Seven Days

My life changed forever. Buzz deserves a tribute, and he'll get one, but I'm not ready yet. My heart and my brain can't seem to get on the same page. I know he's gone, I witnessed his death, and yet... I keep looking for him, thinking I hear him, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night sure I'll just look across the room and see him sleeping soundly. I miss petting his ears. I miss the weight of his head on my lap as I type on my laptop. It's been seven days today. Seven days I haven't see his smiling face, or laughed at his insistence it IS MEAL TIME! It is also seven days I know he wouldn't have enjoyed.
I was getting his dinner ready.
Each dog has very different categories in a quality of life assessment. I paid very close attention to what quality of life meant to Buzz since his mobility deteriorated to the point he needed quite a bit of help every day.
Cuddling with Buzz. I miss it.
On Sunday May 18, I made the heartwrenching decision to set an appointment for Buzz. For the last week, he had been having difficulty eating. His jaw very obviously hurt. He would pick up food but then roll it around in his mouth trying to figure out a way to chew without it hurting. I tried soft food, I tried warm food, and I tried hand feeding him. He would eventually eat, but it was evident it wasn't comfortable for him. Buzz also hadn't done well in the heat since last summer. 70 degree weather was as warm as he could enjoy. Just going out to potty in 70 degree weather made him pant for quite a while after we got back inside. He couldn't enjoy his sniffs when it was too warm. And his mobility was continually decreasing. This was the part that broke my heart the most. He had such a difficult time adjusting to not being able to get up on his own. I came home from work on Sunday to find him stuck. He was panicked. He got himself in a position he couldn't get out of. I had no idea how long he'd been there. It shattered me. This was my brave and stoic Buzz. We'd occasionally dealt with him being stuck in a few other places in the apartment before, but he'd never been this upset about it. I tried an xpen, I tried a crate, neither had the desired effect.
Buzz and Rascal

Even though I was in no way sure I could actually follow through with the appointment, I gave Buzz the very best last hours on this earth I could dream up for him.

Monday he spent the day at work with me. Up front, behind the desk, in the bed he was always so sure he fit in but didn't. Well, we made it so he fit in there.
Extra blankets made it work.
He went in the treadmill at work. Not to work out, but to enjoy the warm water spa. It had become his favorite place to be. He could stand up easily with the support of the water. We just stood in the spa and let the water circulate around us as I fed him snacks. Dr. Julia adjusted him, she knew.

We got Arby's on the way home. I'd been stopping to get him french fries more often the last couple of months and he definitely had a preference for Arby's curly fries. So that's what we got. I even shared a roast beef sandwich with him. Then he got two servings of dinner at home.

When we got home, Tim said "we're having movie night with Buzz." So we moved my mattress to the floor. I hadn't cuddled with Buzz all night long in months. Having him up high on my bed was dangerous, because he'd lost bed privileges due to trying to get off by himself to get a drink in the middle of the night. He slept soundly between my legs until a very early morning potty call. When we got back inside, I just pet his head for hours while he slept peacefully. He was due for his Adequan injection, and I very consciously administered it. I wanted his last day to be as happy and painfree as possible.

Tuesday morning dawned sunny and clear. It was perfect. Lauren graciously offered to meet us at the park bright and early to take pictures. This is where I really, really just wanted to call everything off. He was happy and alert, he was so vibrant. We had so much fun while Buzz ate his McDonald's breakfast. I might have cried just as much as I laughed.

The handsomest.
After our morning park adventure, we came home for breakfast (another double serving with some extra pain meds) and a nap. Going to the park and eating breakfast is tiring (also, being ridiculously full of food may have made him tired, too).
While he was napping, I was getting more and more anxious. I wanted the day to be over, but I didn't want it to end. Logically, I'd gone through every option. Instead of continuing to dwell on what would happen later, Buzz and I went for a drive. I had no idea where we were going, but we got in the car and headed down some less traveled roads. Buzz loved the wind in his face. Just him and I, enjoying the beautiful day. I kept passing back treats as I was driving. My goal for the day was to make him as full as I could. Our drive eventually led us to a pet supply store where we bought even more treats. These were supposed to help his tummy... And then we drove around some more. It was my escape from reality. We eventually ended up at my work.

I had emailed my coworkers earlier in the day, and Julia had known since Sunday. Buzz and I enjoyed the spa together for the last time. I fed him, I pet him, I filled the tank up as high as I could and he thoroughly enjoyed the jets. I cried. I cried so hard. This was the most difficult decision I'd ever made. I wanted to pick Buzz up and drive far, far away. Away from reality, away from death.

But we had important places to be. Lauren, Tim, Buzz, and I went to Dairy Queen. Buzz ordered a banana split and cheese curds.
Why you move the ice cream away?!
A little something on yer face.
Buzz didn't want the banana. He wanted the ice cream off the banana.

After DQ we went to a pet supply store to look at the fish and small animals, a very favorite Buzz activity. Oh, and also to smell all the things in all the aisles. He picked out some more treats too.

When we arrived home, it was time to settle in on the bed again. It was time to pet Buzz for the last time. To watch him sleep peacefully. My only wish was that he would be so tired and full and content that he would be sound asleep when Dr. Raeyna arrived. I sat next to him and I pet him. My best laid plans had worked. He quickly dozed off. 
So full. So tired. The last picture I took of him.
And then he was gone.

My heart was broken.

My Buzz Lightyear. I whispered how sorry I was. And I thanked him for being the best dog ever. As I sobbed into his fur for the last time, I said good bye, for now.

To Infinity and Beyond.


16 Years

I started writing this blog post a couple days before Buzz's 14th gotcha day and quit. Today Buzz turns 16 years old, a day I honestly thought we'd never see.

16 years ago Buzz was born. 9 weeks later, my family brought home a little black and white puppy who pretended to like retrieving, had worms and fleas, and already knew how to walk on a leash. The early details are a bit fuzzy but I know he was never actually house trained and I don't think he ever came when called. He has always been a dog with a mission of his own in life and we only became a team when I embraced him for who he is. It's hard to believe he used to be a speedy-fast little hellion with one mission in life: to enjoy it.

I tried to show him in 4-H using some outdated and dog un-friendly training methods. He told me to screw off and had his own fun. I can't even count how many times I tried to chase him down, and failed miserably. I'd call, he'd turn and look, then dart off in another direction.

Looking back at what we've accomplished, 2007 was our first year successfully trialing. He earned his RL1, RN, NAC, NJC, and TN-N. We had three grand years of trialing, which makes me so happy considering he didn't really start showing until he was 7 years old!

He competed in WCRL Veteran Rally for the last time in July 2013. He earned his RLVX.

Since January he's had increasing difficulty with mobility. Some days he gets really frustrated not being able to get up and move around on his own. Then on the days he is able to, he overdoes it if I don't contain him. Despite that, he remains mentally sharp. His bloodwork looked great when we ran it a couple weeks ago. All he really wants at the end of the day is someone to fall asleep on, so I try really hard to do that.

Today was (almost) all about Buzz. 

He got to watch autocross with Tim.

He ate an absurd amount of snacks. Even if he had to put up with me to get them.

We checked out a new park!

He ate more snacks at the new park.

And looked hilarious doing it.

Missing 100% of what I threw.

Then I threw some snacks in the grass.

I ran out of snacks. He said "see ya later."

A great day ends with a nice nap in the sun.

Happy birthday, Buzz. Thank you for being such a wonderful introduction to the breed. You are the standard to which I'll compare all others. Keep on keeping on.


Positive Gun Dogs of MN: Field Sport Seminar, day 1

Phew, that's a long title. It was also a very long day. I got the opportunity to attend this seminar with Gabby because she's an ESRA Alumni (basically, she's getting her picture taken tomorrow as an example, so we need to learn how to do the things they want pictures of).

The seminar started with an introduction of the presenter, Inga From. She has worked with her English Springer Spaniel and Labrador Retriever in the field (for sport, not competition) for years without the use of an electronic collar. She has learned from Jim Barry, John Rogerson, and Robert Milner (and I'm sure others she didn't mention). We covered some of the basic differences when teaching a gun dog positively, versus the traditional way using punishment.

What I enjoyed most about the seminar today was the focus on obedience first: good obedience, reliable obedience, happy obedience. The two elements we talked (and learned) about specifically were steadiness: "remain still and quiet while watching birds drop or dummies are being thrown," and blind retrieve: "dog did not see the bird or dummy drop/fall and must find, then retrieve it." 

Many dogs being trialed today are far from steady. They either break their stay or they are noisy on the line. She set up a few exercises for the dogs to practice steadiness with increasing difficulty. Gabby's never really been exposed to the "toys" she was using as distractions for the dogs, so when I asked her for a sit in heel, she glued her eyes to me and happily ate her treats as bumpers, tennis balls, and other toys were tossed about the room. As the difficulty increased with people walking around close to us and noises being added in, she did occasionally break eye contact, but then reoriented nicely. The dogs who knew exactly what these toys were for had a little more trouble--these dogs watched the items intently as they lie motionless on the ground. However, everyone must have had some great treats as there weren't any dogs that actually broke position that I can recall. She said that we should be retrieving the thrown bumpers during steadiness training far more than we are releasing the dog to get them.

Most, if not all, gun dogs in the US are taught a marked retrieve first. A retriever will naturally use his eyes to locate fallen game first, and then use his nose second. The reasoning behind teaching a blind retrieve first is to facilitate having the dog use his nose first, rather than relying on eyesight. She recommended heeling with the dog, drop the bumper, and continue heeling. Turn and send the dog from a short distance first and gradually build up to longer distances. Other people can plant the bumpers as well.

We also learned about teaching whistle cues for recall (three short tweets), turn and pay attention/sit (one long tweet), and backchaining the retrieve. I will detail how she teaches a shaped retrieve in tomorrow's post.

Today was a lot of fun. I learned that semi-crowded spaces and lots of dogs makes Gabby nervous. I spent quite a bit of time feeding her for checking in with me. She preferred to hang out in her crate during down time, and sat in the car during whistle times. I don't know if we'll actually do any formal hunt training, but I'd love to be able to do blind bumper retrieves with her in the future! I knew some of the things we discussed from my limited experiences with Bailey and the small amount of Retriever hunt tests I've been to. There was also quite a bit of new content for me, and she is a really fun presenter.

Day two is going to be DOING STUFF outside and preparing for the K9 Field Sport Award Testing.