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Waypoints: Noël Russell, Sue & Fin

Waypoints celebrate the places our dogs take us and the joy of returning to them together, time and time again. Whether it's a summit, a shoreline, or a certain spot on the trail where your dog just has to stop and sniff every time.

With your dog by your side, these places hold significance beyond navigation. And every time we return to them, the history they hold goes deeper, and the possibilities for new stories to be told are endless.

This season, we worked with some incredible dog and human teams who shared their own Waypoints with us through storytelling and some really fun photoshoots.

We’re excited to share them all with you, beginning with the words of storyteller and photographer, Noël Russell. Read on to follow her journey of creating, re-visiting, and learning from the Waypoints she's discovered with her dogs over the years.

Noel Russel and her dogs, Sue and Fin on a lakeshore with a kayak

. . .


by Noël Russell

My abuela always said that sharing stories is the way we allow our ancestors to show us love, even long after their bodies are laid to rest.

Lhotse became an ancestor of mine early last year. After 14 years of blessing the world with her unyielding love and shining spirit.

Noel and her dogs in the back of her camper van

Pictured, left to right: Fin, Noël, and Lhotse.

During her sundown years, we did the best to bring her back to the places she loved the most – that alpine lake where she’d romp through the muck as her stippled coat blended perfectly into the tall yellow grass, or the snowy south-facing slopes of her favorite range in the Sierra where she would sunbathe comfortably in her thick winter coat while quenching her thirst with a couple chomps of powder.

Two dogs sit by kayaks by a lake

We introduced Fin to Lhotse about 6 years ago, just in time for her to follow Lhotse’s brindle bum for a few hundred miles of trail. And as she showed her all the spots, Fin would watch intently. “Here is the place where the water skeeters like to hang out,” I’d almost hear her whisper, “and these pine needles make for the best bed for napping.” 

Dog sitting with human in kayak on a lake with another dog and human kayaking

I’d look on as Lhotse rutted around the forest floor at our favorite campsite, scratching up layers of hummus with one paw, then Fin would follow suit. During that time, I found myself surprised at how big these special places really are – how they can hold more memories than we’d ever imagined, how they seemed to swell to create more space for good.

Noel and her dog kneeling on a trail

Fin’s addition to our family was unexpected and challenging and utterly invaluable. 

As a dog with unique medical needs, we spent over half a decade visiting more doctors and specialists that we can count on our combined digits. We met way too many emergency vets across our beloved state and can now pronounce the names of more prescription meds than we ever wished to. 

But, after all the tears and fears and one near-death experience, we finally came to breathe a sigh of relief as we learned how to manage her condition well.

Small dog in a kayak with a guy on a lake with a mountain in the background

After mourning the loss of our longest love and the newfound stability of a special-needs pup, we finally felt some semblance of ease. That’s when another unexpected and challenging and utterly invaluable introduction came our way.

Close-up look at Noel with her dogs, Sue and Fin, in a kayak

Sue was a vet surrender, a boy with a unique type of hemophilia that even had the doctors at Cornell’s hematology lab scratching their heads. It took a village to get him the care he needed, and nearly another village more to advocate for the life he deserved – because it seemed near impossible to find a forever home for a tiny pup whose blood just doesn’t clot.

But, after all the tears and fears and one near-death experience, we found him. 

“It’s a wonder he’s even alive,” said our vet the first time she saw him. “He’s not just alive,” I replied, “he’s truly living.”

Two dogs on a lake shore, with one of them jumping in the water

And so, we brought Sue back to the places that Fin learned to love. 

Back to the spots where we’d trace Lhotse’s tracks through the warm summer mud and hear her huffs wafting in sunny snowdrifts.

Back to our favorite campsite with its fresh layers of fallen leaves.

Back to the bigness of these special places that hold more memories than we’d ever imagine – the ones that constantly swell to create more space for good. 

Two Side-by-side images, one of Lhotse on the trail, the other of Noel with new dog Sue on same trail years later

Space for all the memories, all the firsts, all the awe and magic. The places that overflow with fullness of stories – not just our own, but of those who came before us, lived with us, and followed in our footsteps. Even of those whose paths have never crossed our own.

Two side-by-side images, one of Lhotse at a lake, the other of Noel with Sue and Fin at the same lake years later

These are the waypoints. The spots that just never lose their luster. The places where we experience the stories that allow our ancestors to show us love, even long after their bodies are laid to rest. In them we find our way towards truly living.

. . .

Noël Russell is a writer, photographer, daughter of an immigrant, mom of rescue mutts, and digital marketer by trade. She spends her workdays crafting compelling campaigns for brands and organizations alike, while her evenings and weekends are filled with endless adventures alongside her two favorite furry family members. When she’s not standing at her desk, you can often find her, Jonnie, Fin, and Sue hiking, backpacking, paddling and picnicking around the West or exploring backroads and byways of the Sierra Nevada in their converted campervan, aptly named Francis Ford Campola.

We hope you'll retrace, celebrate, and share the Waypoints that mark your journey with your dog – and venture further to create new ones. Have a Waypoint story of your own that you'd like to share? Tag us on Instagram @ruffwear and use #RuffwearWaypoints.