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Afterlife for Dog Lovers

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 2

Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 2

MACH!

By Katherine Dattoma

We were ready ! Early that agility trial morning, with the car packed full of family and dogs, we headed into sunrise and a day full of promise. After years of strategizing master level gambler and snooker courses with Oreo, I should have no problem navigating a Novice level course. Why then, did my nerves tingle and my stomach clench as I set Ginger up before the first obstacle? Much to my surprise and elation, Ginger qualified in her first few classes – and then disaster struck. A fast moving non rubberized teeter had her sliding to the bottom of the contact, where she froze before getting struck in the bum with the rebound. Ginger never fogot a fear or an injury! Agility trials were immediately transformed into terrifying events, and teeters could no longer be negotiated past the tipping point. In subsequent trials, Ginger exhibited a host of reactions. She barked at the judges and bar setters, leaped off the table when a bar setter got up to fluff the chute, fled from the sun glinting through a panel jump slats, fell off the contact equipment if the judge crowded her, lost concentration in the weaves when a bird flew overhead, refused any obstacle that looked scarily “different”, stopped to eat dirt, lost a face off with a horse and her fright levels rose off the meter when a well shaded canopy chair “turned” into a human. Flapping flags, a truck in the ring being loaded with agility equipment, glimpses of movement in the distance through open doors were all potential Ginger eating monsters. My big red girl was still afraid of the world.Ginger Dogwalk cropped

There is an agility subset of stressed dog/handler teams, struggling to complete each course they run, trial after trial, with little improvement. Either I would become a permanent member of this group, or have to quit, unless I found a way to change Ginger’s attitude about agility trials. Clearly, I needed to come up with a new tactic that went beyond dogged persistence, or else I would have to give up all thoughts of making Ginger into that partner I needed to continue competing in agility. Much as he loved agility, Oreo’s career was winding down and I knew his time in the ring was going to come to an end. Making the decision to continue agility with Ginger, I shifted my goals from earning titles and ribbons to simply getting Ginger to enjoy competition.

My strategy to eliminate all stress for myself, and limit it for Ginger was simple. Avoid qualifying! While others were carefully planning their courses during walk thrus’s, I was planning just as carefully with a different purpose. My routes became simple U shapes, avoiding the judge, bar setters and the dreaded teeter . My goal was to complete a small number of favorite, easy obstacles successfully, without giving Ginger time or the opportunity to lose focus. I was relaxed, and for Ginger, the short time in the ring was amply compensated for by the huge jackpot of treats that awaited her. When possible, I introduced Ginger to the judge, walked her around the ring so she would know where to expect the bar setters to be sitting, asked the photographer to step back for her runs, and developed pre run routines that allowed Ginger to filter out distractions by getting up close “in my face”.

She occasionally began to show eagerness to enter the ring, even barking a bit with excitement. It was time to add a few more obstacles, until we were completing entire jumper courses- and qualifying! However, a full standard course continued to elude us due to the inclusion of the teeter. Ginger’s initial teeter training had been a slow and methodical process, beginning with rewarding her for being in the vicinity of the banging sound while other dogs performed on the equipment. A very gradual increase in height and movement had kept Ginger comfortable and confident on the teeter until that first fateful trial. How could I get Ginger back on the teeter when it had proven, after all that early work, to be an object of fear? It moved, it made noise, was unpredictable and every teeter felt just a little different. I knew that a retraining effort would only succeed if I could change how she felt about the obstacle. Somehow, I would have to make it an object of desire- something Ginger wanted far more than she feared.Ginger tire- kayla

My thoughts turned back to the tumbling tower of tin cans, that clanking representation of psychological persuasion, and Ginger’s strong desire to join in the fun. Oreo would again be my ally. He loved running over the teeter numerous times, and all the extra treats and frisbee play included. Ginger was initially only allowed to watch. Eventually she was offered one try, and if she chose to bail, training stopped for her while Oreo had another turn. Like a kid, she didn’t want to be left out. At some point, Ginger began to bark and beg to get on the teeter- denial increased the desire! We traveled, learning to enjoy teeters of various surfaces, materials, weights and in different settings.

I was afraid. I still feared a refusal in the trial setting. How would it be possible to retrain after retraining? Ginger finally took the matter into her own paws. The now desirable teeter lured her into an “off course” as I tried once again to run her past it. I had been half a year since our first misfortunate trial, and Ginger earned her first qualifying score in a standard class. Ginger repaid my patience by becoming a very reliable agility partner, qualifying at a prodigious rate. She was still cautious in public, but her consistency was amazing. She never missed a contact or took down a bar, and all off courses were a result of my addled middle aged brain misfiring. Refusals resulting from her trademark startled reaction that we called “skitzing” were becoming rare. Finally, I could shift my own focus towards training myself to become a better handler.Ginger

The seasons changed, Ginger’s agility career blossomed, and I faced the painful necessity of retiring Oreo at the youthful age of almost 9. Setting a goal for Ginger no longer seemed impossible and I dared to reach for a big one. Oreo had earned his full share of agility honors, but for many reasons, the AKC Master Agility Championship had eluded us. I had enviously fingered the huge, beautiful MACH ribbons supplied by the Nutmeg Border Collie club at their inaugural trial, and dreamed a dream of possibilities for Ginger. In December, two weeks past Ginger’s fourth birthday, we headed to the last trial we had scheduled trial for the year, prior to an agility time off necessitated by my upcoming knee surgery. In her last run, of the last day of the trial, Ginger soared over the final jump as a champion. We brought home that beautiful big ribbon!

Reflecting back on my travels and travails with Ginger, from a terrified pup to becoming MACH Sweet Ginger Snap, I realize that a relatively small portion of training time was actually devoted to agility. The majority of my focus was on convincing Ginger that the world is a safe, fun place. The bonus was that in some mystical way, I believe that Ginger came to me so that not only could I save a discarded pup’s life, but that she could teach my family and myself lessons about how to find misplaced joy. The many heartaches and tough times my family has experienced these few years past, cannot retain the same power if we avail ourselves of our dog’s special gifts of reveling in the moment. When I picture my Ginger flying like a bird off my brother’s Virginia lake house dock, caught in a snapshot moment of pure pleasure, I know that she has opened a window giving me a little peek into heaven here on earth. Ginger has so much more to teach me, certainly a great deal about patience, but primarily that goals have little value if we can’t make the process of achieving them joyful. Humbled by the love and trust that enabled Ginger to overcome whatever trauma that had trapped her in a debilitating emotional condition, I have been made just a little more human by a mere dog. Striding into the new year on the strength of Ginger’s long legs, I allowed the delight of our agility journey to make my newest dreams sweet.Ginger & Katherine, Mach!

The Pack, Part 2

“God’s Finger Touched him, and he slept.”

                (Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

At 4 am, I heard Scout barking. Now at a frail sixteen years of age his bark was soft and raspy, but I always had an ear open should he need me. He must need to go out, I thought. But wait, he’s gone. Just yesterday he crossed over the rainbow bridge. I lay there in bed in the dark in the awful silence with my eyes welling up. I felt that gut-wrenching feeling, my anguish still as raw as an exposed nerve. How could my mind play such a cruel trick?  I took a deep breath, dried my tears, and closed my eyes. Never mind my sorrow–I wanted to hear his bark, just one more time, so I laid very still, hoping my mind would play that trick again.

The pack had been making adjustments with Epic being gone and now Scout.Scout1

He was a rescue from a puppy mill, the best family pet. We dabbled a little bit in various dog sports. Scout’s favorite part of agility was leaving. In obedience class he preferred to hide underneath of a table, and rather than herding sheep he gave it his all to befriend them. His job, as he saw it, was to remind me that it was time for the kids to come home from school. I would let him out the front door, he would wander to the end of our property, position himself at the top of our private road so when the bus pulled up he would meet the kids and escort them home.

He felt the need to be helpful with all children, not just my own.

He and I were down at the lake one day enjoying a hot and sunny day when he heard two very young girls screaming. He ran immediately to them. They were standing in the water up to their waist pointing towards a sandal that had floated out to the deep water. Scout spotted the sandal, swam out, and retrieved it. Once on land he dropped it out of his mouth, giving it back to the girls. They were so amused; they giggled and laughed, picked up the sandal and threw it back in the water for Scout to fetch again.

He never liked to be doted on; however, much to his chagrin, brushing and bathing was not always an option. He was low maintenance, no fuss, no muss, always content.

Scout was the mayor of the pack. He would be the first of my dogs to greet any rescue that I would bring home. He was an extremely good judge of character and helped me a great deal with guiding and training the foster dogs. I had just brought home a German shepherd mix from the shelter at the same time I let Scout go. Foxy, relinquished as a stray, would cower in the corner of her kennel, snarling everyone away. He would have adored her gentle nature but would have taught her that growling at visitors coming into my home was not appropriate.

Even while grieving Scout’s absence I had to work with Foxy, I owed her that. Regardless, she’s coming around. Her adoring wiggly body and happy face has certainly been a pleasant distraction. Scout

I recently filled the dogs’ box with new toys. Tulley was convinced they were all for him. He would gather as many in he could into a nice neat pile and growl away any of the dogs that he thought might attempt to steal his treasures. Mirk got so frustrated with the constant tension he started to growl back at Tulley. The conflict escalated to a full-blown out-and-out knock-down, drag- out. Fortunately my husband and I were able to end the clash as quickly as it started with nothing more than bruised egos.

This episode would never have happened on Scout’s watch. He was the pack guardian; his motto, “Say No To Violence.” As soon as there was any discussion between the dogs that might possibility escalate, he would jump in between the two antagonists stand tall, growl, and order them to go lie down. Since I no longer had Scout to do the policing, I had to slip on my “trainer” hat and manage the problem.

I’m not sure I even realized what an essential role Scout played in both of our lives until I nearly lost him to a bout of pancreatitis nearly a year earlier, then a few months later to old-dog vestibular syndrome. The thought of Scout not being a part of my day to day was unfathomable. He took care of my family and I for so many years, life without him was not an option. With the pancreatitis he was so weak. I cooked chicken and rice, begged him to eat and willed him to live. He pulled through, I suspect in attempt to please me. The vestibular syndrome robbed him of his balance. His eyes bobbled back and forth like a pendulum in a clock. Again he could not walk, eat or drink on his own. Once again I was determined to save him. I carried him everywhere; hand fed him, and administered subcutaneous fluids. Friends and family gently planted the seed that it might be time to let him go. No, I wouldn’t hear of it! As before, I willed him back and so as not to disappoint me he came around.

He had become increasingly weak and tired. He had little strength left in his back end and most of the muscle on his body had wasted away. When round three came, this time I knew I couldn’t make better. The veterinarian prescribed a low dose of steroids, the beginning of the end, I knew, but it was nearly Christmas. Surely we could have one more holiday together, and so we did. January came and went and Scout was getting increasingly weaker. By February, I was carrying him up and down the steps, in and out, and he was only eating whatever I would cook special for him. Much to his displeasure I gave him more baths in a month than I think he had in nearly his entire lifetime.Scout2

I came home from work one day to find him off his bed, lying on the concrete floor in his own waste. He barely picked his head up to look at me as I scooped his feeble body off of the floor and gently placed him into the tub. As I washed and rinsed his old frail body, I knew he was tired. He had enough. Ironically I had just had a conversation with a friend the day before. She had to let her dog go and wondered if she had done the right thing.

“I’m not sure that letting Wallace go was the right thing to do,” Ellen sobbed. “He had no quality of life, his dignity was gone. Is that how you would have wanted to live?” I reassured Ellen that she had made the best decision she could for her beloved Wallace.

As I washed Scout off in the tub my own words spoken just the day before played through my mind over and over. “I would not want to live this way.”

The next morning I took Scout to our veterinarian, assured him I would be okay, and that it was all right to rest easy. I held him as he slipped away into his deep and peaceful sleep, all the while whispering in his ear what a good boy he was, how much I loved him, and that I would be fine. Once I knew he was gone I lay with him on the floor for a long time and sobbed completely inconsolable.

Scout4Scout (pictured front) with the pack.

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 1

 Over My Husband’s “Dead Body”!  

By Katherine Dattoma

It was time. That little itch had grown into something bigger and more persistent. The guilty pleasure I had secretly been indulging in, of sneaking peeks at internet photos of beautiful Border Collies in need of homes, was morphing into a serious search. It was time to add another dog to our household, albeit once again over my husband’s “dead body”!

Puppy GingerOreo, my first rescued Border Collie was enjoying a full agility competition schedule, but I began to discern subtle signs of trouble before he had even reached the age of six. My eye, uneducated in correct canine conformation, but knowledgeable in evaluating the equine, could see that Oreo’s hind end structure was somewhat, well, odd. All the other wonderful Border Collie quirks and attributes possessed in abundance by Oreo had compensated up to this point, and enabled us to enjoy some small successes undreamed of since my first bumbling attempts at agility. However, I knew my dog’s normal, if somewhat funny way of traveling, and something was off. At that time, the cause of his intermittent, subtle hitch in stride remained undiagnosed, though many opinions and treatments were offered. Sadly, I had to admit that Oreo’s agility career would most likely be cut short.

To the uninitiated it may have seemed like an obsession, but to an ever growing dog sport fraternity, agility is a healthy, wonderful passion. My addiction needed to be fed. I needed another agility dog. Because Oreo had also instilled in me a passion for the Border Collie breed, and our whole family, daughter included, had been formed through adoption, there was never any question as to where I would be looking. References were solicited, home photos taken, and adoption applications sent.

Glen Highland Farm’s Sweet Border Collie Rescue in Morris, New York rehomes a huge number of abandoned and abused dogs each year, and Lillie Goodrich seems to have a knack for placement. On a sunny morning in March of 2008 that glittered with excitement and a late winter frosting of snow, I loaded up husband, the kid and dogs for a visit to the farm. Upon arrival, Lillie took special note of my daughter’s bossy terrier mix bitch, Kimmy, and her controlling antics with long suffering Oreo. She immediately dashed my hopes of meeting a particular handsome young male that had gazed soulfully out of my computer screen. Our little Kimmy was destined to be the limiting factor. Instead, the first dog brought out was a one year old classic black and white female, friendly, agile and altogether lovely in every way. Whoa…. she’d make a great family and agility dog was my first thought, my mind immediately entertaining a fantasy of fame and international events…. Then, presented to me was a red and white, four month old bundle of fur, dangling limply from the assistant’s arms, blinking fearfully at the world. This ragdoll of a pup stole my heart.
The trip home did not auger well for my new choice of a future agility prospect. How was I to successfully integrate a petrified, puking pup into my little agility travel team? What happened to one of my basic requirements, dutifully checked off on the application form, “must ride well in car”? Being lax in my criteria could explain something about those agility bloopers with Oreo. My Sweet Ginger Snap was looking less and less likely to fulfill my agility dreams as the full extent of her fears was soon revealed. Ginger was a textbook case demonstrating that missed social opportunities during the first few months could have a lifelong impact on behavior. Ginger’s reactions to ordinary things fed our imaginations in building a picture of what her first four months on the Maryland puppy mill farm may have been like. And was it genetics, or something far worse that caused her skull to appear misshapen and her face crooked? Men, men with hats obscuring their faces, men carrying objects on their shoulders, people suddenly “appearing” all triggered intense fear reactions. Ginger constantly alternated between leaping away from and attempting to appease human feet with incessant licking, a trait that earned her the first of many nicknames, “Miss Lick”. Any object that moved or looked different from when first observed by Ginger provoked a reaction. A pillow falling off the couch could send her flying out of the room, and she would peer out the upstairs window, barking hysterically every time a package was left on our neighbor’s porch across the street. One of our neighbors inadvertently frightened her as a pup, and because of her fear reaction towards him, he referred to her thereafter as “The Wolf”.

Ginger and KimmyI needed an agility training plan very different from the trial and error path taken with bold, confident Oreo. My training methods had always been positive reinforcement based, and I knew any attempt to force a behavior with Ginger would be unsuccessful. Clicker training and shaping were a natural fit, both for my ideals as a trainer and for persuading a fearful pup that my goals were really her choices. Because her startle reflex was so easily triggered, Ginger needed to become less sensitive to noise and movement if I ever hoped to get her on agility equipment. She needed to be able to come towards her source of fear to investigate instead of running away. One of the training games I played involved my other two dogs to help motivate Ginger to join the fun. In my basement training area, I set up a tower of tin cans and metal cooking pots. On a push cue, Oreo and Kimmy would happily tip over the clanking pile for a reward. Barking, laughter, treats and curiosity finally drew Ginger from upstairs to the middle stair landing where I would toss a treat. Using the principles of incremental training, I waited for Ginger to choose to dart closer and closer to the action. It was a moment of triumph when Ginger finally offered a nose touch to the offending pile of noisy objects! These early lessons were something I was able to build upon, and today Ginger will often offer an automatic nose touch to an object that initially frightens her.

Surprisingly, at home and in class, Ginger’s agility training progressed very rapidly. She flew through the foundation exercises and fought for her turn when the clicker came out, signaling a training session. On both the plus and minus side, Ginger never forgot anything. Her education on the agility equipment began to follow a pattern of fits and starts, plateauing while we worked on overcoming a fear, and leaps forward evidenced by a desire to correctly repeat any action or obstacle with which she had grown comfortable. She grew rapidly as well… and grew and grew…. Was this the embodiment of having BIG agility dreams? Meanwhile, those long legs just kept getting longer. In spite of too straight shoulders and hindquarters, Ginger outgrew her awkward stage to become an elegant and effortless jumper, who as described by my daughter, ran like a cheetah when streaking across fields in play.

My redheaded fur rag was also growing into a striking, comical teenage drama queen. To the family, “The Wolf” was more of a red headed “Lucy”. The slightest knock had her exaggerating a limp until something else caught her attention, and she would get the sillies each morning, yipping and talking up a storm as she rolled herself in the bed blankets and pillows. She became a master at slinking off with cardboard boxes to shred in private, and would repeatedly catch and bring through the dog door a firefly to play with until she had to, ah….replace it. She could look majestic while burping loudly in our faces, and took over the job of household security by making the rounds checking all the doors, windows and rooms each night before settling . Best of all, Ginger fit seamlessly into our little dog pack, becoming wicked Kimmy’s partner in crime. I brought her everywhere dogs were allowed…into the bank, pet stores and a local book store. While competing with Oreo, I spent countless hours introducing Ginger to all the sights and sounds of agility trials, and frequently introduced her to many fellow agility competitors in an effort to reduce her general fear of humans.

Ginger In the early summer of 2009, Ginger was age eligible to enter agility events. The perfect opportunity for an agility debut arrived. The trial was local, held at a site she had visited several times before as a spectator. I sent in the entry, though unsure if Ginger was ready to enter the ring and make her public appearance as an agility competitor. She enjoyed playing agility at home with me, was extremely consistent in her execution of the obstacles, even showing some typical border collie abandon, but remained shy and uncertain in public. It was with nervous anticipation, that I waited for the big day to arrive.

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“What A Wonderful World.”

Living with Grace

by Judy Bonner

“Can your dog come over?”

The words refocused my attention to Gracie.  We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill.  Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.

Psst! Come on over!

Psst! Come on over!

I looked down at Gracie.  Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling.  Gracie loves people, especially children.  Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?

I looked up.  There was a woman at the next check-out window.  She again asked if my dog could come over.  Why not, I thought.  But wait, what is that in her hand?  A leash?  My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor.  Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.

Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself.  I stood in front of Gracie.  For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.

Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead.  She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class.  She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends.  On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.

Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter.  She is now a four-year-old Border Collie.  I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.

The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now.  “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.”  Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.

No words from Gracie.  I glanced down at her.  Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt.  “It is up to Gracie.”  I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog.  Nope.  Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog.  They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face.  Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy.   Best not to push our luck.  “Good girl, Gracie,” I said.  “All done. Let’s go now.”  Gracie returned to my side.

“Thank-you” the woman said.  I smiled and nodded.  Back to business.   I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand.  We headed to the exit door.

“Can she come over one more time?”

I turned around.  “It is up to Gracie,” I said.  Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt.  “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog.  I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.

The woman started crying.  “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said,  kneeling down to hug her dog.  “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life.  My journey with Gracie was unlike any other.  This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.

Wee, Part 5

An Explorer Extraordinaire

by Wendy Drake

After I spent a day in Cooperstown meeting relatives who’d known my grandfather, many more side paths tempted me. I wanted to know more about these new-to-me relatives, Hugh and Eleanore. Eleanore also played piano and had learned from my grandfather’s sister, Lucy. I wanted to spend more days at the Inn at Cooperstown, which had been the Cooke (my maiden name) family home from 1893 – 1974. Further, Charles’ book held themes, which resonated for my running.

Charles had compared piano practice to being fanatic about healing fractures. Using a bone healing analogy throughout his book, he suggested bracketing the portions of a piece of most frustration to a pianist, practicing them over and over, until mastered. Years may pass, he acknowledged, but the pleasure derived in the process and the strength of the bone at the fracture make the whole piece stronger than it ever would have been without the work.

After healing from three fractures in my feet and many shredded body parts from tripping and falling on trails, I understood that, with work on specific weaknesses like downhill footwork or running uphill, I could get stronger and stronger in my running. After failing to find a path with the letters so many times and continuing to practice with them, I felt my story becoming stronger. I also felt a connection to Charles through my practice. I wondered if Louise had this lifelong relationship with her piano playing as well. I wanted to indulge the endless side paths to which I was being introduced.

While I didn’t want to leave Cooperstown, a puppy awaited my arrival. I reluctantly retreated from these new paths to proceed onto the one I’d planned. It was time to meet Terri and the team of people who surrounded Wee with infinite puppy love. As the miles increased on my journey toward Wee, so did my excitement. By the time I met Terri, I could hardly wait to meet him. When I finally did, he seemed as eager to greet me as his brother Ace, who was twice Wee’s size.

The afternoon flew by too quickly. Terri took me to lunch with Megan, who’d cared for Wee with two of his siblings, Brea and Ace. We talked about the dogs. I wanted to know everything possible about Wee. Terri had checked every medical and behavioral box and more for Wee, her first runt. We talked about Megan’s upcoming wedding, the book Terri was writing, and mine too. She mentioned several times in passing a writer named Lisa in Florida. The depth of their friendship would not become clear to me until months later. Wee, Jorge, and I’d come to know her better through her border collie, Mick, who was two weeks younger than Wee. It turned out to be Mick who would have the unpredictable health problems I’d feared for Wee. While we would have our share of health scares with Wee, the biggest problem we’d have was keeping what came out the other end solid.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

After lunch, we returned to Megan’s home for the beginning of tearful goodbyes, but not before a final play date between Scout, Brea, Ace, and their dam (mother) Echo. In a short twenty-minute play session, I took over ninety photos and a video. I didn’t want the day to end, but Wee and I had already scheduled his first adventure: a plane ride.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

We made one last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers like Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye to Wee too. Wee’s mom Echo also came along to say bon voyage to her youngest and smallest pup. Then it was time for Terri.

I doubt I could ever be a breeder. Letting puppies go over and over would be impossible for me. Because this pup in particular had worried Terri for weeks, it was especially hard for her to let him go. Is there ever love without worry though? I doubt it. Terri’s tears tugged at me, and I found myself wanting to ease any additional lost sleep.

“I’ll keep you updated. He’ll have a Facebook page as soon as we decide on his Colorado name.”

Wee at the airport.

Wee at the airport.

And just like that, the Wee pup became Mr. Explorer Extraordinaire. Terri helped me tuck him into the carrier, which would fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Never would the Wee pup ever fly in cargo. I might have been more demanding on this point than Terri.

The first flight was short and uneventful. I expected some whimpering, but Wee had perfect manners. We arrived in Philadelphia and made our way through a crowded airport. Wee was a star everywhere. He was attracting so much attention that my good friend Jennifer, who goes by “Ifer,” couldn’t miss us. She’d been consulting in Philly that week. We collapsed into each other’s arms with hugs and girlie exclamations over Wee.

“Are you headed to or from Boulder?”

“To.”

On his way to becoming Scout, The Explorer Extraordinaire

On his way to becoming Scout, the most lovable Explorer Extraordinaire

After realizing we were on the same flight, Ifer hurried with me to check-in and upgrade her seat. I’d splurged in Pennsylvania at the airport for Wee’s first big plane flight to be extra special and we were flying business class. It paid off. The flight attendant not only kept Ifer and me giddy with red wine, but also instigated us to take Wee out of his crate for the entire flight. He wiggled around my lap and gave everyone kisses, something he still does today.

I don’t remember how we decided to give Wee the name “Scout.” I think I first heard the name when Terri mentioned one of her dogs, who was named Scout. Wee seemed to want to explore everything when he arrived home, so Scout Explorer Extraordinaire seemed a good fit. After we watched “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was sure. Both Jorge and I love to go on adventures and we were hopeful Scout would go with us too.

In the year since he’s been with us, he’s documented all his adventures on his Facebook page, Scout, Explorer Extraordinaire. He never warmed my feet as I’d hoped when I wrote. I suppose those days may be ahead when Mr. Scouty boy mellows a bit and I make the time for the second book about the letters. We’ve had some rough spots where he was sick, once with kennel cough and a few times with things we never did figure out. He destroyed shoelaces (on our running shoes) and offered up a few baseboard corner casualties. Like Sadie’s those repairs will likely be de-prioritized for years. One of the most disappointing was being suspended from herding school. Scout had been doing well, but I’d not worked with him long enough on attention to give him a fair shot. When he bit a goat, Cathy, his handler, suggested he needed “some time.”

Scout did and does, however, accompany Jorge and me all around Boulder getting love and praise for his good behavior. At the post office, he’s allowed to “paws up” to the counter. We send copies of my first book, Running to Thousand Letters, about what happens when I open 100 of the 1,000 letters. He pokes around McGuckin, the local hardware store, for project stuff and obeys “lie down” for treats. He’s taken a few plane rides with us and had lots of training at the Boulder Valley Humane Society. He even goes to work with me now that I’m working in downtown Boulder at a startup. We stop at The Unseen Bean, a coffee shop run by a blind man and his canine helper dog. The Unseen Bean has Scout’s favorite treats and mine too: dirty Bhakti Chai (chai with espresso shots). That’s a treat for both of us as is running up Sunshine Canyon trail for our four-mile mid-day workout.

We still have yet to get Scout on regular long weekend runs with us. First, we have to learn recall together in order to earn his “Green tag,” granted for Boulder dogs, who’ve pass a program for good off-leash behavior. Terri tells me it takes a solid two years to get recall consistently. Scout does pretty well especially if I have the Chuck-It ball Megan sent for his first birthday.

Second, Scout continues to learn that biting our feet while we run is not cool. Both Jorge and I have learned new hopscotch-like foot moves when Scout goes for our shoes instead of running with us. Even so, his longest recorded run was thirty-one miles late this summer. For a few days after that run, every time we’d put our shoes on, he’d self-crate himself. I suspect we overdid him that day. It seems four-to-six miles is his preferred, non-meltdown distance.

The Wee pup’s story has a happy ending. From twelve-and-a-half pounds at the airport when we left, he’s now a healthy thirty-five pounds. Wee became Scout who is a classic Boulder dog, growing up outside and playing in the mountains. He asked for a GPS watch for Christmas. You can follow how that works out for him at facebook.com/explorerscout.