Orchid Done Good

I spent the long weekend driving back and forth to Bloomsburg for dog shows. I competed with my four year old chocolate Labrador, Orchid. Orchid 14962778_1152827224772372_4635243253736648011_nand I have spent much of the last year campaigning for her championship in conformation (sort of the beauty queen class). While she is getting closer to completion for that, we have to wait it out for larger entries to secure the higher points that she needs. Meanwhile, I decided to return her to the ring in Rally Obedience.

Rally Obedience is venue of competition that explores the communication between handler and dog. Unlike traditional Obedience competition, a rally handler is allowed to talk to her dog and use whatever hand signals or words of encouragement needed to perform. The goal is to perform somewhere around fifteen challenges in a pattern set up with numbered signs. It can be anything from going over a jump, to dropping down while heeling, to turning either direction in place while in heel position, etc. Judging is based on completing all the required performances at each sign in proper sequence and correct manner. In case of a tied score, each dog is timed through the pattern.

Orchid has been a good rally competitor at the lower levels. She even received an invite to go to a special AKC event in St Louis. We didn’t go, but it was nice to be invited. In Bloomsburg, we entered the Rally Excellent division three days in a row. If all went well, I was hoping she would earn her RE title at the end of the weekend.

Everyday found us ringside with me fighting ring nerves studying the course prior to our turn. Orchid on the other hand, spent much of the time in 14937419_1151539564901138_966779222975650512_nmental preparation for the ring by laying on her back asking for belly rubs from spectators. Orchid came through each time she went in the ring, mastering the difficult courses with no issues. I guess that belly rub prep paid off! She won her class each day and earned her RE title. I could tell she was tired today. She came home this afternoon for a well deserved rest.

Training Bling


I admit it. I have not been working with my six month old Labrador puppy, Bling, as I intended to. It has been a busy summer. She went to puppy class as do every one of my puppies. She knows the basics, sit, walk on a leash, stand, etc. But, I had planned early on to have her ready to compete in September. It’s not going to happen.

But even though she has not advanced  to the level I had in mind, it certainly is not her fault. It takes time and effort to get there. But what she is, at this point, is delightful. She is happy, loving and a bit obnoxious in a puppy kind of way. I was just out gardening with her loose in the yard. She was a bit too far away for my comfort, so I called her. She stopped, looked, and broke out in a flat out run to come to me. I have to say, that response brings me so much joy.

About a month ago, I was gardening with Bling  sniffing around. When I weed, I stand in the garden and toss the weeds out to be cleaned up later. Well, I was busy tossing weeds behind me, one after another until I happen to glance over my shoulder. There was Bling, sitting with a mouthful of the weeds I had thrown back. She is a retriever. And she has a very good natural retrieve.  I was laughing as she was so serious that she had done her job of gathering the material thrown and carefully brought it back to me. Of course, I had to take a picture.

Honestly, I am not worried that she is not ahead of the curve with her training. She does not have to be a puppy prodigy. We’ll get the job done in time. My first goal is to keep her happy and healthy.

Weekend With Orchid

2 years

photo of Orchid by RoxAnn Franklin

This was a busy weekend with Orchid. At over three and a half years of age, Orchid is becoming a beautiful, gentle dog with her own special personality. Yesterday, Orchid and I went to Fun Field Day with the Keystone Labrador Retriever Club. It was a lovely day: a great day to spend with friends and the dogs we all love.

The day started off well. Orchid and I went up for our turn at the land retrieve. Orchid has very good manners, waiting quietly until the “gun” blasts and she is sent to retrieve the bird. She did well on running out to get the duck and coming right back and delivering it to my hand. Good job, Orchid. Repeat. I was very happy with her performance.

She had another practice session on the land retrieves before the focus moved to the water. Last time we practiced at this location, she had not liked the edges of this particular pond. It’s very muddy and soft. Again, we went to our spot. The gun went off, the bird thrown and I sent her to retrieve. Well, that didn’t go well. She started out, objected to the mud and turned around to come back. I tried again. She then decided to trot on the pond bank to see if she could find a better spot. Not ideal, but, it was something. There was no spot that met her expectations, so she turns and thought it might be time to head back to the car. So, I trotted after her and caught her by the collar and led her back to the pond. At that point, I decided I really needed to convince her to go in. I refuse to be harsh. She is a good dog and deserves kindness. So, we both went in. I immediately sunk to my knees in the smelly, nasty mud. That was all it took. She swam out and successfully completed her retrieve. I miraculously made it out of the pond, very glad no one had a camera.

I wish I could say it was all smooth sailing after that. It wasn’t. I continued to have to convince her to go in the water for several more tries. She made improvements for sure. My pride was damaged, my shoes and jeans were soaked, but we got through it and I try to remember that dogs are not robots. They have their likes and dislikes and she did everything else I asked her to do that day.

Today was a different activity. It was a Rally Obedience competition. It was Orchid’s first try at a Rally Excellent course. I always get apprehensive, sure that we did not train often enough or hard enough. I need not have been worried. Orchid was amazing, going through the tough course with ease. Many of the dogs before her had gotten distracted, but she was right on target going through the pattern of obstacles. She won her class! I am always proud of my dogs. In this case, I was also a bit proud of myself for making the right decision at the pond to work WITH my dog and not use aversive methods to make her do my bidding. In the long run, it paid off; I got her in the pond and I still had a trusting, happy dog to show the following day.

Crinkle’s Last Day

I’ve blogged so many times about Crinkle that I expect that any time someone will comment : “enough!” But, here is one last one.

His remaining time is very limited. A piece of my heart will go with him. He is dying. I need to make a decision soon to help him leave this world. I plan to dig his grave in a short while. It will be where his body goes while his spirit helps me recover, thinking about the sweet memories of the forty-four months he has been with me.

I even had a consult with a pet psychic this morning. I don’t know how much I believe in that, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt. She told me he was uncomfortable and very sleepy. He was thirsty and hungry, which makes sense as he is having trouble swallowing. She also told me that he is devoted to me. I knew that. I didn’t need a psychic to tell me that.

Among other comments, the psychic told me he had a person once before in an apartment or connected houses. He went home one day and there was no one home; they had moved and left him behind. He remembers being very hungry and eating grass. He believes he is seventeen years old.

I need to make this decision soon. No pet owner wants their pet to waste away. It is just so hard.

Crinkle’s Final Chapter

Crinkle is my red tabby rescue cat that I’ve had for three and a half years now. He has been the subject of several previous blogs. When he was found, he was starving, maggot infested and not expected to live. He struggled to survive for several months. He became an integral part of my household. He gained weight, then gained too much weight. It didn’t take him long to worm his way into my heart. Actually, it was pretty much an instantaneous process.

Crinkle has had a good life here. He sleeps where he wants, eats when he wants, has no fleas, maggots, or other parasites. He gets along famously with the other pets. Many of the other cats love him. S’More and Jigsaw seek him out to cuddle with. My RagaMuffin kittens discover him and he becomes the wise, old, loving uncle they can depend on.

I’ve known from the beginning that Crinkle’s time with me was limited. He was an old cat when rescued. He has had some health challenges along the way, all addressed to keep him happy and comfortable. A little over three months ago he was not eating well. I was worried. He wasn’t grooming himself. He just seemed “off”. I took him to the hospital for blood work, prepared for the worst, It appeared he had an infection; after a course of antibiotics, he was much better.

But recently, I realized, he never really recovered completely. He was still not grooming. While he had not lost weight, he just didn’t seem to be himself. He did not seek out attention as he used to. His ears have been a chronic problem since his rescue. I thought maybe they were causing him pain. I was considering having major surgery done to relieve the pain. I took him to the hospital, performed X-rays on his middle ear and repeated the blood work that had been done ninety days prior.

This time, the blood work results were bad. Really bad. Crinkle has cancer. He has leukemia. His days are numbered now. I am choosing to treat him palliatively with medication to help him feel better. I want him to spend his final days in comfort, knowing he is loved. And then, one day, when I cannot provide him with the comfort he deserves, it will be time to make the decision to allow him a peaceful end. I dread that day.


Competing With Pets

After years of competing with horses, then dogs, and now cats, one thing I have come to believe is that the animals need to enjoy it. They do not have a say in sending in the entries. They have no say in what class they will be in. This is not to say that they will love every minute of it, but it should be a time of bonding, expression of quality training, and fun for all concerned. The older I get, the more important this is to me.

Since my current hobbies involve dogs and cats, that is what I deal with in competition. It is obvious with dogs when they don’t enjoy the ring. I have had dogs in the past that did not. I worked with them and tried to make it fun, but in the end, I had to concede that it just “wasn’t their bag”. I have had dogs that love field work and those that don’t. There is a part of me that feels like a failure if my dog isn’t enjoying the endeavor that I chose. I feel like my preparation must be at fault. And, that may be the case. It may also be that that dog simply doesn’t like whatever I had planned. Can I make the dog perform? Yes, I can. But, more importantly, why?  The time I spend with my dogs at competitions should be fun. I don’t make a living at this. I want it to be a constructive time with my pet and friends that share the passion.7 months

Nowhere is it more obvious than at a cat show if an animal is not enjoying the competition. While it is normal for a cat, dog, or even a person to be a bit nervous at something new, generally, most beings get used to the novel atmosphere with time and positive exposure. Cats can become more comfortable using treats, play toys, and time. Lots of cats do. While it may be disappointing to have a stunning cat that does not enjoy showing, the best thing to do is let the kitty stay home. It is important to keep the experience joyful. That may mean protecting the pet from scary things like loud noises and strange people.

For competitive people like me, accepting limitations set by our animal’s personality is a hard but necessary step. How can I enjoy myself if the sentient being I have chosen to be a part of my life is miserable? The answer is, I can’t. So, I try to make the experience as pleasant as possible for the cat or dog, but have to accept it that isn’t possible.


Update On My Rescue Cats

I realized recently that two anniversaries have gone by without notice. One is my adoption of Sprinkles and Praline and the other is the addition of Crinkle to the family. All are doing well. They are joyful, well loved members of my household.

Over four years ago, Sprinkles and Praline were rescued from a campground as small kittens with their injured mommy ( see Happy Birthday Praline and Sprinkles). I already had plenty cats, but I just couldn’t resist. They were adorable and have grown up into wonderful cats. Yes, Sprinkles still licks my right ear lobe. If she ever stops, I think I will be sad.

And then there is Crinkle. Crinkle, the subject of a number of my blogs ( see Crinkle, the Cat that Stole My Heart), has seated himself firmly in my heart. He is no beauty; his looks tell of his hard life. But, he has a dignity and contentment that is unequalled. I look at him and just melt. After his return to health, he became, uh, let’s just say, chubby. Well, he is now not quite as chubby, so progress has been made.

I think anyone who has rescued a pet from less than ideal circumstances knows what it is like to see them healthy and happy. The bond with these animals doesn’t fade. I knew I did not need any more cats when these kitties walked into my life, but I am certainly glad they made the journey.

Sparkle, My Heart Dog

It’s been over nine years since I lost Sparkle. She was only three years old when she was killed by a car on my road. I cry every time I think about it. The guilt has stayed with me. I think it always will.

Sparkle was my keeper puppy out of my first show dog, Ruby. From the beginning, she was special. She was an amazing athlete with the will to work her heart out. She was great in the field, retrieving with accuracy, speed, and joy. She earned her Junior Hunter title with no problem. She also earned her CD in obedience.

Sparkle was wound like an eight day clock. I always said if I had placed her in a family home, she would have been returned. She was enthusiastic, but also very sensitive. She did everything with gusto. When learning how to drop on a recall  (an obedience exercise where the handler calls the dog to come and then asks the dog to lay down about halfway), she would actually drop so hard she would slide on the ground like she was stealing home base.000_0045

She was a serious retriever. One time, when doing field work on a particularly cold day, my field partner threw a bumper near a partially frozen pond. I made the mistake of sending Sparkle for the retrieve before waiting for the bumper to land. The bumper, landing on the edge of the pond, proceeded to slide on the ice out to the middle. I knew I had a problem. Sparkle has not yet learned handling skills to stop her on a retrieve and I knew she wouldn’t come back without the bumper. Seriously, I could picture that I was going to have to swim out to get her back. Or maybe convince my training partner to make the swim. She didn’t hesitate, going out on the ice, breaking through, swimming, finally reaching the bumper and making the return trip. Training was done for the day. I knew she would never give up.

Her one nemesis was Barney, the barn cat. Barney, a subject of a previous blog, would terrorize Sparkle. At one point he jumped the poor dog as she went through a covered agility tunnel (it’s like a long blanket that lays on the ground that the dog runs through). Barney continued his attack after Sparkle made it out of the fabric. It was awful! Poor Sparkle would never again train if Barney was in sight.

Sparkle was an overachiever. She taught herself to bring me slippers every morning. She was also a talker. I never had a Lab before or since that would talk like she did. It was a game for us.

When Sparkle died, my heart was broken. I wish I could do it over. She would be an old dog now with a lot of gray. She was already turning gray. I wish she had had the chance to grow old. It is one of my biggest regrets in life. She may never have been a champion in the conformation ring, but she was the champion of my heart.

The End of the Road is Near

Every pet owner knows that one day, their pet will be old and it will be time to let go. I am facing that now with three of my old cats. Kinky, Truffles, and Basil are 15-17 years old. Until recently two of the three have been doing very well for their age. It is clear now that all three are  running out of time with me. All three cats came to me as kittens at different times needing a home. I knew when I took them in that if I was lucky, they would all live to a ripe old age and I would suffer a lot of loss in a short amount of time. I have been thinking about it for a while now, as Truffles has had a slow decline over the past year. There is no cure for old age. Bodies wear out. I am grateful for the time we have had. I am glad I gave them a loving home; they were never hungry, cold, or scared.

Kinky is the oldest. Clearly, from the beginning, Kinky was special. Named for the prominent kink in her tail, Kinky was never known for her intelligence. OK, Kinky was not the sharpest tool in the shed. But, she made up for it with her delightful disposition. She always got on well with other cats, absolutely loved the dogs, and was social with people. One time my neighbor called to tell me Kinky had been at her back door asking to come in. When she opened the door, apparently Kinky realized it was the wrong house and ran home. What Kinky has been most noted for was her tendency to let puppies maul her. Kinky loved puppies so much that she would get in the middle of a pack and allow them to play tug of war with her fuzzy body. The puppies thought this was great fun. I’m not sure what Kinky thought as she would sadly meow until I rescued her. And then promptly return to the pups! This happened with every litter. Nowadays, Kinky has the muscle loss of age. It is harder for her to jump on the couch. She has aged considerably in the last few months.

Truffles is the second oldest. A beautiful long haired calico, she was a shelter kitten that came to my house as a tiny kitten. She suffered terrible diarrhea as a baby. Her beauty was surpassed only by her odor. As she aged and her diarrhea resolved, she was my sweetheart. An indoor-outdoor cat, she would always take her place near my head on my bed at night. Now infirm and blind, she prefers to be ON my head. For quite a while I have known that she was failing. Each morning I look at her and wonder if today is the day.

Basil is the youngest of the three. But, he is still old. He has been losing weight for some time now. His bloodwork is good, but clearly his body is wearing out. He had a tooth extracted last fall that was causing him pain. At least I know I can keep him comfortable. That is my obligation. While Basil enjoys a good rub down, he has never been Mr Easy Going. I am pretty sure the other cats refer to him as Uncle Grumpy. A black cat with long hair, he needs help from me to keep his coat in shape. Honestly, he was never into grooming. I think he felt it was a waste of his time.

I dread waiting for the inevitable. I ask myself if I will have the strength to make the decision to euthanize if they are suffering. Clearly, I have to. It won’t be easy. They have given me a gift in sharing my life all these years. I owe them comfort and peace at the end.

So Long to a Friend

Today was a day I knew would come. It was the day every pet person knows is inevitable. I put Shimmer to sleep. Those that visit Schuylkill Veterinary Hospital may remember Shimmer as the older chocolate Labrador that hung out at the front desk until recently. She’s been failing, so had to stay home of late.

I got Shimmer as a puppy from a breeder in New Hampshire. From the first, she was special. She was as laid back as they come. I called her the comatose dog. A frequent comment people have made to me over the years is that all chocolate Labs are hyper or crazy. One meeting with Shimmer had those people eating their words. Shimmer was to be a show dog. She just didn’t have it in her. At one show, the judge told me I had to work on her show presence. I thought she had done well by not collapsing and rolling on to her back!

Willcare’s Shimmering Gem passed her health clearances and produced two large litters. She was a wonderful mother. She is famous at my hospital for starting her first delivery during office hours. It wasn’t expected, There was none of the preamble to labor, she just started spitting puppies out!. I quickly finished up and took her home.

That wasn’t the only thing Shimmer was famous for at the hospital. Shimmer was a gooser. She took great joy in making people jump when she nosed them from behind. Team members at least knew what was happening; visitors were often surprised.

Shimmer’s favorite position was on her back with her lips so relaxed her teeth showed. Everyone in the office would just step over her. Shimmer definitely made a lot of friends in her life, both people and other dogs. She brought joy to all who knew her. Her temperament was amazing.

Shimmer's favorite pose!

Shimmer’s favorite pose!

After Shimmer’s retirement, she went to live with hospital team member Margaret. Margaret had recently lost her beloved dog and needed a new friend. They became an amazing pair. Shimmer continued to come to work regularly and put in hard days of laying on her back or leaning against the wall. A couple of years ago, Shimmer fell and hurt her rear leg. She needed two surgeries at the specialty hospital to get her back on her feet. Surgeries on a geriatric dog can really take the starch out of them. Her mobility was limited, so she didn’t make it to work much after that. More recently, she developed another health issue and lost her battle today. She would have been 13 years old in 6 days.

Margaret and I shed a lot of tears today. We lost a special friend. One thing is for sure: there will never be another Shimmer.