By Lisa Cedrone
Sometimes a story grabs hold of your heart, and that’s exactly what happened to me three years ago when I read about David Blank and his dog Max in Wendy Cooper’s animal communication e-newsletter (www.animalcommunication.biz/Max.html) When I later reached out to David to share his story in Transformation Coaching Magazine, he wanted to wait until launching an adventure tour company that was inspired by his world travels with Max. Time rolled along, David and I touched base occasionally, and the original email held a steadfast place at the bottom of my inbox, never forgotten.
Good stories, like successful business plans, take time to come together—and this one did when David and his wife Claudia Fabrega, along with their dogs Dozer and Margie, opened Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours in April 2018 (www.happytailstours.com/transform ). The Charlotte, NC-based business offers a wide range of canine-friendly outings and trips from a four-hour “Howl At The Moon” full moon kayak and paddleboard tour to an eight-day adventure throughout the U.S. Southwest.
A professional tour guide and canine trainer, David has been to all but one of the 50 U.S. states and 45 countries since starting his travel guide career in 1993. He has lived and worked in countries including Panama, Ecuador, China and France, and he even once hitchhiked from the United States to Guatemala to learn Spanish. While in Panama in 2007 he met Claudia, a native of the country and an attorney with a master’s degree in Maritime Law. At the time, both Max and Dozer were part of David’s family, and Claudia fell in love with them all.
Claudia and David married in 2009, but this story actually begins in 2000, when David was laid off from his job in marketing at Rosenbluth International, a large Philadelphia-based travel management company, not long after completing his MBA at Thunderbird School of Global Management. David was looking for a new job when Max entered the picture, and he helped David to change the direction of his career, fuel his lifelong passion for travel and adventure, and plant the seeds for Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours.
“I had known for years that I wanted an Australian Cattle Dog,” says David. “The rescue organization wouldn’t give me one because I lived in an apartment, but they knew I had done my research. Then one Friday, a woman from the rescue called me about Max. He had been in the shelter for three months as a stray, and no one knew his background. He was about 18 months old and 48 hours from being euthanized, and from the minute we left there together, Max never willingly left my side or let me out of his sight.”
A few days after bringing Max home, David was offered a job with a new company. It was an excellent opportunity with a stake in the business, but it would require up to 80-hours per week at a desk. David accepted.
Later, when he returned home, David found that Max had destroyed some of his favorite things. David was upset but, after almost two years in a corporate job, he realized that Max was trying to tell him something important: He didn’t want to spend all of his time inside working in an office. And the dog was right. David called the company back and said he had reconsidered and, instead of becoming chained to a desk, he took off on a one-year motorcycle journey through the United States, Canada and Mexico with Max in a large crate on the back of his bike. They traveled over 20,000 miles on that trip, and it was the beginning of a heartfelt relationship that lasted until Max crossed the “Rainbow Bridge” at 14 and a half years old.
David puts it into perspective: “Max traveled with me through 10 countries in North, Central and South America. He has been rafting, kayaking, tubing on the Rio Grande, and he flew to South America. He protected me at night when we camped out. He attacked the police that tried to rob us in Mexico. And he was my friend. Max saved my life, and he changed my life.”
Pets often come into our lives as our spiritual guides, best friends and constant companions. They can inspire us—and they also can serve as life coaches or even business partners, as in David and Claudia’s case. I had the chance to ask David some questions about his love of the outdoors and animals, what our pets can teach us, and how he turned his soul’s calling into an entrepreneurial business venture. Here’s what he has to share:
Transformation: Tell me about your passion for exploring/traveling and the outdoors?
David: I have always loved to travel. When I was in college in Boulder, Colorado, I did a lot of road trips around the Southwest to climb, ski and camp. When I was 20, I went to Europe for four months by myself and backpacked. Then the travel bug really hit me when I was backpacking through East and South Africa in 1992 with my friend Celine. We met a 7-foot tall New Zealander named Rob who was an overland tour guide, and once I learned that I could get paid to travel I was hooked. I began working for a company called Trek America in the United States in April of 1993.
A friend once asked me why I do all the crazy things I do. After some serious consideration, I responded: “I do the things that others are afraid to do because I’m afraid to do the things that others do!” I’m not made to sit at a desk. I grew up on a farm, and I guess that my love of animals and being outdoors is part of me.
I remember my first week of graduate school. They put us in cohort groups, and the first day we had to tell the person next to us who we were in two minutes, and then that person did the same, and then we introduced each other to the rest of the group. My partner Aaron stood up and said: “This is David, and I don’t know what else to say about him other than he’s been doing what we all wish we had been doing with our lives for the past three years!”
At that moment, I felt the weight of the world come off of my shoulders. While living the life of my dreams, traveling all over North America, I had been hearing my father’s voice in the back of my mind saying, “That’s great! I’m glad you are having a good time. But when are you going to get a real job?”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence or self-awareness at that time to realize that what he should have said and—more importantly—what I should have said to myself was, “You seem to be really good at this, and you obviously love it! Why don’t you see if you can figure out how to make this gift your life’s work?” It would be another six years before I would go back to guiding, working as a raft guide and ski instructor in Taos, New Mexico in 2003.
Transformation: Tell me about your relationship with Max and dogs in general?
David: Animals are incredibly powerful beings that help us to connect with nature and with our true and often better Self. People often say of rescue animals, “Who saved who?” There is no question that Max transformed my life. Taking off on a motorcycle with him one month after the adoption was an amazing adventure. I don’t think anything can be a better bonding experience for a dog and a human than traveling together.
Dogs, like humans, are pack animals. They are always testing us to make sure that as the leader we can be in charge and take care of things. It’s in their nature. They do it in their own packs in the wild. In the Mask of Masculinity, Lewis Howe writes: “If you don’t [project an image of strength or confidence that other people can lean on], the people around you feel anxious, scared or unprotected.”
A weak leader is a danger to the pack, just like a weak mind is a danger. Over the years I’ve often heard that negative voice in my head, which I see as a self-protective construct that develops in childhood. It’s always testing to see if it needs to protect; if I am not in charge, it can and will take over—and nothing good seems to come from it. So it is with dogs. Many times dogs’ behavioral issues develop because we don’t know how to communicate clearly to the dog: “I have this. It’s no big deal. Everything is cool.” That’s why Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours is so transformational. It’s all about building that strong relationship through clear communication with our dogs and our true Self—and really connecting.
Transformation: How was Max the inspiration for starting Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours, and what other factors played into starting the company?
Max was and is the inspiration for a lot of things in my life. He was a true part of me. But the company is bigger than even Max because it’s about our relationship and about helping others to have that same type of experience, that type of relationship. It’s about my amazing wife Claudia and how we are creating our vision of spending our life traveling with our dogs and sharing our passion with others, transforming their thinking and their lives. It’s about me finally coming out of hiding, letting go of trying to be what I thought I was supposed to be and do, and instead embracing who I am as an adventure travel guide and a person.
I have been blessed in my career as a guide to frequently have clients tell me things like, “You were the best guide we’ve ever had.” For me, being a good guide is easy because I love it so much. However, I never really took those compliments and my gift into my heart. I guess I always felt I was doing something inferior because I wasn’t in an office making big money, living up to my “potential.” I never realized until now that doing what I love and utilizing my gift is actually important—and it is a service of great value to people.
Transformation: What advice can you give to other people looking to merge their passion with purpose into a business?
David: Never give up on your dream and never quit. I’ve tried a lot of things in my life. I gave up a lot. Recently, I realized that the only way we could fail with Happy Tails Canine Adventure Tours is if I give up. I keep reminding myself that successful people move from one failure to the next with enthusiasm. And they write—a lot. Write about why you want to do it. I’m not talking about a business plan. Just write and eventually your true passion and dreams will come out.
Author’s note: Visit www.HappyTailsTours.com for more information on tours and to sign up for an e-mail newsletter with information on new tours and specials. Follow the company: Instagram at https://instagram.com/happytailstours and Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/HappyTailsTours.
Lisa Cedrone is the editor of Transformation Coaching Magazine and a freelance editor, writer and graphic designer based in Sarasota, FL. She also currently serves as the executive director of the C. G. Jung Society of Sarasota and was an editor in chief for two of the “Top 10” business-to-business publisher in the United States. Contact her at Lisa@suncoasttransformation.com.