Four Legs

Because of the Covid pandemic (which continues unabated), last year’s Vizsla National was postponed from April to October, so while it was held only a few months ago, it’s already time for this year’s, in Minnesota. And I hear it’s way out west next year, so I’ve been pretending oh, sure I’ll go again this time. Why not? I don’t have anything better going on. Who does?

Besides, Eggi and Fellow and I have been working pretty hard at obedience and agility, going to twice-weekly classes with our trainer who teaches in her backyard when the weather allows and in a classroom above her garage when it doesn’t.  My dogs love the classes, indoors or out, and whether I wear a mask or don’t, they’re used to both by now.

I thought it would be good to do some practice shows locally to get ready for our big trip. I did a couple of conformation days handling my own dogs in the breed ring, and while they know what to do, I understand it like a child playing dress-up, wobbling around in high heels and a party dress that doesn’t fit, miming doing cheers with an imaginary glass of champagne. Eggi was so surprised I was in the breed ring with her she watched the handler next to me. Fellow had the grumpiest judge I’ve ever seen, and I strangely enjoyed watching her find fault with him. No ribbons. Who cares?  They’re both grand champions, and I’m not chasing more breed titles with them.

Now, in the obedience ring, this is where we might stand out. Novice obedience is easy for Eggi, so I felt Eggi and my trips around the ring would be confidence boosters; she and I already have a beginner novice title that we completed last summer in Vermont.  Fellow is younger, less experienced, goofier, and easily excited, so I was hoping I would be able to use my time with Eggi in the ring reinforcing the calm, positive efficient way I need to work with Fellow. I signed up for the two dogs to do two different classes each of the days, Saturday and Sunday, one of obedience and one of rally. I had four numbers to manage between the two dogs, three judges, and three rings over two days. It was for practice. 

We arrived early as one must. The drive had been unremarkable. I had brought a pair of travel crates and a chair which I took inside and set up. I also had to check on and change the classes I entered with Eggi, so I had to find the superintendent to do that first thing. There are A sections and B sections for novice levels; A is for the Novice handlers with no previous titles and B is for Novice handlers with any previous titles but if you read the rules carefully you might come to the conclusion (as I had) that being a beginner and working on your first titles might be reason to put you in the A group, but any title at all puts you in the B group. Anyway, I managed to get myself switched into the correct class, by trying to be polite and apologetic, or maybe they’re used to nitwits like me, begging for mercy. In any event, by doing so, Eggi and I would show in the B group, and we would have to be last to go. 

Walking into the Better Living Center at the Big E, I could tell something was wrong. Like, if you showed up at a high school party, the music was loud and unfamiliar, and you could smell something burning, a couple of kids looked like they were already puking, and all before you even made it inside. The Better Living Center was crowded (13 rings), and it was loud. And it wasn’t fun and happy loud; it was tense loud. Eggi stopped to smell every pillar like it had just been peed on. Fellow turned to me and just barked in my face.

It was too crowded. It was too loud loud. There was a puddle of pee by the obedience and rally rings that I watched dry slowly over two days, turning from a wet puddle to a sheet of thin, faintly yellow crystallized urine. No one came and cleaned it up. The first dog to go in Eggi’s novice obedience class stepped 15 feet into the ring, stopped, squatted, and took a dump. His handler picked it up, the ring steward rushed over and dabbed at the spot with a couple of squirts of hand sanitizer (yes, hand sanitizer), and the judge moved the cones for the figure 8 away from the place where it had happened. This pair was disqualified for pooping in the ring. 

When Eggi and I entered the ring, the judge commented that mine was the third vizsla in the class. I replied that one of them was Eggi’s grandmother. The judge may or may not have said anything else. In retrospect, I think she may have tried to say something nice to set me at ease, which was hard to do, and became increasingly more difficult as we moved through the ring, because from that moment onward I’m pretty sure I misunderstood most of what she said, at least at first.

Eggi had her good moments, and a few, unexpected moments of sightseeing. Her automatic sit while heeling was absent. She came when called but finished herself and never presented herself in front of me. It was a bit like showing a dog that already had a novice title but I did not know how to handle. Nevertheless, we got a qualifying score, and were called back for the group long sit and down.

And that might have gone ok had the judge not lined us up so that one dog had to sit in the spot where the disqualified dog had pooped earlier. And of course, one dog was instructed to sit there, and it was mine. The sitting actually went ok. But for the down stay, which lasts a minute, Eggi started by hinted to me that there might be a problem when she lay down diagonally away from me rather than straight. And after about 35 seconds I could see that she was thinking about doing something with one hip. Was she going to roll onto one side? That would be ok. But, no. At 45 seconds she popped up into a beautiful square sit, with a satisfied smirk on her face. She surveyed the other, obedient dogs, all good, lying down dogs for the full minute, Eggi clearly thinking, “All y’all are doing down stay on the dog dooky floor mat like a bunch dog dooky chumps.”

So we were disqualified. With 15 seconds to go. No score. No qualifying leg towards her title. Not the confidence booster I was sure it would be.

Fellow’s turn was pretty typical for him. He was boisterous, bumping into me on the heel work and popping up whenever I returned to him, costing us a qualifying score as well. 

Then we took a couple trips around the rally ring, which is the miniature golf of obedience. It was reasonably fun, as I believe it is intended to be. You go in the ring and follow the signs. Both dogs had qualifying legs.   And then we went home, ran around the yard and ate ramen

The next day, all the obedience judges traded places. Fellow’s ring worked very efficiently that morning, so I showed him first. He kept himself together better, and bumped into me less. The judge told me twice how beautiful he was and asked about his breeding. He had a qualifying score, and that was his second beginner novice leg so when he shows at the Vizsla National he could possibly finish his title.

Eggi and I had practiced everything she’d had trouble with the day before, so I went in feeling confident it would go ok. Alas, the sightseeing during off-leash heeling was even worse on Sunday. The overall noise level was less, but a work crew arrived during our turn and started dismantling the ring next to us. When I left Eggi to do the recall (where the dog sits and stays and the handler crosses to the other side of the ring and calls the dog on the signal of the judge), there was a tremendous crashing noise behind her. Eggi did not get up, but she did turn her head to look, and she did not turn back to look at me. The judge signaled. I was in a situation I had never practiced: my dog was not even looking at me. Normally, I say, “come!” brightly and clearly. Some people say their dog’s name and then “come.” I decided, given that she was looking out of the ring, that I would say, “Eggi! Come!” as loudly (and brightly and clearly) as I could manage. So I did.

Slowly, she turned her head towards me. She sat, still stuck to the spot where I had told her to stay. She had stayed through a loud crashing noise. She had been extremely good, hadn’t she. Had I just said her name? What were we doing? Still she sat. 

I called again: “Come.”

She came. But we did not have a qualifying score. Again.

Did I sit in my chair and cry while I watched the work crew who ruined my obedience competition roll up the mats and take the ring away? Yes.

Wasn’t this supposed to be practice? Wasn’t Eggi actually very good, under very hard circumstances? Isn’t this just a dog show? Yes, yes, and yes.

Did I go and learn the miniature golf rally course and stick around and do that with both dogs? Also, yes.

Fellow was first of my two goes in rally. I like to get those rally courses over with, so we marched through it very efficiently, and on our way out the judge said Thank you, which is kind of weird because usually they tell you if you qualified or not. But I thought we nailed it. Whatever. It’s only practice.

So I put Fellow in his box and grabbed Eggi out of hers and got her walking around warming up and I saw someone getting ready to go in the ring ahead of us who was practicing a specific sign, the 5th one, which was down your dog, walk around them, and proceed, and I’m thinking….wait….I didn’t dooooo that

But what did I just do? because I did the whole thing so fast I didn’t even remember… 

I grabbed my map just to make sure, and oh boy, howdy, I just skipped it? Or made something up? Or had him sit instead of down? I still don’t know.

Anyway, Eggi did do that sign correctly, but Fellow never did. So Eggi had a qualifying rally leg that day, but Fellow didn’t. Which means that she, too, could perhaps finish a novice rally title at the Vizsla National. 

But the goal of going is to enjoy it. We leave in the morning.

Sick as a Dog

It felt like Tuesday (it was Thursday), and I saw my shadow, so I thought I should sit outside (it rained and snowed) and enjoy the (brief moments of) sunshine but the dog came in and just opened his trap and puked as if only to remind me that though he was sicker before and now he was a bit better (so much better, really). But really, he could take another turn for the worse. At any minute.

When we hit the middle of February, our Captain reached the age of 14 1/2, and celebrated with some dog tummy trouble. I made the old guy a batch of dog stew (sweet potato and beef), and when he wasn’t better by the time we’d used up the first batch, I took him to the vet.

The vet pulled some blood, gave him some fluids, gave me a pep talk, and sent us home.

Captain rejected the second batch of the same stew. I made a third batch–heroically cancelling Zoom pilates, and rushing to the store as soon as they opened–out of grated white potato and gently simmered chicken breast; he rolled a tiny nugget of chicken over his teeth and pushed it out again, and vomited in my lap.

We made another trip to the vet. A bowl of dog stew fell out of the fridge on me and I wore the splashed pants all day. We added sub-cutaneous fluids, and several medications, one for the sour stomach, one for the nausea, another to coat his esophagus.

More times than I can count, I sat alone in a quiet corner of the house where I could hear none of my husband’s work meetings and cried. I despaired that he seemed to be on his way out.

Eggi and Fellow took turns sleeping next to him, and not because it had been especially cold.

My internet friends like to tell me that Captain is their favorite, and they noticed the absence of Your Daily Captain photos. I posted that he was “not eating,” and had to reply “pancreatitis,” two or ten times, which was as much as I knew. Veterinary medicine makes it possible to do an ultrasound and discover what horrible thing is causing the funky blood levels and vomiting. Or we can guess (that it’s cancer), keep him as comfortable for as long as we can, and when it’s time to let him go, let him go.

There was a day when I could get no food into him and no pills. I settled into the familiar, bitter feeling of how completely shitty the past couple of years have been for me and for everyone, of the losses on top of losses, and of course this was what was going down. I set up Captain’s fluids out of a resigned obligation to him, even though he wouldn’t eat. I accidentally stabbed myself with a used needle and laughed because it hurt like hell, bled everywhere, and I felt like I deserved it.

About an hour later I offered him a bite of chicken and he actually ate it. I fed him a bit more, and even tricked him into taking his meds. The next day, I got more food into him, more meds, and picked up more fluids. He wagged his tail at known visitors. He wanted me to feed him, one bite at a time, so I did.

He rallied. He had a few more good days and a couple of rough nights lately. He sleeps most of the time. Fellow still tries to get a game going.

Today he is still here. I can hear his light snores as he naps on the heating pad. We bought that heating pad for Cherry, who lived to be 15.

Cherry was a fantastic dog who guessed what I wanted, and who, in the way of good bitches, really never put a foot wrong. Sure, she disliked the vet and barked at little girls she was suspicious of. Her passing opened the door for new dogs and new friends and learning new things like agility and obedience. Cherry is always right behind me when I go snowshoeing, perfectly careful not to step on the back of my snowshoes, unless she needs me to see something, or slow down, or think of her.

Participant

October 14, 2021: We go on a long car ride to Virginia where I get to stay in a hotel. Maggie says it is the Vizsla National Specialty Show. Elevators are mysterious, but new toilet water is always worth trying.

October 15, 2021: Agility today. I get measured, officially. I am 22 3/4” so I will get to jump in the 24” novice division. I get loose during my warmup so I can say hi to some new vizslas. When it is our turn to go, Maggie is too slow after fence two and doesn’t tell me about the tunnel, and mis-cues me so I jump the fence before the weave poles backwards, and she needs two tries to get me into the weave poles the right way. Then I don’t want to hold still on the pause table. I run past the A-frame which is huge so I have to come back and climb it from a stand-still instead of running up. Everyone gasps. The teeter lands with a boom and I spring for the last fence. 60 faults, 75 seconds, no qualifying score, no ribbon. I win a fancy towel. Had a great time.

October 16, 2021: New hotel. Hundreds of vizslas here. Obedience and Rally today. Maggie seems tense. I try to be my best good boy. I have some trouble doing a sit in the right spot, but we have qualifying scores in both beginner novice obedience and novice rally, so we even get some ribbons. Had a great time. Watch several hours of HGTV in the hotel room because Maggie won’t let me watch anything with shouting or shooting.

October 17, 2021: Went for a long walk on the eerily empty college campus next to the hotel. Had a great time. Spent several hours selling raffle tickets, which made me whiny. My mother Lucy won best veteran in the sweepstakes class. We ran into Eli and his owner in the dark when I was supposed to pee. I felt like he smelled familiar and Maggie said he is the father of Eggi’s puppy. 

October 18, 2021: Another day selling raffle tickets. Also watching home remodeling shows on TV. Saw some ducks. Had a great time.

October 19, 2021: Got a bath. Went in the show ring with a handler I didn’t know. Got to show with my mother and sister. She got second place for brood bitch. The wait for getting our picture taken was long. Still, had a great time.

October 20, 2021: Today we competed for the breed. We had to line up in catalog order, which Maggie said was numerical order even though the steward corrected her and said it was catalog order. There was such a long line of vizslas that it actually did go on forever. We go in the ring, they check our numbers and we go out again. Then we wait. I go in the ring with the new handler from yesterday and make the first cut. Then there is more waiting. I go in again with a different new handler and make the second cut. Then we wait some more. I go in for the third cut, and do not make it. Don’t care. Had a great time.

Maggie let me go to bed early. She went back to the show and watched Eli win the whole thing, even though he is 12 1/2. She says Eli looked like he was in it to win it. My sister Lolli went best of opposite, which is pretty impressive for being my boring sister. 

They pin the Iron Dog competitors, who did two agility courses, rally, obedience and conformation and had their scores totaled. Maggie did not enter me in two agility classes, only one, so I have a zero in one column and I come in second to last. But I get a participant ribbon.

October 21, 2021: Today is the last day. There is a different judge, and more new handlers and I get cut in the second round. Maggie comes and gets me, thanks the handler and takes me straight outside to pee, and then we go to the car to drive home. I am so very happy to get into the car and I am so tired I sleep on top of the crate pad and not under the crate pad like I sometimes do.

Welping

The first night I spent on the floor outside the whelping box, Eggi thought it was fine—great, even— and spent it next to me, outside of the whelping box, on the dog beds. 

The next night, I did it again, and she was up a number of times, digging. It’s a sign that labor may be coming soon. I dutifully continued taking her temperature, and it did finally drop, and we continued the monitoring every few hours around the clock. 

I was really tired from sleeping on the floor with the dog. Was it Sunday? Or Wednesday?

The puppy’s heart rate was good and strong, but once we passed the due date, it was a little on the low side, and while we could poke at it to try to wake it up, and the heart rate would rise, briefly, and fall again. We all began to be worried. If labor doesn’t progress in a dog, the placenta gets old and the puppy dies. 

It’s not unusual for a singleton puppy to be born via c-section. We had been warned. It’s the puppies that signal the mother to go into labor, I guess. I thought we were ready. We kept in touch with the WhelpWise service, and our reproductive vet, and our regular vet. Everyone had input.

I made a lot of phone calls. I thought about how bitches all over the world get knocked up in the backyard by a neighborhood dog, dig a hole in the soft, dry dirt under the porch, and whelp without so much as anyone even knowing they were even preggers. I thought about the money spent, and the miles traveled, and the people hoping for an Eggi puppy. I thought about the losses of this past month, and of the past couple of years. I really needed this to come out ok.

And then I had to hand Eggi off to a vet tech in the parking lot of a strange emergency hospital in Connecticut. 

And driving home, crying almost every highway mile,  and then, sitting stunned in silence in my kitchen  with my coat still on, alone in my regrets and fears.

And waiting for the call.

The call came quickly enough. Mother and baby were doing fine and would be going home just as soon as Eggi was awake enough to walk out. They didn’t want the baby in the hospital a minute longer than absolutely necessary. When we picked them up, Eggi walked out of the hospital, looking out of it and the baby, a wriggling, kicking boy was carried to the curb in a cardboard coffee bean box with an old towel in it. He was absolutely perfect.

The first night with the new puppy was extra long. Eggi seemed to be in pain from the surgery, and still quite out of it. I knew the clock was ticking for getting colostrum into the lil pupper. She was having a hard time lying down so I had to help, contriving a maneuver where I wrapped my arms around her, forced her back legs to bend and laid her side as swiftly and painlessly as I could. 

All of my memories of learning to nurse came back that night. Dogs that have c-sections don’t always know what’s happened; some refuse to nurse their babies. I stayed with Eggi and held her, supervising and only half awake. I heard the puppy gulping as the milk let down. For a third night. I was sleeping a little here and there on the floor in the laundry room and nodding off in the whelping box. 

As the sky lightened on the morning of the first of September, around 5:30 a.m. Eggi reached for her puppy began licking him intently, and it was like the new software had been downloaded in the night. Here was mother mode: nesting, licking, nursing.

It took a few days for the puppy to start gaining weight. But once he did, he fattened right up. Within hours Eggi could show you where he was if you asked her, “Where’s your baby?”

She had to be walked on leash for short trips only while her incision healed. I found the online support group for people with singleton puppies and made a sling so I could carry the puppy.  There isn’t much to do in the first few weeks, just laundry, and peaceful admiration for a dog who turns out to be a wonderful, attentive mother. I got caught up on some sleep.

WhelpMas Eve

I was counting on Schwartz to be here this coming weekend, and was sure he’d have made himself annoying or useful. Annoying and useful. Or maybe just annoying. 

I still see him in the front hall out of the corner of my eye. I would say that he left this life with unfinished business, but the dogs were my deal, not his, and he couldn’t have given a fart about Eggi having puppies; he never imagined it. He would have liked them, though, I think, in his superior way, and might have made a good tutor, which is what I had in mind.

And anyway, why am I saying “puppies?”

I am getting ahead of myself. 

I am using the WhelpWise service, which was recommended by the reproductive vet. They send a uterine monitor and a doppler and you start using them at least 10 days before the whelp date. You upload the data from the uterine monitor and they call back, providing real feedback on contractions. The service is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They will be there to tell us if labor is progressing, or if it isn’t, and we can check the puppy’s heart rate as we go.

It took me a few days to be ready to open the box, though. Its presence a box on the doorstep felt like a scold: “Look what you’ve gotten yourself into,” it announced. “No going back now.”

We borrowed a whelping box and let the huge box sit in the garage for a couple days while we summoned the energy to set it up. All the coats and shoes (and shoes and boots and boots) had to go somewhere else. And the box needed cleaning. And we had to think about exactly where we wanted to put it. Fellow and the Wizard (who was visiting for the weekend) watched us work, interested. Was it for them? 

Fellow gave it a try. He liked it. What was it for? He didn’t know.

Eggi needed to be lured into the box with treats. I texted my dog trainer. Did we need to feed her in there to get her used to it? I was told not to worry. She’ll use it when the time comes. The Wizard waited about a day to try it out for himself. It was to his satisfaction. 

Suddenly it was definitely time to open the box from WhelpWise, and even read the manual and also watch the instructional video. Then I watched the pertinent bits of the video again.

I tried the doppler myself, and thought ok, I guess I found a puppy, maybe? but it wasn’t until I got the Bacon Provider to watch the video and try it for himself that I felt aha! yes! there it is.

And then, because the Bacon Provider was pretty good at it, we thought we found a second puppy next to the first, and for the rest of that night and most of the following day we were so happy with the news that there were going to be two. Two felt perfect. Not enough to be able to put a puppy into the hands of everyone we know who says they want one, but, still. Two. We were pleased.

Pleased until the appointment the next day with my vet for an X-ray.

Pleased until the vet tech brought Eggi back to the car and said she did great. Pleased until they said, puppy looks good, but there is only one.

So I was back to worrying about one puppy. Puppies need littermates, to get in their way, to play with, to negotiate for resources, to practice being dogs with. Puppies themselves signal to the mother when labor should start. Sometimes singleton puppies don’t signal enough, or get too big and are too hard to deliver. The advice rolled in. “Schedule a c-section,” I was told by too may people. People who know I’m in the care of a top reproductive vet. Out of concern. Out of an abundance of caution.

Now that we are within 5 or 6 days of whelping, we are doing uterine monitoring twice a day, for an hour each session. The best readings come from a bitch who is lying down, so even though there is a harness you can use to strap it on, our routine is to have Eggi lie down on the dog bed. I hold her head and she goes to sleep. And there we stay for 60 minutes.

I am not so good at sitting still for an hour, so I try to prepare, with the KenKens handy, and a pencil. Or some ink and a brush to do the Today is

Captain will go to sleep nearby, and slip into dreams where he twitches all over and softly woofs. Fellow wants to be involved, wants to have a turn, never wants to miss out. 

We had to pretend to ultrasound him. 

Fellow has no experience with puppies, either, although I guess he was one, but anyway maybe he can pick up Schwartz’s unfinished business, being annoying and useful.

Disbelief

I just couldn’t do it yesterday. I might have. I had a couple of train rides, into the city, and then back again. But I was sleepy, and bored, did the KenKens in the paper and the crossword on my phone. So, once again, Thursday, I didn’t get it done.

The pandemic rages on.

The CDC is trying to offer some new advice about mask wearing, having lost so much credibility back in March of 2019 when they said we didn’t need masks. At the time, the Bacon Provider didn’t believe it, he said it was obviously airborne, and he bought a box of N-95s; we still have a few left. Later, some said the guidance was because the previous administration wasn’t prepared to tackle a public health emergency, and there weren’t enough masks to go around. More recently, the CDC issued guidance that vaccinated people could go without masks. Now they are changing their recommendation, but it isn’t clear. When I drove south earlier this month, I saw people clearly happy to go without a mask, because they’d never worn one, and never intended to.

My doctor’s office still requires you to wear a mask. So does the local pharmacy. But sure, Republican congressmen, do a lot of anti-mask stunts, to pander to your base. Make it political. Ok. It’s good for you, and no one else.

Captain, who thinks thunder is going to get him, beds can be made more comfortable by digging, and someday, he will catch the shiny.

I cleared my schedule Thursday to go to the dentist. I picked a train the night before, reset the login for the app you can use to buy tickets. Before I left, I made a haircut appointment for Saturday (the first since November of 2019), and called the vet I hadn’t heard from who was supposed to call me about that ultrasound. It was his day off. I repeated my request to send a report to my vet.

We no longer have annual passes for the parking lot, so I had to pay at the kiosk. The kiosk was just confusing enough that I managed to buy two, one-day parking passes, good for that day, and that day only. As a family with a bunch of little kids approached, I offered them a free parking pass. They were all wearing masks–even the baby in the stroller–and rushed past me without so much as a “No, thank you.” Like I shouldn’t be taking to them.

Once on the platform, I checked the screen for the 11:24 southbound train. It was not listed. I asked a woman sitting on the bench nearby. She said with amused puzzlement that, well, it was listed there just a minute ago. The next train wasn’t for an hour, which would not be in time for the dentist appointment. I would wait on the platform. Either it was coming, or it wasn’t.

An announcement: the 11:21 northbound train will be arriving at 11:31.

No word on the 11:24 southbound, and still no one else seemed alarmed.

When the train arrived, all thoughts gone of it ever not arriving.

Once on board, I had to figure out a seat for myself facing the right way. Half the seats on a MetroNorth train face one way, and the other half face the opposite way. That there are people in this world who can sit and ride a train backwards is almost incomprehensible to me.

Traffic into the city is reported to be back to pre-pandemic levels, but the trains run half-empty. Instead of ads in the train cars, there are posters reminding riders that we are required to wear a mask, we should try to stay six feet apart, and we should wash our hands. At White Plains, a trio of aging bros gets on and stands the whole way into the city. They talk about travel, and snow, and one of them keeps pulling down his mask when he wants to make a point. He pulls it back up when he listens.

Jorts

Because it took us so many days to get home from Eggi’s breeding, it was easy to put it out of our minds. Eggi seemed to be back to herself, certainly. We had a dog show to think about. I had written instructions from my repro vet to seek an ultrasound from a known, reliable veterinary radiologist, and to schedule it for 28 days post-LH surge. I called the office of a different repro vet, who is not as far from Bedhead Hills, thinking he would be a good backup to have in place in case of emergency. He came highly recommended from two of my trusted dog friends.

I made the appointment several weeks in advance, knowing as I did that the practice was very busy. All the vets are very busy now. The day of the appointment I had not slept well the night before, percolating with anxiety dreams. Eggi was hungry, but she was not looking very pregnant to me.

We left for the appointment at the front of the wave of bad rush hour traffic. Pushing along, we hit a slow spot, as cars weaved around some large pieces of tire tread, and I did not see the dead baby bear resting peacefully in the middle of the highway until I was almost on top of it. It looked like it was sleeping on I-84.

Schwartz thinks he is the main character in every story.

We showed up on time for our visit and because of pandemic restrictions there were signs in the parking lot saying to call to check in and stay in your car. So we did. A smiling vet tech who seemed about 14 came out with a clipboard. She pronounced the dog’s name, “Ugly?” and had the procedure wrong,  asked for a credit card and took my dog away. I sat in the hot car trying to steady myself for disappointing news.

When the vet tech returned, she told me the vet would call me, but congratulations, she’s pregnant. “Only one puppy, though,” she added. “Possibly two.”

I texted my husband, and hit the road. Having not met the vet, seen a picture, or been reassured, yes, really, I didn’t believe it. I waited a few days for the promised call, and it never came.

How am I supposed to believe a vet I haven’t met? Who hasn’t called? How do I protect myself from what might be disappointing news, especially now that I’ve had my hopes raised?

Eggi, who believes in cuddles, sometimes thinks the floor is lava, worries about strangers.

The dentist says my teeth look ok. She asks what’s new, and I tell her stories of my dogs, of picking a stud, of doing a breeding in a hotel room, of sitting in hot cars in the parking lots of various vets. She tells me she wants me to write a book. I say I will have to change all the names, to pretend it’s fiction.

I catch the 2:10 back to Bedhead Hills.

When I get back to my car, I discover that someone (or something) has taken a big shit in the narrow space between it and the next car. It seems fresh, or at least the big shiny green flies on it think it is.

Fellow believes that he is missing out on something

Today, my repro vet’s assistant calls to tell me that they received an emailed report about Eggi’s ultrasound, a blank PDF page with no masthead, and two sentence fragments: one stating that they confirmed finding one puppy and another indicating I should get a follow-up x-ray. It was so completely non-standard the assistant wondered if it was even real.

Titled Deed

So, like, back in June when I didn’t know when Eggi was coming into season or anything, I figured that if we were waiting to see if she was pregnant in July, we might enjoy the distraction of a dog show. The thing is, I’ve been doing obedience classes with Eggi once a week since she finished puppy kindergarten, so we were as ready as we were going to ever be. When the entries opened for the Vermont Scenic Circuit, I entered her in the first level of obedience, beginner novice. 

Also who can pass up an excuse to go to Vermont? Not me.

Obedience used to be a popular event to compete in, but there are a lot of different things to do with your dog now (like Rally, Agility, Nose Work, Barn Hunt,  and Dock Diving, just to name a few). 

The dog shows in Tunbridge, Vermont are held in mid-July, and a popular event for the professional handlers, who all camp on the show grounds in their RVs.

There aren’t any hotels nearby, so I went with a dog-friendly Air BnB that was about 25 miles away. 

The drive to Vermont was uneventful, and I would like to nominate the rest stop on I-91 just as you cross into Vermont as the Prettiest Rest Stop on the East Coast.

It was not quite dark when I arrived, and thought I’d eat at a promising restaurant recommended by the Air BnB owner, but my timing was poor and I pulled up just in time to see the last spot appropriate for a large vehicle taken by a car with a bunch of kayaks on a trailer. So I went back to the Air BnB and ate sandwiches and went to bed early.

Thursday we woke up early, ate a quick breakfast, and hit the road. I knew there was no mobile coverage between where we were staying and the dog show, so I had to pick my route and stick with it. The fairgrounds in Tunbridge don’t really seem to have an address; I used the town as my destination and was counting on the dog show judging program for more details; it said that RVs needed to follow the signs due to a low overpass. The navigon offered three routes, and I gave little thought to which I picked, other than it was supposed to be the fastest.

As soon as we turned onto Route 113, I regretted it. There was construction for the next 15 miles, with flaggers, many large construction vehicles, and long stretches of road where they are repaving and have taken the surface down to corrugated pavement or dirt. 

We stopped many times.  I wasn’t in a hurry . We made it eventually.

Once at the dog show, I could see the big breed show tent and row upon row of RVs, but I had no idea where my handler was parked. There is a Parking Authority Person who decides where you park if you’re in an RV, and I guessed she’d know where my handler was, but she was nowhere to be seen. So I drove past her station hoping I’d get lucky on my own. After discovering several dead ends, I threaded my back and waited for the Parking Authority Person. She knew just where my handler was, and as it turned out there was enough room for me to park the White Whale and even stay out of everyone’s way.

Thursday was hot. Fellow’s entry got messed up and so when someone went to his ring to get his number there was no number for him. Annoying. As a result, Fellow did not show and had a very boring weekend.

Eggi and I walked to the obedience ring and watched for a while and got our number. I counted entries and tried to estimate when we would be going. We were the second to last entry in the very last class in the obedience ring, and the judge was methodical. We talked dogs with various people, hung out, walked around, and eventually had our turn. I stopped and talked to the guys setting up the beer garden. They offered me a beer; I said I would wait until after I competed. They took our picture. I promised I’d come back when we were done.

Finally, it was our turn. I was nervous, and Eggi was inquisitive and excited. Every time the judge asked if we were ready, which is the judge’s cue for letting an exhibitor know that they are now about to be judged for the next element, Eggi jumped to her feet. She was ready. Really ready.

So we did not start from sitting in heel position on the heeling pattern, but by the time we halted at the end of the pattern, she sat promptly and looked eagerly at me and I knew that she knew what we were there to do.

We muddled through, with about 15 points of deductions, but ended with a score good enough to qualify for one leg towards our beginner novice obedience title. Not too bad for our first time in the obedience ring at a show, ever.

Celebratory Beer

For dinner we stayed and had hamburgers and brats with the neighbors. I left the dog show and drove back the exact way that I had come, because in the excitement of the long day I had forgotten to look for another route. In reverse, with all the contstruction paused until the next morning, it wasn’t so bad, maybe just a little rumbly for the extra length of dirt road.

Friday, I got up, made myself a sandwich for lunch, and fed the dogs in the car. I forced the navigon to take me a different way. It was easy to pick since there was obviously construction on the other two routes.

Of course, a few short miles into this route revealed construction, and once again the pavement ended and I drove a number of miles on a dirt road. But, there was a covered bridge, and several cute, tiny towns.

At the show, they had saved me a parking spot, and I parked. We had another hot, humid day, with a similar schedule and a lot of waiting to go in the ring. The judge was more efficient, and very kind. I was a bit discombobulated by being cued by someone who wasn’t my normal trainer, so I had to have a couple of do-overs, but Eggi was spot on and this time we won the class. Two legs done in two days.

Saturday, the hot, humid  weather finally broke and we had drizzle, the threat of rain, or rain all day. Bliss! As I told the guy at the smoothie truck, while he made my $6 Mocha Madness, with whipped cream, our water cycle is part of the miracle that sustains life on our planet. He wanted to know what kind of a vehicle a water cycle is. Earth science is cool, kids; you won’t catch me being unhappy about the rain.

Fellow at this point was terribly bored and neglected having spent most of the last three days sitting in his box. I took him for a walk across the fairgrounds to check the progress of my ring, and came to a blocked off road with a piece of yellow caution tape strung across it. As I stepped over I told him to jump it. Now, Fellow knows ‘jump.’ We do agility. He loves to jump. But right at this moment he was not thinking agility, and decided to go under the tape, and I had committed to stepping over, so I fell in the mud in front of a couple hundred dog show spectators. If any of them saw me, I bet they laughed.

At the start of each of the different obedience levels, the judge had a walk-through for competitors (without dogs). Most people parked their cars at that end of the fairgrounds, so they left their dog in a nearby crate and got their instructions from the judge. I handed Eggi’s leash to a different handy stranger each day, and she was relaxed and calm about it. There were many so called pandemic puppies at the show, looking overwhelmed and out of sorts about the change in routine, and all the people, all the dogs, and all the noise. Of course, the pandemic puppies will be fine, in the end, with patience and persistence, but had they the chance to see and do more as puppies, they wouldn’t need to spend so much time on it now, and could move on to more interesting challenges.

Our third time in the show ring, Eggi was flawless. She heeled consistently, sat crisply, and came when called. I made a handler error, telling her to stay one more time than necessary or allowed, and had a four point deduction. We won that class and so have a new title.

The drive home I did not even stop for gas. 

Just One More Errand

Early in the evening between the first breeding and the second, I was sitting in the hotel restaurant eating half of a Kansas City strip steak that I intended to share with the dogs and I jokingly pointed out via text to the Bacon Provider that I could just drive down and see his mom in a quick trip of about 7 hours.

Shortly, we put together a real plan. He would fly down, I could meet him at the airport, and we could drive back together.

I was the big winner, because after driving 900 miles straight through by myself, a second driver made the drive sound easy. Ok, maybe not easy. Easier. So, Friday I did a little shopping (I had left Bedhead Hills without my toiletry bag), packed up my stuff and my sleepy bitch, and checked out. The Bacon Provider’s flight was expected at 9 p.m. in Tampa. 

The question of the trip down to Tampa was Where will We Pee, and the answer was Not Here.

I hit the same trio of delays: traffic, construction, and storms. The storms delayed the Bacon Provider’s flight as well, so in the end, he was an hour and a half late, and I pulled up in front of the airport just as he stepped outside.

From Tampa we hopped down to Sarasota, closer to his mom’s.   We stayed at the Westin, which is next to the Four Seasons, pretends to be almost as nice, and half the price. Currently, the Westin’s rooftop bar is a popular spot, and a sheriff was on the premises, riding the elevator,  both evenings we were there. As Eggi and I looked for something like grass for her to pee on, we witnessed a bar patron berating a parking valet (who barely looked old enough to drive, rattling about in his hotel polo shirt and khaki shorts) for not being willing or able to sell him drugs.

I have been going to Florida irregularly and/or regularly since I was in high school, and some of the nicer parts have been prettied up, so they no longer really look like Florida. The crummy, run-down bits are fewer and probably worse, but the jay-walking guy with no shoes and no belt, holding up his pants with one hand, hopping over some fire ants and disappearing into the bushes by the vacant bait and tackle shop isn’t as sorry a sight as the gently swaying guy in the elevator, cradling a big bag of take-out Red Lobster who smells so strongly of Kahlua you wonder if he’s been bathing in it. 

Despite the catastrophic collapse of a Miami condo, Florida is, at this moment, enjoying a frenzied real estate boom; they’re unmasked, unvaccinated, sunburned, and don’t wanna hear none of your nonsense about climate change, rising seas, ocean acidification, or worsening storms. They want all-cash deals, 20% over asking, and where’s that bartender I need another mojito. It’s ok, though, because it will all be under water by 2061.

It was good to see the Bacon Provider’s mother, anyway. She is dwindling, to be sure, and did not know me, but she said my husband’s name, and laughed some. It seems particularly unfair that someone whose life has been filled with trials, is, at the end, an enormous responsibility to her youngest daughter, who shares the job with a rotating team of carers. We can hope to see her again before the true end. The Bacon Provider hasn’t been able to visit since the pandemic began, and I guess this is another thing returning to normal, if visiting your ailing mother before she goes is ever normal.

For her part, Eggi was pleasant with the nurse, quiet indoors, and discovered lizards in the backyard, and so had a fine experience. To life, Eggi! To life!

We left the next morning hoping to outrun Tropical Storm Elsa, that was swirling into the Gulf of Mexico and preparing to make landfall on our heels.

The day we left Florida was, in fact, the Fourth of July, which is a holiday celebrated by Americans out of doors, with parades, sunburns, barbecues, and fireworks. Any excessive displays of the American flag these days should probably be met with suspicion, and this holiday doubles down with American public drunkenness.

We wanted to stay someplace interesting and break up the next leg before our stop in Virginia, and settled on Charleston, South Carolina, which wasn’t much out of the way. Charleston turns out to be difficult with dogs (there is essentially no grass anywhere in the old, interesting part of town where you might stay). But we had a nice long walk and eventually Eggi peed on a slim handful of weeds growing in an empty gravel church parking lot. 

At dinner a large we were told the hotel restaurant wouldn’t have a table for us at such late notice but in fact we were able to eat early and see a large group of partiers emerge from the elevator where they had been stuck for a good twenty minutes. When the shrieking was over, half left and the other half stayed to get real drunk. 

We soaked our feet and went to bed quite early and did not hear the fireworks at all.

In the morning we hit the road early Eggi even peed in the street like a proper urbanite. As the trip continued, Eggi became more expert with elevators, and could even use the “ding” and the light to predict which doors would open in a bank of elevators. Only once in a week did she try to defend the space from other people getting on.

We hit afternoon traffic coming into DC even though it was a holiday for most people. I guess it was everyone else coming back from the holiday weekend. And, so, another several hour stretch of bumper to bumper stop and go highway miles, and once again it fell during my driving shift. After so many days of this kind of driving, I had a cramp on my right leg. 

Living in Bedhead Hills, which is served by a commuter train to New York City, I can imagine a scenic and relaxing high-speed rail system, with stops in New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, and Tampa. It could even be based on green technology, and on the 4th of July we could toast to our Independence from fossil fuels.

An Errand

Ok, ok, but, like, ok, so, the first person who said anything about puppies was the vet, who, holding Eggi at her first exam, and having exclaimed the she was perfect (which she certainly was) went on to ask if we thought we would ever breed her. She was a baby at that point, and the thought had not crossed my mind, but we’d only had her for a few days at that point. Sure, I’d owned vizslas since the early nineties, and now found myself in possession of my first show dog, but it had always seemed to me that there are plenty of dogs in the world (uh, I guess, you know, there are probably more than enough people, too), and I’d never had a bitch I intended to keep intact indefinitely. Anyway, we went on to show Eggi in the conformation ring, and she finished her championship and her grand championship in a timely and orderly progression. As a matter of doing what one does when one is told to do so (whatever that is), we had her eyes checked and then her elbows and hips and thyroid and heart and at the end of all those tests you send the results to a foundation that gives your dog a number and then you have official approval to breed your dog.

Another vizsla person put it this way: the decision to breed a dog really comes down to whether the dog has something the gene pool needs. There are plenty of other considerations that go into the decision, of course, and I am very grateful to have other breeders and trainers in my life. I have plenty of questions, and I’d rather take in the opinions of people I know and trust over random shit I read on the internet. Even when those opinions differ.

Dogs come into season twice a year, and when you own an intact male that you don’t want to breed to, life gets complicated for a few weeks, keeping them separated. My dogs are related through Eggi’s grandmother, who is Fellow’s mother, and this would be a tight line breeding, which is something people do, to maintain the qualities of their line, but for me, the right approach seemed to be maybe breed Eggi to a stud dog out of the line, and if that was successful, maybe breed one of those puppies back to Fellow. But wait, suddenly the possibility of breeding one dog, one time, now also includes breeding another imaginary future bitch another time?

Anyway, dogs go into season twice a year, somewhat but not entirely predictably, and if you are planning to breed to a stud dog that’s far away (or dead), you really need to track not just progesterone, but you need to look for the LH surge.

So the recommended veterinary reproduction specialist (who I chose after attempting to talk to two different ones, but one was so busy I was left on hold too long, and I got bored and hung up) gave me written instructions for bloodwork, every day for about a week. My usual vet could do it during the week, and I was counting on the local vet emergency hospital to fill in on the weekend. The emergency vet is actually the first vet I saw after we moved to New York, in the fall of 2011, when Captain scratched his eye. We have seen them over the years for various other memorable and forgettable things. I tried and failed to speak to someone there on Friday to try to arrange a visit Saturday that maybe worked with everyone’s schedule, rather than being a true emergency, but the first time I called about it the person on the phone said, yeah, sure let me check with someone and call you back, and never did, so when I checked back, I was told that they couldn’t, or wouldn’t. Anyway, the next day I called and spoke to new staff who could and would fit us in, but, in the end, after lecturing me about how we might have to wait if there was an actual emergency, they failed to follow the written instructions past step #4 and they charged me $300 and gave me an incorrectly handled vial of dog blood. Sunday, I saved myself the frustration of throwing more money at ineptitude. But by the time we did bloodwork on Monday, the LH surge was imminent, and I didn’t know until Tuesday, and then I was told to send all the blood via Fedex to the reproductive specialist who would see them first thing Wednesday morning. 

Wednesday I got up and did pilates with the cat and my phone rang as I got out of the shower. The message was, best days to breed were yesterday and today and I needed to get Eggi to the stud dog by the end of the day.

Of course, because if I’m gonna do this, I want the very best stud dog for Eggi that I can find, the one that is just as perfect as she is, but in his own way, maybe has something she doesn’t have so that the puppies might just be even more perfect than perfect, right? And since she’s a maiden bitch, don’t we want a live breeding? And, of course, there are so many good vizslas, but the stud dog I want is in Georgia.

So when the vet’s assistant on the phone said to do a breeding by the end of the day, I had to get to Georgia, with my dog, as fast as I could.

Oh, it felt a bit like Smoky and the Bandit. My bags were packed; the car had a full tank of gas. I had been anticipating the go signal. I just hoped that it would come Friday, when it was convenient.

Eggi and I hit the road, hoping to make it to Georgia in the middle of the night.

The Bacon Provider had Things Going On that he couldn’t miss, both Wednesday and Thursday, so I was really on my own.

I made a navigation error straight off the bat (never, ever take the George Washington Bridge if you can avoid it), so we spent the first two hours of our drive sitting in stop and go, New York traffic. Then we drove through New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and made it to Georgia by the crack of dawn the next day. We stopped for gas and potty breaks, hit multiple hours long traffic slow downs, many construction projects, and a number of heavy rain storms. We checked into our hotel and slept for about 2 hours. 

The stud dog’s owner brought him by our hotel on the way to work. The dog knew just what he was there to do. Eggi was like, hey, ok, but, actually, no, maybe she could rip his face off.

Thanks to an experienced stud dog and stud dog owner, a breeding was accomplished, in the hotel room, with some help. Eggi napped all day and we did it again after dinner. When I checked out the next day, I left a very, very nice tip for housekeeping.

So is she pregnant? We won’t know until 28 days past the LH surge, when we can do an ultrasound. If she isn’t, we can try again in January. If she is, puppies are due 65 days after the LH surge, in the beginning of September.

The Best Dog at Westminster

During the pandemic, many dog shows were cancelled, but show organizers, working with the AKC, quickly regrouped, figuring out what it would take to keep people safe. Soon, shows were rescheduled, sometimes moving to outdoor venues, but everywhere requiring masks, having more rings or bigger rings, limiting entries, omitting spectators, and adding the concept of show and go. So the dog shows resumed. In the capable hands of our professional show handler, T, Fellow was able to complete his grand championship in 2020, and even qualified to show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Show.

Some conformation show dogs stay with their handlers and live mostly on the road, touring from show to show. Our handler, T, typically comes home between shows, and lives near enough to us that we can send Fellow with her to a show about once a month. T takes excellent care of him, sends me pictures of him hanging out with his fancy show business dog friends, and tells us how he loves riding in a golf cart, and if he hears T up in the night in the hotel room, he thumps his tail happily in his kennel. Fellow thinks T is awesome. We agree.

Sometimes Fellow comes home from a show with no ribbons at all. He doesn’t care. When he gets home, there’s a lot of excited barking, some Eggi-chasing and Captain-wrestling: all normal goofball Vizsla stuff. Vizslas need to do quite a bit more than just lie around the house and go for an occasional romp in the yard. Our usual routine includes agility classes, once a week for Fellow. He is famous there for his occasionally extravagant leaps over the fences, for how he sometimes climbs backwards onto the pause table, and, yes, sorry, he still sometimes runs off course to say hello to the other dogs in the class because he is only 2 1/2, and a Fellow has priorities. Fellow thinks agility is awesome.

Fellow also goes to an obedience class once a week, and when he isn’t forging or lagging or bumping into me, we are making progress with heeling. He sits. He stays. He downs. He’s gotten the idea of fetching dumbbells, and needs to work on waiting to be sent. I have to remember to move across the ground faster with him than with Eggi. He’s a little less food-motivated than she is, too, so with him it’s more “good job!” and less cheese. Fellow thinks it’s awesome being told he’s a good boy.

Speaking of cheese, Fellow is happy to pose for pictures, and quite willing to balance things on his nose or head. He also likes to sit in a chair. Fellow thinks climbing on top of things is awesome.

Fellow was born in the car on the way to the veterinary hospital; he was the biggest and boldest in his litter and when we met him at three weeks he climbed over his siblings to get to my husband and demanded to be picked up. At the time, I was not sure that getting a second puppy just a year after getting Eggi was a good idea, but that didn’t stop me from visiting him several more times. We brought him home right after Xmas.

Fellow has been a lively addition to our household. He is ready for anything, at all times, and never, ever wants to miss out.

We feel very fortunate to have found our breeder, and Fellow, and to work with T, Fellow’s show handler. Qualifying for the Westminster Kennel Club Show this extraordinary year is a tremendous privilege.

Vizslas may not require much in the way of grooming to be ready for the show ring, but there are a lot of nice vizslas out there showing. A number of astute judges had to pick our Fellow out of the crowd of lovely, lively, Hungarian russet pointer-retrievers. Miles and miles of travel and hours of packing and unpacking dominate the lives of professional show handlers, punctuated by many, many trips around the ring with a dog on lead. Every dog showing at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Show got there because of effort, organization, perseverance, good luck and some real expense.

The show is being held outdoors, this weekend, without spectators. Owners and handlers in attendance have to be vaccinated or provide proof of a passing a recent covid-19 test. The venue this year happens to be a short drive from our home in Bedhead Hills. Vizslas are in the sporting group, and are showing Sunday at 9 a.m. in ring 3. There will be 36 vizslas competing for best in breed, and Fellow’s handler will be wearing armband number 21. Watching vizslas trot around the ring can be dizzying; all are pretty much the same shade of red-brown. If you can’t see armbands, you might look for the wagging tail. Fellow thinks showing is awesome.

Is it obvious that we think Fellow (GCH CH Suzu & Shannon’s Charming Fellow) is the best dog going to the Westminster Kennel Club Show this weekend? Of course we do. Is he going to win? He’s going to have a great time, trotting in a circle. I asked the Bacon Provider what his favorite thing is about his dog, and he said Fellow’s enthusiasm.