I truly have not missed doing much in the way of agility for the past year.
A year ago I had a great time at the last agility trial in my area that was held the weekend before the governor of the state shut everything down. However, it was also the trial where I realized that Rhys was likely not gonna be my next agility “superstar.” I made the decision that weekend after an incident at the trial that he wasn’t going to trial for at least a year, and maybe never again. I was truly okay with that, although a bit sad. In that respect, The Covid Times hit at the right time for he and I. 2019 was a full, successful and busy year for my business, but at the expense of my own dogs in many ways. 2020 gave me a chance to reconnect and fix that, at the expense of my declining business.
I suspect that Rhys’s traumatic and long overnight by himself in the woods last summer helped him realize that maybe being a Big Independent Dog wasn’t all that he thought it would be and maybe his Human was good for more than just feeding him good food, taking him to cool places so he could run and explore, and fighting him for more room on the bed.
Our bond became tighter, but we were still a hot and inconsistent mess when it came to agility classes when those resumed in the second half of the year. In our more focused private lessons we were pretty good, but we also had the luxury of having the The Relationship Counselor as our instructor and we focused mainly on skills and drills. I finally realized that the group class was souring not only me on agility, but him as well and teaching us both to work in a constant negative emotional state. Interestingly, after a bit of time off again, when we resumed our private lessons, we were both more relaxed and focused. In fact, we managed to impress The Relationship Counselor one Friday morning during a lesson when she casually suggested we do an entire course and we nailed it to criteria and perfection.
I had divulged to her that Rhys was unlikely to cut it as a serious competition dog and that I was okay with that. I was more than okay with it. I still wanted to take lessons and learn with him as agility is a great activity for dogs overall in terms of the physical and mental aspects of the training. Plus, he’s a fun dog to work with and presents me with a lot of challenges given his speed and stride length, not to mention his power, so continuing lessons helps me as a handler.
I think my actual words to The Relationship Counselor where along the lines of “I really don’t care anymore.” And it was true.
A magical thing happened. Not caring meant no pressure. No pressure meant more fun. Suddenly we were not only having actual fun, but we were good.
Still, Rhys easily goes over the top and he has a pretty negative history of association with an actual competition ring.
Meanwhile, during the late summer and fall months of The Covid Dark Times, I realized Brady and Camm were both very close to major championships in the agility organization in which we mainly compete. Brady was up for his third and Camm was up for her first. But alas, no trials. However, the organization has long had a video run program in place and it became the way in which many of us continued to garner qualifying scores in 2020. While many people I know were doing video runs every week, I wasn’t nearly that motivated, plus my favorite place to go is around 90 minutes and a toll bridge away. Still, once I had that goal in my sights, it was a goal I wanted to accomplish, particularly for Camm.
Camm and Brady earned their respective championships in early December 2020. Mission accomplished.
Suddenly, I really didn’t care about agility at all.
Sure, I missed the camaraderie. But many of the people I truly would want to hang out, I was already seeing on a fairly regular basis. During The Dark Covid Times, I was lucky enough to establish a core group of friends that I was able to go on walks with or to go hiking with, or – god forbid! – even to picnic or tailgate with. The Covid Times would have been black times indeed if it wasn’t for these wonderful women.
But back to agility. Once I accomplished my goals with Brady and Camm, I had no goals left to try to achieve. Now, I truly didn’t give a damn about agility.
With Youke being retired after obtaining multiple big ribbons, Brady turning 11 years old, having his own closet full of big ribbons and becoming the agility dog of my dreams, Camm earning her big ribbons in 2020, and Rhys clearly not being a competition dog any time soon, if ever, I thought about simply not competing anymore. It was actually an appealing thought. I’ve played dog agility for about 15 years. My life is very much in flux and with the start of 2021, even more so thanks to a tree that fell on my house.
However, I really enjoy the dog agility community here in the Pacific Northwest and I truly love the special human friends I have made.
So when a friend asked if I’d be the trial secretary for her trial that was held this past weekend, naturally I said yes.
Initially, I figured I just might enter Camm and Brady in a few runs. Then I thought I wouldn’t enter any of my dogs. Then I thought maybe I’d enter just Brady as he truly loves agility, but not enter Camm as she’s often frustrating for me as her handler to run and I’m not really sure sometimes how much she actually likes it. Also, sometimes I’m not really sure how much I like running her.
In fact, I thought about just retiring Camm.
She’s only nine years old, and for my dogs between five and ten years of age has been a prime period. Physically, with all the hiking we do, the dogs are in great condition. But when we sometimes fool around in the yard or on hikes playing what I like to call agility tricks, she’s been extremely vocal and doing her patented pogo stick up and down barking in my face. Her frustration barking and pogo stick maneuver was in full bloom toward the end of last year when we were working toward her big ribbon. The behavior ruined a number of runs because I simply could not get her to cease and desist with the yelling at me and actually get to work. In fairness to her, it’s a behavior born out of frustration, usually with me, but it’s also a pattern that she has a hard time breaking once she gets into it.
The more I thought about going into this weekend though without a dog to run, or to only run Brady in a few runs, the more disheartened I felt. Ultimately, I decided to run Brady and Camm in most of the runs offered.
As usual these days, I took the dogs out on short hikes during the week. Brady and Rhys ran really hard on Wednesday and Brady seemed to be favoring a paw on Thursday afternoon.
I decided to scratch Brady from the runs I’d entered him in for Friday and to substitute Rhys instead at the lower levels.
Actually, what I decided was to bring Camm and Rhys to the trial and to leave Brady and Youke at home. Camm was officially entered. I scratched Brady’s runs and figured I would maybe run Rhys in Brady’s place but at the lower levels. Maybe.
Ultimately, Rhys did do some runs on Friday. I had only one criteria. I wanted to work as a team. Not a perfect and well-tuned team, but I did want to work together. If I saw that we were disconnecting, which has been a frequent problem except during our private lessons, I would stop the run immediately, attempt to gather him up quickly and leave the ring, and not return. I absolutely did not give a shit about a qualifying score.
Because I was able to to, I ran him in back to back runs and at the end of the two classes he ran as he was the last “tall” dog of the class anyway.
A magical thing happened. For the first time since the very first trial we entered, we worked together, I could feel that invisible rope held between the two of us and it was clear he could as well. Not only that, but because I truly didn’t care about anything but maintaining the bond, I was relaxed and having fun with him. Rhys, despite being a very independent and hard-headed dog, is ultra sensitive to my emotions. He stayed relaxed and happy because I stayed relaxed and happy. And what’s even better, I didn’t consciously have to tell myself to be relaxed and happy, I just was. Because I didn’t give a fuck.
On our last run, we did have a moment of disconnection and Rhys did what he has always done, he circled me, outrun style. The magic was though that when I told him calmly that we weren’t going to play that, he came right back and worked as best as he was able to in that moment. It was a win.
Although I was sorely tempted on Saturday and Sunday to enter him in a few more runs, I ultimately opted not to and I think it was a smart decision. I was busy running Camm and Brady and doing trial secretary stuff and I don’t think I could’ve been there for him as much as he needs.
I was also tempted to run Youke is a few classes, but decided not to and I’m pleased with my decision. He didn’t get to do as much as he’d liked to have done due to crappy rain, wind and chill March air, but he still got to play Ball. He indicated several times he thought he should be getting out of the Living Room on Wheels for his turn to go run agility, but I have to wonder how much of that was years of habit and knowing that good things happen after each run like lots of treats and toy play.
Brady was ecstatic to be running agility once I gave him the all clear for Saturday and Sunday.
It is amazing to me that running Brady now is comfortable and hugely fun. It’s always been fun, but in that edge of your seat, holy hell, better hang on by a thread, this is going to be a thrill ride kind of way. It’s still a thrill, and I still better be on my game, but in a more comfortable, we’ve been together a long time kind of way.
Brady had to announce his arrival into the ring and at the start line on nearly every run – a habit that has become hysterically funny and endearing now. His aging and greying face eagerly anticipating each run was achingly sweet and touching.
But lest I forget who I was dealing with, Brady got so pissed off at me on Sunday when I tried a foolish and ill-timed fancy blind cross sort of maneuver that he screamed at me the entirety of the rest of the course while simultaneously charging at me with snapping jaws and running the course at the same time. Brady is still the best agility coach I’ll ever have, human, canine or otherwise. We may be a bit older and mellower, but he does not tolerate foolishness and does not forgive stupidity, and I better not try that shit again with him!
As for the dog I thought about retiring because we both get so frustrated sometimes? Well, guess who had an awesome trial?
No one can push my buttons like Camm at times. Also, no one can simply delight me like Camm at times. Often this is one and the same. The difference? If I care about the outcome, it’s maddening. If I do not give a damn, it is simply delightful and she is the most sparkly, sassy, funniest dog to run. Ever.
For her entire agility career Camm is supposed to have adhered to a two on, two off stopped contact criteria, meaning she stops at the end of the a-frame or dogwalk (and teeter) with her two front feet in the dirt and her two back feet planted on the wood plank. The problem with this, for Camm anyway, is that she’s fast and wants to do things fast and why in the world would anyone ask her to slow down when she can go fast? The problem with this for me is that Camm is fast and I am not superhuman and able to get into position to cue her properly when she races down the contact equipment. The battle for us both is that she actually has a gorgeous natural running contact that many teams would kill to have and spend years training to have properly. However, as with every single dog I’ve ever seen in person or televised with a running contact, contact zones eventually get missed or leaped.
Camm did her patented running contacts the first third of the trial, then when I did some training in the ring on how this was not how we do it and asked for Stoopid Stopped Contacts instead, she then flagrantly leaped the contact zones, looking over her should at me with a very clear, “fuck off, this is how Cammi does it” look. We did walk off two courses after this exchange occurred, but I was laughing behind my required face diaper and she knew it. Plus, she still got cookies – even if it was only three instead of five.
In typical Cammi fashion, during the last run of the weekend with contact equipment, she nailed her two on, two off criteria while throwing me a defiant look of success that she had actually thought to do it on her own. I praised her profusely and congratulated her on doing a Stoopid Stopped Contact, while laughing as I read the thought bubble steaming out of her head – “ARE YOU HAPPY NOW??? MY WORK HERE IS DONE!” Then we promptly left the course to play a massive game of tug and to have some dried fish skin. Well, she had the dried fish skin. I had a small vending machine sized bag of Fritos later.
Camm just had me smiling with glee at her antics all weekend. All of my dogs pattern quickly and easily, meaning that they learn a course and how it flows or the directions of the course after an attempt or two. All of my dogs also scan a course at the start line and make decisions that I can sometimes not influence at the start line. This trial was a double-run format, meaning that we ran the same course twice. Every single time, whether we did it well the first time or not, when Camm went to run it the second time, she basically told me to get the hell out of her way so she could run her course. Sometimes this makes me look like an amazing handler, mostly to the uninitiated. Other times this makes me look like a tawdry accessory from a decade ago, embarrassingly unneeded and better left at home.
She was just a naughty, opinionated little sass all weekend and it was so much fun. Good times because I did not care about whether or not we qualified and the more sassy she was, the more fun it was.
Camm isn’t going to retire after all.
My dogs also learned this weekend that just because our house has suddenly become a lot smaller with the inability to use half of it and because we basically reside in either the office or the main bedroom these days due to the briefly aforementioned tree, things can actually get a lot smaller.
On Saturday we stayed in a friend’s RV for the night after the trial. Maybe it’s a good thing I’m adept at stepping around and over dogs that have to be with me at every step I take. Because I’m here to tell you that with four border collies in a RV, and not a huge RV, no one has to move at all in order to be very near to the Human.
Of course, when I went to go to bed, three of the four were already in the bed when I turned around after changing into sleeping clothes and the fourth was on the floor in front of the step to get onto the bed.
Overall, despite not caring about doing agility very much, it was a really good agility weekend with really good dogs and good people
YoBaCaRy and I are on the precipice of change.
It somehow seems fitting that this should occur on the last month of December in the year 2020.
This year has been a lot of different things for most of the world, and most of it not particularly good. Still, some of those ridiculous and annoying memes I’ve seen posted do have an element of truth. If you were open to it, the year and the changes forced upon us certainly pushed many into some introspection.
I could get very deep here, but I’m deliberately choosing not to go into the deep end. Not quite yet anyway. But I am dipping my toes into the water and there will likely be some flailing around as I fight to keep my head above it all.
I think 2020 has been a very good year for my dogs. They have been the beneficiaries of a human forced to slow down, forced to nearly cease her business, forced to think about how she wishes to proceed. As a result, they received a lot more time in the woods.
I’ve lived a very dog-centric life for over a decade, but my dogs have not had this much of me since the summer of 2015 when my employer of 26 years severed my position. Much as I used that summer for introspection and thought about the next steps in my life, I finally relented and decided around May to do the same this year. As with that summer, my dogs have been my constant companions on treks through the woods over the past several months. Those hikes have taken us over miles and miles. Sometimes the dogs are a welcome distraction, other times peaceful and thoughtful partners as I meditate through forests. And admittedly, there are times when they have just been deeply annoying pains in the ass. See, unlike the summer of 2015 when I had Jasmine and a relatively stable little foursome, I now have Rhys.
Rhys was actually the first of my dogs to make me realize that the changes that March 2020 initiated were not necessarily a bad thing. Not a bad thing if you’re a young dog that needed a lot more attention and direction from your human anyway. Unbeknownst to him, those same changes were not necessarily so good for his voracious appetite and desire for regular meals. But, of course he did not know that and vastly appreciated the fact that his human was around a lot more and that he was getting a lot more attention. And within a few short weeks, I realized the difference as well. It was most profound with Rhys, but the older three, even with a much longer history of being with their human, blossomed with the additional time and attention as well.
Thus, I relented and finally decided to enjoy the shitshow that has been 2020, at least as much as is possible when you are a human forced to interact with as few other humans as possible while maintaining at least six feet of distance while your breathing apparatus is encased in a swath of cloth that advises you that coffee breath is a very real thing, and whilst worrying when your next roll of toilet paper may be in stock.
Thanks to my dogs and some of the wonderful humans I know that also enjoy the woods, the water, and nature in general, and taking walks, I’ve actually enjoyed much of the year. That is when I wasn’t a massive ball of stress and fear with endless loops of housing and employment concerns swooping in my head.
I attended an agility trial the weekend before Washington State essentially shut down in March. The trial was a blast and had an almost giddy atmosphere. On some level, most of us I think knew it was going to be the last one for a while. Indeed it was. March also saw not only the end of trialing, but the end of doing agility lessons.
Truthfully, I didn’t miss either that much. I’d been cutting back on trialing anyway due to the demands of my business and my focus on it. I also wasn’t able to justify the money spent on agility trials as I had in the past with the need to live “smaller” as a small business owner. I had also started to cut back on agility training for the very same reasons, coupled with the fact that Youke and Brady were older and had already Done All the Things.
Friends would tell me how much they missed training and trials. I just shrugged. I tried to understand. I did miss the human and social engagement of both. But I also just greatly enjoyed my dogs and watching them do other things that were a much bigger part of both their lives and mine. I started to observe them more – which is saying a lot since I observe them constantly. I noticed subtle changes, the result of more time spent with me and more time hiking and exploring.
As the months went by, I realized I did not miss trials at all. Part of this was because Youke and Brady have achieved more than I ever dreamed possible. Youke was already well on his way to complete retirement as I strongly believe in retiring my dogs while they’re still fit and able. I grimace when I think of some of the elderly dogs I’ve watched trying to run an agility course, working their hearts out either because they still like the game or, more often than not, because they are very good dogs trying to please their humans, humans that are pursuing their personal goals with an aging dog to feed their own human egos. I vowed long ago not to be one of those humans.
As the months rolled on, I was at peace with the realization that Youke’s last agility trial had been in March. He ended his career with a perfect and elegant Chances run. Perfect and elegant because at three weeks shy of 12 years old he’d been doing agility for over a decade, had nothing to prove any longer and, while not as fast as he once was, he still ran with his long, loping easy stride, making a course I used to think of as nearly impossible to do, look simple.
Brady isn’t, and may never be, ready to retire, but at some point I will make that decision for him. He ran in a trial in November, one of two that we’ve done since things eased up a bit after virtual lockdowns. During a Tunnelers run I saw changes that made me cringe, and truthfully, almost made me cry. It was the first time my superb and super incredible agility dog showed his age on a course. His time was still fantastic and his yards per second commendable – resulting in a first place – but the way he moved told me he is after all, not invincible.
The other reason why not competing in trials was okay was because I’d already made a decision in March about Rhys. That decision was made pre-lockdown. I realized that Rhys was not, and may never be, ready to play agility at a competition event. He’s talented and when he’s not overly aroused, he’s good, but competition events do not bring out his best. Once we were allowed to resume training again, I made the decision that I still want to train with him. It’s good for me as a handler and it’s good for him to engage his body and brain. However, over the summer and fall I watched him disintegrate in group classes, while he thrived in our weekly private sessions. In our private sessions I have the luxury of a super flexible instructor who can adjust according to what she sees and thinks he needs at that moment and who doesn’t have the burden of instructing and dealing with other teams in that moment, the luxury of time to work with Rhys and my instructor on those things, and the lack of pressure to do full courses or to be perfect. That lack of pressure, for both me and him, is better for the both of us. All my dogs feed off my emotions, positive or negative, but Rhys more so than the others. I become frustrated and flummoxed, begin feeling pressure and stress, and it travels right down to him.
Rhys and I will continue to do private lessons, but I’ve decided group lessons are off the table for now.
That left Camm. Camm has been the only reason I’ve remotely thought about trialing.
In early March, Camm obtained her agility championship in CPE. It was a fantastic moment and a joyful one for me – because that whole human ego thing. I think though she was appreciative of the excitement too, especially since she got a lot of cookies and her aunties were pretty happy for her too. In March, she was also six qualifying Chances scores away from her NADAC agility trial championship.
Despite not doing much in the way of regular training, we were syncing up as a team regularly again. That all came to a halt.
I didn’t miss trailing, I didn’t miss the pressure of competition – something I’ve greatly enjoyed in the past, but I did feel some measure of frustration that we could not work toward that goal. Admittedly, my goal and not Camm’s. The issue was that she and I have been stymied at various times just as we are syncing as a team. The most notable example was when she broke a metatarsal and was out of training and competition for months. It occurred just as we were really beginning to work well together. It took a long time before we were in sync again.
Plus, I know that Covid-19 isn’t magically going away at the end of 2020. I know that 2021 is still going to see the impact of the wrath that 2020 has brought.
Therefore, I got in my head that I wanted to work seriously toward that N-ATCH with Camm, and NADAC’s video runs program made that possible. Thus, we began working toward that achievement, slowly, steadily.
The good thing I guess is that my dogs are remarkably consistent. Camm’s “Q” ratio for video runs is on par with her “Q” ratio at actual competitions, which is to say that we don’t really “Q” all that much.
I took all of the dogs to the beach for a four-day weekend in November. It was a birthday trip for Camm and I as we are about a week apart in dates, and a sort of fuck you to 2020 for a while so the dogs could run to their hearts’ content on the beach and I could both forget about the real world for a while and contemplate my future steps. Many deep thoughts that weekend, but mostly happiness at being alone on a beach in the mist with the surf pounding in my ears while watching my dogs run, play and explore. They also attempted to eat and roll in a few dead fish and crabs, but thankfully not the dead sea lion they found washed up on the beach.
Maybe that worked. More likely, working Camm in the backyard after a failed effort the weekend before and reminding her that turning around and barking incessantly at me isn’t helpful to our teamwork, was the key that finally did it.
Anyway, this past weekend Camm finally achieved the one remaining goal in agility I had for her.
Brady also did a thing the same day and earned his third NADAC agility championship title. I figured why not. He was was neck and neck with Camm going into the summer with the needed Chances qualifying runs, he’s more consistent than she is and – SOMETHING I NEVER THOUGHT I’D EVER SAY, he’s a pleasure to run these days. Plus, he’ll be 11 years old in a few weeks and I’m not sure how much longer we’ll have to play agility games.
With the the achievement of Brady’s third N-ATCH and Versatility NATCH (which means we’ve Done All the Things Very Well) and Camm’s N-ATCH and Versatility N-ATCH, I have for the first time in over a decade, no agility goals. None.
I think I may be done.
Probably not done with agility altogether and probably not completely done with agility goals. But no goals for my current crew and any future goals, presently undefined, are years ahead if I continue to pursue the sport, and I’ll let the dog or dogs I have at the time play a significant role in defining those goals.
Any agility i play with my dogs at this point, training, play or competition, will be gravy. It feels oddly freeing, yet very ungrounded. I’m okay with that.
Agility, as I’ve said for years, has been a part of our lives, but doesn’t define us.
We still have a lot of trails and beaches to explore.
Lest you think that our hikes are always full of drama, this is a post to assure you they are not.
Today we enjoyed a perfectly mellow and wonderful short hike where nothing happened. Nothing. It was delightful.
We ventured about six miles or so and were out for a few hours. That included a short respite for snacks and a cooling swim at the river.
Since today is technically my day off, and I have to do some visits tonight and over the weekend, I would have loved to make it a complete day, but the smoke pollution from the fires burning in Washington, Oregon and California has found its way here thanks to capricious winds.
While many chose to stay indoors, citing the air quality, I chose to venture outside with the dogs. We all needed to do something and to put some miles on our legs and quite frankly, in comparison to parts of Oregon and California, it’s just not that bad here. Every day I see or hear the complaints from people here I just want to remind them that they could be in the middle of it, either being evacuated or knowing their residence is burning down. It’s incredibly sad, and more so because this year the fires mainly seem to be human-caused. It’s hard for me to think of them as wildfires – something that has always occurred in the west naturally – when I know that idiotic humans set them off, either deliberately or out of ignorance and ego. The firefighters and first responders are maxed out and it is all just so avoidable.
So, while I decided to cut the hike short when we emerged from the denser woods and saw the thick gray, acrid air in front of the ridge we’d have to cross, I opted to head back after a few hours of romping.
Everyone got to do Fast Running, including Rhys, who I trusted for a few sessions of off-leash time. He was fabulous and kept checking in with me. I realized today the bonus of having him attached to me is that he really has to work harder sometimes and it’s more taxing. The benefit is I get a nice, tired and relaxed dog.
He also wore his blue harness. The one sullied in our last adventure. Hint: the sun’s full force is very cleansing. The harness has been outside in the full sun that hits my deck the majority of the day for the past week. I examined it this morning to see about putting it on Rhys and found it no longer smelled at all. I also didn’t want to put on Rhys’s new harness that I recently bought (so I can rotate them because we all know another shit-rolling party is coming in our future) due to the very real chance he’d discover some “perfume” while we were out. Sometimes it’s nice to have nice things for a while.
While definitely smelling like a campfire when we ventured out, I was pleased to find that my hunch paid off and that being in the woods was better. I looked around, breathed deeply, and sent a silent grateful thanks to all the trees, shrubs and grasses. Thanks Mother Nature.
Brady finally joins us for a terrible family photo.
Rhys asks if more snacks are available.
Youke interrupts cooling off because it seems snacks may be coming out.
Camm stares adoringly even though no snacks were involved in the taking of this photo. She, like me, adores her hiking time.
Brady comes in for his close-up.
Youke and Rhys are certain that there must be more snacks.
Rhys enjoys some off-leash river time.
It was a fantastic morning for a short hike and to face fears, until some crap happened. Literally.
It’s been a month to the day since Rhys was lost, so I decided it was time to conquer the lingering fear and finally head back to the spot. I actually didn’t realize it was exactly a month ago until I sat down to write this. The passage of time has been such a strange, elastic, thing for the past several months. The events of that day, night and following day are still so vivid, but honestly, I thought more time had passed.
I’ve driven by the spot about three times in the past month. Twice on my way to someplace else, and once with the intent of going there. But I just could not. I slowed, nearly pulled in, but realized I was not ready to go back the scene of so much trauma and sped off several miles further to another area to hike with the dogs. I even had an offer from Pam to meet up with her there with her dogs to make the transition easier, but I just couldn’t seem to do it.
Truth be told, I haven’t taken them out for good adventures much in the past month. At least not the kind we’re used to doing. I’ve broken them off in pairs, as singles or even taken the older three out at the same time, but I think I’ve taken all four out at once only once in the past few weeks. I’ve done some fun hikes with friends, met friends for walks, and I’ve been taking the dogs swimming a lot. My agility class with Rhys also resumed and I’ve been taking a Control Unleashed class with him as well.
Work is finally picking up a bit more, and I’ve been a bit gun shy. The one time I did take all four, it wasn’t exactly the pristine and peaceful jaunt I had hoped it would be.
The idea was to test out Rhys on his long line and my new trekking belt. I thought it would take more getting used to for both of us, but he was immediately fine with being secured and since the belt sits on my hips and is wide and very secure, I felt fine as well and didn’t actually feel that I’d be pulled over. Plus, it was quite nice to be hands free and to not have my shoulder being jerked around. Rhys walked better and with less pulling or leash tangling than usual too, which was a pleasant surprise.
Still, the day ended up being a fiasco.
Because Brady was far too interested in investigating critters that day, I ended up also putting him on a long line and securing him to my trekking belt.
Ordinarily this might have worked out okay, but I was royally pissed at Brady for even thinking about chasing after critters in light of recent events and set a very rapid pace up a steady incline. But Brady had already done some running and was not prepared for this militant march uphill and continually either lagged behind or was lateral and kept getting his line tangled. This was fairly manageable on the way up, but on the way down became increasingly annoying and potentially dangerous. It was a short hike, but one that ended with bushwhacking through a barely discernible path, made more difficult by Rhys and Brady both being attached via long lines, Brady’s decisions to stop helplessly in front of me at random times so I could untangle him, and Youke and Camm frequently stopping to check on why I seemed upset, thus making me more upset as I fought my way through the underbrush and heavy summer growth while simultaneously trying to see where to place my feet while untangling dogs and trying not to step on dogs.
Thus, while I love my hands-free contraption and determined it really works well for Rhys and I, I need to think deeply about where, when and how many dogs for future hikes.
Today was easy though. I decided early this morning that a quick hike up at the spot would drain some of the dogs’ excess energy before it got too hot to do much of anything. Being Labor Day, and a very nice day at that, and wanting to stay away from crowds of people, I figured getting out early and to an not-very-scenic place would work for us. And, it was time to go back.
We arrived and I let Brady, Camm and Youke off-leash, but secured Rhys to me via his long line to my trekking belt. I was surprised that Rhys didn’t fight me or try to pull hard, but he seemed fine with the arrangement. Maybe he had some residual concerns about the spot too.
He does seem to have matured rather suddenly since being lost overnight. People ask if he’s recovered and if I’ve recovered. I think we both have – mostly anyway. I think we have a renewed appreciation for one another, and he’s definitely somewhat clingier. He also doesn’t like being out in the dark anymore, at least alone. Rhys used to fight me about coming in at night, with me often going out to physically get him back inside. Even cookie rewards were often not tempting enough. Now, he sees the other dogs going in or me turning around to go inside and he beats us to the door to come back into the house. There are also other subtle things that I’ve noticed that are hard to describe. And the uber confident dog that has always had a strong independent streak and bold curiosity had a major freakout moment earlier this week.
I can count on one hand the number of freakouts Rhys has had since he came to live with me as a wee puppy. He had one on Friday when we were cooling off at a river after a private agility lesson. While I know Rhys had to have crossed a river with a major current and to clamber over rocks to get where he was eventually located after being lost, he seems fine with swimming at similar rivers. But he scented something on the shores of the river we were at on Friday to cause him to start trembling and to tuck his tail between his legs. He got a very scared look in his eyes, and then seemed almost vacant when I went to leash him up. My gut instinct tells me he came across the scent of something that terrified him that long night by himself. I wish he could tell me, but I strongly suspect coyotes or a cougar. We’ve heard coyotes howling in the distance at home a few times since that night and his reaction has unmistakably been one of fear. However, I don’t suspect bear and going by scat has elicited no different reaction than in the past. Truth be told, my dogs are fairly nonchalant about bears.
But he was pretty happy today, despite being at the scene of drama a few weeks back. The dogs all seemed pretty happy that we were finally out as a family unit, relaxed and content. We encountered a lone hunter who waved before we turned off to do our loop, and then a couple of men – father and son perhaps – who stopped to pet the dogs and exclaim about their friendliness and good manners. That last part always makes me feel like a fraud. I’m always convinced they can’t possibly mean my dogs.
At a point where the trail split, instead of turning to the right as we usually do, I whistled to the dogs and indicated we were turning left. That path dead ends, but it’s also the section of the spot where a month ago, my mind spinning and dread threatening to smother hope, I first heard Rhys howl back an answer to my calling of his name.
I went back to the spot where I’d stood that early Friday morning calling to Rhys across the void filled with thick, impenetrable underbrush split by a river and heard him call back to me. I relived the moment and then the intense and emotional conversation we’d had yelling as best as we could back and forth.
I’ll admit that my eyes filled with tears at that memory as I looked across at the woods on the other side and as I remembered the vision I’d had of where I would find him.
But it was a nice morning and we were there not to dwell on bad memories, but to conquer them and move forward. The path ahead of us was fairly wide and open and I felt comfortable letting Rhys of his line for a while to run ahead with Brady.
So, we continued on. We passed the pond that the dogs love to swim in. I opted not to let them swim as it’s been dry and hot and I was worried the water wasn’t good. It didn’t look awful as we passed, but it did have a distinct swamp smell. Rhys lingered the longest, standing in a shallow part and looking hopeful.
Slightly disappointed, but still happy to be out and about, the dogs frolicked on ahead of me. I daydreamed a bit as I walked. Camm and Youke had found more water and looked wet and very dirty as clearly it was more brackish mud than water.
Suddenly I realized Rhys was rolling frantically just ahead of me and slightly off the trail.
Initially I wasn’t concerned. Rhys, thanks to Camm and Youke, has discovered that rolling in grass is a great back- scratcher and is pretty wonderful. However, within .00005 seconds I realized that Rhys was enjoying the rolling entirely too much.
I ran toward him and sharply yelled his name. He stood up, startled, but with a glazed look of intense pleasure on his face.
Because he’d just rolled in shit.
I looked, horrified to confirm my worse fears. But the scent wafting toward me confirmed before I even had a chance to verify with a visual.
Human shit. Fresh. Probably left by one of the very nice men we’d encountered earlier.
Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but if it stinks, and if it’s especially disgusting, Rhys will roll in it. The dog has had more baths in his short lifetime so far than all the baths given to every dog I’ve owned as an adult up to this point. He apparently comes from a line of stink-rollers on his mother’s side. This information was not disclosed to me until after I’d brought him home and he’d rolled in his first pile of lurid organic waste. It wasn’t human, but if memory serves me correctly, the second roll a week later was.
Rhys delights in getting the stink impressed deeply onto his back, neck and top of his head. He didn’t manage to get the top of his head today, probably because I’d interrupted before he could.
Better yet, he was wearing his harness today, so not only was it embedded deeply into his neck and back fur, it was also ALL OVER HIS HARNESS AND PRESSED INTO THE BUCKLES.
I made an executive decision and informed the dogs we were going back to the icky pond.
This was of course delightful news to them. However, I had nothing to throw in the water for them to fetch – because I knew the water would be gross and I DIDN’T WANT MY DOGS TO STINK – and that’s the fun of the game. So, instead I threw rocks in the water and told Rhys to go get them. Being the youngest and most naive, Rhys is still fooled by this game, whereas the older three dogs merely barked noisily their dismay at this trickery.
That effort and fruitlessly swimming after sunken rocks rinsed off most of the crap. Still, I literally saw a chunk planted still in the middle of his back. The problem was that the pond is very shallow with the lack of water and Rhys can stand in most of it. So I threw more rocks and threw them out further. After a while, Rhys emerged with most of the visible shit rinsed off. He still stunk to high heaven and I saw crap embedded still in the harness. Luckily for me, the harness also has a front hook and that appeared untouched by human fecal matter.
I leashed Rhys up and thus began the walk back to the car. At least the line he was on is a good 20 feet. I only caught the occasional odious whiff when downwind, which was maybe only half of the time.
As we headed back to the car, I again wondered why the hell I keep returning to such a horrid place as the spot. As mentioned, it really has no redeeming qualities other than it’s sometimes convenient and I rarely see people or other dogs. I seriously need to make better choices.
I also cursed every single inconsiderate asswipe that ever pooped outside and did not bag or bury their waste.
Rhys got a bath when we got home with dish soap and the garden hose. He was not happy, but I explained to him that he had zero choice. Did I mention I had cleaned The Living Room on Wheels yesterday? The first time in months? Yeah, perfect timing.
The other dogs got hosed down as well because they all smelled like swamp after being in the nasty pond, precisely what i had planned to avoid.
After a swim in the Snoqualmie River after his last Control Unleashed class tonight, Rhys smells delightful and fresh again. Meanwhile, his harness will be hanging on my deck in the 90-degree sun expected this week to detoxify because despite a vigorous rubdown with the dish soap, it still reeks.
Coincidentally, in our Control Unleashed field trip for our last class, our instructor helpfully suggested we use some found elk poop as a target for “leave it” practice. Rhys didn’t even glance at it. He moved on from elk poop eons ago.
First of all, let me say that my dogs and I are all fine. We really are. Today, we are all still exhausted, and have found that we need to sleep a lot. A lot. But since I’m awake for now, I’ve decided that it would be therapeutic to tell the story of what occurred between about 5pm Thursday, August 6 to 9:30am Friday, August 7.
I also have some very special people to thank. I often don’t name real names when I write in this blog, but I am in this case. I am eternally grateful and blessed to have Patti, Bob, Robin, Pam and Wade in my life. Most especially those three women. There were other people that played a significant role in this story, but the support received from these people went above and beyond.
Patti and I met up Thursday afternoon at about 3pm to take our dogs out. Patti brought two of hers and I brought all four of mine.
We met at a place that I’ve been walking/hiking for nearly 10 years. I randomly discovered it one day when I was bored with the usual places I went and was driving around out of curiosity. It’s not a pretty spot. It is, but used to be more, frequented by druggies and drinkers. It is located off of a very busy Highway 18, which is heavily trafficked by semi-tractor-trailers hauling cargo loads between I-5 and I-90 as it connects the two major highways. This spot is also used as a potty area for humans. A lot of people pull into the slight parking area before the yellow Department of Natural Resources (DNR) gate and use the area as a bathroom.
Despite the lack of redeeming qualities, I discovered it made a great place to walk/hike with my dogs. It used to be more heavily wooded, but a large expanse of the area was clear cut a few years ago. This made it even uglier. But it did open the service roads up a bit more and gradually over the years I learned a bit more about the area every time I walked. There is a short loop that can be done that is under four miles. There are roads and trails to explore that can take exploration time up to several hours. I think my shortest time there has been about an hour on the short loop, but I’ve also spent as much as six hours there venturing further and exploring side trails that dead-ended and discovering another section that went up and eventually connected to Highway 18 again, but right across from the Tiger Mountain summit.
I’ve seen homeless men and women there, target shooters, hunters, and some other explorers, as well as the occasional state forest or DNR employee. But one of the reasons I’ve always liked it is how few people I actually do see. That said, this is the place where Brady was attacked by three dogs that a man was walking with in that area. Another story, but he sustained injuries. I’ve never seen that man since. Still, I sometimes see another person walking with a dog or dogs and I’ve learned to avoid them. Most of us are walking there alone with dogs for a reason. That was amplified almost a year ago when another dog tried to attack Brady.
This is also an area generously populated by wildlife. Hawks, grouse, raccoons, skunks (a friend’s dog got sprayed there this past spring), river otters, coyotes, bears and cougars. I’ve seen all but the skunk. In fact, I had a most memorable cougar encounter in mid-June there that I never hope to experience again. It was thrilling, once in a lifetime, but I sincerely hope to never see a cougar again in its natural habitat.
Oh, and yes, I’ve had my dogs with me when I see critters. That is why they wear bear bells. For all the good that does. We still see a lot of wildlife.
LOST. WHAT HAPPENED.
I’ve been telling stories for years about this spot and have even introduced a select few people to this spot. Patti had never been and I was grumpy and bored that day with a lot of the usual spots we go, plus I didn’t feel like venturing very far. I told her to meet me there and sent her the navigation coordinates via text.
My dogs adore their aunties and love when an auntie or two join us. Being in the woods or open space and hiking off leash is one of their most favorite things. Add some aunties and they are beside themselves with joy. One of the most wonderful things is when dogs from different households become familiar and relaxed around each other. I’ve enjoyed seeing the relationships formed between dogs and the various levels of comfort and companionship.
We met at 3pm and the dogs were all sticking close, even Brady, who is usually off ahead. Patti’s dogs were joyous to be exploring a new place and mine were happy to be mugging for treats off her. Rhys, who often likes to join Brady up ahead in this particular area, was regularly checking in and getting rewarded as usual, although truth be told, treats from aunties always trump treats from me. We could have the very same thing, but coming from an auntie’s hand just tastes better.
While I now wish I hadn’t done this, I suggested that instead of the short loop we do a bit more exploration and I’d show Patti the view from the top. I’ve more recently been hiking another part of the Rattlesnake Scenic Area and for the past several months have been trying to connect the dots between there and my spot. I finally figured it out, but also realized that this spot is bordered by Highway 18 on one side, and by the Raging River the rest of the way. In other words, this area is an island. The land mass is elevated but drops off into several steep ravines or valleys, below which runs the river. In some areas you can hear the river. On the other side of the river are more woods, more very heavy brush, and all on a steep incline. Beyond that is Rattlesnake Scenic Area and a lot of intertwining forest service roads, older and newer, and old trails.
As we were descending the highest point back through a pile of rock rubble, I swore as I saw a deer right at my side. It hesitated for a second and then ran down the steep hillside. Brady and Rhys were behind us off to the side and probably accidentally flushed it. Camm and Patti’s dogs were slightly ahead of us. Youke, as always, was by my side. The three dogs ahead were startled by the deer slinging past them, but all came back to us within seconds. Brady and Rhys emerged from the tree cover and started air scenting, but both then headed in the completely opposite direction after circling a few times. The deer was long gone by then, but they both caught on to its general direction and headed down the trail ahead of us and where we were going anyway.
Brady and Rhys headed off the trail and down an embankment. I wasn’t concerned as the deer was gone and out of range from them at that point and they would not even have caught sight of it. Brady emerged from the wooded area, climbing back up over the embankment within five minutes. He was not followed by Rhys. One of Patti’s dogs tilted his head and turned his face back in the direction from which Brady had just come. So I called for Rhys from there. Nothing. We hung out for about 10-15 minutes calling for Rhys. Then I decided to head back down the hill as the area opens up from there and I can actually see more of the terrain. Plus, I had an idea of the trajectory Rhys would have taken. Thirty minutes later, no Rhys. This is a record and I was now concerned. But not freaked out. We continued calling and I did have my whistle on me, so used that. Nothing.
Over an hour went by and still no Rhys. I sort of feared he’d head back to the car. Usually this is a good thing, but the cars were parked literally right off of Highway 18. At this point we had a choice in directions to take. I chose a particular direction back to the vehicles based on his ability to scent and on his familiarity with the area and how we typically go clockwise.
Plus, by then Youke was utterly freaked out. He hates when I use the whistle anyway, and my tension and worry had him very upset. So upset that he was trembling whenever we stopped and called and whistled. I decided it was best to go back to the cars, place Youke and Brady in their crates and I would walk back up with Camm to call for Rhys. Patti also crated her dogs back in her car and called her husband and Bob arrived after we headed back up, me with Camm in tow. The idea was to have Bob keep an eye on the trail to the gate in case Rhys headed back for the cars. There was another vehicle parked there by then, but while we’d seen the guy in the distance, he made no move toward us, instead choosing to continually move away. We were a bit sketched out, but he was far from us and I was just plain worried about Rhys.
Unfortunately, my continued calling and whistling for Rhys, and obvious worry, started to upset Camm. She continually tried to either hug me, make me stop by pulling back on the leash and her face bore her increasing concern about my emotional state.
Patti and I did the entire loop plus for a second time that day. Still no Rhys. Despite a choice in directions, I was convinced of what direction he’d taken, but still puzzled by both his lack of backtracking his way back – which is something my dogs have always been adept at doing – and by his silence. I had fully expected to hear him howl back at me, even from a distance, if he was confused about getting back.
While I thought I heard him several times, Patti pointed out my calls were echoing off the foothills surrounding us and bouncing back with an indecipherable low sound that resembled a faint howl, thus fooling me into thinking I heard him. Interestingly, I learned the whistle did not echo. But while sharp, the noise probably still could only carry so far in distance.
I stepped off into the brush in several points where the land started to tilt sharply downward and listened and called. In some places I could hear the river rushing loudly and I wondered if he was down there if he could even hear me above the sound of the water and through the dense gorse.
We returned to the cars again, and Bob told us he hadn’t seen anything. He’s also been calling. The man we’d seen also came back down the trail then. He ended up being a very nice, pleasant young guy who had been scoping the area for future hunting. He informed us he’d heard my calling quite clearly, even in the area he’d been, which was excellent news, but also deeply concerning. Why had Rhys not responded? The man also said he had binoculars and since he’d heard me, knew were were looking for a dog. He said that while he’d seen a lot of critters, no black and white dog.
In despair and 20 minutes from sunset, I texted two friends to let them know Rhys was lost. Pam and her husband immediately left their house over my protests and joined us. Bob went back home with his and Patti’s dogs. Patti suggested I eat something, but although I’d only had a piece of toast that morning and coffee, I was incapable of eating. My stomach was in knots as by then it was nearly four hours sine Rhys had disappeared. I knew I was getting dehydrated, but only managed a few sips of water.
When Pam and Wade arrived, the three of us headed back up the trail with flashlights. Patti stayed at my urging as we’d already done so much back and forth. It was then that she apparently called Robin, and the two of them joined us shortly after in the dark to look for Rhys.
The reality though was there just wasn’t much we could do. It was completely dark. And despite a full moon only shortly before, Thursday night had enough cloud cover to make any kind of night vision fairly daunting.
At one point, while Wade went off to the edge of the woods, Pam and I walked a little bit further on the service road and I explained where I thought Rhys would’ve headed. Unfortunately it was down the deep ravine. I called again, something it just seemed I did continuously. Suddenly I thought I heard a howl back. I grabbed Pam’s arm. “Did you hear that?” Pam also thought she heard it and directed me to call again. I did, and again thought I heard a faint howl coming back. But it was so faint. We truly were not sure that we’d heard anything. When I called again, and further down, we heard nothing. Was it wishful thinking? Imagination? The strange effect of the echoing?
Shortly after all five of us were gathered in the dark. I dropped one of the layers I was wearing in the area so hopefully he’d return to my scent. There was simply nothing else we could do at that point.
LOST. A LONG NIGHT.
We made out way back to the cars. I’d already informed everyone I was staying up there for the night. Because I could not be sure what direction Rhys would head if he came back, or that he could successfully backtrack, I decided staying with the car was my best option. That way, if he did come back I could see him and get him before he accidentally wandered onto Highway 18.
Everyone agreed this was a very bad idea but all acknowledged they’d probably do the same. I finally convinced everyone to go home, rest and that’d we’d convene in the morning if able. Robin, an early riser, and I planned to met at first light to resume the search.
It was as everyone was leaving that I realized it was 11pm. Six hours gone.
I desperately wanted to break down, but couldn’t. I have a weird thing where in an emergency or desperate situation I am calm. Worried to death and scared? Absolutely. But I don’t lose it or become hysterical. I’m going to credit my mother – a nurse and first responder -and her genes for this.
I sat in The Living Room on Wheels, tense and shaking. I tried to close my eyes, but my mind was overrun with possibilities. How could I sleep if he came running up the road and I wasn’t awake to greet him? Would he get worried and race away? Would he wait by the car? Would he run into the highway? Where was he? Why had he not backtracked? Was he even still in the area? I’m not naive. I have experience from being a kid and adult with dogs that get lost and confused. I’m intimately aware of the possibilities not only personally, but from friends. Just because my own dogs have always come back from adventuring or becoming confused, doesn’t mean that Rhys couldn’t run for miles and miles away. But where? Would he run onto Highway 18? That prospect left me ill as he’d surely be hit. The only other options were that he might have gone across the river. Then what? The wilderness area there is expansive. It is riddled with service roads and old trails, not to mention acres upon acres of woods, creeks, river, underbrush, and a whole lot of predators. While the area gets some hikers and some mountain bikers, most of it is sparsely visited.
And of course, there were other possibilities. Was he not responding and not coming back because he was hurt? Was he dead?
Most of these latter thoughts ran through my head when I drove back home. Around midnight I decided I could not torment my other dogs, mostly Youke, any longer. While Brady was tired, he seemed fairly okay. But Camm and especially Youke were freaked out. At twelve and a half, I owed Youke his warm bed, food and some time to chill.
When I got home I realized I was cold and very wet from climbing into some of the underbrush looking and searching for Rhys. I climbed into bed shaking and teeth chattering, heavy dry socks on my feet, trying to warm up. My whole body was tense and drawn tight. Camm usually sleeps on or near my legs and feet, especially if she knows I’m worked up. Youke curls into a ball and sleeps by my shoulders. But Rhys is the dog that stretches out, often his full length and works his way into my body, his big, heavy head usually resting either on my thigh or my back. I dearly missed his warm, heavy presence, not only because I was so cold, but for what his absence represented. My tribe was incomplete.
While I was tempted to give in to the dark thoughts swirling in my head, I instead steadied myself and replayed everything in my head, forcing myself to think clearly, calmly and logically. I weighed the various options, possibilities and directions. I discarded some completely, told myself I couldn’t think about others right then and examined those that seemed the most likely because ultimately, I know my dogs, and I know Rhys. I honed in on that nameless ethereal connection and tried to send out a tether for Rhys to grab. I thought about how scared he must be. Much more so than I. I thought about how he’s never been apart from me at night except for two separate times he stayed with friends as a puppy. I thought about how athletic he is. I thought about how he thinks things through after initially acting out of instinct.
I didn’t sleep and set my alarm for 4am. But I did lightly doze for maybe an hour. It was as I was drifting in and out of consciousness that I had a premonition/vision/hunch/idea – whatever you want to call it. I strongly thought he had in fact gone deep into the ravine and gorse, somehow crossed the river and gone up the other side. In my vision/premonition/hunch I saw him clearly standing on the forest service road across from the area I had last called to him in the daylight and not too far from where I thought I’d heard him howl back that night. I also told myself he was okay.
Nevertheless, telling myself all of this still did not clear all the other possibilities and dark likelihoods from my head at 4am. I showered and dressed as showering clears my head and I knew I wanted my wits about me. I made some signs to bring with me to post with his description, noting his collar color, tags, bear bell and that he was microchipped, as well as the area he had disappeared in and where he might be. I prepared my backpack, drank some water as by then I was extremely dehydrated, and decided to bring Brady with me.
Brady was company for me in case friends and I ended up splitting in different directions, he’s good at alerting to things, and I figured he’d be a comforting presence for Rhys should he see or smell Brady. I know that despite what is often depicted in movies and video of people separated and then reunited with their dogs that dogs get scared and freaked and do not always come to their person. Dogs have been known to actually be physically in close proximity to people, even their owner, looking for them and still hide. Brady was just a bit more insurance for me getting Rhys back successfully.
I also know that Rhys is friendly enough with people, but he’s not really drawn to them unless he knows them well. He is well known for doing what I call his “drive-by.” He quickly goes up or by a person, and then immediately swings away and doesn’t want to have anything to do with them. I knew deep down that it would have to be me that actually found him to get him back.
I headed out at 5:15am, got a coffee, and drove toward 18. As I was driving, intuition kicked in and I thought about pulling into the area where I knew I could access the service road I thought he might be on. But I’ve never hiked in that area at all and don’t know the trails or exactly how to get to the area I thought he was at. I also figured it’s best to head back to the scene of the crime so to speak and I had said I was meeting Robin there.
As I drove past I noted a car with a bike rack and a bike propped against it. The car in front of me pulled into that parking area. I was surprised that at 5:30am mountain bikers would be going for a ride, but didn’t give it too much thought except that I’d come back later and explore the area and post signs if Rhys wasn’t found. There was always the chance a mountain biker might sight him.
I met Robin and off we set, my fourth time hiking that hillside in 12 hours. We set a steady, fast pace and called and whistled consistently. We saw my jacket still laying where I’d left it. My echo continued to reverberate from the foothills surrounding us. Robin had binoculars and scouted from the top where it’s been clear cut and you can see to across the river. Nothing. I showed Robin the exact area where Rhys had disappeared and relayed the entire scene. She’d only seen the area in the dark and was not familiar with the area at all. We discussed Rhys maybe trying to head back through the Rattlesnake Scenic Area to a section many miles away with which he was familiar. We saw and heard nothing.
We traversed the entire area again, retracing steps again. Although not knowing the area, Robin strongly felt Rhys might have gone in roughly the same direction as I did. I mentioned I had not posted anything to the Lost Dogs of King County Facebook page or on other sites yet. Robin suggested I do that right then, which I did. By then it was roughly 8am.
We were turning for the latter loop when I headed off again to an overlook that drops off into thick underbrush, woods and the river beyond that. But this area is a bit more open and you can see part of the forest service road beyond.
I called. Rhys howled back.
LOST. THEN FOUND.
I called again. I received a long, mournful howl back and then some yips. I ran back toward Robin. “Did you hear, did you hear? It’s Rhys!” I continued calling and continued to get his howls back in response. His vocalizations were strong and powerful. He was alive. And strong enough to holler back loudly.
But I realized he wasn’t moving. Granted, he’d have a hell of a journey to get to me. Back down a steep slope, across the river, back through dense underbrush and back up the embankment.
I had a decision to make. I knew where he was and roughly how to get there. There was no feasible way to get there on foot though. We’d have to drive a couple of miles up 18 to access the area and walk up from there. But now that he’d heard me, would he decide to move from where he was and try to get to me? Could he even move? Was he trapped or hurt?
I took a chance and told Robin we were going to have to drive to the other area.
Just then my phone rang. I’d had friends checking in and some were arranging to come out to look, but I didn’t recognize the caller’s number. It was a mountain biker named Brent.
Brent and his friend had been mountain biking early in the morning and seen Rhys at 6:05. They were in fact the guys whose cars I’d seen when I drive by at roughly 5:30-5:45am. They said Rhys was friendly enough and visible, but would not come to them. They said he looked scared. They did manage to snap two pictures and posted those pictures on a social page the mountain bikers use. Someone put two and two together and linked my post with theirs and provided my phone number to them.
I do not know this man and his friend, but every nasty thing I’ve said and thought about mountain bikers was changed yesterday. Brent not only talked to me and gave me details on Rhys and his condition, he also told me he maps all of his rides with an app called Strava. Brent provided me with the map of his ride, the pinpoint where he saw Rhys, and then texted me back immediately with the rough mileage point of where Rhys was seen.
Robin and I booked it back to the cars and drove toward I-90 as the road we needed to get on to the forest service gate is basically at the intersection of the two highways. Pam and Wade had hiked in that area for a short bit a few months earlier and Pam gave me some landmarks to look for via phone as Robin and I hoofed it up the road.
I’m so glad I had that map from the biker. Not being familiar with the area and spotting some possible turn-offs and forks, all I had to do was quickly refer to the map and not waste time trying to figure roads out. I called, but being wooded on both sides, my voice was likely muffled. I voiced to Robin my fear that Rhys has decided to go toward where he’d last heard my voice and was gone again. She told me we couldn’t go there. We both then thought about how he’d been seen at 6:05am and at roughly 8am when I called and got a response, he was in the same area. That was a good sign I thought.
We started approached a more open area where my voice would hopefully carry further. There was a slight bend in the road just ahead of us.
And then, I saw him. Running as fast as he could toward me. The sight I’d been hoping, wishing, bargaining for since 5pm the previous day. It was approximately 9:30am.
I started to bawl as soon as I saw him. Robin shushed me and being someone truly knowledgeable about dogs, told me to contain myself for a bit longer or I’d scare him. But pretty much as soon as the leash was clipped on the tears and snot started to flow.
He was hungry, he was clearly exhausted, but he didn’t appear to be broken and most importantly, Rhys was back with me.
LOST. REFLECTIONS AND THE AFTERMATH.
My emotional state was a bit much for Rhys and I was glad I did have Brady with me as he did nuzzle Brady when he first saw him. He also cleaned out Robin’s treat pouch, as well as one of the bags of food I brought with me.
We walked back much more slowly – we were all physically spent and 9:30am felt like 3:30pm by then – and met up with Patti. Rhys was happy to see another favorite person and to eat stuff from her. In fact, Patti was brilliant enough to bring string cheese not only for Rhys, but for me and Robin too. I realized I was starving then. Patti then whipped out some pastries she had brought. Because you know what you need after your dog has been lost and you’ve been searching for nearly all of roughly 16.5 hours he’s been gone and are an emotional wreck after finding him because you held it together without panicking but it took superhuman effort – SUGAR!
As we neared the forest service gate again we saw a Subaru parked behind it and a woman opening the gate up. We all exclaimed “Where were you a while ago? We could’ve driven up this road!” She in turn hollered back, “Is that him? Is that the lost dog?”
She was another of the fabulous people in this story. She had seen my post on the lost dogs page and lives in the area and has access to the forest service gates. From my description of where Rhys was lost and where he could be, she knew exactly where to look. She was just a bit late to the party.
As we talked, although briefly, Rhys flopped down. It was evident he was just barely holding it together himself. He also was starting to act sore. I checked his paws and legs and observed he had some sore and scraped up pads and the backs of his forelegs and hocks were pink and tender. He jumped into his crate after eating more food and drinking some water and then rolled onto his side to rest.
I had another mini-breakdown in the comforting presence of friends and we had a coffee drink to celebrate. I updated the post about Rhys being lost with the good news and quickly returned a few calls and texts with the outcome.
After Patti and Robin left to go home and get much needed rest, I sat behind the wheel of The LRoW and sobbed. All the pent up emotion of the past several hours came pouring out. I recovered enough to return a few more texts, including to the mountain biker who had asked that I update him. I thanked him profusely and told him he had some major good karma coming. Still crying, I drove back home.
Rhys was dazed and seemed out of it when we got back. Camm and Youke greeted him and wanted to examine him, but Rhys very clearly warned them to keep away. He didn’t snarl or lift a lip, but it was quite evident he did not want anyone bothering him. He drank, ate a good amount of food, and then jumped on the couch. I joined him. Oddly, he didn’t want to touch, but he did want to be near. We dozed on and off for much of the day. I cried some more. All of us were spent.
I examined Rhys a bit more and while he didn’t have anything serious, his paw pads are raw in some places and his lower legs, front and back, are very pink and pretty raw in some places, although not deeply cut. He was also extremely sore, moving the way I’d expect a 16 year old dog would. He’s only three and a half. He also looked slightly vacant.
By evening he was slightly more alert, but still exhausted and sleeping heavily in between me feeding him, getting him water and taking him outside to pee. By evening he was back on the couch with me and while still not cuddly, at least intertwined his legs with mine.
We went to bed upstairs early and while he managed to jump on the bed, he didn’t nestle next to me as he usually does. I was sad, but didn’t force anything. Then, at 5am this morning and after I’d let them all out to pee as we’d gone to bed so early, he hopped back into bed and snuggled tightly into the side of my body. Rhys shoved his nose deep into my armpit, took a deep whiff, and then sighed heavily and drove his body more tightly into mine. I knew then everything was going to be alright. When we did actually get up this morning, he barked and chortled as he always does and he did his usual dance for breakfast.
As I write this, he’s still exhausted, still very sore, his tummy is upset, but he’s engaging with me, following me around and not letting me out of his sight per usual and barking when we go to the door. That latter is an annoying habit, but one I am so very happy to hear right now.
I wish he could tell me about his night alone in the woods, but I’d probably be terrified. I wish he could tell me about why he went, for how far and mostly, why for so long. Did he get disoriented? Did he pitch forward and tumble down and couldn’t get back up? Did he really lose his way? Why didn’t he backtrack? Did he get overheated and rest in the river and then lose scent? What made him go across the river? Was he chased by something? How scary was it? How hard was going down and through that gorse and then getting back up to the other side? Could he hear me calling? Did he try to to call me? Could we just not hear each other? Did he think I abandoned him?
And I’ve questioned myself. I called myself stupid and arrogant. I wished fervently that I had brought Rhys with me the day previously to walk with friends and not brought him on Thursday. I wished I hadn’t suggested doing the longer route and just been satisfied with doing the short loop. Mostly, I wished I’d put him on leash.
And that is where I know I could and likely will be castigated. However, believe me I’ve already told myself all the things anyone could say to me. And I will warn anyone that is interested in lecturing or scolding me – I’ve already done that for you. So, just don’t go there please.
No dog has 100% recall. That’s the truth, no matter what anyone tells you and no matter how great a trainer they are. I do believe many dogs, including some of my own, have 90%, 95%, even 99% recall. But there’s always that slight chance, that just right circumstance that will tempt fate. I know that, I live with that. I’ve hiked on a regular basis with dogs for nearly 20 years, on leash and off leash, contingent upon the dog(s), the region and the circumstances. I went on a long hike a week ago in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and Alpine Lakes Wilderness Region with three of my dogs, off leash the entire time. I put a lot of work, effort and training in recalls with my dogs. It is a skill that is worked their entire lives. But I still take a chance any time I have a dog off leash. I weigh that with enrichment and quality of life. Brady, who at 3.5 years, the same age as Rhys is now, had a highly developed need for adventure, finally went on a long line or didn’t get to go on many hikes. That was the case for over three years. Then I slowly began testing him and trusting him. I found something that was more rewarding than food for him and used it. I altered the way and where I hiked when I brought him. He was still on leash more often than off, but gradually, we came to an understanding and trust. He sometimes still pushes those trust boundaries, thus, he was leashed up when walking with friends on Wednesday. Yet I can trust him completely to do a serious 20+ mile hike with me without venturing far ahead and with him regularly stopping and waiting or checking back in.
Maybe Rhys will get there, but I do know my dog. I do not believe Rhys learned any “lesson” from this experience – much as I would like to think so. He has an incredible nose, he has a strong independent streak and he’s triggered by motion and his prey drive. He’s got a really great recall, until he just doesn’t. Much as I believe in the freedom for dogs to be off leash and to obtain the enrichment from running that they really need and crave, Rhys will be on a long line for a long time. Maybe forever. He’ll get opportunities to be off leash for short spurts in a few select places and contained areas. I think I’ll experiment with a GPS unit as well. However, right now the trauma is too fresh and much as I balance and weigh the risk on a regular basis on off leash/on leash with my dogs, I’m tilting the scales heavily in my favor for Rhys for a long time. And yes, I know there are the told you so-ers out there that will tell me I should’ve been doing this all along.
Meanwhile, we’re doing a lot of sleeping this weekend. Probably a lot of thinking about our choices. I’ll also be noting that despite the 1% of mountain bikers that may be jerks, the vast majority are pretty damn wonderful and I’ll be sending them all a friendly wave from now on. And for me anyway, some thinking about our futures.
I spent a few hours in the woods with Camm today. This evening, I am relaxed and am able to take big, deep breaths.
I’m in the process of writing my Life in the Time of Covid-19 post. I’m finding that I need to mull it about quite a bit. Mostly because I do have quite a bit of fear about offending someone. I’m basically over that part now, but I’m still processing it in my head.
This post is mostly about Camm. Again.
I’ve been pretty good about getting my dogs out and walked on a regular basis in the past month. There’s a lot more I wish I could do, and likely will do, but suffice it to say that everyone is brushing up on their loose leash walking skills.
However, lack of access to the millions of acres of natural lands on a regular basis is making me a bit crabby. Then I got an omen today in the form of a rock placed off of a sidewalk.
I make my living being outside six to eight hours a day. At this time of year, I usually come home and take my own dogs out and about for another couple of hours. On average since late fall 2019, I walked 13 miles daily for just work alone. I clocked over 20 miles walked on March 12. The day before a lot of shit here got shut down.
Walking 20 miles in one day was a goal I had for the first half of 2020. I did it in the first quarter. Naturally, I now want to walk 25 miles in one day.
However, I’m presently settling for 10 miles a day on average now.
I need to keep active and fit because I hope someday soon that I can resume some form of my life that was Before Covid-19.
The other reason I desperately want and need to clock miles and breath fresh air is because I have asthma.
I know, that seems entirely irreconcilable.
However, I haven’t had the need for regular asthma medication for over three years and I haven’t used my rescue inhaler in almost a year.
But I found myself reaching for it last night.
It’s controversial, but asthma does have some emotional components, in addition to the very real physical aspects. Therefore, I decided I was feeling stressed and closed in and decided not to use my inhaler. Most of the tightness in my chest passed while I was watching a movie.
The main reason I suspect that I’ve not had to reach for my inhaler is tied to exercise and clean, fresh air. Guess what? The quality of most indoor air is pretty freaking bad.
The boys have been going on some pretty good walks and Youke and Brady went on an awesome off-leash hike over the weekend to a top secret location.
I decided Camm has been a bit neglected. Plus, Camm is my spirit animal and if I’m going to break some rules and breach a perimeter, there’s no one else I’d want as a partner in crime.
So we did.
After we ran up the steep trail, the sun came out for a while.
Then it started to hail and rain again a bit. No worries, I didn’t mind a bit. It seemed to clear and sharpen the air just a little bit more.
And capriciously, the weather cleared again.
Today, Camm and I lived our best lives. The run up the steep trail and the couple of hours in the fickle sun and rain combined with the smell of the woods cleared and expanded my lungs and loosened my tight shoulders. My legs pounded upward and then were light as I traversed trails. Camm and I were quiet as we both soaked in our surroundings. I laughed at her desire to jump and climb the natural obstacles that make up the woods, and to leap five feet straight up in the air at the occasional bug.
We encountered a few other souls that felt as we did: a man with two rambunctious, but polite dogs who heeded my warning that Camm needed some space; a lone elderly lady walking silently with her hands behind her back who slipped noiselessly down a side trail as we passed; a couple walking briskly who gave us a hearty “hello” as we walked by; and a teenage runner with sweat making his shirt cling to his skinny back. The funny thing is that these would likely be the same people we’d have seen on any given weekday.
This has been a weekend to remember. First though, THANK YOU TOP DOG for once again putting on an awesomely fun CPE trial! There’s probably a reason that three of my competition dogs have earned C-ATCHes at your trials (and the only one that didn’t made his debut at one and went on to earn many elsewhere).
Camm joined Jasmine (with whom I earned my very first championship anything in dog agility) , Youke and Brady on Sunday by getting her first Big Ribbon in dog agility – her CPE Agility Champion title, or C-ATCH.
The weekend did not start out very promising though.
I started puking violently Thursday night after feeling pretty yucky most of Thursday, and much as I wanted to rally on Friday and go to the trial that I took a rare day off for, I just couldn’t do it. Food poisoning and exhaustion from the pain I’d been in all week from my lower leg – that I’d somehow mysteriously injured a week earlier – just rendered me completely immobile. I really cannot recall a day in recent years that I recorded ZERO steps. I guess the good news was that I had already taken the day off, but it sucked spending it in bed all day. However, I had four amazingly sweet dogs to sleep with for all the hours with me (despite it being a really nice day). People, teach your dog(s) to chill. It may come in handy one day. And they did it after a week of doing very little due to the afore-mentioned injured leg.
The other somewhat bright spot was that I was forced to rest my leg. That ended up being a very good thing.
Then I realized on Friday that Rhys wasn’t feeling well either. Not sure what he ate, but I know I will never eat a breakfast sandwich from a huge chain known for its golden arches ever again.
Still wasn’t feeling it Saturday, but didn’t have to be at the trial until later in the afternoon. Left Youke and Brady at home, took Camm, because she was the reason I entered the trial, and took Rhys to keep an eye on him.
Despite my fog, inability to move well and the fact that Camm’s been out of agility training since last fall, we had a smoking Jackpot run. But the fog and bum leg made our Standard run a disaster on what should’ve been a fast, easy course. Takeaways: Camm hasn’t forgotten a thing, is still blazing fast, still needs information much faster from me and gets pissed if I’m not holding up my end as the alleged handler. At least she had the decency to recognize that I am part of the team instead of trying to do it all by herself and her way.
Came home Saturday evening, through a freak hailstorm, and had some chicken soup, my first “real” food since Thursday morning. Water, ginger ale and jello doesn’t really count. Made a soup for Rhys who had been symptom free and fasting himself for nearly 24 hours. Apparently waiting around and worrying about us was stressful for Youke and Brady, so we all turned in at 9 pm.
I awoke feeling hugely better at 6:30 on Sunday. And my leg felt fantastic. Of course, what better way to ruin an injury that is finally starting to heal than by running some agility, on hard packed dirt. But I at least hedged my bet by wrapping my ankle and leg, again, something I’ve been doing for the past week. Except for Friday, when my activity consisted of letting the dogs out a few times.
Since my stomach didn’t feel as tender, I risked a cup of coffee and drove to the trial with Camm and Rhys. I had no illusions that we’d finally get the one clean – no faults – Standard run we needed for her C-ATCH, but figured it was worth a try.
As we got closer to the trial site, I realized the chances were pretty slim, but I was okay with that. Rhys was entered for a few runs and I figured there might be some training opportunities for both dogs.
As I went out to The LRoW to get Camm, I experienced a very deliberate shift in my mindset and thought process. No, I told myself, this is the day. Camm is going to get her C-ATCH today. I’m going to be the handler she needs and WE are going to do it.
As I took her out of The LRoW, I looked at her and told her she was a champion because she was my best girl dog, the most sparkly and spunky of all dogs and there will never be another like her and I believed in her and I loved her and that I knew that she was going to get her C-ATCH today.
Because I really did know it.
I wasn’t even nervous when we stepped into the ring.
Not gonna lie and say it was a perfect run. It wasn’t pretty, but it also wasn’t horrid. We’ve had far worse runs that qualified. While my mobility was improved in that run, the tape made flexion harder and I couldn’t run as hard as I would’ve liked. I also wasn’t timely with some cues. And I made a handling decision that was super awkward, but assured us of an excellent weave performance and no popping out. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. Camm qualified and it ended up being a fairly typical Standard run for us.
We had one other run on Sunday, a Jumpers Run, that ended up being decent too, but had an off course. The rest of Camm’s day was spent playing some Ball, playing and walking with her LittleBiggerBrotherBestFriendWrestlingPartner Rhys, and visiting with aunties and making new aunties.
And having her picture taken a lot. A lot. A whole lot of posing for Camm today. Camm is very good at posing and like any world-class supermodel, is paid very handsomely for her labor.
I’m so high on my sparkly, sassy wee girl Camm that I pretty much do not care if today wrecked my leg for the next few weeks.
This is a post with a lot of numbers in it, as well as other things.
I spent quality time today with two of my dogs one-on-one. I would have spent quality time with the other two one-on-one as well, but I have a sore leg right now and working today simply meant there were not enough hours in the day.
Not enough hours in the day is a common theme of late. My weekday schedule is packed. I’m actually turning away people, and sometimes juggling a lot of balls. Or rather, dogs. Somebody recently asked me about regular midday visits on Saturdays. I was honest and told her that I need time to spend with friends and with my own dogs and my weekends with no work are those times. Really though, who am I kidding? I mostly want to spend any and all free time with my dogs.
If I win the lottery I’m spending time, virtually all my time, with my dogs. We’d hike nearly every day, we’d do beach trips on a regular basis, and road trips would be more often – in an RV purchased specifically for road trips with dogs. Not a big RV though. A small one. I still have to be able to drive it. And we’re used to sleeping on top of each other – er, on top of me – anyway.
I have a great deal of time to think about these things when I’m walking 17 miles a day.
Yes, I walked 17 miles on Thursday. I walked about 12.5 miles with client dogs, and then because it was a beautiful day and we have light until close to 6 pm, I took my own dogs out on short walks to a neighborhood park.. But because I’m only slightly crazy, not quite certifiable, I broke the walks into two separate walks, one with Rhys and Youke, and one with Camm and Brady.
Someone called me bad ass recently due to the mileage. Nope. I simply have to work and I own four border collies. Being lazy is rarely an option, much as I’d like it to be more often. Although I must confess, my dogs are phenomenal. I hear about these people with crazy border collies that never settle down. That is simply not an option in my household. I think it’s called training. Perhaps even referred to as training an “off switch?” Hmmm.
Fun fact. I’ve walked 271 miles this month so far and there’s still a week left. For those counting steps, mine are 711,070 to date for the month.
I’ve not had a day where I walked less than five miles since January 19. Ordinarily, and since that was a Sunday, I’d assume I spent much of the day reading on my couch. However, I know for a fact that was the last weekend I did agility with my dogs, so I just didn’t have my tracker on me for most of the day. The only day I know with certainty that I hardly moved was a Tuesday and it snowed. Because snow here cripples the infrastructure, no one needed dogs walked and I opted to stay home and just play in the yard with my four.
I know all of this super fun stuff because I decided to finally keep a log of my daily activity and miles. thus far for February, I’m averaging 12.3 miles per day. Not sure what my lowest mileage has been, but my highest has been that 17-mile day.
Based on the fact that I easily accomplished that 17 miles, and felt great that evening, I’ve set a goal for sometime within the first half of the year to pull a 20-mile day. Pretty sure it can be done if I take my dogs out after a full work day, but more likely, I’ll try to do it on a Friday when my work schedule is typically lighter and then go for a nice long hike with the dogs. The wooded trails are so much more comfortable on my body than asphalt.
I did feel great on Thursday evening and I slept very well. I felt okay on Friday too, except I made a major mistake.
I made a very poor choice in footwear.
I’ve learned in the almost five years I’ve made walking my living that footwear matters. It matters a lot. I’ve learned the lesson painfully. After trial and error, and a lot of dollars spent, I know what works for me and I know that spending my hard-earned money on quality and something that works is very important. I’ve also learned that just because I have almost never in my life prior to the last five years worn a pair of shoes out – or so I thought – doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. One of my major life lessons from the past five years is that replacing shoes is important. Tracking my miles shone even more light on this necessity.
Typically, once my regular weekday walking shoes are wearing down, I stop wearing them for everyday and make them my agility training shoes. That way I don’t care when they’re covered in hog fuel or arena dirt.
On Friday morning, I wore one such pair of sneakers to my agility lesson with Rhys. Despite my miles from the day before, my legs and feet felt great. I was in a rush when I got home after my lesson with Rhys as I had an atypically busy Friday with clients. Usually, I switch out shoes, but this time I did not. I had a nano-second of thought forecasting that I would regret this decision. That thought bubble was huge by the end of my first two client walks, one of which was a 60-minute session. I had two other 60-minute sessions with other client dogs still to come. By mid-afternoon I was vowing to keep an extra pair of good shoes in my jeep for days when I made stupid decisions.
When I got home last night, my left shin and ankle felt as if someone had whacked me with a baseball bat. It was only marginally better this morning, having subsided to a dull ache that wasn’t noticeable unless I was actually upright and walking. Or driving a jeep with a stick shift.
I took Rhys with me to my first visit of the day bright and early this morning. The dogs are ones he knows and has been friendly with in the past and I figured he could run around with them for a while and then I’d take him on a quick stroll before heading back home. Later, I thought I’d take the other three for a short hike, or if it wasn’t raining, I’d do another one-on-one with one of them.
After I fed my client dogs and assured all was well with them, I let Rhys out of my vehicle to join them. However, Rhys is a full-fledged adult border collie now and all he wanted to do was hang with me and maybe play Ball, with me. This is actually incredibly endearing and makes me happy. We had stopped by at a small local dog park the other day and Rhys was not one iota interested in hanging out with other dogs. He wasn’t rude and he allowed greetings, but he made it quite clear he wasn’t there to play with them. He wanted to sniff stuff, and then hopefully do something interesting with me.
After I finished up with my clients, I drove up to a local county park that is quite large and has numerous trails. So many in fact that I still haven’t mapped it all out in my head. Rhys is needing to spend more time on leash of late since he’s made some poor decisions lately. Rather, he’s made decisions that are super fun for him and not so delightful for me. In fact, they’re been very stressful for me.
I clipped Rhys to a long line and I figured we’d do a loop that I was very familiar with and that wasn’t too long because my leg and ankle were starting to burn as soon as we started off on our walk.
It started drizzling and between the drizzle and the early hour, we’d not really seen or heard anyone, so I decided to venture right instead of taking the known left at the fork in the road.
Seven miles and two hours later we got back to the car. Never be afraid to get lost and to keep exploring as eventually all roads lead to somewhere.
After a bit of a nap at home so my leg would stop pounding, I took Camm with me for my next couple of visits with the intention of taking her on a short walk too.
That short walk ended up being four and half miles of exploring a place I’d never been to before, and then coincidentally ending up in the very same county park I’d been at in the morning with Rhys.
I love hanging out with my four dogs and being entertained and entranced by the dynamics between them and involving me. I’m fortunate in that they are great to hike with as a group and that I have options for places to take them as a group. But I also like spending one-on-one time with them and I think that in a multi-dog household it is important to carve out that time to do this on a semi-regular basis. I often break them up into twos and do things with them, or I’ll take a single to an agility lesson, but it isn’t often that I take just one of the dogs with me for a hike or a long walk.
Based on how happy they were to be exploring today and how tired they are this evening, it was totally worth that extra effort.