And The Magic Number Is ….
Five. Five dogs.
I believe I have officially crossed over into Crazy Dog Lady territory. Normal people may even say I’ve crossed over into official Dog Hoarder. My dog-loving friends will see this as delightful.
Allow me to introduce you to Betty. Betty Jo if you want her middle name, because while I slightly altered her first name, I kept the middle name. The longer version will be Betty Jo Boop.
I’m sure you can see why.
Betty is a delightful little thing who has so rapidly assimilated that going from four to five was: No. Big. Deal. Hardly even noticed.
I’m pretty sure the other dogs thought she was merely another guest dog. That worked to my advantage as everyone was on their best behavior.
Of course, the very next day after the evening she landed she went for a hike. Thus, she shared more time and space with each of the four on our walkabouts.
Betty was Red Dog approved.
Rhys approves too but does wish she’d chase a ball or something and not him so much. Of all of the four dogs, the start with Rhys was the rockiest. There was snarking and hard stares the first day. That’s because Betty thought she preferred girl dogs and hadn’t really been around many fine handsome boy dogs. Then she discovered that Rhys does Fast Running, and Betty also enjoys doing Fast Running. Now she greatly admires Rhys and thinks he’d be really cool to play with, but so far he’s playing it like the really cool big brother who isn’t convinced his pesky little sister isn’t anything more than kinda annoying.
Youke approved her as well and he was the one that got the first tail wag. He even played tug with her on a walk with a big stick.
And then there’s Camm.
Of all the dogs, I was most concerned about Camm accepting not only a new family member, but a female at that. I had a very specific checklist, both for me and for Camm, when it came to time to add a new family member. I confess, I’ve had my eye out for well over a year. And then in one of those moments of serendipity, Betty appeared on the horizon like a perfect unicorn backlit in rainbow colors. One thing I’ve learned over the years, the perfect moment is never, but always grab that perfect thing even if the moment is imperfect. I think this is also called calculated risk-taking. Thanks to my friend Amanda for recently honing in on my propensity for taking calculated risks.
So back to Camm. Camm is not dumb. Camm knew there was something about the “guest” from the get-go. First if all, no guests have ever gone on very long car rides with us before. Also, her Human seemed quite fond of the “guest” right from the start and seemed enormously pleased that the “guest” thought Camm was someone she’d like to get to know. While Betty was very unsure and a bit defensive of the boys when she first met them, she clearly gravitated toward Camm.
This seemed quite promising, but Camm has RULES. Camm likes to enforce HER RULES. So there was initially some crating and rotating, until there wasn’t.
Don’t ever look to me for advice on integrating dogs. I break all the rules and am rather unconventional. Also, I’m not the most patient of Humans and I tend to jump on things, especially when they are going well. I am the Queen of Calculated Risks.
With some management, eagle eyes and careful observation, intervention when warranted, and Camm setting the boundaries on three major Rules: You Don’t Sniff Where Camm is Sniffing, You Don’t Share Sniffs With Camm, and You Don’t Poke Your Nose Up Camm’s Pantalones, the two girls were quickly getting along.
This even happened on the first day in the home office:
Within three days the girls were loose in the house with each other and all was going quite well. Betty did ask about the possibility of sleeping on the bed at the end of Day Three.
It was that night, Sunday, when I had one of the most profound conversations I’ve ever had with a dog. Camm communicated she was uncomfortable with Betty’s asking to sleep on the bed. Yet I could also see that Camm would allow it if I wanted it. I instead asked Camm for her feelings and told her it was up to her and that I wasn’t going to force anything she was not comfortable with because I respected her and would honor her feelings. She then very deliberately walked over to the bedroom crate and nudged the door. That was it. Betty slept in the crate.
Betty didn’t ask to get on the bed for the next several nights. One night, she briefly got on, with Camm on the bed too, and then decided the crate was a better spot for the night. There was no animosity between the girls but this picture shows they weren’t entirely comfortable.
On Saturday, Betty hopped on the bed and stayed the night. So much for my slow and steady approach.
When I woke up in the middle of the night last night, I saw the two girls laying butt to butt, touching, with Rhys laying his big noggin across Betty’s back.
This has been a break-in period, decompression in some ways, with Betty learning our routines, and very quickly settling in.
Betty decided that being a working sheep dog might not be her forte. She has already demonstrated that she is an excellent hiking companion and I’m very excited about summer adventures ahead and doing some exploring. Hopefully she’ll enjoy learning some tricks and learning how to play agility with me.
Say hello to Betty!
Trip report (my version) to Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene (probably NOT going to post this on the Washington Trials Association site though):
I had decided several weeks ago Rhys was going to be my hiking companion for this trail. He’s a good hiking dog now. However, he really needs to be leashed up on all new-to-us trails and if we are going to encounter a fair number of other hikers and dogs. and he still pulls quite a bit. I figured that would be helpful for the elevation gain. And then last night I started thinking about the part where you go down.
Still undecided, at 5am I made an executive decision based on a pure gut feeling. TRUST YOUR GUT, PEOPLE! I would be dead right now if I had brought Rhys today.
This trail is brutally rocky, has a LOT of steps and stairs, has a lots of roots, and it’s steep, Camm was perfect because she is completely trustworthy off leash, does not pull, and has impeccable trail manners. (I really do not know how that all happened. Although those of you who see us at agility trials will not be surprised to know that “sit” and “wait” cues get the paw on trails too.)
Camm did most of this hike off leash. Not because I wanted her to. Because I HAD TO have her off leash. Otherwise I’d probably be dead now. It is nearly impossible to jump from rock to rock, to climb stairs built apparently for men with a height of at least 6’5″ while also negotiating hiking poles and a leash, and the occasional passing hiker.
The terrain starts out very disarmingly. Sure, you’re climbing a bit, but no big deal. Then you see the sign for Bridal Veil Falls.
Do not pass if you want to see the falls. Believe me, on the way back this will NOT be on your list of must-dos. In fact, you’ll probably be wishing for an alpine rescue team to maybe happen by because it’s training day on the way back. Either that, or you’ll be thinking what a good business opportunity it would be to set up a massage therapy chain at various trail heads, including this one. Or maybe you’ll be wondering how many toenails you might lose .
Anyway, take that half-mile trail. Sure, it’s steep. Sure, it’s rocky. Sure, those are some big steps. But it’s absolutely gobsmacking. And really, this a good little warm-up. Also, a very mellow taste of what is to come.
The falls are lovely to sit near, enjoying the cooling spray, even if the ambient temperature is barely above 60 degrees. This is because you’ve worked up a good sweat.
You have no idea yet how sweaty you will become.
Once you descend back to the main trail to Lake Serene, you are feeling happy and perhaps thinking the world is a little magical what with the waterfall and beautiful woods around you. You think this for the next quarter mile.
Then you start encountering rocks. Kinda small ones at first. Then bigger ones. Then really big ones, but now there are all kinds of roots embedded in the trail along with the rock, which are now getting a little bit slippery due to light misty rain that is falling THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO START AT 6PM. (Have I ever said how annoying I find Rich Marriott? Every time I hear one of his forecasts on the radio I know to look for something almost opposite.) In fact, this rain will eventually soak the top of your backpack. It will probably contribute as well to your overall wetness, but trust me, that’s mostly sweat.
Due to the elevation gain and the many rocks, helpful people built stairs. Some of these are hewn from stone. Many, many, many, many – did I say many? – are engineering marvels hewn from wood. Except those helpful people were men. Tall men. I said 6’5″? Oh no. Probably men standing at least 7′ tall. Certainly no “older” women standing barely 5’3″ had anything to do with these marvelous steps. If they had, they for sure would not have allowed a woman of this description to continually extend her height-challenged albeit muscular legs up to her belly button and then simultaneously leap, hurl and lunge her way upward to the next step. Think those lunges you do at the gym comprise a workout? Um, no. Let me introduce you to Mother Nature and the helpful giants that build trails.
On this day, a scenic overlook or two might have cut the constant torment. A pretty mountain glimpsed through the majestic and large pine, spruce and cedar trees that surround you and dull and absorb the lone sob that sometimes escapes your heaving chest might have taken your mind off the fact that the stairs are never-ever-never ending.. You decide to embrace the fact that sometimes your legs simply become like lead and cannot move. You try very hard to make the mistake of half-sitting, half-leaning while guzzling through your water supply only once.
Still, there’s something so peaceful about being wrapped in dampish soft clouds as you continue to step and climb Mother Nature’s version of the practice of raising money for charity by climbing the stairs of a skyscraper – if those stairs where misshapen, growing more slippy, and steeper and steeper.
Eventually, you realize you’ve made it to Lake Serene. The only way you know this is because a group of hearty and foolish teenager are swimming and splashing. You do not know this from seeing the lake. This is because you cannot. Mother Nature has not only enshrouded you in her blissful fog blanket, she has made sure the lake is completely tucked in the fog too.
You continue to climb, because at this point, what’s a few more? And with a heavy thud, sit on Picnic Rock to devour your sandwich. Camm helps with this. Despite aggressive jays flitting about looking to steal food and some very friendly chipmunks, Camm holds it together. Mostly because she was on leash, tied to my blood and exercise engorged thigh, as she decided to explore Picnic Rock, nearly giving me the heart attack I amazingly have not yet had on this hike, by venturing down it’s very steep down slope.
We lingered, we talked, we ate, Camm basked in the admiration of the many people she met.
Alas, what goes up, must come down.
Personally, I can pretty much go up all day long. I am not a fan of the downhill. Luckily, in another stroke of pure genius on my part – also known as “I have a gut feeling about this” – I located and pulled out my rarely used if ever hiking poles last night. This morning I looked at them and almost decided to leave them home. That gut feeling rang giant bells in my head. I brought them.
Because I never use them, I thought I probably wouldn’t today either. I took a few steps back down toward the lake and grabbed one. I figured one would be fine in case I ended up having to grab Camm and leash her up.
Suffice it to say this was not my favorite part. Camm was incredible and listened to not only me but also to Michelle when we needed to step aside for someone to go by (today brought new meaning to being “painfully slow”) or when encountering an uphill hiker who didn’t want to break momentum and take a rest break to let us pass. Funny how nearly everyone wanted to break stride – really stretching the meaning on that one – and desired to take a little break when we were approaching downhill.
Camm minded her business until a boy dog decided to sniff her. She promptly retorted. After that, she was on the lookout. Hardly any dogs today though. (Quite a few people seemed impressed Camm was doing the hike. It is dog friendly, but I’d be wary about bringing most dogs on the trail, especially if not conditioned.) We did encounter one other border collie. A very fluffy and cute boy, who we learned was about three years old. He flirted madly with Camm, old enough to be his great grandmother. I advised the somewhat clueless owner that this wasn’t going to end well. Camm let the pretty boy get nice and close on his flexi-lead, then did the girl-dog equivalent of cussing at him and slapping him in the face. He got the message and went to flirt instead with some lady hikers.
The rest of the way down is blurred as 1) I was mostly watching my footing so I could hopefully not a) break an ankle, or b) not slip and fall and break my neck and die; and 2) although the fog had now started to lift, I was ensconced in a cloud of blood-tinged pain. Seriously. Pain has color, depending on the type. Today was a throbbing bright pink. At one point I may have resembled a crab. A very ancient crab with creaky claws sidestepping its way across the rocks.
I think I mentioned all the rocks, right? In a strange reversal the steps now were almost my friends. This is because I could open up my stride and practically dance down them. Maybe dance is too strong. More like that weird thing white guys do when they dance.
Then there was the crawling down and butt sliding down a few rocks. But let’s not talk about that.
Let’s talk about how it became brighter as we descended and how the fog miraculously lifted. Also how we started sweating again profusely as we went down because it was a bit warmer and how this is the only trail I’ve descended in 60-something degree weather where I sweated almost as much on the way down as I did on the way up because it was so much freakin’ work.
Back to the brighter part. Michele courageously asked a couple that went up after us, and passed us on the way back down – they both had long legs – if they’d had a view. I’m not so secretly pleased to tell you that while they could see the lake, they really couldn’t see much of the mountains surrounding the lake. Or maybe they felt bad for us. In the next sentence they said they could see a “bit of snow” topping the mountains. I’m not a detective, but fog is white and snow is white. Clearly they saw some mountains.
Now I have to do this damn hike again sometime.
I look forward to it.
Although this time I might not bring the vehicle with a stick shift.
Walk Beside Me and Be My Friend
I took Youke and Brady hiking today. We did seven miles and it was a wonderful day and a wonderful time for dogs and Human alike.
I’ve come to realize that hiking with old dogs brings some new challenges, such as negotiating around deafness and worsening eyesight. In some ways it’s kind of comical. It is also sometimes a bit terrifying. And in other ways, it’s frustrating. And in all ways it is endearing, nostalgic and bittersweet.
Youke is pretty much completely deaf. He can feel vibrations and if I’m standing right over him and yell he can hear me. His eyesight also isn’t so great anymore, particularly on one side. He tends to want me on his “good side” otherwise he worries or has to stop frequently and check for me. He rarely wanders, but since his nose is still at 300%, a good sniff catches his attention on occasion. I’ve learned that I need to stop and just wait and watch for him. If after his exploration of the smell that caught his attention he doesn’t immediately see me, he panics and since he still moves pretty fast, that’s not good. It breaks my heart to see him do this. Today, I stopped for a minute while Brady was off sniffing – because Brady has a slightly similar issue – but while Youke waited with me for 30 seconds or so, he decided to wander about 10 feet away and then panicked because he realized I wasn’t beside him anymore. Foolishly, I called out to him, but of course, he cannot hear. I waved at him, but he either was so panicked already that he couldn’t see me, or he just couldn’t see me. It was nice and sunny out. I know he has trouble in dim lighting, but today I realized the extent of how much his eyesight has diminished. Either that or because it was so sunny, there was too much of a glare for his old eyes. If he was an old man, I’d have to take away his driver’s license.
But I’m not going to take away his enjoyment, or Brady’s, for exploring and playing in the woods.
Brady’s eyesight is still mostly good, but he’s also pretty deaf now. Not completely so, but enough so that he cannot hear me calling him from a distance. And by distance, I mean like 20-30 feet. Luckily, he checks in on a very frequent basis, and if he realizes I’m not behind him when he turns to look, he comes to find me. It’s a skill I’ve taught all of my dogs, but one that Brady in his youth rarely employed. Back in the day he was far ahead, doing his thing, and would come and check only if called, or when he was ready. Pretty sure much of my grey hair can be attributed to Brady, although he proved time and time again that he always knew where I was. However, in the last couple of years, he’s been venturing ahead less and less, and checking in voluntarily more and more.
So, some highlights from today’s hike with the senior citizens.
A half-mile in and not even to the real woods yet.
Youke: I need a cookie.
Me: We just started!
Youke: I’m starving. You don’t want me to starve do you? I need to keep my energy up.
A mile into the hike, I see that both boys are moving very well and any residual stiffness is gone. Youke is delighted that we are taking a trail he discovered. Brady is delighted when I show him the trail does not dead end as I had first thought several weeks ago and made them turn back around.
A mile and a half in and the boys find the beaver pond. This is cause for joy.
Two miles in and the boys found something very, very interesting. I bend down to look and see that it is slimy and potentially smelly. In a nano-second I reflect that it’s a good thing Rhys isn’t with us because he’d roll in it, but I have my good dogs with me therefore I don’t have to worry about such foolishness. I start walking ahead while the boys get more sniffs. I glance back, just in time to see Youke drop and roll. I yell, fruitlessly, and start to propel myself rapidly back toward this scene of hedonistic delight. Youke springs up just as I’m about to jump on him and flits away, but I can see the gunk on his shoulder.
We go back toward the beaver pond because I have an evil plan.
Youke and Brady love water and love to swim, They’ve never let cold water stop them. Now, a kinder, gentler Human would have given Youke a warm bath when we arrived home. He is after all almost 14 years old.
I am not that Human.
I threw a couple of sticks in the water, much to both dogs’ delight and both plunged in, competing for the prizes thrown into the water, some of which sunk and disappeared, causing much circling, until another one was thrown that floated. After about 10 minutes of this, I called an end to the game and both emerged with disappointed faces, and shivering .
Hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Plus, I have it on very good authority that this is an excellent way to kickstart blood circulation.
Both dogs ran up and down the trail excitedly for the next 15-20 minutes. Then I saw Brady’s face.
I don’t know what it was or where it came from, but it was gone fairly quickly. I suspect he smushed his face into some vegetation.
We went on, this time in the sun as we located a wider trail that was formerly a logging road and found a big stream that we had to cross. Luckily it was shallow so old dogs didn’t have to do another polar plunge and my feet stayed relatively dry.
At about five miles, although the boys were still having fun, they were slower and I didn’t fancy carrying anyone back, especially as I had no idea where or when the trail we were exploring would end or wind up. It looks like a great one to go exploring with Rhys and Camm.
It’s always a good indicator that Youke is tired when he lets me lift him into the vehicle. As soon as I closed the back door both dogs flopped down and did not move until we got home. I went grocery shopping in between. Being mindful of their older bones, I parked in the sun. It occurred to me as I was driving home, grateful to have finally found an excellent grocery story with cheap prices and excellent produce, that I had not seen or heard Youke and Brady since I’d loaded them in the Jeep when we left the trailhead. I hoped that they had not been stolen while I was grocery shopping, but then who would want two old still damp woodsy smelling dogs?
What’s Old is New Again
I am once again gainfully employed as of the first of the year. I also find myself once again working from home.
I’m not going to get into my employment at this time, except to say that I am no longer self-employed and that my brain is now getting the kind of work-out that my body has gotten for the past six years. My first day of training, a mere six hours, and my brain pretty much short-circuited from all the new input and knowledge. I arrived back at my temporary pad pretty much unable to put together anything coherent – all good because I only had to interact with my dogs. However, I found myself struggling with what I was supposed to do with them. Luckily, Youke reminded me they needed to be fed ASAP.
So, while my brain is getting some pretty intense exercise, my body no longer is.
The path to slothdom started in November with the whole moving to a new house craziness. While I was not walking miles and miles, I was stressing a lot. When I stress, I do not eat and my metabolism, even at my advanced age, goes into overdrive.
Then December happened. I love my new house, I love it so much I decided not to leave it. My body also rebelled and told me emphatically that it needed to sleep and eat, eat and sleep. On repeat. For a few weeks. My dogs were somewhat disgusted, but because they are amazingly good dogs – even though they are “high-strung” border collies – they resigned themselves to their new fate with a beloved Human that was slowly but surely turning into a sloth. Plus, they were super hopeful all the cooking and eating would translate into some tasty food for them. They were disappointed.
All four dogs, but especially Camm and Brady, were looking quite plump, and it wasn’t because of the furry coats. Thus, all four dogs went on rations as they were no longer getting the exercise they were used to getting.
Someone should’ve put me on rations too.
Around the second to last week of the year, my body decided it was well-rested and well-fed and ready to resume some hiking and walking. This was prompted when I realized I was not going to get to my 3,000-mile goal for 2021. That goal fell flat when my dog-walking business closed in November and I was embroiled in a move. Still, thanks to that last push in December, I did make it to 2,279 miles for 2021, almost 1,000 of which was exclusively with my own dogs. So, I guess not too shabby.
When I put those final statistics together at the end of the year, I was once again eating, and sleeping on repeat because of the perfect Western Washington storm of cold and precipitation, which equaled a shitload of snow. Now, I’m from Northern New England so I know what an actual shitload of snow is. This was not an actual shitload of snow by any stretch of the imagination, and certainly not for Northern New England. It was more like a run-of-the-mill ordinary weekday blow in and blow out sort of event for much of the United States that is not located south of the Mason-Dixon line or on the Left Coast.
Because this particular precipitation occurred in Western Washington, where wet meets cold but retains much of its wetness and thus becomes ice, where many people have no clue how to drive in normal unfrozen precipitation, where some people with gigantic pickups and SUVs equipped with four-wheel drive do not understand that 4WD does absolutely nothing when a roadway is iced up, where hills abound, and where entire cities, municipalities and counties do not have the infrastructure to clear and maintains roads. There’s a reason why even old cars here have very little to no rust whereas in New England your five-year old vehicle is on its way to being a beater and your 10-year old vehicle is barely held together with bondo.
This is all to say I didn’t leave my house for about a week. Then I started my new job. I was feeling a little fluffy and wishing I had someone who would ration my meals too.
But what really put me over the edge was when I was actually doing the working from home. To say that this transition back to sitting in front of a computer at a desk all day has been a little bit difficult is an understatement. Now, I am incredibly grateful to be working, incredibly grateful for my connection to my new employment, and incredibly grateful to be immersed in something that has some meaning to me, as well as being grateful that my brain is so engaged. Still, I realized last week that I probably cannot go back entirely to my lifestyle prior to six years ago and the start up of my dog-walking business.
Yes, I was fairly active. I did hike. I did stuff with my dogs. But a lot of my dog stuff involved training classes and I hiked on weekends mainly. I haven’t gone to a gym in over 10 years, and even when I did, I was sore and stiff after a challenging hike and needed days of recovery time.
Walking changed all of that. Over time, dog-walking professionally, as well as hiking a lot with my own dogs as I was able to do that more, changed me. My fitness level got near to the point it was in my early 30s, which was peak for me personally, although my legs actually became the strongest they’ve ever been. Knee pain disappeared, my asthma became so well controlled I ditched my meds, and best of all, I could – even in my 50s, eat whatever the hell I wanted, and in vast quantities, again. By the start of 2020, I was averaging close to 15 miles per day. Most of the time I felt fantastic.
Of course, things changed with the pandemic, but I merely switched the miles to hikes with my own dogs.
I’ve realized I cannot just sit at my desk all day. So, I’m going to start incorporating planned stretch breaks, as well as some short brisk play sessions with the dogs in the yard. As soon as we have light past 5pm, I’ll be doing short walks down to the state park that’s a little less than a mile from my house with a couple of the dogs. Once we have light past 6pm, I’ll start doing longer walks or short hikes. And you know that when we get late spring and summer nights I’ll resume my late day hikes until dark hits, or beyond.
I set a goal at the start of the year, with new employment in mind, of 50 miles per month with my dogs. This seemed like a somewhat achievable goal, but likely one that might have some challenges. A huge fall from the number of miles I’ve been doing for several years, but it seemed like something reasonable to accomplish with a full-time job.
Yeah, so while I’ve tried very hard over the past 15 years to be much more zen and laid back, there’s a reason why I love border collies and their intensity.
I did 22 miles with my dogs (in various combinations) between Friday and Sunday, my three days of the week off. My total for January, so far, is 48 miles. I think I might have to adjust my goal.
I know 22 miles over three days might seem like a lot and it might seem like I’m an overachiever. Okay, I kind of am, but only a few months ago that would have been two days of walking on an ordinary work day so cut me a bit of slack. Or don’t because I actually feel a bit stiff this evening and I’m not ready to make excuses.
I have a whole lot of exploring to do in my new locale. I’m looking forward to a new balance of learning new things and kicking ass at work and exploring new places with the dogs and kicking ass on miles. And still eating a lot of cookies.
Merry Happy Birthday
Somehow, some way, Rhys became five years old today. We celebrated by going to the beach.
I’m flummoxed as to where the time has gone and how he could possibly be a full adult dog. Probably because a great deal of the time he doesn’t really act like a full adult dog.
Rhys is a mixture of a very old soul with deep sensitivities and maturity and knowledge way before his time, and a perpetual puppy with Very Big Feelings that everyone should know coupled with zero impulse control. He’s a conundrum sometimes.
I wonder if this is a result of being the youngest. It was interesting how much Camm grew up once a puppy entered the picture.
At least he has Youke to emulate. This gives me a great deal of hope and comfort for a future that will someday not include Youke. Camm is his best friend, he very much admires Brady and often mimics him, but Youke is the one he has mad respect for and the one that deep down Rhys wants to be. How do I know that? I really don’t, but I suspect it as he covets Youke’s various favorite spots and hangouts and gently solicits his attention.
Today, I decided to be the Best Dog Mom Ever. As a result, I’m exhausted and sorta grumpy.
I took Youke and Brady to a nearby forest with a friend and her dogs for a couple of hours. Then came home, warmed up with some homemade chicken soup, and headed to the beach for a birthday romp with Camm and Rhys for a couple of hours.
As I was driving home, reflecting on my own awesomeness, and before the grumpiness hit, I realized, not for the first time, but maybe harder, how much I love where I live now.
I live less than a mile from the bay and can walk along the shore at low tide, as we did today.
I also live roughly a mile from a forested preserve with trails that loop and twist and provide for easy exploration.
And perhaps best of all, I live seven miles from a privately owned land area open to the public with over 2,200 acres of working forest to explore. We haven’t even begun to make a dent on all the potential exploration there despite several visits in the month since I’ve lived here.
We made the obligatory visit to the waterfall of course.
But since that was barely a mile in, of course I knew we had to go further to get to the really good stuff.
And then imagine my delight when I discovered this area backs up against an even bigger, wilder forest.
Haven’t ventured that far yet, and it may be a while before we do, but you know it’s gonna eventually happen. Meanwhile, I think our next foray may be a separate adventure to the state forest area that encompasses land in two counties.
So, while I do miss the hiking areas I explored for 20 years, I’m finding that there are indeed some great places to explore, and I haven’t even looked at the Olympic National Forest area yet, nor the abundance of much smaller parks and private permitted land areas nearby. My fears about not finding good places to take my dogs and to explore were unfounded.
I’ve loved the forests for a long time, but to be so close again to water nourishes my soul.
And while this is all delightful, I still need to work, so sometime hopefully in the next few weeks, my abundant free time is going to be compromised. But the dogs and I gotta eat and I need gas for our adventures.
I will say though that after a month of stress and very little free movement, it feels really good to be walking some miles and exploring again.
Unwashed and Unemployed
I’m just gonna put this out there. If you come to visit me, you are likely to encounter an unwashed version of myself.
I do regularly bathe, or rather, I regularly shower, therefore it’s not like I’m atrocious or anything. And most who know me are used to a version of me that doesn’t wear make-up and sports questionable hair anyway. So you probably might not even know this, except I am an honest person and like to tell you this information before you come to visit me. In case, like, you had expectations or something.
Several tradesmen and at least four people who’ve visited me in recent weeks have experienced this slightly unkempt (I like to flatter myself) sight, and my new next door neighbor sees it on a regular basis. For my friends, it’s sorta like an agility trial version of me – except I think that I actually appear more presentable on agility trial weekends because I’m a weirdo and like to be color coordinated and showered for the day of being outdoors, covered in dog saliva and dog feet prints, cold or hot, and muddy and filthy. For my new neighbors, it’s like the nice, but slightly eccentric lady with four dogs just moved in. Oh. Right. That’s exactly what happened.
In fact, I feel my new house may like me almost as much as I like it. I recently learned that up until February, 2021, and for who knows how long before that, although the very large sequoia in the back yard is probably a clue, a hoarder lived in this house. A genuine hoarder that had narrow passageways cleared in select areas of the various debris that included a lot pf paper products. I’ve been regaled by my new neighbors of the rats that moved into the neighborhood as a result not only of my house’s former occupant, but also because he had at least two other neighbors that shared his sentiments about the value of ancient paper and magazines dated decades earlier along with various mechanical detritus. Those houses, including mine, are now cleared and emptied and restored to some degree of gentility. But the hoarder spirit lives on. At least at my house.
I have at least 15 cardboard boxes taking up residence at my new house, most filled with clean newsprint used as packing paper. This is a noticeable improvement as last week I dragged roughly 15 similar boxes filled to capacity with either newsprint of garbage to the end of my driveway. That activity took nearly 45 minutes in the dead of night that is roughly 6:30 pm this time of year and further assaulted my red, cracked and nearly bleeding hands, already beaten up by cutting through and unloading these very same cardboard boxes. I hate cardboard. I hated it before, and now I hate it even more. The sound and feel of it is akin to nails on a chalkboard for me. Even writing this caused a little shiver to go up my spine.
The only reason I still have these boxes in my house is because I sincerely do not want my new trash guy to hate me. So, I’ll drag them out again next week, and so on, until they are finally all gone. I estimate that could happen around February, 2022. I hope I’m not being too optimistic.
So, I think my new house feels very at home with me. I’m getting good vibes. This, despite the fact that after not quite two weeks here the furnace controller decided to commit a kamikaze mission, leading to a day or so of loud clanking noises, some fumes and black soot in a closet in which I thankfully had placed only a solo box. It pays sometimes to procrastinate on tasks like unpacking.
However, I cannot procrastinate much longer on obtaining some income. Moving is expensive. I haven’t even begun to do the interior layout design and furniture shopping I need to do. That will get put off for a while. And I’m fine eating at my desk for a while longer since I’ve been doing it since last February when my dining room table and chairs were placed in a storage unit where they presently remain. Eating standing up aids in digestion, I’m almost sure.
Today I did a zoom meeting and a recorded video for various potential job positions. Apparently this is the new normal. I still think it would be easier to explain in person why I want to work at a low level or entry position job despite what has been called by one dismayed potential employer as my “impressive” resume. I don’t need a “career,” I don’t want to climb any ladders, I don’t want to break any ceilings, glass or otherwise; I just want to do something that I don’t have to bring home and fret about and that will allow me to buy groceries and dog food, pay agility trial fees, and pay my utilities. Especially that last. I haven’t bought oil for an oil furnace in over 25 years. Little bit of sticker shock last week when I filled my nearly empty tank. Although, really filling up the The Living Room on Wheels for this weekend’s road trip should have been a major clue. I’m told oil is efficient. I hope so. I have an elderly dog that likes to be warm and a winter to get through.
The dogs now realize we live in a different place. The transition has been especially difficult on Youke, although Rhys too is a worrier. As a result of a bigger yard, I’ve now realized that Youke is almost completely deaf, and that Brady isn’t far behind. Youke also doesn’t see well at night. And if I’m not within hearing or seeing distance, even if I’m literally right behind him, Youke starts to panic. The move and the transition involved has triggered separation anxiety in Youke that I haven’t seen seen since he was a puppy. I’m hoping that as he adapts to this house and our new normal – which as of yet isn’t defined, and is therein a bit of an issue until it is – he’ll panic less.
The dogs do approve of their new yard, as well as of their new neighbor who regularly comes to the fence line to see them. Youke very much approves of the spiffy heat vents. and Brady and Rhys very much approve of all the windows, including the one in the guest bedroom where they can conveniently lay on the guest bed and stare across the way into the neighbor’s house, as well as onto the street, spying for UPS, Fed-Ex and USPS trucks – all of which Brady hates with a passion. Sometimes I close to the door to that room. I did warn my neighbor that the staring eyes she may feel actually belong to a nearly 12 year old red border collie who is more interested really in the vehicles that come to her driveway and not what she may or may not be wearing. Although with Brady, one can never be sure. Just saying.
The dogs also are getting used to having people come to visit. I’m quite amazed really in how quickly they are adapting to having company. I think of my dogs as rude, untamed little heathens with no manners. This is mostly true, but they are showing that they can rein it in and pretend like they are mostly polite. Except for Rhys. Rhys, never above checking out a counter for food, has now become blatant in his efforts and shows no shame, even if that means he is on his hind legs with his front paws on the counter right beside you as you prepare a tasty meat product for dinner, his head tilted upward to ask helpfully if you need a taster, drool sparkling in the kitchen lights.
Today, I remained unshowered, despite a friend coming to visit, I’m as of yet still unemployed, and the dogs were mellow. We’re all recovering from a cold agility weekend.
Due to my move, instead of driving back and forth from home, I had to take a ferry, drive and stay at the trial location. It was great fun, Camm and Brady had some gobsmacking runs, but the days were long and as a trial secretary I couldn’t be with my dogs as much as I’d normally like, and it was cold. I worried the entire weekend about how cold the dogs were, especially Youke and Brady.
Despite my concern, Brady had one of the best trials he’s had in a while, if barking at me a great deal and spinning because he can’t hear me, constitutes a good trial. There was a redeeming moment on one course where he started to turn in to me and bark, then realized that my body cues were actually providing the correct information. He then just woofed during the entire course offering some kind of dottering old man complaint as old men are sometimes wont to do. Not that I can’t use improvement myself, but I am the handler he trained and sometimes I do good stuff.
On the other hand, Camm, in her usual style, and cold be damned, was nonplussed about recent changes and decided to run agility in typical Camm fashion. This meant we either went up in flames, or we incinerated courses, but in the best possible way. In fact, despite being a very cold Sunday, Camm had a run where I was truly surprised not to see burning ash and hot embers from her tracks. It was a thing of beauty, and for a recently turned 10 year old dog, stunningly fast at six yards per second on a standard course. We followed that up with a disastrous run of miscommunications – by which I mean Camm decided which way the course went before I even took her leash off. Camm would like to tell a judge or two about her ideas for course design. We were back in sync for the last run of the day which was a pleasant surprise given that I just wanted to be done at that point. Maybe Camm did too. It was her fastest run of the weekend.
I just can’t get upset about either Brady or Camm as the one is often right and the other simply makes me laugh with her certainty and ornery attitude. Plus, they try with a handler that isn’t always all there for them, but at least I try.
Rhys though. Ugh. Almost five years old and still higher than a kite in a competition ring. If I’m analytical, there were many good things. But I’m human and my human brain tried to focus itself on one particularly not so good attempt at a run ( I was attempting, Rhys wasn’t even). Still, I’m proud that after I got over being super pissed because he’s got talent, does marvelous things in training with The Relationship Counselor, should know these things by now, is almost five years old, yada, yada, yada and all the things our human brain tells us, I regrouped and broke the last course down into small reward-able bits. I’m hopeful that now that I will be able to access regular practice sessions in a low key environment, maybe we can better build on the great foundation he has and the fantastic athletic ability he is capable of and that I can actually utilize the handling skills I’ve been taught instead of being held hostage by his antics.
Funny how for years I’ve had the goal of getting a championship on my dogs by the time they are roughly 10 years old. Not multiple championships. Just a championship of some sort and just one was fine. I’m drawn to a certain type of dog and consistent performance bores me. With Rhys, I’d really like to have a Novice title of some sort, from any venue, by the time he’s 10 years old. While this seems superficial and against my philosophy of not being all about qualifying scores, it would mean that we actually ran an entire course as it was designed, clean, and at least on three different occasions. This seems reasonable to me.
Showering, employment, and goals are all on adjustable timelines.
I’ve been a little tense lately. I’m gonna be a whole lot more tense for a few more weeks. Actually, I’m probably gonna be tightly wound through the end of 2021, a year I’m particularly looking toward ending. Just warning you now. I’m trying. Really, I am. But snippiness and lack of patience for a large amount of bullshit is gonna prevail.
I closed my business down today.
It’s possible PNW may, like the proverbial phoenix, rise again, but if it does, it’ll be far off into the future and will be quite small. Probably sparrow-sized, not phoenix-sized.
The pandemic ruined me. Not mincing words. Like pretty much every small business owner discovered, the pandemic was especially harsh on local small businesses. While I held on much longer than expected thanks to a handful of wonderful, dear clients, most of whom I now consider friends, the ongoing precautions, lack of travel and work-from-home tableau crushed me as 2021 showed 2020 how to really perfect a kick in the ass.
Still, I entered 2021 with some measure of hope. And then on January 13, a freak windstorm that was poorly forecasted – as in it was not – arrived in the middle of the night and blew a 100-foot Douglas fir onto the top of my house.
Time to exit stage left.
I’d already been thinking about a move prior to the start of the Covid Times. But my business was thriving. In January, 2020 I was extended as much as I could be physically and was faced with either keeping my business as a one-woman show or hiring an employee or two. Times were good. I figured I’d stay put for another couple of years, grow my business and eventually expand a couple of towns over to where I thought I’d really prefer to live. Fast forward 60 days and things went from 100 mph to zero in a week’s time.
I spent much of 2020 in limbo. Really, I was in some sort of depressive dream-like state of denial. Instead of trying to do something to move forward, er, like clean closets or reorganize the garage, or research what the real estate market was doing, I went hiking. I hiked a lot. When I wasn’t working, hanging on to what little bit of my business I still had, I was deep in the woods somewhere with a dog, or four, sometimes with a friend or two, exploring fauna and gazing at scenic vistas. Hiking is kinda how I deal. Some people turn to drugs or alcohol. I smugly pride myself on my healthy choice of addiction to miles of forest.
So, unlike so many who fretted by learning how to cook at home, binging on Netflix and parking on the couch, I still fit in my pants, even finding that I could fit into smaller pants, thanks to my newfound joy of reconnecting with nature and with my dogs. Note: my dogs loved the dark days of the pandemic. So much time to frolic and explore with a suddenly very accommodating Human.
So, when that tree came down on top of my house, it was a sign. Get the fuck outta town.
I had actually put on my calendar to contact a realtor in January to find out what I needed to do to get my house ready for sale. However, even time spent sniffing too much pine scent in the woods didn’t alter the reality that no one wants to buy a house with a tree laying across the top of it.
Guess what? I, like virtually any homeowner that has deal with a major repair or renovations, seriously underestimated the amount of time it would take to make it appear that it is not a serious risk to live among 100 foot tall trees that sway dangerously to and fro in any wind event, no matter how picturesque.
Of course, those six months would have been a good time to do some serious purging. And I did. At least of part of the house. Forced by the event and the need to clear two of the biggest rooms in the house of all debris, er, furnishings and whatnot, I was a single-minded whirlwind. I gave away stuff, I threw away stuff, I packed stuff, I had stuff hauled away, I rented a storage unit and made numerous trips back and forth. All in a week’s time.
And then I went hiking. A lot. With my dogs. Whenever the work-people and tradespeople needed to access the house to conduct the repairs and make it look like it never happened.
In June, my house was fully repaired. The real estate market was doing crazy, stupid things. I had a house that was half-empty. I also had several agility trials to trial secretary for and a whole lot of summer hiking to do. All good, I figured it would be easy to make a goal of doing bits at a time. Isn’t that the advice we are so often given? Approach a large task by breaking it into smaller parts as the smaller bits are easier to digest?
Except when much of what you need to purge and organize and pack is upstairs and the temperate Pacific Northwest is seeing temperatures climb to an unprecedented 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Okay, that knocked out a good week, or two or three as the heat just kept on coming, albeit more like the 90s.
I realized as July was nearing its end that the breaking tasks into small pieces bit wasn’t working for me. That’s when I just started pulling shit out of closets, corners, under beds, and putting it into three piles. The keeping it pile, the throwing into the trash or recycle pile, and the giving away and making it someone else’s problem, or perhaps beloved item, pile.
The scale of these three piles began to change very drastically as this process went on. Quite shortly, the keeping it pile was always the much smaller stack of stuff.
I could write an entire piece on my discoveries as I went through 20 years of being in the same place, despite going through at least two massive purges in the past. But I won’t, for now.
I’ve never lived in any one place as long as I’ve lived in this house. Not even as a kid. We moved around a lot up until I was nine years old. While I consider the run down farm in Maine as the place I grew up, I left for college when I was 18 years old. I came back and lived there on and off a couple of times, and I lived in a little bungalow in Portland, Maine for nine years. That latter place previously held the record for where I had lived the longest. That was a bitch to move out of too. Lot of purging then as well.
Finally, in late August, I was prepared to put my house up for sale. The listing went live just after Labor Day and my house had a buyer within five days. It’s a crazy market. I do have to brag though that the guy that came to take the professional listing photos paid me one of the grandest compliments I’ve ever received.
“Your house doesn’t smell like you have a dog, never mind four dogs!”
This is because I have border collies. Not only are they the most magical of all canines, but we also spend a lot of time in the woods and they smell like pine needles, spring water and freshly turned soil. Well, except for the one that sometimes likes to roll in offensive organic matter. Dawn dish soap and coconut hair shampoo usually takes care of that though.
The pending sale was a huge milestone. But the real fun was only just beginning.
In the past nearly six weeks I have driven over 1,500 miles, toured seven counties, all west of the Cascades – although east of the Cascades was seriously under consideration for a period, lost track of the number of houses I looked at, and placed offers on five houses.
I fell, hard, in love with a house I looked at fairly early on. It was in an area I wasn’t originally interested in living, but one tends to change their mind once they realize that the same market in which you sold your house in so quickly was the same market you have to find a new living arrangement in. I almost passed on even looking and my realtor wasn’t even originally going to show me because the marketing pictures made it look like little downtrodden house on the prairie. It was not. It was gorgeous and delightful. It had also been on the market for nearly 30 days probably for the same reason I nearly didn’t look at it. Two lessons here. One, don’t judge from the picture. Two, have your realtor take good pictures or hire a professional to take good pictures. Worked for me! Sadly, I missed out on it by a few hours as an offer was accepted prior to me seeing it. Another lesson, make sure your realtor knows how to actually communicate with other realtors. More sadly, the sellers were apparently aggravatingly moral people who felt compelled to stick with the offer in hand they had, instead of flying toward my compelling offer. I didn’t even know those kind of people still existed, especially in this real estate market.
I was broken for nearly a week after that. I haven’t fallen in love like that in years.
Luckily, I worked with two wonderful, dear women who are not only wonderful and professional, but they are both also “dog peeps.” Whew! What a relief to not have to explain the obsession with yards, fencing, neighbors that are too close, busy roads, etc. I ditched the guy that wasn’t a dog person not only for his obvious cluelessness about things that matter, but also because certain counties in this state that aren’t even called King or Pierce think they now too are super special thanks to all the work-from-home techie types yearning to leap into sustainable gardening and farm life or to live on the edge of the Northern Cascades despite scary bears, mountain lions and coyotes all plotting to eat their small animals and children. I’ve made some predictions with a few trusted friends for the five-year outlook on these scenarios.
The search has been a roller-coaster of highs and lows, pretty much like everything has been in the past 18+ months. A move back to the East Coast was seriously on the table. In fact, I had told myself that if my fifth offer, on a place I very much liked and had been coveting for a few weeks, was not accepted, I’d move back east. I even started researching dog agility and clubs in the areas I was interested and looked at herding opportunities. You all have Fate to thank, or curse, for me staying in Western Washington.
Anyway, this is my rambling way to let you know I did find a place that met my criteria for a house with character, but not so much character that I’ll be sending money down a sieve for years to come. I’m excited that while it does have a lovely yard, it’s not a huge one, but it’s just down the road from a state park where the dogs and I can dip our feet in the water and not far from a preserve where we can explore new trails. I’ll still be within a reasonable distance of my beloved Cascade foothills and the Cascade range, but also closer to the Olympics and thus new exploration.
Twenty years is a long time to live in one place. The marathon toward change hasn’t ended yet, and I admit I’m edgy to get to the finish, but 2022 is starting to look a little different.
Also, I have two grand women I can recommend highly if you’re as sick of King County as I am.
It’s More Fun When You Just Don’t Give A ****
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.