirius XM Radio. They were asking listeners to share their adventure stories. After I briefly described the two-year road trip we took with our three-legged dog,
Oprah told Gayle, “I love how they got in their RV and did it for their dog, Jerry.”
If there’s one thing that Jerry’s experience taught us, it’s that true success cannot be measured with money alone. The satisfaction that comes from helping others is what matters.
The best measurement of our own personal success is the simple fact that Jim and I are still enjoying our nomadic lifestyle more than a dozen years later, while serving others in their time of need. And when a veterinarian refers their worried client to us, it’s absolute proof that we are doing something right.
Your Challenges & How You Turned Pain into Purpose
Overcoming Challenges to Find Our Purpose
Jim and I have never felt more pain than when Jerry's cancer returned and we set him free from his broken body. The weeks following his death were unbearable, but helping others who were touched by the same situation got us through the grief.
When a member asked us if we would keep the Tripawds site going, the answer was a no-brainer. We had to. Tripawds is Jerry’s legacy, and our constant beacon reminding us about what really matters in life.
Life wasn’t meant to be easy. Overcoming challenges helps us grow, professionally, personally and spiritually. Jerry helped with the spiritual part, and the rest was up to us.
Over the years Jim and I have had our fair share of challenges while trying to grow a business where our primary product is a warm fuzzy feeling, on a website where we never want to charge our users.
The most noticeable business obstacles are always technical and financial. A designer by trade, Jim is now an expert at hosting to maintain our growing network.
And in 2014 we formed the 501c3 Tripawds Foundation to keep its many resources free and available to the public. Today, Tripawds also has a toll-free helpline and direct financial assistance programs for members in need.
Daily operations from the road present many other challenges, but the sense of purpose drives us to overcome them and keep going.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
Jim and I continue in Jerry’s honor, with the lessons he shared: Resilience, Acceptance, Perseverance, Lovingkindness, Awareness, and Gratitude. But the most important lesson of all, for anyone seeking success, is to ask: why you do what you do. When you can answer that question without hesitation, you’ll know you are on the right path.
Helping others is why we do what we do. Through the work we do at Tripawds, I feel good knowing that nobody ever has to feel lost and alone when facing amputation for their pet.
What do you think is most important?
The Importance of Finding Purpose and Following Our Passion
Finding one's purpose is more important than following any passion. We can be passionate about anything. But only when you know deep down your reason for doing what you do, will you feel good about doing it.
To us, that is the only true measure of success. Whenever I'm stuck, I ask myself, how can I leave this world a better place through the work I do?
The Post-It note above my desk is a daily reminder. It reads: How can I serve others?
The Adventure Continues
Seeing our online community grow, from one silly dog's blog, has been an unexpected joyride. But living the nomadic life and operating our business from the road for thirteen years keeps the adventures coming. Some have been awful experiences, but they always made us stronger people.
We've held conference calls on a satellite internet connection in the middle of the desert. We sat around the fire with our three-legged dog in Luckenbach, Texas. We watched him play in the Atlantic, and swim in the Gulf. We've raised our current dog on the road while surviving floods, fires, and getting stranded on a remote highway in the Yukon while Grizzly bears lurked in the woods.
We never really know what our days will bring but one thing is always certain, we make the most of every moment, and we have no intention of slowing down. Jerry wouldn't have it any other way.
“The road goes on forever, but the party never ends.” –Robert Earl Keen
Final words: Top Tips to Create What You Love
Deepak Chopra once said, “The most creative act you will ever undertake is the act of creating yourself.” I say find your purpose, and do what you love.
There is no niche too small.
And as Marie Forleo says, “Everything is Figureoutable”. Focus on serving others. Success will follow.
FIT Life Creation
Creation Series: Joel Hawbaker & Courageous Humility
The Guardian: Tripawds Profile
RV Life: Be More Dog Book Review
Find many more Media references at:
Be More Dog
Live Work Dream