Back to your dog

All summer in Bedhead Hills, it’s been hot and humid with the promise of a few days of storms in the forecast, but tomorrow’s thunderstorms never come. We’re left with dry and drier grass, shriveled flowers, and withered shrubs. The squirrel are attacking the heads of the sunflowers before the seeds are ripe and in their water-starved state the sunflowers are brittle and easily broken.

Just to escape the relentlessness of August, I signed Eggi up for an obedience show in Amsterdam, New York, near Schenectady. The drive up on Friday was a little intense as it’s getting to the last weekends of summer and Schenectady sits north of Albany, out where New York State begins to be much bigger and wilder than many imagine it to be. The Friday highway scene was miles of cars loaded with boats and bikes and coolers and camping gear.

Eggi and I stayed at a dog-welcoming hotel situated between a popular seafood restaurant and a wedding venue , all sharing a nice view of the Mohawk River. She and I took many little trips around the building, through the parking lot, practicing our heel work and going potty, watching people wait for a table for four, or line up in matching red bridesmaid’s dresses to see their best friend get married.

a pre-tied red bow-tie and some rose petals lie on the pavement of the parking lot of the wedding venue the next morning
The next morning

Saturday morning we took our time. it was going to be just as hot here as it had been in Bedhead Hills. An email from the show secretary warned that GPS did not always find the venue, but we did, and parked the white whale in a spot that was not shady but might be, later. I used our reflective knitted aluminum blanket and rolled down all the windows and set up two fans, transforming the white whale into baked potato mode. In this set-up, it stays shady and nice in there.

Large SUV with tailgate up, wrapped in reflective blanket

Inside the show venue, I found a busy show scene underway. The dog training club was divided into three rings, all in a row, running simultaneously. Dogs in crates and handlers in camping chairs were packed into much of whatever space was left, with a corridor running along where exhibitors entered the show rings. Handlers and dogs at the ready were milling about, yet the mood was workmanlike. There was none of the barking or whining you hear at breed shows, as dogs left alone in kennels complain without result or reprimand.

Eggi

While we were waiting to go in, we met another vizsla owner, who correctly guessed Eggi’s mother once I said who her breeder was. And with this new friend standing by, Eggi and I went in the ring and got 189 1/2 out of 200 points from the judge, looking not quite flawless, but definitely on the verge of perfection someday soon.

It was good enough for a 4th place ribbon in a big, competitive class. When I hung the ribbon from Eggi’s collar in the ring she seemed not to know what to make of it.

Dog with 4th place obedience trial ribbon

She got over it.

With this score, it meant we only had to get one more score above 170 for her novice obedience title, known as the CD, for Companion Dog.

I picked up some take-out from the restaurant next to the hotel, and we had a quiet night.

Eggi absolutely loves hotels.

Sunday we woke up pretty ridiculously early, having gone to bed super early the night before. We packed, ate breakfast, loaded the white whale, and headed up the road to the show.

Sunday’s judge was more efficient than Saturday’s, perhaps, and was further along with the classes when we arrived. I brought in a kennel and a chair so we wouldn’t have to stand the whole time we were waiting for our turn.

At dog shows, the handler wears a number under a rubber band on their left arm, assigned beforehand and distributed when they check in at the show. But in obedience, if it’s not, say, the Vizsla National Specialty, where all the dogs are the same breed, exhibitors are referred to by their breed. So on Saturday, I was told we were after the standard poodle, and on Sunday we were after the Berner.

Now a Berner is a Bernese Mountain Dog, which is a large, tri-colored, Swiss, fluffy, friendly kind of dog, mostly known for being self-confident and alert. Eggi and I were focused on warming up to go in the ring, so we weren’t paying any attention to the one competing, so when he erupted into loud, excited barking, and came flying out of the ring he was working in, nearly bowling over both Eggi and me, and ran loose through the competition until someone corralled him, we were extremely surprised (in my case), and frightened and upset (in Eggi’s). And suddenly the efficient judge was standing at the in gate with her clipboard, asking us to come in.

So instead of having Eggi all perfectly focused and concentrating on me, she was staring bug-eyed, hackles raised, ready to take on whatever just scared the wits out of that huge dog, three times her size.

We did not have the kind of trip around the ring that we had had the day before.

We did keep going, however; me, grinning the most encouraging smile I could muster, especially between exercises, doing everything I could to regain Eggi’s attention, and Eggi, still twisting to see what was happening on the other end of the room. Our heel work on leash was rough. The figure eight was so weird, I felt like I had someone else’s dog. I may have given up some points talking to her here, just trying to get her to concentrate on me.

The stand for exam marks the moment where you take off the dog’s leash, give it to the steward, tell the dog to stand, step away about 6 feet, wait while the judge quickly touches the dog’s back, and then you go back to your dog when the judge says, “Back to your dog.”

When I got back to Eggi, she was back in the game. Our off-leash heeling was better. The recall was great. We made it to the group sits and downs. Back to your dog, indeed.

There were 12 dog and handler pairs asked back to the groups sits and downs. We were lined up in two rows, about six feet apart. Eggi looked around during the sit, which is only a minute long but of course seemed like at least three, but stayed sitting so that’s what matters. During the down she was perfectly good this time.

Which meant we qualified. No ribbon, but the third leg of our title.

We will need to do a bumper leg or two, so she doesn’t think dogs explode and run out of the ring all the time. But now that I know we can get a 189 1/2, I’m wondering if we get get an even higher score.

And then, after this, the next levels we get to start working with fetching dumbbells.

2022 Vizsla National Specialty Show, Part 4: Conformation

The last legs of our Iron Dog competition would be in the breed ring, but since both Eggi and Fellow are Grand Champions, we would not compete until the last day. We had two days to kill.

Getting gas in Bloomington, Minnesota, I looked up to discover that we had found a wild game butcher. Not only did they have wild game bones, but they had smoked beef tendons that served as an afternoon snack every single day until we ran out, and they had sausages for dogs that I would like to order a case of.

I went to a member’s lunch for the Vizsla Club of America and heard about some of the ways the breed standard will be available to judges, and I now know more about vizsla teeth and coats than I did before.

I took a field trip into a beautiful neighborhood of Minneapolis to visit the bookstore of one of my absolutely most favorite authors, and bought an armload of books.

We went for a walk to forget about the show.

But we also watched a lot more dog show.

One of my goals of going to the Vizsla national specialty was to make some new friends, and I did, and when one of them was trying to be encouraging about showing in the breed ring, she said that showing dogs in the conformation ring is just like showing lambs.

When the time comes to compete for the breed at the national specialty, a few hundred people have to line up in show clothes, with dogs on show leads, wearing numbers on their left arms, arranged in catalog order, and check in, and then get called back in to show in groups of about ten. I timed the judge and found he took about 12 minutes to judge a group. Time stretches out as you wait, and suddenly, I had to hurry because it was Eggi’s turn. I felt I didn’t have time to think. We walked in the ring, I set her up, and we waited. The line moved. We were next. I set her up, I showed her teeth and had her stand stacked. The judge told me “straight to the TV camera and back.”

I had forgotten about the live stream. It helped me feel silly about being nervous. Anyway, the fun part is when you get back to the judge and free stack (or not), and then they ask you to run around to the end of the line. The dogs love it. I could feel that Eggi was having a blast. My tights were slipping, and there was nothing to be done about it. If I pulled them up, it would be live streamed to the whole world. Let them fall.

We spent our 12 minutes in the ring, and made no cuts. I certainly didn’t expect to. I put Eggi away and went back to watch.

When I entered this show, I intended to leave for home after the national specialty, not staying for the regional show the following day. But when I get my receipt from the entry service, they had entered me anyway, and I didn’t bother changing it. I had so much fun showing my dog in those heart-pounding minutes that I figured I’d stay and do it again the next day. For practice. When would I get a better chance?

So on the last day, I packed up our room, dressed for showing, loaded everything up once more and practiced showing both dogs in the conformation ring. Again, we made no cuts, but had fun, and when I put them in the car the last time, packed up the show crates and hit the road for points south and east, we were all very tired.

I took three days to drive back and I did it knowing that had I been willing to push myself, I might have done it in two. With only one driver and two dogs to walk at rest stops, I felt our slower pace was the better choice. The pandemic has taught me that I can take my time. I can wear a mask doing almost anything. I will keep doing it, maybe until I’m the last person who hasn’t had Covid.

I had plenty of time to reflect on what I felt successful about this time: making new friends, doing the trip alone, finishing Fellow higher in the Iron Dog ranking, a Novice agility leg and first place ribbon, three titles completed. But I am still wondering about what it’s like to show lambs.

2022 Vizsla National Specialty Show, Part 2: Agility Day

This was the day I was probably the most worried and excited about.

Eggi jumps a lower height than Fellow. In the FAST, I tried to start her off on things she would be confident in, like jumps, and move on to the bigger, scarier equipment, like the dog-walk, A-frame, and teeter. She was happy to go through tunnels and do weave poles and jump jumps. She would not even try any of the equipment that might creak or shake. There was no working through it. Still, I told her she was a good girl for trying.

When it was Fellow’s turn, the dog ahead of us did not even break the timers; Buzz ran around the first fence, grabbed the nearest yellow cone, which had a large 5 on it, and ran around the ring in a celebratory frenzy, unwilling to be caught, as everyone laughed at him, calling his name. After several hilarious minutes, the show secretary came out of his office, shouted a suggestion to the owner to try sitting down on the floor, and when she did, the run-amok Buzz trotted to her with his head down, game over, dropped the cone, and having by some obvious measure already become the clear winner of the day.

Of course, I had to spend every second of those wacky minutes asking Fellow to sit and look at me and feeding him the tiny crumbs of the last bit of dog treat I had in my pocket, and when I ran out of that I gave him pieces of a treat I found on a shelf and when I ran out of that I gave him pocket lint and when I ran out of that I gave him the ends of my fingers to nibble, all the while maintaining as much eye-contact with him as I possibly could. The last thing I needed this day was for Fellow to see the super fun cone-grabbing run-amok game.

So, Fellow got his turn at last. Our go in the FAST was a little rough, but he hit all of the equipment, did the send, and got out, feeling like it was worth our time to try. We did not have a qualifying score, but it still felt successful. And soon enough, we’d be back for the standard novice and then the novice jumpers with weave.

What can I tell you about Eggi’s standard novice run? She was fast and intense. She was still afraid of the big equipment that moved at all. We were not going to be able to address her concerns that day because it was a show; we needed seriously good treats and plenty of time in the ring, with the opportunity to repeat elements. So she did what she could, and my job was to tell her she was a good girl.

And what can I tell you about Fellow’s standard novice run?

We had to deal with the same shenanigans with the run-amok cone-stealing dog ahead of us while we waited to go. This time I had more treats at the ready, so I didn’t have to feed Fellow my fingers. He had a bad entrance to the dog-walk, so we started over. Other than that, no mistakes. What fun!

We took water breaks and potty walks and came back to discover that Fellow had a qualifying leg and won that class.

Our third course was jumpers with weave. Now, Eggi could finally show how quickly she could work. No intimidating equipment; she just had to be fast and clean. She was so fast that I managed to trip over her and step on her foot on the way into the weave poles. Poor Eggi! Again, no qualifying score.

Fellow ‘s go was once again preceded by the dog ahead of us going on another cone-stealing romp, and the judge explained for all who cared to listen that if you don’t touch the dog or the cone you could actually complete the course without penalty. We did not watch.

Our trip wasn’t quite as smooth and fast as we needed for a qualifying leg, but we had so much fun it really didn’t matter.

2022 Vizsla National Specialty: Part 1, Getting There

It was going to be a three day drive: 1,200 miles, and Eggi, Fellow, and me, the only driver, because you know what? Dogs don’t drive. Without them, I could picture maybe, like, I dunno, doing it myself in two days, but, ok, the dogs were the point of the trip. So, a three day drive, with regular stops to smell the grass.

There is also the issue of wanting to be two states away the first night, because you aren’t making progress across this enormous country of wackos if you can’t get two states away from home the first day (sorry, Western/Midwestern America), so I simply had to get through all of Pennsylvania the first day. I don’t make these rules, they just are.

Something I brought plenty of: dog kibble.

Something I should have brought more of: familiar-tasting water from home.

Packing for the dogs: grooming stuff; two crates for riding in the car, two portable crates for sleeping in hotels, two wire crates and crate pads for the show; leashes and collars for walks, slip leashes for agility, show leashes; treats, poop bags, toys.

Packing for me: overnight bag for travel days with sneakers and clothes to compete in agility; two choices of outfits for obedience ring, plus shoes; three choices for conformation ring, plus boots; dress for banquet, plus other boots; raincoat, down vest, sweater, parka. Food, colored pencils, pens.

There used to be things to say about road trips across America. Regional sodas. Billboards for miles exhorting us to See Rock City. Now, we drive thousands of forgettable stretches of highway, following the blue line on the navigation app of the thousand dollar Chinese-made mobile device, hooked up to the car with the special white cord that always frays in the same place, jammed mindlessly on cruise-control between enormous trucks full of toilet paper and game consoles, great long reaches of endless pavement interrupted by exits for towns still named for native tribes long ago chased off the land by whites, but today a couple of streets, some potholes, a few sad but familiar fast food chains, and a drab purveyor of fuel and plastic-wrapped snacks as unmemorable as any other town on the way.

My traveling companions need to visit the rest areas to do their business, and we gain efficiency at every stop. Sometimes other people at the rest areas want to tell me things (my shirt matches my dogs), or ask me things (are they hunting dogs? is he a stud dog?). I walk them one at a time to control the chaos. But I wish I had found time to practice walking them together more, and I wish Fellow wouldn’t try to pee on his own legs or on Eggi. I say things to them about it. You could aim that, I say. Remind me I need to scrub those legs, I say. No one wants you to go there. Ok, good job, thank you for that, let’s go.

They get good at jumping in and out of the back of the big Ford, at waiting to pee until I encourage them to, at pooping every day at around 11 a.m.

The gas in Ohio is a dollar cheaper per gallon than everywhere else.

The dogs are good in the hotels and I didn’t do such a bad job of picking places the first two nights.

On the second day we arrive early enough to look for a park in Beloit, Wisconsin and actually go for a walk. The dogs are wild and hard to keep up with.

Anyplace I wear a mask, I am the only person in a mask. I am relieved to find that people are less likely to talk to me if I am wearing it.

The first day of showing will be agility. I have each dog signed up for three classes, two which count towards their point totals in the Iron Dog, novice standard and novice jumpers with weave (poles), and a third, which is called FAST, an acronym that means something like Fifteen and Send, where you do obstacles for points and have to send to a required element. The FAST event will be held first, and I intend to use it to familiarize the dogs with the venue and the equipment.

Fellow and I went to the Vizsla National Specialty last year, and he and I took an agility class at a big, new, unfamiliar place with strange (endlessly barking) dogs, a different instructor, and regulation mats and equipment for a few weeks in preparation. So, I am pretty confident he will get around the courses ok. He is game. Eggi is a year older, but is more sensitive, and has not had the experience of classes outside the supportive, familiar backyard place where we have been going since she was a puppy. I wanted to take her to the same class as Fellow, but I hadn’t been able to get it organized.

But, anyway, I make it all the way to Minnesota, and it’s still cold and windy at the end of April, and I marvel that I’ve signed myself up for this, and come all this way by myself.

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.