by Doranna and the Blue Hound Beagles
When this blog topic came up, I immediately thought about my first agility dog: Jean-Luc Picardigan, the boy no one ever thought could or would compete, due to his birth-related brain-injured strangeness.
Then I thought about Belle Cardigan, whose loss still seems so recent I could reach out and touch it. She wasn’t supposed to run again after her non-agility injury and partial paralysis at the age of five, either.
Well, in spite of his clumsiness, autism, and the very firm grasp of gravity on his solid little body, Jean-Luc ended up titling through his open classes in multiple agility venues. And Belle took a spot as #2 Lifetime Preferred Cardigan when she was awarded her grandfathered PACH title, in spite a trialing schedule that can only charitably be called “light.”
And then there’s ConneryBeagle.
And there’s me.
Thanks to vaccination-triggered immune issues, Connery had barely reached the age of three before his trusted vet and I opened quality of life discussions. And me…my life has been a merry-go-round of doctors doing more harm than good, and a recent diagnosis of long-term Lyme disease. (Whether it is or not is almost moot at this point.)
So screw aging (she says genteelly), and the all the big decisions and accommodations we make as it inevitably happens to us or our dogs. Because most of us, whether we think about it or not, practice those kinds of decisions all along the way.
Agility turned Jean-Luc from a gawkward, clumsy boy incapable of responding to any sensory input–a dog who at two and a half years old had no facial expressions, body or tail language–into a dog who could grin and wag and flip his ears around and interact.
But Jean-Luc wouldn’t have reveled in the complexity of Excellent classes. And so I retired him after his Open titles to continue playing in practice, which he loved so much that it was one of the very last things I did with him.
He was only seven when I retired him, but it was time. Agility competition changed his life so that he had a life, but when the balance of joy to not enough joy tipped over, then it was time.
At the time Belle was injured, I caught it very early due to her active training. Even so, her situation progressed so quickly enough so she was partially paralyzed before the correct diagnosis was made. But she came back from rehab stronger than anyone expected, and we all realized that she was better off in careful training than as a weak and vulnerable marshmallow. So…she ran.
Not that she didn’t have flares; she was in rehab as often as she was on full activity. Oh, man, did I agonize over making the right choices for her! I pulled her from more trials than I ran her in–but she wailed (loudly) at the injustice when she wasn’t allowed to practice with the other dogs. She wanted. And meanwhile I never made assumptions that there would be another trial, so each run had a sort of bittersweet uber-awareness to it.
Eventually, as Belle came eleven, the balance tipped and I made the decision I had been practicing for all those years–with only 100 points left to her PACH2. It wasn’t a difficult decision to make, but boy, was it hard.
(If the AKC had grandfathered those doggone placement multipliers and given her the same points & scoring received by all the regular class dogs all those years, she would have been pushing PACH3. Not that I’m bitter about this or anything, but that’s another blog…or not.)
As for Connery…new meds and routines finally stabilized him. More or less. His issues are ongoing, and so atypical that the obvious choice has usually been the wrong choice for him. He’s paid a price for that–including two consecutive injuries caused by a drug that shouldn’t have had a systemic effect at all.
Along the way he’s inspired a fund-raising anthology, and he’s spent most of his life reporting his adventures on LiveJournal, Twitter, or FaceBook. (He’s been quiescent lately, but not because either of us wants it that way. Just…life.)
Connery: Facebook friends are BAWHSOME!
But between his hospitalizations and his illnesses and his injuries, he’s still become the second most titled breed champion Beagle on record (as far as anyone’s been able to determine). Of all the things he does, he loves agility the best. He’s known around here for his joyful song of self–at the start line, at the finish line, and at key obstacles in between.
So as of this fall, at nine years old, he’s back in the game (and off the meds that made him so vulnerable). As with Belle, I know things could change at any time. But for now, I manage his issues, I keep him strong and limber, and I watch his joy.
As for me…trials and training requires an exacting balance between what this Lyme body needs to keep going and what becomes too much for it. Friends ask, “Isn’t that too much for you?” And I say, “Yes. But if I don’t do it, it’s worse.” The dogs give me something to focus on, goals to strive for, and reasons to stay fit and active. During the bad times, I slack off or cancel trials. I never make assumptions. I weigh the costs against the joy.
So I figure when it comes to the decisions to be made around aging, no matter how you look at it, I’ve got plenty of practice.
Bet I’m not the only one.
I also figure there’s no need to make a big deal of it–I’ll just do what I always do, which is to make the decisions that seem right.
Really, whether it’s about the dogs or the people, it’s all about the balance of joy. Start there, and you can’t go wrong. So when it’s Dart Beagle’s turn (at three and a half, not for a while I hope!), or Rena Beagle’s (five), I hope the right thing comes obviously and easily. And I’m making sure they have lots of things they love, so when agility isn’t an option, they can still go tracking…or play in obedience…or maybe turn to therapy work. Because in the end, the Now is preparing us for the Then. We just have to listen.
Shoot, I bet I was supposed to write about changing training routines for older dogs or something. ;>