Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hawksmoor Glory

Six months later, Glory was born. To a different mother, from a different line, but there is no doubt in my mind, that within her is the spirit of all those who went before, Addie, Piper and Vixen. It seemed fitting to name one of Meadow’s girls “Glory”. It was a name I had always loved and it had been part of Piper’s registered name.
I wonder, when I chose the names for that litter, how I would have known that she was the one to be named Glory, not her sister, who I named Caroline. I cannot imagine her as Caroline. Glory is, in every way, a piece of who my other girls were, especially Vixen. She is so like Vixen, in looks and behavior, that I often catch myself calling her by that name. Ironically, I have had friends who knew Vixen, do the same.
She is a girl who needs a job. She is always busy. Her antics fill my mind with plenty of “Glory Stories” and she is frequently the subject of my dog writing. Instead of muddy streams, there are vegetable gardens and apple trees. She jumps and leaps with ease and often we refer to her as a ‘Houdini’, as she can disappear in a flash. One minute she is within sight and the next she is gone.
The first time she disappeared was frightening. I was rushing to get dogs fed and then outdoors. I needed to be at dog training by 6pm and as I rounded everyone up and called them in I counted, one, two, three, four, five. Six? Seven? No puppies in sight! Frantically, I raced about the yard, my feet soon drenched from the wet grass, my hair plastered to my face from the combination of the fine mist and sweat. As I shouted for them, the fear in my voice became more and more evident. My heart was pounding, as I raced from one edge of the yard to another. All I could think of was that they had somehow gotten under the wire fence along the busy road at the top of our driveway. It seemed impossible that they could have disappeared so quickly. I had visions of two puppies, in the road or lost through the woods with no tags or collars. Hysteria overcame all sane thoughts as I screamed for the others to get to the house. I grabbed my car keys and prepared to expand my search. I took one last desperate glance. My eyes scanned the field beyond the split rail fence dividing our property from the farmer’s. In the distance, I saw two black specks, bounding through the tall grass, heading towards me. One in the lead, the other following, creating a vision from The Incredible Journey. It all played in slow motion as I moved in their direction, arms outstretched, yelling “good puppies”, “come, come”! My relief turned to gratefulness but a small part of me wanted to grab their necks and drag them straight to their crates.

That was over 2 years ago and I still call both girls my puppies. But it is Glory who has the drive. It is Glory who has a mind of her own, setting her agenda, yet still wanting to please. When everyone else brings out their soft toys, Glory will bring them in. But she also makes sure she is last coming in. Just in case there is a chance to have one last play. She claims the best spot on the leather couch to watch tv. Not just animal shows but anything of interest. She notices reflections in the skylight at night and stands her ground. No fence can keep her out of the vegetable garden when the tomatoes are ripe. And when the apples are ready for picking, she doesn’t even wait for them to drop.

Each time I witness this spirit, I know who she is. I know that she will run like the wind, and perform the way Vixen did. When I work with her in agility, I see that same drive, that same enthusiasm. She is all that the others were and more. Her eyes are intense, as she watches me, and I know in my heart what she is telling me.

Glory “I am here. I never left. I am your forever dog.”

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hawksmoor Vixen RN NAJ CL-2

The Forever Dog #3

It was on Valentine’s Day, 2001 that a litter of 12 lab puppies was born to “Wyla”. In April, Kate, my co-owner and breeder of Lisle and Bounty, called to say she had a girl that needed a job. And that is how Vixen came to me. Kate had named her Vixen and at the time I thought the name Vixen didn’t seem to fit. But as the days turned to weeks, I quickly realized how fitting it was. Kate had been right. She did need a job! Her energy and level of determination was evident from the beginning. Just as those free spirits before her, Addie and Piper, she challenged me in every way.
She wasn’t a cuddly little puppy. She never was patient about waiting and would make this kind of howling screech like nothing I had ever heard, if she was excluded from what the rest of the girls were doing. She would race away from me at every chance to play in muddy streams and would jump into the pool uninvited. She found ways to elude me even there, since she learned to leap unto the pool rafts and float about at her leisure.
By 3 months she was proving her agility potential by jumping and leaping from stone walls and steps. As soon as I wasn’t watching, she dug holes in the yard, in my gardens, anywhere she could. The wastebasket trash, as with Addie and Piper, was never safe with her. And like the ‘girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead; ‘When she good, she was very, very good but when she was bad, she was horrid’.
A genuine Labrador character, loving people and other dogs and she quickly became the joy of my life. Her enthusiasm to perform was unsurpassed and so the first time I ran with Vixen, I knew that she would be an incredible agility dog. A dog that I could be a partner with and that I would form a special bond with. She ran like the wind, and she ran not just for me but for the sheer joy of the ‘job’. Even at practice she could barely wait her turn while another dog was running a course. She would whine and even howl, trembling with impatience. I will never forget one of those training sessions. While another dog was setting up, waiting for his owner’s signal to begin, I had inadvertently dropped her leash. As the other dog’s owner said, “Go!” Vixen bolted from my side and in a flash, was over the first jump and up the A-frame, leaving the other dog wondering what had just happened to his turn. It was this very spirit that made me want to run with her.

In October, 2005, I entered agility in the AKC Labrador Nationals in Rhode Island. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime to perform with other Labs, even in a novice class. Even through the relentless rain those two days of showing, her energy caught the attention of spectators and competitors. One of them came up to me after we had finished the jumper’s course and asked what her line was and if I had ever bred her. I had not planned to breed Vixen. I had Bounty’s daughter Meadow who was my next choice to breed. But something changed for me during that show, not just the fact that someone had asked if I had ever bred her, but the feeling that I needed to have a piece of who she was continue on. I bred Vixen in November, after the Nationals, and 9 puppies were born January 6. One of them, my James, who is nothing like his mother, is my connection to what I once had with her.
Like those who came before, her life was too short. The following November, just one year after deciding to breed her, just one year after the Nationals, an amazingly energetic and fit girl was diagnosed with final stage liver failure. She was only 5. She was jumping on the vet on Monday and by Saturday she was gone. Knowing that I would never run with her again, witness her zest for life, my tears have never stopped flowing. She had touched the lives of those who knew her but more than that, she had changed my life forever.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Scrimshaw Tunes of Glory "Piper"

The Forever Dog #2
Piper, was all of what Addie had been and more. Molly, our chocolate Lab was two when I drove to Merideth to bring Piper home. A sweet, adorable bundle who soon earned the nickname of ‘Hyper Piper’, because she was just that. If you turned your back, she was into something. Crates became a way of life again.
I believe that sometimes, those special spirits return to teach us yet another lesson. This was true of Piper. She was a happy, free spirit, who never stopped moving. She jumped on visitors, dug holes in the yard, and ate toilet tissue and Kleenex ( to the point that I began putting the bathroom wastebaskets into the tub so she could not get to them).
When she was still a puppy, she fell into our pool and although Labs instinctively swim, she panicked when she could not find her way to solid ground. Frantically she kept scrambling at the pool’s edge and by the time I pulled her flailing body out of the water, she was shaking. Unfortunately, her shaking was not from fright or cold. At four months, she was having her first seizure. It was the beginning of a lifetime of health issues that would challenge me and change her life. I was familiar with dog seizures. Ironically, Addie had had seizures too.
Still, her free spirit was delightful. For as many times as she was in trouble, there were just as many times that she brought joy to our lives. And when I look back on those troublesome times, now they make me laugh.
One Christmas, a 5 lb tray of fudge disappeared off the kitchen counter. At first, I blamed my sons. I was horrified when I realized that it was Piper, not the boys, who had eaten all that chocolate. Immediately, I called the vet. Chocolate can be lethal! But for all of Piper’s health issues, she apparently was able to handle 5 lbs of fudge. Then there was the time when she found the sparrow’s nest in the bush by the pool. Before I was able to stop her, 3 baby birds became her dinner.
Over time, her seizures became more frequent and increased in intensity. I read all I could about seizures in dogs. I tried vitamins, herbs, and homeopathic treatments, in hopes that something might make a difference. Reluctantly, I resorted to Phenobarbital, an anti-seizure medication that often effectively controls seizures. Her seizures never completely stopped. It was heartbreaking to watch as she would search for me when she sensed a seizure coming on.

As if the seizures weren’t enough, when she was 5, she was diagnosed with PRA(progressive retinol atrophy), an eye disease that can be hereditary in Labs, although there had been no known history of it in her line. Her eyesight gradually became worse and eventually she was completely blind. Still that didn’t stop her. She navigated the house quite well, never bumping into objects, continuing to make her way up and down stairs, outdoors, and even into the car. She stuck close to Molly as though she was her personal Seeing Eye dog.
When she was about 8, the pressure began building up behind her one eye and the vet put her on medication to reduce the swelling. It was July and the boys were vacationing in NC with friends, when I made the call to tell them I was putting Piper down. Steve begged me to wait until they got home but I couldn’t. The whole side of her head had become swollen. I had made an appointment for an ultrasound after the weekend but we never made it. She began turning in circles and became disoriented.
I sat sobbing in the vet’s office, determined that I would be with her until the end. I would not do the same as I had for Addie. I was getting my chance to do it right. I held her head in my lap and watched her slip away from me. I never imagined how many more times I would see this girl again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Forever Dog: Memoirs of 'what was then, what is now and what remains the same'

This is the first of several memoirs about the special dogs that have touched and continue to change my life. Although all of the dogs in my life are special, the dogs in these memoirs, have something in common. These dogs have a commonality, something in each of them that continues to be reborn, a sameness of spirit that makes them different from the rest.


Addie with John, (1981)

She hip hopped into our lives when she was 5 months old. I recall the day my friend telephoned me.
“Dr. Nasmith has a 5 month old female Golden that needs a home.”
We were young with no children, but we did already have one Golden, Moses, who was from a litter that our friend’s father had bred. Why didn’t I find it odd that this vet was deciding to find a home for her? At the time, I was focused on how wonderful it would be for Moses to have the companionship of another dog. We soon realized that Moses really did not care about running and playing with another dog. I guess he did enjoy having another dog around but he was a people dog, and he lived to chase a tennis ball or a Frisbee. When he was not playing with us, he would keep his nose to the ground and spend hours roaming his fenced yard, marking his territory. None of that changed with Addie’s arrival.

Before Addie, I had never crated a dog. Crating seemed to be something that breeders did, and was not necessary for a family dog. But it was a necessity with Addie. Each day, I would return home from teaching, and find something else destroyed. Moses would greet me at the door, and Addie would be running the other way. It was as if he understood he had nothing to feel guilty about. Addie, on the other hand, would be heading in the opposite direction.
The day I arrived home to find the Philodendron plant uprooted from its pot, dirt strewn across every inch of the kitchen floor was the last straw. Many plants are poisonous to dogs and the oils from the leaves had turned her tongue completely black. Still, I was determined to find a solution that did not involve crating her, so I gated her in what I thought to be a safe part of the basement. She ate the fiberglass insulation.
When I think back to the mistakes I made with Addie, I realize how much I have learned about dog behavior and how much I continue to learn. I feel very guilty about how we handled many of the situations with Addie. I thought she was a ‘bad’ dog. But I now know there are no ‘bad’ dogs, just ‘bad’ owners and I guess, not realizing it at the time, I was one of them. Just when I think that I know everything, I find that there is so much more I do not know. I cannot imagine not using crates to keep a dog safe now.
She was only 7 when she developed an inoperable tumor in her chest. Her stomach appeared strangely bloated and when I brought her to the vet, he didn’t say much, but I could tell by the look on his face, the news was not good.
“I think you should bring her to Angel Memorial. I don't have the equipment here to make a diagnosis."

It was an emotional ride down to Boston, just Addie and I in the car. But the ride back was even worse. I have these vivid memories of finding my way to Angel Memorial, walking through the door and the receptionist immediately making me my own personal charge card. That’s when the dollar signs pop into your head and you know people come here with their pets for serious treatments. I left with a hefty bill, and a dog that had a few months to live.
For all that she had put us through; she had always been a happy, sweet girl and the injustice of her bad luck, made me feel even guiltier. Those last couple of months, it was hard to watch her stoically lay near our bed, thumping her tail, letting me know that she trusted whatever I asked of her. Each night, I would lay listening as her breathing became more labored and she gasped for air. The tumor was literally choking her to death.
Why is it that our pets cannot simply slip quietly away, in the middle of the night? I have always struggled with when I must make that decision to end a pet’s life. That final day, I don’t remember well, but what I will never forget is passing her leash to the vet and walking away. I just turned and walked away. It was not that I didn’t care. I just couldn’t handle making that one last decision. I should have stayed, I should have been there for her at the end, but I turned and walked away.