Monday, April 20, 2009

The Fifth Dog

I have a dog named Kate. Did you know that?
She will be 11 years old this September.

I never really know how to talk about Kate. I've been planning this blog post for a while now, and have re-written it a few dozen times. With my recent "Real Life" post I thought now would be a good time.. Before I go any farther it would be hard to write about Kate, without giving some background.

I got Kate when she was about 12 weeks old- she was my replacement puppy for a pup I had to euthanise for a severe hip problem. (another long story I'll share some day...) Anyway, I wasn't ready to love another puppy yet, but didn't have the heart to leave her behind.

Her "breeder" didn't see the value in socialising, or raising the litter indoors, with the family. Her "breeder" didn't see the value in making sure that all the puppies were balanced and had sound temperaments. Kate was the pup that wouldn't come out from under the shed when I went to see the litter. The six year old daughter had to crawl under and drag her out. After that she sat in the corner by the garage grumbling at us. I chose her because she looked the least like the dog I just had euthanised. You'd think I'd know better even then. Apparently not. (I was 16 by the way)

Anyway, Kate was a struggle. From the day I brought her home until now that dog has challenged my patience, my training ability, and my love. Unless you've had a fearful dog you won't really understand. But let me tell you. It is not easy to live with a dog like Kate.

Kate had severe anxiety in social settings, and was fearful to the point of aggression with people and dogs. With the help of my friends I figured out a way to get through to her. A clicker, and treats helped her to learn through her worries. It was no miracle by any stretch- she still would melt down, and would go into a barking frenzy if something set her off (nothing like a 60lb dog force barking in someone's face!)

But we managed and we trained hard. We got through our CD with a High in Class, and decent scores. The stand for exam was the hardest thing for her- a stranger (quite often a man) had to touch her. But we did it. The second hardest thing was the stay. Me, across the room for three minutes, was a killer for her. The day she earned her CD was a great one, I was so proud of her. I attempted one round of Open and officially retired her.

We also played agility. She got the advanced level in AAC before I retired her. I was always on the lookout for things that would set her off. She once started barking at the judge from the top of the a-frame. That was scary. She would spook at the ring crew, and she and I were often not having fun- I would have to coach and cheer her around most courses, and I was always so nervous about her leaving the ring. It was not healthy for either of us. Her last trial was the Alberta Regionals- I forget which year even- but it was awful. I was in tears, and she was stressed beyond her norm. That was the last time we trialed.

Living with Kate has also not been fun. She's eaten through a wooden door, jumped through a second story window, broken all of her front teeth on the metal door of a crate, destroyed numerous crates, ripped her nail off jumping through a door, and is a complete stress case- at my house. At my parents house she is a completely different dog. Relaxed, content, and playful. A Kate that I didn't often get to experience.

But it wasn't all bad- there were moments where she was confident, and carefree. She would fly around an agility course, and look like she didn't have a care in the world. She had her select friends- people who she trusted and loved. But those people were few and far between. If you were a friend of Kates' you must be pretty special. She also had a few dog friends- but not many dogs could take her rough play style. All of her insecurities would be gone when playing fetch. She would fetch a tennis ball for hours. (her arthritis can attest to that!) And when she was calm she was a very easy dog to be with.

About three years ago she went to live with my parents full time. At first it was only a few nights a week- when I worked long hours at the boarding kennel. And then it was during the week, and then weekends...and now, well she has occasional sleep overs at my house.

I love this dog- alot. It is hard to put into words how you feel about a dog that you worked SO hard with. She was my constant shadow, always at my feet, always at my side. It is also hard to explain to people really who she is. When you are talking about a dog with issues- typically you focus on the issues- and not the dog. Kate deserves much more than that. She really is a great dog- under the fear. She is goofy, and has a weird sense of humour. She is very smart, and is the most loyal dog- ever. She would stand by my side always. If I let her. She is beautiful- even in her old age. And she has heart. A lot of it. The day that I got that first CD leg with her I cried. You could see the stress on her face, and still she did it. You could see she wanted to run away, but she stayed. It is amazing to think that a dog can love a person so much to withstand fear for them.

Letting her live with my parents was a very, very difficult decision. Thankfully they only live a few blocks away and I visit at least a few times a week. It doesn't make it any easier though. I often wonder if maybe now, in her older age she would settle down into my life again. I try once in a while- bring her home for sleepovers. Her unhappiness is apparent.

At my parents house she is happy, playing, fetching, wrestling with Drew, laying at my dads feet. At my house she is pacing, whining, panting, looking for a way out. I can't leave her unattended for a moment. She is miserable.

In life, and especially in dogs there are lots of "What Ifs." What if I had known back then what I know now. Would she be different? Would I have even chose her? Where would she be if I didn't? I would have done so many things differently. Maybe it would have changed things, maybe not. In any case, ours might not be an ideal situation- but it works.

Kate gets to be happy, and I get to see her be happy.
Mostly, it is a win/win kind of thing. Except for the whole missing my dog thing.


Sarah said...

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! for writing this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

she looks great, this reminds me of my Jane "1999" post from last month - the one where i think you got teary, well you got me back :)

EVERYONE needs a dog like this once in their life.

Kate looks wonderful. I love the white in her ears.

p.s. you still trialed her for a whole year after Regional (that was 04, Wicca was a baby), remember Kimberly (the first trial) when she ate through the soft crate and it was cold and snowing, and she was freaking out because her and kaleb had to ride in the back of the Rav - THAT was her last trial LOL, but I think it was so traumatic you tried to forget about it :) That was Jane's last time at that trial too!

Amber said...

Beautiful post!

fulltiltbcs said...

Great great post...I understand and have had that same kind of dog! They teach you sooo much and even though you have dogs after that, which are much more successful and easier to train; Somehow that darn dog keeps a huge piece of your heart and won't give it up :-))

Good girlie Kate!!

manymuddypaws said...

I wiped a lot of things from my memory with this dog. We had a whole lot of awful moments!

Kathy said...

Wow, that is a great post and I think dogs like this really teach us so many things. I am glad you did end up with her and were there for her, and it sounds like you have always kept her best interests in mind.

Jules said...

Oh dear, this made me cry! It makes me think of my Ike. Great post.

Cindy Donaldson said...

Oh Amanda, what a great post.
We also had a "Kate". She was our very first dog. She was a sheperd cross and I can see her in your Kate's eyes. She taught us so much and gave us SO much back. She changed my life for the better and not a day goes by that I don't think of her. Thank you for this.

Elayne said...

Kate is very lucky you chose her. I'm supposing if you hadn't her life would have ended up not so fabulous. Though it's a hard decision for you it's really a no-brainer and I'm sure Kate thanks you for it every day.

manymuddypaws said...

thanks everyone for the nice comments. Kate is a one in a million kind of dog- I love her to pieces- even with her issues.

I think that these types of dogs are the ones that teach us more than any others. Kate really helped me to become a better dog trainer, and to understand that not everything is clear or black and white. There is a lot of grey area in a dog like this- what works for one, won't neccesarily work for the other.

She really was a wonderful teacher- and I am very lucky to have her.

Lybertygirl said...

Oh My, We have a 9 yr. old GSD named Maggie who was a replacement dog for one we lost at age 16. Maggie and Kate must be cut from the same mold - lots of issues, severe separation anxiety - but a solid gold hear the size of Texas. We love her dearly and fear we will be losing her way too soon...arthritis and hip problems.

manymuddypaws said...

kate has quite a lot of arthritis- mostly in her front. Her hips are holding up pretty good- but she does have eye problems now. It's hard to see them get old!

^..^Corgidogmama said...

This was so beautifully brought tears.
The pictures of Kate are wonderful, and add to the story.
Very heart touching to read, and heart wrenching at the same time.
You two have had quite a journey together.

Elf said...

Nice story. Also nice job with the dog and her life.

Judy said...

I am so glad you shared Kate's story, Amanda! As you recall, her and Jazmin grew up together, trained together, rode together (in the days before everyone had their own crates). She also respected Baylee, who could be fire and brimstone. I was so happy when she got her CD and always see her as a great agility dog. I am gladshe is enjoying life with your parents

Shep said...

This one totally hit so close to home. I understand, how you can love a dog so much, and the dog loves you, and yet is so, so difficult with the daily routine.

What a pretty, pretty girl.

I give you huge, huge kudos for taking her to the levels you did, and for having dealt with her anxiety with love and compassion. I had an anxious Shepherd, and I completely can relate.

Thank you for sharing this. I'm sure it wasn't easy, but it is downright wonderful to read. Those difficult dogs are the best teachers, even with the "what-ifs."