willie with the orphans in Kiev

In 1998 I travelled to India for the first time in my adult life. It would be my fourth time and on each occasion prior I remember constantly travelling by car to and from the capital city to both my mother’s and father’s hometowns to visit family. Unfortunately it never really felt like a vacation. My relatives all had a perspective that we were rich, since we lived in Canada, and so it was more of a handout to people I didn’t know rather than a meaningful connection with my relatives. This trip was to be more of the same, but since I had not visited since I was a young child this time would be much different. I was free from school and not yet working a full-time job. With this freedom, my mind was clear, alert and able to focus on what was happening at the moment. I was still quite naive to the world, living in the bubble of Canada for most of my life, and this formed my belief that I knew and had seen everything. This stubborn ignorance was the last ingredient needed to allow the following small event to turn the way I looked at things upside down and eventually change my life. Read More

Willie at the Colosseum in Rome Italy

An article was recently written about my journey with Willie. I had little control over what facts were used and, in the end, I felt that the writer sensationalized a “rags to riches” story that wasn’t accurate. I understood the writer’s need to pull on the reader’s emotions to make a story that people could relate to, but I wanted it to be truthful.

Not your average shaggy dog story! Willie the schnoodle makes the most of his rescue from life of neglect as he turns globe-trotter to visit 12 countries in five years

The story hinged most of its worth on a lie. Yes, Willie was found on the streets, but he was not starving and living a life of such neglect. With this in mind, I think it’s time to write some truth.

Willie was lost & found, twice, then kidnapped & his real name is “Hooks”

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Willie sits on top of the city wall in El Jadida Morocco

In my life, I have found myself meeting some very interesting people in very odd situations. Some have become close friends. In 1994 I lost my high paying job at the post office and was forced to take a job at the mall selling shoes for minimum wage. I think everyone in the world should work at a shoe store at least once as the experience you get can be used in almost any job you have afterwards. It was there that I met my friend Mario. He was working as the manager and the night we met I asked him if he could drive me home after work. He agreed, but at the end of the night as we walked out to the parking lot and I asked where he parked he admitted that he did not have a car! He was new to the country, so maybe there was a miscommunication. After asking why he said he could drive me home, he said that his friend was picking him up and would be able to take me home. The only problem was that his friend was still working delivering pizza, so we had to wait.

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Over the past year, Willie and I have started helping local charities in the cities we visit through Willie’s non-profit, the “Where is Willie Foundation.” We’ve focused our recent efforts on helping young children in poor neigborhoods, as we feel this can make the most positive impact on their future and the world they live in day-to-day.

In November 2015 we connected with a non-profit organization named “El Divino Niño” in a poor neighbourhood named Barrio Castilla in Medellin, Colombia. We were looking to organize a trip to a soccer game for a dozen of the children they took care of. None of the boys had ever been to a live game before and, with soccer being the most popular sport in Colombia, it truly made for a day they would never forget.

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670 days + 2 minutes

On our travels, Willie and I have seen some amazing places, but what really stood out was the people. I recently decided to start writing about the people Willie meets on his journey through life. I’m going to start with a few personal stories of my own. Here’s the first…

It was 1991. Willie’s great grandfather had not yet been born. I had just finished high school and had a lot of free time, since I completed a semester early. I decided to volunteer and one of the jobs I took on was preparing tax returns for seniors and low income individuals. It was a free service offered by the government of Canada.

Most of the people coming in were seniors. Being only 19, I remember thinking that most old people were no longer aware of what was happening in the world and did not have much to offer anymore. Yes, they had life experience, but I felt that it was out-dated and could not be applied to the present day. I didn’t expect to get much out of this job, other than the good feeling from helping someone with something that was so complicated, even a younger, more capable person would get frustrated and head to the closest H&R Block. I soon discovered that I was wrong.

I recall one couple that came in together to do their taxes. I started by asking for their names, date of birth and address. Halfway through typing their address the gentleman interrupted me to say that he was the happiest man in the world. I stopped for a brief moment, smiled and then continued entering the information. He then repeated that he was the happiest man in the world because he had been married to the most beautiful, kind and loving woman for the past 50 years. I stopped again and looked up to see an old man smiling a wide smile, sitting next to his wife, who beamed joy and peace from her piercing blue eyes. It was at this moment that I thought, maybe, he had a secret. Maybe he knew something about love, the one thing that I thought was too complicated to understand.

I stopped typing, set aside the paperwork, took a moment to breathe and then asked… “Okay you have my attention. Tell me. What is the secret to your marriage?” The man smiled even more and began to tell me the two things that, he felt, had made his marriage so great and helped it to stay intact over so many decades. Read More

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Willie and I visited Colombia for our second time in September 2015. We returned to Medellin where my oldest friend now lived with his wife and young daughter. Although we came here to escape Canada’s winter, it was more to be with my friend who had isolated himself from the friends, family and society he was so familiar with. He recently revealed that he had never missed or felt the need for family so much as in the past 3 years since the arrival of his daughter. Indeed, it was interesting to see how isolation could make one’s perspective change.

In our first month here we met a beautiful young mother living in a poor neighbourhood named Milagrosa. Her name was Alee, and she took us on a trip to a small town named Cocorna just 2 hours outside of Medellin. Here is her story and what Willie and I experienced.

At the age of only 15 Alee found herself pregnant. This would be rare by western standards, but in Colombia it’s a very common story. She was a product of her society, but why was it this way? Why were so many girls that were still children having babies? Was it Roman Catholic ideals that prohibited the use of birth control? Was it the sexist views that put women in a box and viewed them as abnormal if they did not have a child by 21? Was it the absence of a proper father figure growing up? Did all of these in some small way create women of low self-worth, self-esteem, and internal happiness, pushing them into a depressed state that causes them to look externally for solutions (and which only by having a baby can they be pulled out of)? A baby can definitely give someone in a depressed state with no purpose a sudden bounty that keeps them busy for decades. They are such a beautiful miraculous external distraction from attending to the needs within, but at some point we all need to deal with this and Alee was just beginning. Read More