Friday, May 28, 2010


Life goes on. Despite thinking at times that it cannot, or that things will never be the same, the truth is: they never are the same. And still, life goes on.

My life has taken turns that I never expected. Some have been challenging, some thrilling and some terribly sad. To do less than look forward to the challenges of tomorrow would dishonor the memory of the wonderful people and brilliant dogs I have know.  You know, of course, that I am still thinking of Jinx.  We planted a tree in her memory that a schutzhund friend gave us, scattering some of her ashes there so that Jinx would live and grow again. It is a lovely baby blue spruce, planted so that we can see it from the living and dining room.  It will give shelter to birds, and I can already envision decorating it at Christmas.  Thank you, Chuck, for a gift that celebrates life.

 As sad as that loss has been, if I would have stopped loving when I lost Eros, I would not have loved Sofie; if I had stopped at Sofie, there would be no Digit, no Quinn and no Jinx.  And if I refused to surrender my heart after Jinx, there would be nothing for Cooper or Ridley or the dogs that may come after them.

The other day a man I know said that if his current young dog had bad hips, that would be it for him. That he couldn't or wouldn't handle another dog.  I have to admit that this has never crossed my mind. To toss away all the good, all the lessons for one or even two set-backs? I have had more unexpected injuries, illnesses and issues than I have fingers on both hands. I don't know that I am more of an optimist than many, but I do know that l refuse to stop living, to stop learning and looking forward to tomorrow. I fully expect that a good dog will be at my side.

After taking time to reflect, the sad little faces of my under-worked dogs beckoned me. I started a walking regiment and every morning this week have taken a dog for a walk on the local recreational trail.  I imagine the walks Jinx and I took there with fondness as I lay down new footprints, matched in step by a set of pawprints. I'm quite certain that sometimes, in the outer fringes of my vision, I see a malinois matching pace.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Till we meet again, Sweet Jinxy girl

It has taken me several days to write about this, but we said good-bye to Jinx on Monday, May 10.  It was not unplanned, and it was time.  She had rapidly lost motor function in the rear once it began, and within one week was no longer walking without support of a harness. It was very taxing, considering that left her with only one good leg.  Yet, her spirit never wavered.  The body no longer allowed her to run and play and so we had to make that decision to let her go, to a place where her body was united with the joy and freedom of her mind.

I cried so much the previous week, saying my goodbyes and "I love you's" over and over, my heart aching to lose her.  It was difficult to recognize the miracle that we had in her in those extra months post-diagnosis, through the tears. In my head I knew the lives she had touched, and the things she had accomplished and how she rose through each challenge to overcome adversity.  In my heart, it just hurt.

We were blessed to have the resources of two excellent veterinary services.  Dr. Strickfaden (Country Care) for the holistic treatments that I feel sustained Jinx much longer than predicted, and Dr. Jay Peters (Countryside), who I consider a friend, and who is the vet I rely on for all my routine care. He is always willing to answer questions, find answers for me and exhibits such tender care to both animals and humans.  On Monday, Dr. Jay came here to our house, where Jinx could make her final goodbyes in the comfort of a place she knew and loved, in the arms of those who adored her. Jinx and I napped all morning together on the bed, and then it was time.

We drove to the training field. Oh, the happy hours we spent there! Tom lifted her from the van and when I said "Jinx, lets go to work" she literally pulled him onto the field with a surprising burst of strength.  The gleam was in her eye.  There was no pain there, only the excitement over once more going to work.  We lay on a blanket on the field, with the sun shining.  One final time I asked her, "Jinx, want to go to work?" and she barked for her tug toy, and gripped it hard and full.  That was how she left us for the Rainbow Bridge, going to work, with her tug toy in her mouth. And the grip was full.

The many messages of love and understanding that I received meant so much to me. People who had met Jinx and remembered her (one person mentioned her pink collar that she wore at the USAR testing when we traveled), and many who simply know what the love of a good dog means.  The unfortunate responsibility that we take on when we do love such a dog, is to promise that we give them the ultimate gift to honor their service, when the time comes, giving them the release that they cannot bring themselves. In that, we promise to respect them and not serve our own ego by insisting they struggle and/or feel pain just so we have them near us.

The house feels so empty without a dog to greet me. I expect to see Jinx around every corner. I wonder if she will "visit" me, as several of my past dogs have done?  In the meantime, I decided to allow Ridley, aka "little one", more indoor freedom. She had been very well behaved on previous sessions.  She was excited to be in the land of beds and bones and happily gathered her finds.  And then something happened.  She found a sock and brought it to me. This might sound insignificant, but what you may not know is that the sock would almost certainly have been left there by Jinx, who had an affinity for carrying socks in her mouth. She never ate any, just like the carry them to you and have you give them a gentle tug. And now, here was Ridley exhibiting the same behavior, even though they were only together once... when a crate door was not properly closed... so she would not have learned it from Jinx directly.  I would like to believe that Jinx nodded and passed the torch to the Little One...  and all is better in my heart.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lessons from Jinx

My Miracle time is coming to an end, I am afraid.  Jinx was very well last week at her biocom appointment but I had started to notice some wobbling in the rear. Things have gone very quickly and it appears the cancer has invaded her spine, as she is having great difficulty controlling her rear end.  On hardwood floors she cannot gather her feet or stand at all, so I drove to Fleet Farm last night and covered the house with carpet runners. My friend, Shari, lent me a harness contraption with a handle on the back, so that I can help her stand and move.  When she is on the grass or carpet she can still get around on her own, but doesn't do much of that unless she is going to eat or needs to go outside in which case she will leave her bed.  Tom is away at training all week and I know he wants his opportunity to say good bye to his "girlfriend", as I affectionately call her, so I am doing what it takes to keep her comfortable.  She is still eating heartily and today was barking on command for treats. She does not appear to be in pain, but I wonder what she thinks about not being able to control her body? For a dog who lived by grace and agility, climbing ladders and racing the ATV like a sable rocket, is this simply a stage she accepts or can she make comparisons to what she used to be?  Either way, she still thrusts her head under my arm for attention, still pushes herself over to snuggle with me on the bed at night.  I've had six months beyond what was predicted, which is quite a miracle in itself.  And knowing Jinx, working her, loving her... has been the greatest miracle of all.

I started thinking of the things I have learned from Jinx and thought I would write them down as I think of them:

GRAB LIFE BY THE TAIL.  one of my favorite photos of young Jinx is of her, impish sparkle in her eye, about to grab the tail of her unaware grandmother.  Seize the tail, seize the day.  That's the way Jinx lived.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS.  Jinx and I started out training in Mondioring and then I discovered Urban Search and Rescue.  We flew together three times, with Jinx sitting between my legs on flights to Texas, New Jersey and Conecticut.  During the time we've been together, Jinx has rappeled from a building and I did my first and only tandem sky dive.  Jinx not only accomplished her Type 1/CE in USAR (rocked the test!!) but when I decided that she should compete in schutzhund, she did, earning a SchH2. And when I thought we should also title in MR, Jinx threw herself into that, as well.  I will forever have a dimple above my left knee, a permanent reminder of a badly performed defense of handler in a training session.

YOU CAN OVERCOME ADVERSITY.  When Jinx had surgery for a torn ligament and we had to attend rehab,  Jinx accepted the UnderArmor T-shirt that she had to wear while recuperating, and she learned new tricks and behaviors to facilitate her rehab. And when her front leg wasn't working anymore, she ran on three.  She still did biting games and all her tricks and positions, jumped on the bed, and acted silly.  I know that dogs don't speak, so they can't complain, but they can be depressed and sad and Jinx never was.   She just seemed to say "okay, so this is the way it is... so what."

TOUCH A LIFE.  Jinx and I did a number of demonstrations for school kids, summer library programs, Take Your Child to Work Day.   When traveling, she was a wonderful ambassador, happily performing her repertoire of tricks and greeting new friends.

ENJOY YOUR NAPS.  Ohhhh, napping was something Jinx and I exceled at!  Usually late in the afternoon and all it takes is "let's go to bed" and she is headed down the hall.  The best day is enhanced by a nap with a friend.

SAVOR THE SIMPLE PLEASURES.  sunshine on your fur, an unexpected treat.  A walk. The simplest things can bring the most pleasure, especially in the company of a good friend.

I'm sure there are so many more lessons Jinx has taught me. I just have to look around.