Finding Purpose on the Road with a Three-Legged Dog

Finding Purpose on the Road with a Three-Legged Dog

  • Allison Miles

You never really know what you’ll get when you invite a dog into your life. Nothing can prepare you for the depth and meaning of a relationship that builds over the course of a dog’s lifespan. This can only be revealed once you build a life together. Rene Agredano and Jim Nelson never saw it coming when they adopted their future Chief Fun Officer, Jerry G Dawg.

“I wasn't ready for a dog,” Jim says. “I didn't think it would be fair, since we were working so hard all the time.” Knowing his wife would feel more secure with a dog by her side when he traveled for business, Jim relented. One morning he joined Rene at the Humboldt County animal shelter to search for a big, lovable and intimidating canine. They envisioned a fierce guard dog as their new companion, but what they got was Jerry. The lean and lanky German Shepherd mix had a sweet soul, a silly disposition and the heart of a spirit guide. And one day he would turn their world inside out to lead them to a happier, more fulfilled life.

As Chief Fun Officer of their growing business, Jerry spent his days roaming between Rene and Jim’s spare bedroom offices, reminding them to pause and smile during the workday grind. At midday, they took “Jerry breaks” together and played short bursts of backyard keep-away with a deflated soccer ball. Every Friday at 5:00 pm, Jerry schemed to get them out of the office by nudging his muzzle against their keyboards, until they surrendered and headed to the beach. His trail dog skills blossomed during long weekends spent peak bagging the Siskiyou and Trinity mountains, until bone cancer abruptly brought their hiking days to a halt.

They knew something was wrong after returning home from a Pacific Crest Trail hike. Jerry jumped out of their truck and yelped loudly when his paws hit the ground. Following weeks of pain medication and vet visits, Jim and Rene heard the word that would change their lives forever: amputation. The vet said it was Jerry's best shot at a good quality of life without enduring more pain from the bone tumor destroying his shoulder. Shocked and grieving for their mountain dog, Jim and Rene agreed to amputate his leg, hoping for more time with Jerry. They got it, and so much more.

“Once he was all healed,” Rene says, “It was like we had our old dog back. He was happy again.” The amputation eradicated the pain, but could not get rid of the cancer that usually kills within six months time. Certain that his time was short, Rene needed to give Jerry something back for all the joy he gave to her and Jim over the last eight years. Secretly she made plans for their dog’s reward, then sprang the big idea on Jim.

“It was all her idea,” Jim recalls. “She wanted us to sell the business, and our house, then buy an RV to travel with Jerry. I thought it was the craziest idea ever. But I couldn’t say no. Jerry was always up for a road trip.” In six months they sold their business and nearly everything they owned. They bought a new RV and planned for a year-long sabbatical. Jim started a blog to share Jerry’s adventures, and registered “tripawds.com” (https://tripawds.com) as a way to empower the “tripods” term veterinarians use to describe three-legged dogs.

Jerry thrived on the road while cruising the slow lanes from coast to coast. They camped in the hot southwest, and romped around the deep woods of Michigan. Cancer took a back seat while Jerry played in the Great Lakes and splashed in the Atlantic. He swam in the Gulf of Mexico, then guided them back to the Colorado Rockies. When the cancer finally returned two years later, Jim and Rene set him free under the big Montana Sky near Yellowstone National Park. 

The trio’s bittersweet journey ultimately helped them find passion and purpose. With Jerry’s spirit guiding them, Rene and Jim established the Tripawds community to help others facing amputation for their own dogs and cats. “We never want anyone else to ever feel as alone and lost as we did, when we got Jerry's diagnosis,” says Rene. Today, Tripawds is the largest online support network for amputee pets and their people. It hosts 1500+ three-legged dog and cat blogs, popular discussion forums, and a live chat, plus vet-approved articles, videos, and podcast episodes about amputation recovery and care. The Tripawds Gear Shop (https://gear.tripawds.com) features helpful products including Ruffwear harnesses, boots, and apparel tested by members. The non-profit Tripawds Foundation (https://tripawds.org) provides direct assistance for pet owners with programs that include free rehab visits, veterinary financial aid for amputation surgery, and the toll-free Tripawds Helpline. 

Thirteen years later, Rene and Jim are still on the road, managing everything from their RV home office. Their travels continue with new Tripawds spokesdog, Wyatt Ray. “It's been an adventure for sure,” says Jim, “but we've survived plenty of misadventures too!” From a Texas flood, to Midwest tornado warnings, to a serious breakdown in the Yukon, they have learned to adapt and overcome—just as Jerry did when he walked out of the hospital with one less leg. When asked how the lifestyle may have prepared them for unexpected events like a global pandemic, Jim cites a favorite quote from Grateful Dead roadie Steve Parish. “You just have to remember: the situation is the boss.”

Living through the highs and lows of life on the road while witnessing the joys and heartbreak of helping others through amputation recovery and cancer care isn’t easy. Along the way, Jim and Rene do their best to stay resilient by doing what comes naturally to any dog: focusing on the here and now. In other words, they try to Be More Dog. It’s Jerry’s parting gift to the couple, which they share with the world in their book, Be More Dog; Learning to Live in the Now

  • adventures with dogs

  • cancer

  • dog cancer

  • finding purpose

  • getting outside with dogs

  • Inspiration

  • three-legged dogs

  • traveling with dogs

  • tripawds

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Responses

  • Andrea Milanez

    Thank you very much for the story! I’m facing this right now, is very hard to take the decision in amputating my dog’s front leg, but after checking the website and reading this, is helping me to make the decision and go forward with my loved and adored Chinese Sharpey Valentino.
    I hope all go okay, like it was with Jerry.

  • Karen

    Great piece a informative site to send my clients to.

  • Melanie

    This story brought a big smile to my face. My greyhound, Paco, faced a similar journey to Jerry. He had an adventure filled life traveling the East Coast on our vacations. When he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had an amputation, the fear of how much his life would change crept in. I sought out information online and found the Tripawds community. It is such a great resource for all things tripod related. It lead me to the Ruffwear Webmaster harness that was a life changer for us. I realized reading about Jerry and seeing how quickly Paco recovered that he could still be an adventure dog. He traveled from Maine to the Florida Keys multiple times. He lived two wonderful years after his amputation and now his adventurous spirit lives on in my great memories. I’m forever grateful for Tripawds and Ruffwear for helping us out on this journey!

  • Jim Nelson

    Thank you for sharing our story, and for all the heartwarming comments. It’s feedback like this that makes all our efforts at #Tripawds worthwhile.

    Ruffwear gear – and the incredible support pack here – has played a major role in helping us keep Jerry’s LEGacy alive. #BeMoreDog

  • Patricia Eligio Tanitsky

    Inspirational story. I found that there is nothing more wonderful than the love and loyal of a canine .

  • "Gramma Barb"

    Jim & Renee gave Jerry an awesome, however short life. This was a very heartwarming and inspiring story, that resulted in “finding purpose”.

  • Rachael Jans

    Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  • Brian

    What an incredible story! Thank you so much for sharing with the community. Much love.

    ‘Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
    If your cup is full may it be again
    Let it be known there is a fountain
    That was not made by the hands of men’

    Brian, Erika, Floyd and Uncle Fester

  • Carol DuPuis

    Thank you for sharing this more than heartwarming story. I needed this lift and yes, we all need to be more like dogs and live each day to the very fullest. Appreciate you, Ruffwear!

  • Carol Marusarz

    This is such a wonderful story. Of course, it made me cry. Dogs are so wonderful to live with and so are our cats. I will certainly be getting their book. I don’t do enough of living in the now.

  • Cheryl Alusow

    We have a tripod schnauzer named Sycamore adopted from loisiane. He was out on the Pet finder web site for 3 weeks and I had fallen in love with him. I told my husband we needed to adopt him because there was no telling what would happen to him if no one adopted him. Sycamore has been in our lives for 6 years now and is the light of our lives. He is fearless and resilient and everyone who meets him just loves him and some even say they are inspired when they see him.
    We hope with great care we will have him in our lives for many more years.

  • James Harr

    Dear Rene and Jim;

    We have been so moved by Jerry’s story and can’t thank you enough for sharing such a heartfelt tale. You are angels for giving Jerry such an amazing life and for caring enough to give him the chance at a prolonged life with you. We all dream of taking to the road and you have shown us that dreams can really can come true. It does seem safe to say you made Jerry’s dreams come true, and now for Wyatt Ray you are continuing that legacy. We are so proud of you and wish you all the best and safe travels forever onward.

    “Wildflower seed and the sand and stone;
    May the Four Winds blow you safely home;
    Roll away, the dew; roll away, the dew…

    James and Lorine Harr (and Finn)
    High Bridge, NJ

  • Audrey Lopez

    Beautiful! What a gift to Jerry and in return your lives were changed for the best. I lost 2 of my dogs to bone cancer but opted not to amputate. They were only alive for 3 months once diagnosed and much older. I didn’t think it was in their best option. Each decision is so hard. I love your story and all the links to community support. Best

  • Jessica

    This was a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing!

  • Angelina Torres

    What a beautiful story!

  • Sarajane C Ruby

    I always look forward to the wonderful stories included in the emails. They are joyous, heartwarming that bring smiles but there are times that they bring sadness and tears. Our dogs give us so much and ask for so little in return. I look at my 2 Std Poodles who are happy and healthy and appreciate their presence even more. Keep up the wonderful work done by Ruffwear

  • Mark Sullivan

    At the Texas State Fair several years ago, there was a canine pond jumping competition. A Black Labrador from Chico, CA was jumping incredible distances with three legs. It made us proud to be Labrador parents.

    If I recall correctly, the pup was jumping 28 feet

  • Lynn Gonzalez

    I loved this article! What a wonderful lesson, one that our dogs teach us everyday if we let them. Travel on! Thank you!

  • Alisa clark

    I am so very sorry,