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Alpha Rising
"Durgin has a remarkable gift for inventing unusual characters doing incredible things."

DogPlay ~ Connery

CH MACH2 Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven CD RE XF EAC EJC CGC:
The Heart of Dog

ConneryThe Heart of Dog Connery is the quintessential Beagle, a clown who is also possessed by moments of astonishing singlemindedness. He has a FaceBook Page where he chronicles his puzzlements about the human world.

During 2007, Connery ranked in the top ten Beagles nationally in obedience, rally, and agility.

These past eight months, he's faced an idiopathic erosive sinus inflammation which--when he tracks, or plays, or bikes, or runs agility--leaves him wheezing, choking, and stuck in spastic "snorking." Without a constant stream of painkillers, he has terrible headaches and spends his time in a miserable little Beagle ball.

So I need to do something for my dog kid. This story collection will, I hope, help me come through for him.


Learn more about The Heart of Dog Story Collection--now available

weave polesnew agility leashcuddlingagility tireshow-off

ConneryHere's the thing about Connery. All his running and titling have been done In Spite Of.

Connery was six months old when his allergies manifested, and conventional treatments couldn't control the atypical inflammation or the itching--or stop the crises. After his second major episode in doggy ICU, I headed the three hours to the nearest specialist.

Connery's allergy test results were profound beyond the specialist's significant experience. We immediately started him on Atopica (an $$immuno-suppressant$$). A special serum was created in the hopes that injections would diminish his allergies. He also started with frequent mini-baths and twice weekly bedding changes, and then went through many raw food diets, grain-free uber-foods, and supplements.

By the next spring, however, he was worse, and after several additional crises, I pulled the serum treatments. The vets were startled when he improved; that's not the way it's supposed to work. Typically atypical. At this point, my vet expressed some surprise that Connery was still alive at all. He tried hard to prepare me for the inevitable.

All the while, Connery was running for me, rising to the challenge on his good days. And he did, once the serum was pulled, finish his breed championship with a string of high majors, very much aware that while he was in the ring, it was all about him.

Along the way, unfortunately, he was also attacked by a Mastiff who broke loose at a hotel and charged some distance to reach us. Connery evaded huge snapping jaws by a millimeter--an image I will always see in my mind's eye, crystal clear. I snatched him up, and then I waited to go down, too. The dog's owner got control at the last minute and marched away without comment or apology.

So now my little guy was fighting both allergies and fears. It took about a year and lots of work to calm the fears--and during this time we realized that for whatever reason, he was also subject to horrifying retrobulbar infections (a specific closed sinus space). Over time I became really good at diagnosing these before they turned volcanic--and over time it became obvious that whatever he's dealing with, it's subtle, and it's also tangled with some undefined autoimmune factor.

He still stayed in the national breed rankings in agility. He still ran for me. He still did as he's always done, which is to interrupt my writing with a paw resting on my leg--a demand for training time. We worked it out around his difficult days.

Or we did, until a loose, huge black wolf-hybrid mix came after us in the dark at a hotel. Did not even see it coming...

(You may now picture me holding Connery over my head, screaming for help and frantically circling to keep the wolf-dog from getting a direct approach.)

Luckily, we already had a good foundation for dealing with fears; Connery seemed to recover fairly well.

And then a month later, a Giant Schnauzer broke away from its handler and charged over extensive open ground to take us both down. Connery had soft-tissue and shoulder injuries that took a year to heal and are still vulnerable; my wrist took four months. The AKC did nothing, in spite of my many phone calls to National HQ.

And Connery was done.

He got an ulcer. He got a sinus infection that defied official diagnoses. (One vet called me neurotic for insisting there was a problem. She was wrong.) He was so sick and so fearful that he couldn't withstand the sight of a strange man, the sound of rain falling in a gutter, the flutter of paper in the wind. None of these things had ever hurt him, but he had learned well that his world wasn't safe. He couldn't accept human reassurance any longer, and withdrew from me.

I started looking for help. I learned about target dogs, which were outside my experience. Connery is a beta boy; he wasn't posturing to these attacking dogs, as so many people suggested--he never even saw them coming. But some dogs are indeed natural targets. With him, is it because of his allergies? Dogs can smell cancer; they can detect seizures and diabetic crashes. I have no doubt they can smell allergies. I'll never know, I guess.

I found trainers with vague suggestions, all of which I was already doing. I found one nationally renowned trainer who told me I should just get another dog. And I finally found a key, through a kind reader whom I hope is seeing this: Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed games. After several months of that work, I also found a (then) local trainer who would help me desensitize Connery to situations that I couldn't confidently handle on my own.

Connery wasn't the only one left with fears and trauma, you see.

Eighteen months after that attack, Connery began to find his joy again. Two years after that final attack, he earned his MACH (the ultimate agility title). He was the 20th Beagle ever to do so, and he's just now earned his MACH2, a process much interrupted by my crazy-making need to move two years in a row.

So, things aren't perfect.
He came out of that last attack with easily-triggered stress behaviors, and I heavily manage and protect his environment in ways both subtle and obvious. A hundred dog owners will never know how I broke their dogs' challenging eye contact, and many of them don't notice, as they pass, that I've not only quietly put myself between our dogs, I've literally pushed eagerly lunging dogs away from us.

Connery is somehow, when his health allows it, again a joyful dog, bursting with BAWH.

CH MACH2 Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven CD RE XF EAC EJC CGC:

  • Breed Champion
  • Master Agility Champion (WHEEEE!)
  • Companion Dog (novice obedience)
  • Rally Excellent
  • Excellent FAST (AKC agility game)
  • Exellent Agility Certificate (NADAC agility)
  • Excellent Jumpers Certificate (NADAC agility)
  • AKC Canine Good Citizen
  • and a tracking/versatility title within reach...

ConneryBut there's still at least one health crisis a year. And as of this writing, he's spent the last five months struggling with upper airway inflammation and massive headaches. We've cleared up an infection, but left the symptoms. We've tried all the low-key and non-invasive remedies, and yet every day, he chokes, sneezes, and backwards-wheezes. Without medication that he can't tolerate for much longer, he has miserable headaches. He's worn out; every fun thing he does turns his head inside out.

As important as treating this problem is knowing what it is. Because immuno-suppressants keep Connery alive...but they mean that his immune system is severely compromised. If this is a lurking infection, it's got to be treated before it becomes much more. If it's a growth, then...we need to plan a kind and gentle way to move forward before he starts back on Atopica in April.

I've always worried that I wouldn't be able to meet his needs, and we are. He needs testing; I'm at the long end of a long string of publisher delays: late payments and contract slow-downs that push the next income further and further out regardless of my work delivery schedule. So I'm offering The Heart of Dog collection, the proceeds of which will provide the procedure--and follow-up--to help us understand what's going on with his health.

Besides, of course, what I already know is in there--his incredibly honest, joyful, bursting-with-heart little personality. Just a dog, like any dog...except that he's mine, and after all he's been through, I can't quit on him now.


Learn more about The Heart of Dog Story Collection