Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A rose by any other name

In  my world, thinking about names for a dog who doesn't even exist yet is perfectly reasonable behavior.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that what passes as perfectly reasonable in my world causes other people’s hair to stand on end, but I’m relatively sure if you’re reading this blog, you’re nodding your head in agreement and your hair is lying down properly.

The names we choose for our dogs are important. There is magic in a name. Choosing the perfect name is serious business. It’s a word that’s going to get used thousands of times in the next 15 years. Gone are the childhood days when naming a dog was as easy as Hershey for a brown dog or Snowball for a white dog. When the Farmer and I got married, our closest neighbors were an retired farmer and his wife who had two farm dogs named Blackie and Whitey. They were, predictably, black and white, respectively.

My very first dog was named after a character in a book. I was 3 years old when I named my beagle Pokey, after the main character in the Little Golden Book “The Poky Little Puppy.”

My mother, who probably suggested this scholastically brilliant achievement, had no idea the precedent this was going to set. With the exception of my first terv, all my dogs have been named with a literary theme of some kind. Happily, I have advanced beyond Little Golden Books.

My first tervuren, Gypsy, missed the intentional book theme. She was registered as Liberte’s Gypsy Rose. I just liked the way it sounded. (I was 13.) Googling “Gypsy Rose” for deeper insight revealed that Gypsy Rose Lee was an American burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act. She was also an actress, author, and playwright. She penned “The G-String Murders,” a 1941 detective novel. Set in a burlesque theater, Lee casts herself as the detective who solves a set of homicides in which strippers in her troupe are found strangled with their own G-strings. So maybe the literary connection is there after all. I’m sure my parents would have been delighted to know I’d named my first “expensive” dog after a stripper, never mind that she did write a book.

My first sheltie, Jesse, was Hanson’s Third Edition. He was my third dog. I had just graduated from college and embarked on a career in print journalism. Pretty damn original, huh?

My second sheltie, Connor, was named after the immortal Connor McCleod of “The Highlander” (books and television) series fame, although his registered name - Sunazie’s Black Diamond - didn’t reflect any literary aspirations. Although I think he ate a book once as a puppy.

Belgian tervuren Jamie’s namesake was James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. His litter theme was “Escape” and his registered name was Ariel’s Escape Through Time. “Outlander” groupies will get it.

Belgian malinois Phoenix was named for Fawkes the phoenix in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. His registered name, which incorporates the litter theme “Wild,” is Carousel’s Call of the Wild, from one of my favorite childhood books, Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” If Phoenix had been presented with a copy of the London classic, I'm pretty sure he would have eaten it.

I named Phoenix in the women’s rest room at the Minneapolis airport. I had a short list of names to consider when I flew to Oregon to pick him up but hadn’t decided on one even as we made the return trip. Unlike Jesse, Connor and Jamie, I hadn’t picked him up with a name firmly in mind. Due to the weather, we were destined to spend a lot of time (let me repeat, A LOT OF TIME) in the Minneapolis airport on that trip and after the 50th person exclaimed, “Cute puppy! What’s his name?” and I stuttered, “Um, well, I dunno, he doesn’t have one yet” I finally decided to make a decision already and when the 51st person said, “Cute puppy! What’s his name?” I answered, “Phoenix.” And that was that.

Theme litters can be fun and challenge your creativity to come up with something that is personal but stays within the parameters of the breeder’s theme. I also like being turned loose with a blank canvas to come up with my own name.

I am an avid reader (and have survived 25 years in print media) and want to stick with a literary theme for my next dog. The possibilities are dizzying. Actual book titles, characters, settings, genres of writing . . . where to start!

There’s no immediate need to pick a new name so I’ve been having fun playing with the possibilities. I have a running list where I write down anything that catches my fancy. Yeah, old school. I could put the list on my phone or my laptop but I like the act of writing it down on paper. When the time comes, I won’t be caught flat flooted. If anything, I’ll have too many choices.

I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s “Game Of Thrones” series and it’s absolutely jam-packed with potential dog names. The only problem is that Martin kills off characters like he’s swatting flies and I would hate to choose a name for a dog only to find out the character dies a gruesome death in the next book. Or on the next page.

I’m also a huge fan of the TV show “Grimm,” which is based on the Grimm brothers’ collection of fairy tales, many of which came from Germany in the 1800s. Lots of potential there but a friend has told me it would not be a good idea to name my next dog “Wesen.” She’s probably right.

There’s a protocol to choosing a name. It’s generally considered taboo to pick a name if someone in your close training circle already has a dog with that name. Once that dog passes, there seems to be an unwritten statute that says you can’t use the name until a suitable period of time has gone by. I’m not exactly sure how long that is but a friend got a sheltie pup this spring and named him Jesse and I’m totally fine with it. My Jesse has been gone for 10 years.

If you run agility, choosing a name that is clever but hard to pronounce is a recipe for frustration since gate stewards will inevitably never get it right. An agility associate of mine used to run a sleek doberman bitch named Toddi. Gate stewards in five states consistently yelled for “Toadie.” This did not go over well.

When Phoenix and I were still running agility, a handler in the area ran a German shepherd named Arizona. Since we were both in the 24” division, gate stewards often caught themselves yelling, “Phoenix, Arizona!” That always made me laugh. Maybe you had to be there.

Some people choose names from a different language, use words that reflect the predominant sport the dog will participate in or follow an on-going kennel theme. The late Joanne Johnson probably said it best with her spectacular sheltie, Jo’s Expensif Hobi O’Redfield.

Every individual has his or her criteria for what constitutes the perfect name. No matter what word you choose, my friends agree a name should pass the “back porch test.” Can you stand on the back porch and holler the name without sounding like a complete idiot? I haven’t progressed to that point with my list yet.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The new reality

The new reality is that for the first time in 20 years, there is only one dog at our house. In 1994, sheltie Connor joined sheltie Jess and for the next two decades we were a multi-dog home.

Until now.

I was reluctant to get a puppy while Jamie was still with me. Experience has taught me that the arrival of a puppy means A) the puppy sucks up an absurd amount of time because, well, just try getting a puppy and not spending an absurd amount of time with it  B) the dog who is still actively being shown sucks up an absurd amount of time, too, because, well, just try putting him on the back burner and see how that works and C) the old dog gets whatever time is left, which usually isn’t much.

I’m pretty sure Jamie would have loved a puppy but it just didn’t feel right. I was very comfortable with my pack of two. Jamie was an easy keeper and a fun dog to live and travel with right up until the end of his life. In terms of training, my hands were full with Phoenix. Several years ago, friends started telling me I needed to get a puppy. I told them I needed to train the dog I had first.

It’s quiet at our house now. Without Jamie as his partner in crime, Phoenix is a surprisingly quiet dog. The fun seems to have gone out of barking at nothing. Quiet is not the same as subdued. He still “hunts” through the windows when the inspiration strikes. He races from window to window, ricocheting off the furniture, when he sees something that needs to be hunted but he rarely barks.

Jamie was the bark-starter. As he lost his hearing and his eyesight dimmed, he frequently barked at things that he wouldn’t have barked at if he’d been sure what they were - a tractor coming up the lane or a cat outside the window. Tractors and cats were generally safe in his world view as long as his senses were sharp. But in recent years he wasn’t sure of them and found it better to err on the side of caution. So he barked and Phoenix joined him with enthusiasm for the game and quite often both dogs were barking their damn fool heads off at nothing. That was the old reality.

This new reality is relative peace and quiet. Peace and quiet are always relative when you live with a malinois. There are still balls being flung around with reckless abandon. Laundry still disappears from the clothes hamper and reappears at odd times and places. Fortunately, Phoenix is more about possession and less about destruction these days. If he wants to carry a sock or pair of underwear around the house, well, it’s cheaper than counseling.

There is the constant “human management” - the never-ending job of following, accompanying, assisting, observing, guiding and attempting to participate in all human activities, including but not limited to trips to the bathroom and medicating a cat. This has gotten more intense since Jamie left us. With only one dog available for human management duties, Phoenix takes his responsibilities very seriously.

There is only one canine breakfast to fix. One canine supper to fix. I took inventory of heartworm preventive and it looks like I won’t need to buy HeartGard until some time in the summer of 2015. I have multiple bottles of dog shampoo and one dog who rarely gets a bath. One water bowl that doesn’t need to be filled three times a day. One crate in the van. One crate space at a trial. For kicks, one afternoon I counted all the crates I own. Nineteen crates. One dog. (Granted, these are crates of varying sizes, accumulated over 30 years but still . . . I did not point that number out to the Farmer.)

None of my dog friend have just one dog. No. Wait. Thinking. Okay, I know ONE couple who has ONE dog. Clearly we are in the minority. All of my friends have multiple dogs - two, three, a merry band of four or more. That’s normal. None of us think twice about having more than one dog. Some people have a bunch of kids. Some people have a bunch of dogs. That’s just how it is. Until it isn’t.

One dog to pick up after in the yard. One dog to brush. And he really doesn’t need to be brushed much. One set of dog nails to clip. (Praise Jesus.) One dog’s gear to load in the van for an overnight show weekend. One trip to carry everything into the motel. One set of paws to track in mud as the glacier outside our back door melts. One dog to make a vet appointment for.

Does Phoenix want a little brother or sister? It’s hard to tell. He and Jamie were bonded more closely than any of my previous dogs. I’ve lost dogs before and the remaining dogs in the household never acted like they cared one way or the other. At best, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief that a brother had moved beyond the troublesomeness of old age. But Phoenix spent a lot of time looking for Jamie in the days after his death. And it tore at my heart to watch him searching the house, room by room, over and over, then stop and go stare out the window. Now we come home from class or a training date and Phoenix is content to run through the house and “find” the Farmer. Then he quits looking.

Phoenix has very few canine buddies. He’s not dog park material and I’m totally fine with that. His job in life is to be my companion and partner. He takes it seriously. I suspect if you were to ask him if he wanted to go play with other dogs, he would say, “Why would I want to do that?” Introducing a new canine  into our home will probably cause a few fireworks but I do think, deep down, that Phoenix would enjoy having a dog companion he could trust. He trusted Jamie. So many of the dogs he has encountered in the “outside world” have proven themselves untrustworthy that he avoids them as a general principle.

Unlike losing a human partner, the loss of a companion animal comes without a socially required mourning period before you can move on to form a new relationship. Six months? Six weeks? A year? Next month? Grief has no time boundaries and it will take as long as it takes. Tears for Jamie still sneak up on me, sudden and unexpected. I don’t fight them.

Getting a puppy will not replace the dog I lost or recreate all the moments I shared with him. It won’t dim the glow of his life. A new dog will bring a new plunge into the joyous unknown. A chance to write a new once upon a time.

Do I want another dog? Yes. Life is about moving forward. The wheels are in motion.

In the meantime, here's Phoenix standing next to the reason I didn't make it to work occasionally this winter. That's our farm lane. Spring begins in a week and that's not a day too soon!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Jamie stories,Vol. 6: In the ring

This is the final chapter of the Jamie stories. I didn’t intentionally leave his obedience career until the last, there were just so many other things that came to mind when I thought about his life. Obedience was a big part of who Jamie was but it wasn’t the only part.

Cedar Rapids Kennel Association, Amana, IA, 2005

His Novice and Open careers were relatively unremarkable - placements here and there, solid work, the usual green-dog mistakes and problems. He had the misfortune to follow in Connor’s footsteps. Connor was my first OTCh. and he was some kind of Shetland obedience savant. Jamie did not work like Connor. There was a learning curve. At some point on that curve I realized I was working with The Most Patient Dog In The World. He was just patient. And sweet. And forgiving. And tolerant. What a gift.

Jamie’s Utility debut was so abysmal that I didn’t enter him again for nearly a year. When we went back in the ring, he finished his UD in three straight trials, including his final leg at the 2004 American Belgian Tervuren Club national specialty. I’d entered him in Open B that day, too, just for kicks, and he won the class. The score held for High In Trial and we came home with a new UD, his first UDX leg, an Open win, his first OTCh. points and a national specialty High In Trial.

2nd CD leg, 4th place, 2001 ABTC National Specialty, Kansas City, MO

When I look back on our OTCh. journey, it was full of all the usual stuff: delight, failure, joy, ecstatic wins, disappointing losses, soul searching, determination, strategy and that overwhelming wave of euphoria when the judge called our number for those final points. He won a run-off in Open with a 199+ to finish in June of 2005.

It would be incredibly arrogant to claim that Jamie had an impact on the world of obedience training, but in his own special way, he did. The best thing about his obedience career was that several people who are now friends and students told me that watching Jamie in the ring was what inspired them to do obedience with their own dogs. Reading friends’ comments in emails and on my Facebook page after his death made me realize he shared his gift of joy with others.

Back-to-back 199s in Open B and Utility B, 2005, Heart of Iowa Kennel Club, Marshalltown, IA

A friend wrote, “Jamie was the consummate picture of elegance and grace . . . I remember his heeling (did he always float, or did you teach him that?), his turn and send to the articles, and his swing finish; he was the first big dog I knew in AKC obedience, and he remains my yardstick.”

Another friend told me, “When I saw you in the ring, the two of you were always having so much fun together. I wanted to do that with my dog.”

Yet another friend texted, “I will always remember how you two danced . . .”

Years later, I think his greatest contribution was inspiring others to pick up a leash and explore a discipline that may seem very boring in comparison to the adrenaline rush that is integral to so many other dog sports.

Jamie was the ABTC’s #1 obedience dog in 2006 and was ranked in the top 10 for several years before and after that. We went to the NOI at Tampa, Fla., in 2006 and were invited again in 2007 but I decided not not to make the trek to Long Beach, Calif. He had two 200s from Open B. He has storage totes full of High In Trial and High Combined rosettes and a scrapbook full of titles in obedience, agility, tracking and rally.

When I look back on our show ring career, it’s not the ribbons I remember. It was his tail. He was always happy to go in the ring. Even if we had a bad run (my perception, clearly not his), he enjoyed it. At the 2006 NOI, we didn’t show well. Yet every single time I took him out of his crate to plow through the sea of people surrounding the rings, he wagged his tail and looked perfectly delighted to be a participant in a 12-hour obedience trial marathon.

He carried his sense of humor into the ring, as well. I will never forget the day he dropped behind me on the heeling pattern and when the judge called a halt, he poked me in the butt when I stopped. It was not accidental. His tail was wagging the whole time.

In spite of his physical size and stature, Jamie was a drama king. If he felt he’d been slighted, the world knew about it. He was also a firm believer in “pre-screaming” - making horrible blood curdling noises well in advance of anything he deemed unpleasant, like having his nails clipped. Other unpleasant things included being restrained at the vet’s office or being handled by anyone who was not “pre-approved.” I guess he thought if he was already screaming, maybe the anticipated horrible thing would not happen. This never really worked but that didn’t keep him from trying.

When Phoenix was just starting his obedience career, I entered him in Pre-Novice at my club’s trial. I also entered Jamie in Veterans Novice. The same person was judging both classes and elected to merge the group exercises. I asked my friend Tracy to take Jamie in for the stays and she said she’d be happy to. What could possibly go wrong with taking a retired OTCh. dog into the ring for in-sight stays?

High In Trial, 2004 ABTC National Specialty, Delavan, WI

Okay, back up a few years. Jamie and I and Tracy and her PWD Syd had spent a tense hour in another friend’s basement while several tornadoes tore up the area one spring evening. Jamie was notoriously storm phobic and he was not amused by the situation. Tracy had spent the time sharing her bag of hot dogs (doesn’t everyone grab their hot dogs when they’re running from a training building to a basement ahead of an approaching twister?) with Jamie and Syd. After that, Jamie held her in sort of a revered light. Tracy had achieved She Who Shares Her Cookies status.

Obedience Trial Champion! June 2005 Hawkeye Kennel Club, Iowa City, IA

Back to the trial - Phoenix and I were sitting at the far end of the line-up of Pre-Novice dogs and Tracy was with Jamie at the other end with several other veterans. Half way through the long sit, I looked up to see Jamie trotting happily toward me, weaving his way through the leashes of the Pre-Novice dogs. The handlers were dropping their leashes to keep him from getting tangled up or pulling their dogs out of position. It could have become a rodeo in short order but the Pre-Novice dogs held their positions and Jamie reached me without any undue chaos.

When the sit was over, the judge told Tracy to go get her dog. I’m pretty sure Tracy pointed out Jamie was not her dog. She took him by the collar to lead him back across the ring. Jamie felt this was a great unjustice and cut loose with one of his drama king shrieks. The kind that made people in other rings stop and stare. Keep in mind he KNEW Tracy and she had never done anything mean to him in her life and wasn’t doing anything mean now. He didn’t care. He kept shrieking. Fortunately, Tracy is made of some pretty tough stuff and didn’t take it personally. She and I are still friends but I’m don’t think I’ll never get her back in the ring with another of my dogs for any reason.

Tracy remembered that day and wrote, “My favorite laughable Jamie moment was funnier for others than it was for us. I am sure you remember the veterans ‘stay.’  Poor Rogue (her current dog) doesn’t stand a chance because I can’t even get an OTCH dog to stay. It speaks volumes to Jamie’s presence as a dog that as he wove his way thru the leashes of the pre-novice dogs not a one considered going after him. . . Funny no one has asked me to handle their dog for stays since . . .”

Bye, Big Red Dog. My heart is full of your joy.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Jamie stories, Vol. 5: Miscellaneous moments

• Jamie was a firm believer in the merits of rising early. Apparently in his formative years, I set him for 5:30 a.m. and that was pretty much non-negotiable for the rest of his life. Jamie’s day began at 5:30 a.m., regardless of whether it was a work day, weekend, holiday, vacation day or sick day. Failure to rise at this pre-ordained time meant nose pokes that started gently and grew steadily bolder until they reached the level of bodily assault and the humans were forced to get up in self defense. The nose jabs were accompanied by vocalizations of increasing annoyance at human sluggishness. Wise acquaintances advised me to "ignore it and the behavior will extinguish." Yeah. No.

In the summer when the sun came up earlier, Jamie didn’t always wait until 5:30 and often woke me even earlier so we could start the wonderful new day together. Phoenix sees no point in getting up before the humans and will happily sleep as long as we do. Now that Jamie is gone, you can expect me to be late for all sorts of things.

• Back in the day, DMOTC held their autumn agility trials at an outdoor venue. The very last year they had their trials at that site, it poured rain on the final day. Excellent classes ran little to big, so by the time Jamie and I went in the ring, it was a churned up quagmire and rain was still falling. He needed one leg to finish his AXJ and it seemed like we’d been on the frustrating “one leg a year” plan for a long time. Course time was 40 seconds. Unknown to me, Jamie was a great “mudder.” We took it slow, kept all the bars up and crossed the finish line with a time of 40.99. God bless the AKC for rounding down.

• In the days when we were tracking a lot, I would often bring his articles into the house and dump them on the kitchen floor so they could dry out. (If you’ve ever experienced the particular funk that rises off a bag of wet, muddy tracking articles that never get aired out, you understand.) Jamie would deliberately collect them, one at a time, put them in a pile and lay on them. I have no idea why he did this, it wasn’t like anyone else in the house wanted anything to do with them.

• Jamie had two medical crises in his life. The first one turned out to be a very expensive non-crisis and the second nearly killed him.

The first one came in the summer of 2005. He had just finished his OTCh. and was absolutely at the top of his game in the obedience ring. Then he decided to try eating one of our feral farm cats (he did that from time to time, when he thought they had grown too bold). He ended up with a fungal infection on his muzzle that wouldn’t heal, courtesy of said cat (who escaped unscathed). The vet and I threw a lot of medicine at it but it would not go away. In the mean time, the fur and skin were peeling off one side of his muzzle like multi-layered sheets of plastic wrap.

This refusal to heal, combined with blood work that revealed an alarmingly low white cell count, convinced my vet that Jamie had a hidden cancer. She referred us to the veterinary school at Iowa State University for more testing. This brought with it a great deal of stress for both Jamie and me, since he had to stay several days at the vet school where strangers assumed a degree of familiarity he did not feel they had earned.

In the meantime, I remembered reading an article in Tervuren News Tales, the ABTC publication, written by Dr. Cathy Greenfield, a terv fancier and DVM at the University of Illinois, about a population of tervuren with abnormally low white cell counts. I contacted her and asked her get in touch w/the doctors at Iowa State regarding Jamie. As it turned out, Jamie was one of those weird dogs for whom an abnormally low white cell count was perfectly normal.

And he was allergic to the medicine we were using to treat the fungal infection. When I stopped using it, his face healed and his fur grew back in no time. I joked that I’d paid more than $1,000 for a vet to tell me not to do anything.

• The second medical crisis came in 2010. Jamie started profuse vomiting, vomiting blood, refusing food and having bloody stools. He lost a substantial amount of body weight and even if he ate, he could not keep food down. Gastric cancer was running rampant in the breed at the time (okay, it still is) and I was terrified this was the end for my big red dog as he was showing all the classic cancer symptoms.

We started doing diagnostics and treating symptoms and Jamie ended up in the ICU several times before eventually being diagnosed with moderate inflammatory bowel disease. In spite of our vet’s prediction that he would be on prednisone for the rest of his life, he was able to wean off the drug after four months. He was on a restricted diet for the rest of his life but his symptoms never returned and he enjoyed four more years of robust health.

• One day the UPS guy was wheeling a cart full of boxes past my desk at work. He stopped to watch the screensaver slideshow on my computer, which is mostly candids of Jamie and Phoenix. After watching a few frames, he pointed at Jamie on the screen and said excitedly, “I know what kind of dog that is! It’s one of those . . ."  He screwed up his face in concentration and pronounced, "One of those  Barvarian Tarvarians!” We were both laughing pretty hard by then and he said, “I’m not even close, am I?” I assured him he was closer than a lot of people, for whom Belgian tervuren is simply unpronounceable.

• Jamie would eat about anything (raised by shelties, remember?) but he did not like bananas. If you were eating a banana, he would go through all sorts of drooling contortions to convince you he desperately wanted some of it but if you gave him a bite, it never ended well. His signature move was to take the banana, make a horrible face, spit it out and smash it with his paw. Then he would look at me like, “Do something. I have banana on my paw.”

One time I bought a dehydrated raw food to use while traveling. It contained dried banana chips but I thought, really, how many can there be and what are the odds of him being able to specifically isolate a banana when it’s stirred up with  a bunch of other stuff? I mixed up Jamie’s food that first night and set the bowl down. It was a good thing I had fed him in the motel bathroom (I was rooming with a friend) because within seconds, Jamie made a face, pulled back from the bowl and spat out (yes, dogs can spit, I’m convinced) a huge mouthful of rehydrated dog food.

By the time he was done spitting, food was splattered over the walls, floor, toilet, shower curtain and counter. He fixed me with a reproachful stare. There were BANANAS in his food and would I PLEASE make them go away? I spent a lot of time picking dried bananas out of that brand and never bought it again.

Next: the show ring
Me and the "Tarvarian"