Sunday, February 27, 2011

The first trial

After only three private lessons, our trainer suggested that Maggie join in a regular class. In retrospect, it was the perfect idea… Maggie was so hyped by agility, that a bomb could have gone off near her and she still wanted to do a tunnel or jump. So the strangers in the class gave her no stress, she focused on the obstacles alone.
There were other people in our class that had their own issues… a big weimaraner that was more puppy than dog and another rescue, a schnauzer, whose apprehension of strangers was probably worse than Maggie’s. Together we took lessons and they soon talked about competing. I repeated my original idea that we had only done this to improve Maggie’s social skills, we had no intention of competing. In addition to that, Maggie was a tall, stringy border collie with a thin tail… I was not sure that the AKC would even provide us with an ILP. But as the weeks got closer, and my classmates began talking about their first trials, I began to think that perhaps this might be fun. There was a local show that I planned to visit, but something came up and I never made it. I pushed the idea back again. One night after class one of my classmates brought out a camera and a ILP (PAL) application. She said “if you don’t send this in, I’m going to” and that night we took the required photos. I can’t say that I was really all that anxious for the result, because I had not yet become addicted. But a few weeks later, the envelope arrived with her AKC certificate. As it turns out, the next show in town happened to be scheduled on my 50th birthday. We entered.
I doubt that I will ever have a more memorable birthday. Maggie ran great for a Novice A dog, and we took home two 1st place ribbons. But more than that, it turned a corner in Maggie’s mind. There were many strangers there, strange noises and strange smells. At first she retreated into her fear, but when I took her to the practice jump and then onto the start line, she forgot about her fear-it pretty much disappeared into the air.
And from the first run, we were as addicted as any junkie.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Remember when?

This cold and snow has me missing warm weather. I thought I would throw these out as a gentle reminder that we are on the downhill slide to summer. (please hurry)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Part 11, the Teeter

Choosing which of my dogs I love the most is like asking me which of my kids I love the most. I could not possibly choose. However, I must say that Jake will always have a special place in my heart… perhaps because of the way he protected Sarah or the fact that he has suffered such hardship, yet continues to greet the world with such happy enthusiasm. About a year after we got Jake I started looking into taking him to nursing homes. He is not only good-natured, but always very gentle when I ask him to be. He would be completely unfazed by wheelchairs, loud noises, or even hands that might pet too hard or grip too tight. And, he would fetch tennis balls for hours, each time gently returning them to your hand. I figured that some older person in a nursing home could benefit from the interaction. I started looking into getting him certified for pet therapy, and found out that the first step was to get him some formalized training. I found a place not too far from home and enrolled him in the next beginning obedience class.
Jake loved it. He loved getting out, he loved the attention, he loved the treats… and we had the best time together. And he was very easily trained. In fact, by lesson four or five, I was beginning to see a competition-worthy obedience dog. He is one of those dogs that heel by looking at the handler’s face the entire time, rarely looking at where he is going. He stays in heel position like we are have Velcro holding us together. And even his long sits were getting better.. he was now up to several minutes and his hips were much improved.
The lady that was teaching the class complemented us on how fast we were progressing and suggested that we consider agility as well. She also taught agility and had an indoor agility ring next to the obedience area. I longed to give it a try, but I knew that Jake’s hips would not allow him to do it.
We also talked after class about Maggie, who, by this time, was becoming overcome with anxiety when introduced to strangers and strange places. And, as she got worse, I took her out less, compounding the problem. The trainer suggested that I bring her and let her try agility… that perhaps putting her to work would help. It took a while for her to convince me, and I made an appointment for a private lesson, because I was too nervous to bring her there with other people around.
From the first moment, she was addicted. At the first lesson she was jumping, doing tunnels, and running the dog walk. I couldn’t remember when I had seen her so happy. We scheduled a second private lesson and I went home. The following week on our way to the facility, Maggie began screaming when we got near the place. Not a scared scream… more like the kids in the “we’re going to Disneyland!” commercials.
About halfway through the lesson, the trainer suggested that we work the teeter. She explained that she would keep Maggie from jumping off by holding onto her if necessary, while I encouraged her to the end. I said “but you don’t understand…no one but me can grab or hold Maggie. I have to muzzle her at the vet… she gets so frightened, that I’m afraid she will bite you.” In true Caeser Milan fashion, the trainer said “That was before; this is now… she loves agility and her mind will be on this, not on the past. As long as you stay calm, so will she” And sure enough, Maggie went up the teeter, the trainer put her arm around her to guide her to the end and Maggie never blinked an eyelash. And as that teeter tipped, Maggie’s life and mine, changed forever.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Part 10, Jake finds a home

Some of the first applications for Jake were from homes in the St. Louis area. However, even without the home visit, I had already decided that they were not going to be good homes for him. I suppose because he is not a traditional-looking border collie (and at the time I think we said that he was probably a mix), the really good applicants were looking at other dogs, and not Jake. And the ones that wanted Jake did not meet my expectations. But I was patient, knowing that the perfect home was out there waiting for him, somewhere.
I began doing some general obedience with him, and gradually began increasing the length of time that I asked him to sit. In the beginning, I was happy with 20 seconds, but we were working up to over a minute. Some days we would take a walk, but even a short walk would leave him lame a few hours later. He wanted to run and play with Maggie, but we really had to limit the running especially, or he would be almost unable to walk the next morning. We continued to visit the vet and talk about his hips and his strength. We also discussed the complications and cost involved with hip replacements; and we talked about keeping his weight low so that someday he might be a candidate for removal of his femoral head when his hips finally gave out. But, he did remind me over and over to keep him moving… keep pushing him as far as I could without causing him any pain or lameness. And so we kept working on walks, a little farther all the time, and sitting… a little longer every time. I tried to get him to swim, but he was terrified of the water, so it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
By the time Jake had lived with us for 3 months, his coat was becoming more shiny, and he was gaining strength in his hips. He was now able to play with Maggie, though I would have to intervene if it got too crazy. He was becoming a great little dog; yet most of the applications that arrived showed interest in one of the other dogs, and not Jake.
In the fall, we headed to the Kansas City area for the rescue reunion. Once a year the rescue invites everyone that adopted a dog for a get-together. Obviously, I would take Maggie to see her foster family and some of her littermates. I took Jake along for the ride and maybe drum up some interest in getting him adopted. I also took my daughter who was about 16 at the time. We stayed at a nice hotel that had a patio door that opened to a courtyard, making it easy to take the dogs out. A little after midnight they whined to go out, and she offered to take them both. Armed with poopy bags and a flashlight, she went out. Not long afterwards, she returned crying. A truck with several drunk young men and driven up to her. One got out and was walking toward her, making lewd suggestions. Maggie hid behind Sarah and cowered, but little Jake turned into an attack dog. She said that Jake lunged at the end of the leash with all his might. She said he growled and barked and foam flew from his cheeks. She said that the young man stopped in his tracks and returned to his truck saying something about a vicious dog. And as soon as they had gone, Jake went back to his happy-go-lucky self and finished his potty trip.
As soon as she told me the story I realized how foolish I had been to let her go out. And how Jake had likely saved her from who-knows-what. And I knew at that moment that I owed him a debt that I could never repay…but I promised him that I would never stop trying. And on that day, in Independence MO, Jake found his perfect forever home-ours.