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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.