Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Digit's Golden Birthday

Can you believe it? Digit turns 12 years old on July 12th!! It is hard to believe that the time has passed so quickly and that chubby silver puppy is now an older adult. Much like me, he is slower to get up, slower to run but doesn't like to miss a meal! Unlike me, he does not get to eat whenever he likes and so has kept his slim figure. But where do the years go?

Not long ago, I wrote about the passing of Hero vom Haus Kuhn, known as Harro to his friends. When Digit was but a wee puppy, Harro would lay next to the fence and try to touch him with his paws, or exchange kisses through the fence. Once the puppies were big enough to play with Harro, he became their babysitter. I think that early experience with a benevolent male helped to shape Digit's personality. Like Harro, he is a lover of all, dogs and humans alike. When his momma, Sofie, died, I thought I would like Digit to be my house dog but he did not enjoy living there. He constantly worried that I needed him to be alert to a command and if the door opened, he was outside in a flash. Being in the house was stressful to him and I had to resign myself that my wishes were less important than his happiness, and so he lives in the kennel.

In his prime, Digit would launch for a bite with a span of 10 feet. I don't think I exaggerate. His hips did not pass OFA but his heart is so big, and his drive so strong that he accomplished more than many dogs with excellent hips. I don't mean this to sound like a eulogy, because it is not. It is a celebration of his life. He is now 13x SchH3, DPO2, FH, STP1 and also a UKC conformation champion and has a CDX. He retired when he was 8 years old, if I remember correctly. I noticed he was no longer making the huge leap for a grip and when he lightly nicked the jump in trial, I decided on the spot that it was his last and he was retiring. He went High SchH3 and High in Trial that day, a grand exit.

Last year he was pulled from retirement to assist me with a police dog class. When the dog we had purchased was examined and found to have a broken canine it was returned to the seller and it was going to take a week for the replacement to arrive. So, I used Digit to teach the new handler how to lay tracks and handle the line, and how to teach an article search. I could visibly see Digit's chest puff out when I would retrieve him from the kennel each day. He was so happy being back at work again. At our fall trial, I elected to enter him for an STP1, the schutzhund article search test, and he came out of retirement to compete once again, adding another title to his long list. That day he was also called into service as the "alternate" dog opposite an unpaired dog in competition and we did obedience. Once again, I saw the proud boy of old, tail held high and tugging on the leash.

I saw that strong dog once again last month when he assisted with our helper certifications. Is he slower than he once was? Yes, but new helpers aren't ready for the rockets. Does he not launch as far? Yes, but the helpers also need to know how to handle a dog who doesn't make the big jumps. Does he have a broken canine? Yes, but he can still grip a sleeve fully and bark for more! Once again, he was biting at my wrist and tugging the sleeve as he does when he is excited for the work. The heart of a young dog was shining through the old skin. His eyes fairly glowed with joy, and mine did as well. Or maybe that was the tear that formed.

The reason all this came to mind now is that Digit's sister, Ayana, was euthanized earlier this week. Digit's registered name is A-Digit vom Foxtal, and they were my "A" Dutch Shepherd litter, along with 8 other littermates. Ayana's name means "most beautiful flower" in Swahili. She was having diffuculty walking and moving her rear legs at the end. It was with that in mind that I thought about Digit and how lucky I am that he is still in good health and spirits. He is grey, but has none of the telltale white hairs that even plaqued my malinois at an early age. His eyes are clear and except for the fact that he sheds in huge patches like a sheep, his coat is good. He will turn 12 years old next week and has the heart of young dog.

When I look at photos of Digit as a young pup, then young adult and finally, a seasoned veteran I can remember so many wonderful moments, stories of his willingness and success, and sometimes his stubborness. Like the time he decided that I had put too much pressure on him and he refused to track. I said 'such" and he stuck his nose straight up in the air, just so it was clear he had no intention of doing that! For the next four days, he had an opportunity each day to follow the baited track, and each day he stuck his nose up in the air. I would say "nope" and put him back in his kennel, with only enough food to keep him hungry. On the fifth day, when I gave the command, his nose went down and he followed that track!! After that, I knew he would never give up on a track and even in difficult circumstances, he persisted.

Digit is my sweet, grey boy and I adore him. Happy Birthday, Digimon!