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.
I spent a few hours in the woods with Camm today. This evening, I am relaxed and am able to take big, deep breaths.
I’m in the process of writing my Life in the Time of Covid-19 post. I’m finding that I need to mull it about quite a bit. Mostly because I do have quite a bit of fear about offending someone. I’m basically over that part now, but I’m still processing it in my head.
This post is mostly about Camm. Again.
I’ve been pretty good about getting my dogs out and walked on a regular basis in the past month. There’s a lot more I wish I could do, and likely will do, but suffice it to say that everyone is brushing up on their loose leash walking skills.
However, lack of access to the millions of acres of natural lands on a regular basis is making me a bit crabby. Then I got an omen today in the form of a rock placed off of a sidewalk.
I make my living being outside six to eight hours a day. At this time of year, I usually come home and take my own dogs out and about for another couple of hours. On average since late fall 2019, I walked 13 miles daily for just work alone. I clocked over 20 miles walked on March 12. The day before a lot of shit here got shut down.
Walking 20 miles in one day was a goal I had for the first half of 2020. I did it in the first quarter. Naturally, I now want to walk 25 miles in one day.
However, I’m presently settling for 10 miles a day on average now.
I need to keep active and fit because I hope someday soon that I can resume some form of my life that was Before Covid-19.
The other reason I desperately want and need to clock miles and breath fresh air is because I have asthma.
I know, that seems entirely irreconcilable.
However, I haven’t had the need for regular asthma medication for over three years and I haven’t used my rescue inhaler in almost a year.
But I found myself reaching for it last night.
It’s controversial, but asthma does have some emotional components, in addition to the very real physical aspects. Therefore, I decided I was feeling stressed and closed in and decided not to use my inhaler. Most of the tightness in my chest passed while I was watching a movie.
The main reason I suspect that I’ve not had to reach for my inhaler is tied to exercise and clean, fresh air. Guess what? The quality of most indoor air is pretty freaking bad.
The boys have been going on some pretty good walks and Youke and Brady went on an awesome off-leash hike over the weekend to a top secret location.
I decided Camm has been a bit neglected. Plus, Camm is my spirit animal and if I’m going to break some rules and breach a perimeter, there’s no one else I’d want as a partner in crime.
So we did.
After we ran up the steep trail, the sun came out for a while.
Then it started to hail and rain again a bit. No worries, I didn’t mind a bit. It seemed to clear and sharpen the air just a little bit more.
And capriciously, the weather cleared again.
Today, Camm and I lived our best lives. The run up the steep trail and the couple of hours in the fickle sun and rain combined with the smell of the woods cleared and expanded my lungs and loosened my tight shoulders. My legs pounded upward and then were light as I traversed trails. Camm and I were quiet as we both soaked in our surroundings. I laughed at her desire to jump and climb the natural obstacles that make up the woods, and to leap five feet straight up in the air at the occasional bug.
We encountered a few other souls that felt as we did: a man with two rambunctious, but polite dogs who heeded my warning that Camm needed some space; a lone elderly lady walking silently with her hands behind her back who slipped noiselessly down a side trail as we passed; a couple walking briskly who gave us a hearty “hello” as we walked by; and a teenage runner with sweat making his shirt cling to his skinny back. The funny thing is that these would likely be the same people we’d have seen on any given weekday.
Brady will be ten years old tomorrow.
Well, December 13 is the day I designated as his birthday because that’s the day I brought him home. Nine years ago.
Let me repeat that. BRADY WILL BE TEN YEARS OLD AND I’VE BEEN WITH THIS GUY FOR NINE YEARS!!
That’s a whole lot of adventures.
Nine years seems like a few minutes ago, yet also a lifetime ago. I’ve learned from every dog that has entered my adult life. Sadly, the lessons Kip tried to teach me didn’t sink in until long after his death at a far too young six years old. Sylvie gave me many, many years and I think was so grateful for her rich and adventurous life after being rescued from the streets of a slum in Lewiston, Maine and sprung from the shelter days before a very dark fate that she was willing to put up with almost anything. It’s a good thing she was such a good dog because I had her long before I was “woke” about dogs. I was still slow on the take with Jasmine, although she started me down the path toward dog geekdom and an obsession with dog agility and I did eventually listen and pay attention to what she was trying to tell me she needed. I was not allowed this luxury with Brady. Brady required that I pay immediate attention and LISTEN NOW!
Someday, I always say, I’ll write a book about Brady. And I will. Brady has taught me everything.
Suffice it to say for now that Brady’s picture could be beside so many of those adages you read about the dog-human journey.
“It’s all about the journey.”
“You get the dog you need”
In a dark, cold corner of a barn used for agility, and on the last day of a three day trial over Thanksgiving of 2010, this remarkable red dog looked deep into my eyes and asked me a question. Ive been answering it ever since.
Brady was not the dog I wanted, but he has been the dog I didn’t know I needed.
This meme is making the rounds in the dog training, dog agility and dog geek circles I’m surrounded within:
I’ve seen various versions of this for many years. Brady isn’t unique in that his picture could easily be inserted here.
In Brady’s case, once I accepted him for who he was, quirks and opinions and all, both of our lives improved. I wrote about it a few years ago in Come As You Are
Now, as this feisty, opinionated, demanding, and sometimes plain weird, red dog lies quietly sleeping on the eve of this momentous birthday, I can’t help but reflect back on all we’ve accomplished together.
First and foremost, Brady is a wonderful hiking companion. We’ve had a lot of fun adventures over the years, some a bit more adventurous than planned. In fact, I’m pretty sure some of Brady’s adventures have shaved years off my life. If I don’t live to my goal of 100 years, I’m going to blame it on Brady.
I can’t even begin to think how many miles this dog has covered in the foothills and mountains of western Washington.
Brady has also traveled a lot of miles via car for various road trips. Most of those were for agility shows, but more than a few were for some epic adventures, including the first time he got to go to a friend’s camp on a lake in Eastern Washington and was able to swim for as much and as long as he wanted. To this day I still laugh about how exhausted he and Youke were. The road trip and week we spent on the Oregon coast was pretty special too. And of course there was the trip to Northern California and the house we stayed in that had a swimming pool. My dogs are rock stars, so naturally they got to party in the pool. Brady also thought it was an added bonus that there was a chicken coop on site, complete with chickens. Brady likes to watch chickens. And of course, there are all the road trips we’ve done to Vancouver Island for agility, walks through the woods and romps and the beach.
We’ve gone to a lot of fun places and had good times sightseeing.
Then there’s agility.
Brady is quite simply that once in a lifetime agility dog. Which is actually pretty funny considering that I didn’t think so many years ago that I’d be able to compete with him.
By the time I’d had Brady a couple of months I knew he had issues and was highly reactive and had enormous environmental sensitivities. We’d started foundation training with a new trainer to me and his progress and delight with the process was fascinating and infectious. Plus, I was learning many new things too, including how to become a better handler. While I’d like to credit my trainer, who became The Relationship Counselor – and she does deserve a great deal of credit – the real work to improve my handling was done by Brady. I do not (mostly) affectionately sometimes call him The Agility Nazi for no reason. Bad handling and late cues were dealt with swiftly and harshly, and usually with a correction. Which is a nice way of saying I got bitten, a lot.
As a result of his environmental issues, his dog reactivity issues and his lack of impulse control, I decided that I’d continue to train agility with Brady for the simple reason that I was learning to be a better handler and he was fun to work with, despite his swift reprimands. I figured my other dogs would benefit from my training and handling with Brady. And they did.
Those that insisted that I’d be able to compete and trial with him one day had no idea of the scope of his issues. In fact, I think there are maybe two people that have an inkling of the extent of what I went through with Brady. After all, there were many that had no idea I even had this red dog. Two, three years after he’d come to live with me I’d still get asked if he was my “new dog.”
Fast forward to our first trial, and over two years of intense training and counter-conditioning – and after I’d entered and then withdrawn from three trials – and Brady – hugely uncomfortable outside of the ring, trying to glare at dogs and snarling under his breath – and then it all magically disappearing for the 30-45 seconds we were in the ring.
It sounds dramatic, but dog agility saved Brady.
However, it was not instantaneous success. Our road was filled with bumps, crevices and potholes and much of the time it was an unpaved road. That training and counter-conditioning work continued for many more years.
There was the ongoing challenge of entering and exiting arenas and barns to get into the ring, there was the constant challenge of Brady’s nipping – okay, biting – of me, there was the entire year of no contact performance on the a-frame or dogwalk and there were the nearly constant arguments on course about my handling. I knew when I was perfect when he was silent and that was a rarity because Brady nitpicked about everything in the beginning and for a long time after. We had problems with end of run behavior – as in I didn’t have one and didn’t know I needed one and he invented one I didn’t care for – rushing in and biting me because the fun was suddenly over and Brady is a dog that thinks every agility course should consist of at least 30 obstacles.
And then there was Brady’s teeter fear.
Brady was unable to perform on a teeter for seven years. Of course I didn’t try to get him to perform a teeter during that entire time. I asked The Relationship Counselor to cease trying after six months. I briefly tried to train the teeter with him a year later after succumbing to some pressure from peers and other instructors. At that point in time I was competing only in NADAC with Brady as that organization doesn’t allow a teeter to be used. I was competing with him a bit in CPE, but we couldn’t run Standard courses because that organization allows the teeter, and we’d avoid it if we had other options and we could still qualify in the CPE games courses. I pulled him from courses in which the teeter could not be avoided. During The Year Without Contacts, I trained a lot in ASCA as at the time that organization had the most generous allowed training in the ring rules, but we avoided the teeter altogether.
The Relationship Counselor though is a stubborn and determined woman underneath her understanding and wonderful demeanor and she was not to be defeated by Brady, admittedly in her personal Top Five of Training Challenges Ever Presented.
I not so jokingly told her several years ago that we could revisit Brady’s teeter fear after he got his Agility Trial Championship in NADAC (N-ATCH). Although Brady primarily trained on USDAA type courses and was fantastic, the lack of teeter prevented us from ever thinking about becoming serious about competing in that organization. I’d always loved NADAC and quite frankly, I enjoy the distance and speed often required in that venue. My aspiration was to earn N-ATCHes with both Youke and Brady and I started working to earnestly improve the distance skills we needed.
But a few summers ago, seemingly bored and after I had not seen her for a few weeks, The Relationship Counselor casually dropped that we should working again on training Brady how to perform the teeter.
I’m not sure what happened in seven years, but I suspect that Brady simply gained a lot of confidence in himself and trust in his person. He demonstrated that he was willing to learn. By the end of the summer, Brady had a teeter performance.
In September 2018, Brady earned his N-ATCH with a perfect Chances run. It was a moment I’d fantasized about for years. But I was utterly unprepared for the enormous upswelling of emotion. I had entered the ring momentarily forgetting what was at stake, probably because I’d just run Youke and Camm on the same course. When the run ended and we’d done our celebratory run around the ring, with Brady grabbing the ribbon I was handed at one point and tearing a piece apart, huge, hot tears streaked down my face as we departed the ring. I started sobbing, not because he’d sort of ruined the ribbon – he did, but some clever stapling when we got home kind of fixed it – okay, it’s still a bit askew – but because of how very far Brady had come.
Then, this November, Brady earned his CPE Agility Championship or C-ATCH. Naturally I posed him on the teeter for his official victory photo.
Less than a month later and only a few weeks ago, Brady earned his N-ATCH 2 and his Versatility N-ATCH 2, which simply means he did a lot of things, some of them pretty hard, very well.
Literally so much blood, sweat and tears with this dog. Worth every salty drop shed when he crawls on top of me when I’m half laying on the couch like last night and he wants to cuddle and listen to me talk about our life together and how every single day I’m glad he asked me if I was the human who he was searching for.
Sometimes necessity really is the time for the impetus to try something different.
It’s a super lazy Saturday morning here. This is the first day I will not have walked over eight miles in 45 days. And don’t get me wrong. I could easily walk that distance, and more, but I am consciously choosing not to. To the dismay and expense of my dogs.
In fact, I’ve done an average of just over nine miles per day for the past 45 days. I know this because I checked this morning and because I’ve become a bit obsessive about it. The month isn’t over.
I’m not whining. Not really. But I am tired. I’m also tired of a lot of other stuff, but again, not going to whine.
I slept until 8 am this morning, got up and let the dogs out, then we all went back to bed until 9 am. This counts as a mini-vacation these days.
Upon arising, and after feeding the dogs and lingering around the yard for a while, I decided I would make a cup of coffee. Then I realized I had no cream in the house. I am not a black coffee kinda gal, although that is preferable to coffee with milk. I have milk in the house, purchased specifically for my current cereal and oatmeal fetish. I don’t even care for whole milk in my coffee unless my coffee is made by a barista who adds special syrups and such to a latte. And while a teaspoon of sugar mutes the horrid taste of coffee at home with plain milk, much less skim milk, I still don’t like it. So I decided to experiment based on something I read years ago.
I made my coffee in my french press, then I poured it into a mug and added a dollop of butter.
I also added a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of cardamon.
It was delicious.
No, really. It was fantastic. I didn’t even need any sugar and even if I had cream in the house, I wouldn’t have added it.
Yes, I suppose I could’ve gotten my lazy ass out and purchased cream. I could’ve even walked a dog or two down to the store a half-mile down the street. However, that would’ve necessitated a change of clothing.
I opted instead to drink coffee with butter, drink it on my couch while watching Camm and Rhys wrestle each other, look at Facebook and pet Youke laying beside me on the couch while Brady growled at anyone that came near his his timeworn Wubba toy.
It’s been a chaotic, frustrating and busy few months. But again, no whining.
Youke is still perfect, except when he’s not. The moments of non-perfection are precipitated by:
A. Brady going someplace and Youke is left at home.
B. It is past Youke’s preferred dinner time and his Human, and Brady, are not home.
C. Youke is worried he will starve.
D. Camm also went someplace and is not there to bark some sense into Youke before he makes a Very Poor Choice.
E. All of the above.
If anyone did not choose E. All of the above, you clearly haven’t been paying attention.
So, the combination of lazy day at home + caffeine kick has allowed me to actually make a blog entry. Sorry for many missed months because y’all missed out on some brilliant, biting and witty stuff, but it remained trapped in my head as miles + four dogs of my own + too many commitments for others + constant sense of impending doom = Human that is too exhausted or doesn’t have time to sit down at computer and relate droll stories about her calamitous life.
Instead, I’ll share some favorite pictures of late.
I get to experience some of nature’s most beautiful finery when I’m out dog-walking.
We don’t get to go hiking nearly as much as I’d wish, but such a centering experience when we do. I love being in these moments with my dogs.
Utter relaxation when we come back from an adventure.
While I have never been one to stress out because I didn’t have big Friday night or Saturday night plans, I’m pretty sure that when I was in my 20s I also wasn’t expecting to be spending a Saturday evening happily munching away on pickles and sharing them with my dogs.
I’m pretty sure that my “normal” friends think I’ve completely lost it and have fallen into the abyss of Crazy Dog Lady. And perhaps I have. But I cannot say that I’m unhappy to be intermittently tossing a bite of pickle to a dog, then having a bite for myself, then tossing another bite to another dog, before taking a bite myself. We finished the entire jar that way.
I suppose I could be dressed nicely and drinking cocktails with fancy people instead of in a hoodie and with a dog licking pickle juice off my leg.
Weird? I suppose. But not that weird for me. I had an excellent role model for this. My mother.
Today has been fairly low key overall. Went to an agility trial, made a huge donation, came home and napped.
Except that during today’s particular nap, Rhys was curled up on top of my chest.
This is not an easy feat when you are nearly 40 pounds and measure over 21 inches at the shoulder.
While I had fun at today’s agility trial, doing the agility just wasn’t a priority. I opted to sleep in instead of arriving first thing in the morning for the Jumpers runs I’d entered because although officially the second day of summer, it was barely 50 degrees when I let the dogs out at 6 am. Despite that, I still opted to don a bright pair of yellow shorts, because – damn it, it’s freaking summer! Naturally, I was cold for much of the day.
Except when I was running dogs. Four dogs to be exact. And not doing it particularly well. Hence, the large donation to the club I made today in entry fees and in exactly one qualifying score. I think. I didn’t check before I left.
I’ve been entering Rhys in a few runs here and there mainly because most of the organizations are allowing some sort of toy in the ring to play with your dog. Obviously it’s then a non-qualifying run, but it’d be a non-qualifying run with Rhys anyway at this point.
This is Rhys when his brain is fully engaged and functioning. This was not Rhys today.
Doing the Agility Things is hard for Rhys. There are so many things to remember and so many things around and just overall, there are So Many Things. It makes a dog’s head explode.
Rhys is a Thinker. I love that about him. He disguises it though with an exterior of bluff and independence. I’ve found that he really does like playing agility, but it is really hard to concentrate on All the Things going on All the Time and still Do All the Things.
He’s getting better, but it is exhausting.
This is Rhys after agility class and just prior to conking out on the ride home and then conking out once he is home. I feel like I’m making his head explode on a regular basis.
Which is why we’ve been doing a lot of other things lately.
Hiking with my dogs is the best meditation and the thing that balances all of us.
The only rule I have for the dogs is that they need to check in with me and they have to come if I call them. I love watching them be their naturally athletic dog selves and how they use their noses. It is also interesting how they engage with me even when I’m not asking them to. It’s like hiking with four excited little kids who are constantly pointing out things and asking questions, roughhousing, tugging on my hands to see if I saw that thing over there, and then running and skipping just because it feels good. And we all sleep well afterward.
Agility on the other hand is exhausting, but in a completely different way. I think that agility is draining, rather than recharging. Even for Brady who is my one dog that absolutely loves to play agility. They all like it to some extent and it’s a fantastic way to engage them mentally, but I also think it can take a lot out of them.
It certainly took a lot out of Rhys today. He was in the ring maybe for a grand total of 90 seconds and ran around like a chicken with his head cut off for most of it, unable to properly process how to put two obstacles together in a row. The one good thing he did was when I asked him to run the dogwalk and perform his contact criteria. I simply wanted him to be successful, at something. And he was. But asking him to weave in a trial atmosphere is simply not in his wheelhouse right now due to all the other Stuff that is involved, such as strange dogs, strange people, dogs he knows, people he knows, different smells, tents outside, dogs and people walking around the rings, grass instead of dirt …. just so Much Stuff.
The thing that touches me to my soul about this dog is that after a day like this, he wants me, his Human.
Everyone was more than willing to nap when we got home. As usual, Youke hopped on the couch with me, securing his sweet spot nestled up against my side. Brady, who doesn’t typically want to be on the couch with me but who has been more needy of late, put his head on my chest for petting. Rhys had climbed up to the back of the couch, one of his favorite spots. But he looked at me and he looked at Brady. I knew he wanted to climb down and nestle up against me. Rhys tested by extended a paw downward and touching me, while looking at Brady. Brady stared back at him and sneered a bit. But I knew who needed his Human most. I gently pushed Brady off and asked him to lie down. As soon as he did, Rhys slowly lowered himself onto my chest and curled into a tight ball. He let out a huge sigh as he nestled his head under my chin.
This is the dog that does not care to be touched when he is in “work” mode and isn’t really into letting most people pet him.
We napped like that for a couple of hours. Youke adjusted his position a few times, but Rhys didn’t move, other than to let his body relax a bit and expand from a tight little ball to more along the lines of draping my upper body with his body.
Later this week, we’ll go get our zen on.