Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Fragile Circle

It's summer time, and with it have come some exciting new additions and changes that I can't wait to write about and share.  However, I've been pretty silent here for a few weeks because I know that part of sharing the new adventures also means addressing a pretty big elephant in the room that I just haven't wanted to write about.

Within the span of four months this winter and spring, Lowell and I said good-bye to our first two dogs, Jade and Tristan.  Jade was 16 years old.  Tristan was 14 1/2.  We were blessed to have so much time with both of them, and their passings came at the end of a period of decline, so they were not a surprise.  We knew it was likely to be a rough winter.  That knowledge didn't make it any easier though.

Jade 11/28/99 - 12/23/15

Jade was our first dog, and I always say he changed our lives.  We adopted him as soon as we closed on our first condo, and brought him home the day after we moved in.  He was 11 months old, and we assume he was a lab/shepherd mix.  Behaviorally he was one of the most easy-going, stable, friendly dogs you would ever meet.  He had energy and drive to burn though, so we signed up for a basic manners class.  We were lucky to find a positive-reinforcement based trainer even back then who was not phased when Jade came bursting into class practically bouncing off the walls in excitement.  She walked over to us with some cheese, immediately got him working, smiled and told us what a cool dog he was and how much fun we were going to have with him.  She was right, and yet, how different a path it might have been if, like so many owners I have met since, she had condemned him for how unruly he was and kicked him out of class.  I remember her and her kindness every time someone walks into our classes now with an adolescent dog on overdrive.

She encouraged us to take agility classes, and helped us locate a flyball team, and dog sports and training rapidly became our obsession and took over our lives.  Every day became a new adventure for us and Jade - every day we looked for new ways to have fun with him.  The people, dogs, and experiences that road brought us to we owe all to Jade.

Jade excelled at flyball.  His fastest times were 3.9 seconds, and his turn on the box was amazing for a dog his size.  He was retired after achieving his Flyball Grand Champion award, and he is still currently ranked 36th in top point earning labs in NAFA.

Jade slowed down a bit when he was diagnosed with laryngeal paralysis and he had a unilaterial tieback surgery when he was 11 years old, which greatly improved his quality of life for the next several years.  He gave us a few scares in those last few years, as a side effect of the surgery makes dogs prone to aspiration pneumonia, which he acquired at least once.  He always bounced back, until on December 23, 2015, when his body simply had just worn out after such a long, full life.

Tristan 8/13/01 - 4/9/16

About ten months after adopting Jade, as we were getting actively involved in flyball and agility, our flyball captain showed us a 10-week old tricolor Border Collie pup when we visited her at an agility trial.  We took him home to spend the night with us, and while we fell in love immediately, I had cold feet.  Could we take on a second dog so soon?  I loved BCs and had wanted one ever since growing up with my aunt's collie, but knew all the warnings about what a challenging, intelligent high energy breed they are.  I felt we shouldn't get in over our heads, and let him go back to his breeder with our flyball friends the next day.  Lowell disagreed with the decision, and after I broke down sobbing taking down the spare crate that the pup had spent the night in, I came to my senses too and made some phone calls.  Two days later I drove to Canada to pick up Tristan.

Tristan was never really a puppy - he was wise from the time he was born.  I trusted him completely.  He was totally reliable off leash, never failed to come when called, was friendly and accepting of every human he met, and he could diffuse any situation and any interaction with other dogs.  To this day, I've never seen a dog more savvy and with better body language with other dogs than Tristan had (and in fact, several photos of him appear in a popular dog body language handbook).

Unfortunately, Tristan's life all too frequently was painful.  He had TPLO surgery for a partially torn ACL when he was less than 2 years old.  He struggled with ongoing back, neck, and shoulder problems throughout his life.  Through it all he remained incredibly stoic and tough, and he never gave up.  With diet, supplements, physical therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care, we kept him going, and it wasn't until just a few months before his passing that his activity became significantly limited.  His flyball career was short, but he managed to compete in agility for several years, even earning placements in CPE Nationals two years in a row as a veteran.

However, on April 9, 2016, Tristan woke up in too much pain.  His kidneys had also been failing, he was increasingly incontinent and uncomfortable, his vision and hearing were poor, and he was often confused, so that afternoon we helped him be free from any more suffering.

There's so much to say about those two, the dogs of our early adulthood, the dogs who started everything - but I still just can't.  But since I can finally look at them, I want to share two of the last pictures taken of them.

This is Jade on the night he fell ill for the last time.  We were sure that he was not going to make it through the night, so Lowell, Tempo, and I spent the night on the living room floor with him, my hand resting on his chest constantly to see if he was still breathing.  He survived the night, and woke up actually feeling somewhat improved, and we ended up having two more full days with him before it was clear he was just too weak to bounce back this time.

A couple weeks before Tristan passed, we were set to attend ClickerExpo.  We had rented a house outside town so that all the dogs could come, but we weren't sure whether we should go.  In the end, we went, and though it probably was physically hard for T at times, I think he enjoyed it.  Our friends and housemates for the weekend, Samantha and Catherine, gave him lots of attention, and he had one last adventure with us.  For our parts, we were a bit frazzled throughout the conference, knowing that our dog was dying, and we opted to miss a lot of the conference as we ran back to the house to care for and be with him.  It was all worth it.  This photo was taken on my phone by Sam on the last night we were there.  I was pretty numb thinking about facing another death so soon after Jade's, but Sam knew I would need to remember this last special trip, and grabbed my phone and took pictures of him.  I am so grateful she did.

Take pictures of your dogs.  Even/especially when they are old.  We know we want to remember them in their prime, in their youth, but you will want to remember their full life cycle too - the grey muzzles, the cloudy eyes, the sweet wise gaze.  Be grateful that you get to experience that stage with them because it is beautiful.  Enjoy every part of their lives, because they are never long enough.

I'll end with a quote I read the night after Jade passed, which expresses everything I've learned in the last six months:

"We who choose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan." 
-Irving Townsend