Sunday, December 5, 2010

Farewell to my Sweet, Grey Boy. A-Digit vom Foxtal, 1998-2010

This has been a difficult year.  I thought losing Jinx back in May would be the most difficult thing I would face. I have not yet wrung all the tears from my heart over that loss.  I was quite unprepared for another this soon.  I was supposed to attend a seminar in Plant City, FL this weekend with World Champion competitor, Mia Skogster.  It was an expensive seminar and one that required additional planning as Tom was going to be away for his annual hunting trip and we needed to secure kennel help.  Last week, I came down with a bad cold, one that had all the earmarks of moving quickly to bronchitis if I didn't do something. I knew driving by myself, straight through to Florida would be taxing but I was going to tough it out. I got an antibiotic prescription in case things took a turn for the worse and packed to leave.

Scant hours before I was to leave, my plans were further interrupted by a freak accident in the kennel, requiring an emergency trip to the vet and a dog with a bandaged tail. As I considered whether the dog could make the trip with me, since constant supervision would be required, I got sicker and sicker and had to start the antibiotics. It was clear there was no way I could make that trip.  If being sick was the command, and the vet visit the punctuation mark. Okay, I get it! I'm not supposed to take this trip. I was still thinking perhaps I had avoided a serious accident in travel. I just didn't get it.

Tom left yesterday morning and I slept much of the day, still not feeling well. At 5 I bundled up to go to the kennel and feed before it got too late. As I worked my way down the line, I didn't see Digit waiting at his door as he normally did.  Immediately I was worried and thought he might be outside.  As I approached, I saw he was in his dog house, with his head resting outside.  He was dead.  I stroked his grey ears, as I loved to do. He had not been dead long and appeared to be in a resting position, reclining on his side. I talked to him, and petted his beautiful grey fur and told him over and over that I loved him. Why is there never enough time to do that, whether animal or human?  I worried that if I had only gone sooner, I might have been with him. I know from hospice readings that humans will sometimes wait for a moment when they are alone, to spare their loved ones the pain of being there; I don't know if animals process the same way but think they may.  Still, I would have wanted to hold him if I could. I hope he did not feel any pain.  I hope he didn't wonder where I was. 

Tom said Digit had been outside with him as he cleaned kennels the night before, and was laying in his dog house early on Saturday morning as Tom prepared to leave.  He talked to Digit and Digit acknowledged him but did not get up, which was not unusual for that time of day.  And now he is gone.  I had taken him out recently to attempt a blood track of a deer; it was very optimistic of me, as several years earlier I had stopped doing that when he just couldn't make it through the heavy cover.  This was an easy attempt and I thought he might enjoy the walk.  As soon as he left the kennel I saw that was not to be.  His narrow little old-dog rear end was wobbly.  At times he would simply fall, sitting down.  He did not appear to be in pain; he looked surprised.  Surprised that his body was not cooperating.  Instead of walking, I loaded him into the van and we drove nearer the track, which was on our property.  I put on his harness and he seemed excited and happy.  I remembered telling Jinx on her last day that we were "going to work."  I told Digit, through tears, that we were going to work that day. I knew it would be his last. He made a brief attempt to enter the woodline but stopped and I told him what a good, brave dog he was and gave him his tug toy.  He proudly carried it back to the van. He was a winner. His grey tail waved happily, even as I rained salty tears on his head.

I was thinking of how difficult it was to make that last farewell, and how much it hurt, knowing I had to make that decision.  I started adding Rimadyl to his meals and hoped to stave off the goodbye.  Digit chose the time for me and he left with the dignity with which he lived. On his own terms.  And if I had been in Florida, I would not have found him, been able to pet him while his spirit was still there, and say goodbye.

I was there when Digit was born. He was a the most beautiful, shimmering silver and my friend said, "oh look! It's Digit!" No matter that I was about to name him after an ill-fated silverback gorilla, it seemed to fit. And so, A-Digit vom Foxtal entered the world and my life. He was the son of my best girl, Sofie, whom I adored and as I huddled around the whelping box I immediately knew that this would be my dog. Digit's sire was Atos, Dianne San Lorenzo's well-known male. Unfortunately, Digit was dysplastic and was never bred, but he showed no sign of being handicapped by it and loved to work.  When we were in Florida when Digi was a youngster, a man offered me $5000 for him. I knew that he would never love him as I did, and wanted him only because of his gorgeous steel-grey color and I did not sell. I never would.

Digit was somewhat slow to mature, a trait I also observe in Cooper, though they are not related. Knowing what a great dog Digit evolved into, with patience, has helped me to keep Cooper in perspective and let him grow up in his own time.

Digit was such a stable dog mentally, and one of my fondest memory is having him come off the field after a V-rated protection routine and being petted and hugged by a little girl from the crowd as the critique was made.  This was at Al Govednik's club, and the field was lit with vehicle headlights in the darkness, a circumstance that would have made many dogs a little tweaky and suspicious.  A little girl came from the crowd, threw her arms around him and proclaimed "I just love this dog!" Having done many demonstrations with him, I knew him to be very sound and safe. When we  used to visit my elderly father in law, Digit would sit quietly next to him to be petted. He seemed to innately sense how to adjust his behavior to the circumstance.

Out on the competition field, he was anything but gentle! He had a tremendous launch for the grip and loved protection work. Still, I could always see the impish glint in his eyes.  He taught many a helper in our club. Sometimes it was hard for them to reconcile that this dog who was sitting so quietly and patiently would then spring into action. Every club needs veterans to teach the young helpers, and Digit filled that role with enthusiasm, even after his formal retirement from the sport.

He lived through my own stupid handler errors and taught me many lessons.  I decided we should try our hand at personal protection sports.  Digit proved he could handle that type of defensive, multi-attacker work but when we returned to schutzhund, he was confused by the call-backs and left the man! I was embarrassed because I knew that he was not a weak dog, and I had created this problem.  Digit taught me to admit my own role in those mistakes, to think more carefully about sport conflicts and training, and most of all, to love my dog through it all.  It was not his fault.  He was willing to try anything I asked of him, so long as I was patient and clear.  He taught me a big lesson in tracking: the power of a hungry dog! I loved Digit, but he could be a stubborn bugger!  When he was a SchH2 or maybe even SchH3, early on, he decided to disagree with the pressure I had put on him in tracking and refused to track.  Oh, he couldn't have made it any clearer!  I said "such" and he stuck his nose straight up in he air!  I realized that I had two options for action. I could either force the issue and be stuck forever with that choice, or motivate him to want to perform. I chose the latter.  The next day, I layed a heavily baited track so that if he put his nose down there would be reward.  I held his food dish in one hand and said "such".  Again, he stuck his nose up in the air, daring me to do something about it.  I said (in as nonchalant a voice as I could muster) "nope! too bad!" and put him back in his crate.  This continued for four days, with Digit getting only a partial meal to remind him of a rumbling tummy and the option for food IF he tracked each day.  It was a war of wills. On the fifth day, Digit surrendered and attacked the track with gusto.  After that, no matter how he struggled on a track, he continued to work it out to fruition, even earning an FH.

Digit was retired after our Spring 2006 schutzhund trial, where he earned High SchH 3 and High in Trial Honors. I could see that he had lost some of the "lift" that he used to have and it was more important that he retire without injury and with his dignity than to trial him to serve my own ego. He continued to spend his time teaching new helpers, being the neutral dog for puppy training and mentoring the young ones.   He had a post-retirement career that included blood tracking deer and relished the idea of following scent through conditions I couldn't imagine he could still be following something.  He amazed me with his ability.  Then, in 2008 he came out of retirement to earn an STP1, the article search title.  He was happy to be joining me for training and using his nose again.  He was even used as a "demo" dog in the trial and came off the field that day, tugging on the leather leash like a puppy, just as he had done in the old days. 

My sweet, grey boy is gone. He gave everything to me that I asked, except more time. There is never enough time.  He will be in my heart forever.  Someone wrote that our dogs don't outlive us so they don't have to wonder why we left them.

I found this writing, and the author speaks eloquently of the fact that dogs have to all their love in fewer years, so in fact they do not outlive us because that outLOVE us.  May all my dog friends find comfort in this.


Farewell, Digi-mon! I love you always.

CH A-Digit vom Foxtal, CGC, therapy dog,UCDX, STP1, 13x SchH3/IPO3, FH, DPO2
Born July 12, 1998
Died December 4, 2010
Loved Forever.