Soul dogs – or “heart dogs” as many people call them – are few and far between, even among those of us who surround ourselves with dogs. I have been fortunate to have two of them, both working champions, best friends, constant companions…
Sebboh, my first heart-dog, was adopted when I graduated from college. A shepherd-lab mix with a touch of husky, she was my constant companion, traveling with me everywhere I went between my home in Santa Barbara and my friends and family, dispersed across California. She was the dog that led me to discover agility and flyball in 1992, and brought me into the world of professional dog training that same year. I even traveled with her to South America for a year, to live in Chile on a work assignment. Without her I’m certain that I would not have made all the wonderful friends I still have in Chile as well as throughout California. In addition to agility and flyball, Sebboh and I worked with an organization offering pet assisted therapy, and she enriched many more lives as we visited nursing homes and hospitals across Santa Barbara.
After I lost Sebboh at the ripe age of 12 years, I thought I’d never have another such dog and promised myself that I’d never love another dog as much. Boy was I mistaken! Along came Claire, a lovely blue merle border collie pup, in the year after losing Sebboh. Claire is very different from Sebboh, yet in many ways, much the same. A much higher energy and faster dog, Claire forced me to actually learn how to handle a dog in agility! No longer would it suffice to just be the runner that I am to keep up with my dog along a course! I had to learn to front cross, rear cross, threadle… not to mention manage to do all of these things ON TIME! It was a challenge, but we managed it together.
Claire was a fantastic flyball dog as well. Earning her FGDCh (Grand Champion) she anchored many teams and loved to run fast just for the sake of running. Many a time in her early career, she would re-run herself even if we didn’t have an early pass, just because she loved it so much. Over the years, she became more consistent and continued to love it.
Like Sebboh, Claire is a fantastic running partner, too. I’ve been a runner since I was 12 years old, and have always loved running with my dogs.
Claire is nearly 13 years old now, so I understand that she is getting up there in age, but we have continued to practice flyball and agility, and only recently did I decide to start running her at lower jump heights in the preferred category in agility to make things easier for her. She was still enjoying all the sports.
Unfortunately, last week, as we were preparing for our morning run, I suddenly noticed that Claire was having a hard time standing and keeping her balance. An emergency veterinary visit resulted in a diagnosis of Geriatric Vestibular Syndrome. We are very fortunate that it’s an extremely mild case, manifesting as mild dizziness and ataxia. The prognosis is very good for a complete or mostly complete recovery. But it is doubtful that she will return to actually competing in sports. That is the most difficult part for me to come to terms with: losing what may be the best sports and working partner that I’ve ever had.
Retirement should be fun and happy, but for a working dog, this can be challenging. She will need things to do in order to remain sane, so I’ll bring her back to agility classes to keep her mind working. I also hope to be able to start running with her again at some point, but we’ll see how that goes. I will miss having her by my side as much as I do, but I will do all that I can to help her retirement be as enjoyable as it could possibly be. I think that my friend/student said it best in an email note:
“Her sporting legacy carries on in all the people & dogs she’s been a role model for in your classes!”
I continue to give thanks that her prognosis is good, and in spite of her forced retirement, I look forward to several more great and fun years with my “curly girl” Claire.