Yep, we had our big once-a-year local Variable Surface Tracking test on Sunday. Beautiful weather, for sure–the best I’ve ever had for a test. The best photos do not include me, because I wore a hat all day so no thanks, but the Beagle boyz are the important ones anyway!
Connery was track five of six and Dart was track six, so we watched the first tracks and then waited for Connery’s turn in the quiet of a parking lot distant from the test “home base.” The tracks are laid all over a large campus.
After the tracks are run, the handlers and the club and the tracklayers meet up at the “home base” parking for a tailgate lunch. We all talk about what went wrong and right and say nice things about each other’s dogs, talk about other tracks we’ve run and what we plan in the future. Fun, right?
However, neither of the boys passed. None of us did! It’s okay. This test has a 6% pass rate and on this particular day, most of the dogs didn’t get very far.
Connery was one of those. He had a very difficult start (an obedience class had lingered extensively on top of his starting yardage). He had a good idea where the track went and pondered it hard, but in the end was too concerned about the circumstances; he turned away to an area he hoped would be correct. Oops! But we finished the track with the tracklayer and wow–once he got back on the track, he never missed a step. It was an amazing job, and I was so proud of him! Good boy!
Dart’s starting yardage went through two giant transformers at the corner of a building after winding through trees. Note! If you’re ever running–or writing about running!–from tracking dogs and you want to muddle the scent, try this. The scent whirls around and pools in the craziest ways. Boy does it!
But! Dart pushed through it to…
A grassy area full of ACORNS.
OMG, ACORNS! NOM NOM NOM ACORNS!
We circled and circled and-and-AND finally got out of them and there were BERRIES! OMG BERRIES!
(…I invite you to picture the thought balloon over my head…)
So we circled and circled and I could tell Dart knew the track was there, but just couldn’t overcome the NOM NOM NOM. Eventually I out-persisted him and we dashed across a busy street during a clear moment where I have never been so glad to see an article! Yay!! We got back on track for a while and then…
We spilled out in the middle of the busiest area of the campus, all hard surface. (In fact, the same area we tracked in my Best Laid Plans blog!)
Dart was already obviously tired from the Ordeal of the Nuts and Berries. We muddled along, making good progress but eventually shifting parallel to the track (which I know now, but didn’t then). The next corner turned away from us, which we’d made terribly difficult by being parallel off the other side. As Dart was hunting it, a loud skateboard went past with the rider being pulled by an interested-in-the-small-dog husky and the owner shouting “LEAVE IT, LEAVE IT!”
Dart looked hard after that but as a team we were fried and just couldn’t sort it out.
But, OH! We were SO close to the end… And I am very, very pleased with him for persisting through the Nuts and Berries, the terribly loud and busy surrounds, and the natural difficulties of a hard track. Good dog!
Weirdly, it was after all this that things got truly difficult. (I know, right?)
After Dart’s track I returned to the parking lot where I’d been dropped off. Bummer, no one there! Turns out the other of us had been told to I would finish up near main base. But no one told me, and the track didn’t actually end near home base, and I didn’t have a phone because I was stripped down (so to speak!) for tracking. Awesome, right? Fortunately someone else there did, a spectating friend who was on his way home.
That actually wouldn’t have been that big a deal, except that when we got back to main base, it was…
Yes. Everyone had left. Eventually the spectating friend recalled a vague mention of a not-very-nearby restaurant instead of the tailgate lunch. Attempted phone contact was unsuccessful.
And strangely, while I was utterly delighted with Connery’s failed track and very proud of what Dart and I had worked through, this situation came as a fierce blow. The circumstances hadn’t been deliberate, of course, but the experience of it from here? “You failed, your ride has been directed to the other end of campus, we’re all gone…have fun with that!”
We eventually decided to try the restaurant so I could get the track maps (which are supposed to be presented at the end of the event). I ran in, grabbed them, and fled.
The thing is, I hurt. I just can’t fathom being left out in this way. And yet…I’m really sensitive to this kind of hurt, and I know this about myself.
I don’t actually have any wise conclusions, nor have I yet come to grips with this particular lesson. Really, I’m just in search of answers. Trying to honor what I feel but not entirely sure what I ought to be feeling in the first place. And trying to hold onto the pride I had in the boys and the work we did today, because that should be the most important thing, right?
*insert wise conclusion in this space*
*seriously. right here in this space.*
All’s well that ends well? Or more likely it’s better to reach far and not quite make it, than to sit back and not try.
Oh, I’m not worried about the test results. I mean, yes–if we’d passed it would have been amazing and awesome. But I can see our progression from our last effort, and that’s wonderful, too!
That sucks, that being ignored/forgotten/abandoned/left out. Seriously sucks. The feelings you express are–to my mind–perfectly reasonable. I have had that sort of thing happen to me, but have also accidentally (so I know a distracted person can do it accidentally) done it to others. (I counted–we had the right number in the group, I thought. But the group had been enlarged by two, and I hadn’t known that, so when I had the bright idea of using the beautiful day and grassy lawn for our meeting…two people were left out. And understandably upset. And so was the organizer. ) I’m sorry you had that two deal with.
The trick will be telling the group in a way that doesn’t make them defensive but does educate them and give them a concrete way to avoid this. Whatever their intentions, there are missing links in their event organization, and those links can be–and should be–repaired.
“No dog left behind” is a good phrase to start with, in communicating with the group. Since dogs and handlers are routinely tired at the end of a track (and more so the person who’s running two dogs) transportation to the main meeting place should always be provided, and the person responsible for that should have a map and a full list of all the dogs (and people) involved. Particular care should be taken that the last to run, and anyone who is not familiar with the entire site, are met and picked up.
But the control chain starts back at the starting point/meeting place. Someone has to be in charge of running this thing and that person is the primary contact for sorting out problems. He or she must have a cellphone on his/her person (turned on) at all times…and should not leave that location until all dogs and handlers have arrived back there, and received their track maps. Communications from the end point of each track and the HQ should be checked prior to the start. That person should also be informed of any change of plans by other participants and enforce the “no dog left behind” philosophy. The ends of all tracks should have an end-of-track person assigned and in place when a dog starts that track–also provided with a cellphone. Thus at the finish, there’s someone who can communicate with HQ, and that someone either has transport or (given the vagaries of parking when using urban spaces) can call it in.
Although your emotional feelings absolutely matter, and make perfect sense, it may be that the better approach to the group concentrates on the dogs’ and handlers’ tiredness. That not everyone at every tracking event will be thoroughly familiar with the entire area over which the track is laid, and that changes in meet-up plans can (obviously) leave some people out if there’s not an effort made to ensure that all have been notified. That although handlers may take a cellphone along, but (as you found when trying to contact those in the restaurant) cellphones don’t work everywhere in cities..they should not assume that every handler has a cellphone, that it’s able to connect everywhere, and that they’re able to receive calls everywhere.
Oh, there are so many things that could have been done to prevent this, no doubt about it. A simple announcement in the morning briefing about the plans, for instance…
I agree completely with all of your solutions. They wouldn’t be hard to implement, either. I don’t think I’ll discuss it with the group. I don’t feel strong enough/balanced enough about this to be the one who gets it fixed (this happened in a backdrop of difficulties/stress/intensity on the home front).
On a personal level, I’m sure I’ll take precautions in the future, probably involving my own cell phone and certain very specific questions during briefing.
Totally understand the “not feeling strong/balanced enough” in the context of other stresses in your life. Wishing you health and feeling better in all areas.
I’m commenting to myself! Over on Facebook, a friend said, “What you have is the emotional equivalent of “the bends”….instead of a gradual decompression of the stress of the test, you hit two more stressors (“no one here..what do I do?” and “No one HERE either?!!”).”
That feels like a perfect summary to me, and helps me understand why the situation hit so hard.
And that deep down inside nerdy geeky kid who never got picked for anything wonders why why why. Yeah, this still happens to me!
Oh, Gawd yes. Exactly so. “Did you not even notice my presence/lack of presence?”
You know that whole “don’t take it personally” thing? Well don’t. Sounds like a weird, messed up with lots of mixed messages for all involved. But,. like you, I would have been very hurt!
It definitely wasn’t personal or deliberate. Just very had to deal with!
I’m glad you and the boys had success and you should be proud of your achievements. Hold on to that! But to be dropped off without verifying that it was the correct spot… simple enough to discover when there were no people actually there to meet/pick you up is just inexcusable. Then to have the group change locations without waiting for the last competitors to get to the real meet up point without sending someone out to actually find you?? At such a large campus???
(Insert intense outrage here).
I help with my club’s tracking tests and while we aren’t the best organized, we have drivers assigned to all teams. I was sent out to check on a team once as they hadn’t returned. When I got to them they were just finishing up. We don’t hold the awards until all the teams are back, even when no one passes. I can’t imagine doing the recognition ceremony at the end without making sure two of the competitors were there (you were 5 & 6 after all)!
I really understand the way you are feeling. I was always an outsider growing up and I’m still hyper-sensitive to being left out, forgotten, etc. I put on a bold front, but it still hurts.
I know you don’t want to be confrontational, but you might consider writing a note to the organizer. Thank them for hosting the trial and how much your pups & you enjoyed the challenges of this trial and the location. Then go on to mention the mix-up at the end. Just the facts. Perhaps suggest, that since it’s such a large campus area, that they give out a map to all competitors that indicates where everyone will meet at the end and also includes a phone number to call if there are problems of ANY sort.
I reading about your adventures and how you overcome obstacles and make everything a positive for your boys.
I love the perspective of how you handle things with your tracking club. 8)
Elizabeth had such good suggestions and yours are good, too. I’m working things through in my head, bit by bit. Thanks!
One factor in the situation is my health. My feet are painful at the best of times and I had already been on them all day. Then, the track with Dart took a very long time–right after Connery’s track!–with intense mental focus the whole time. So I was exhausted when I got back to the parking spot and found the van gone! Never mind what followed. :/