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My beautiful Tooey

As Tooey has gotten older, her coat has become more woolly and difficult to comb through. So, I keep her coat mostly short. I pay for it if I don’t, and so does she.

And at the beginning of each summer, I clip her topknot and ears quite short–just a little longer than the rest of her coat. I know many IWS aficionados disapprove, but this is easier for me and for her.

And no matter how I groom her, Tooey is beautiful.

This time, I wondered if I should put her through the rigors of being clipped down. Every month since her cancer diagnosis in February, I have wondered if this month will be her last grooming, and maybe I should just comb her out and let her be in her long IWS coat.

But Tooey is still with us, it’s almost summer, and this weekend it’s going to be 100 degrees F. Not a time for a long coat. And who knows, Tooey could be with us for several more months.

So, I improvised. She can’t stand for very long. But as long as there were plenty of treats coming, she was happy to lie on her sides and be clipped. I scissored her front legs while she was lying down. I clipped the undersides and tops of her ear flaps while she was lying down. It was only when I needed to finish her head and ears that I needed her to sit up.

Which she did. I worked as quickly as I could and let her lie down for a rest when she needed to.

Finally we finished and she could lie down and recuperate, looking out at the sheep and the squirrels.

I think she’s beautiful in this short coat–it shows off her beautiful eyes. But to me, she has always been beautiful, no matter how she’s groomed, whether in full show coat or in ratty, thin post-puppy coat.

Before, I worked away at the office, and the dogs spent their weekdays without a regular audience.

But now, in these days of COVID-19 stay-at-home, work-from-home, I am trying to do my job, writing consumer healthcare information, from a desk in an outbuilding that faces the street and the little business next door. Accompanied by two Irish Water Spaniel co-workers.

Life is way more exciting for two of us…

Irish Water Spaniels looking out a window at the UPS truck

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy is here!

Me: Thank you. Now quiet.

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy is still here!

Me: Quiet!

Tooey: Bark! The UPS guy!!! He’s still here!!!

Carlin (running back and forth from the window to my desk): You better come see.

Me (getting up and looking out the window): Oh look, it’s the UPS guy.

Dogs (staring at me): Well,… yeah.

Dogs (looking at each other as I walk back to my desk): We have to tell her this every time, don’t we.

Tooey: Bark! The FedEx guy is here…

Drawing not completely to scale, but close-ish

This social distancing thing is hard to take, for me anyway. I like to be around people. And one of the reasons I do dog sports, besides the joy of working with my dog, is to be around other people who also like to work with their dogs.

But now in this age of the COVID-19 virus, all the Scent Work trials I was entered in have been cancelled, and no one really wants (understandably) to get together to practice. I get that. But both Carlin and I can get a bit stir crazy if we don’t work on something. So today, I designed my second Detective search for us to try out.

The total area was just under 4000 square feet. Half of the search area was inside our “barn” (It used to be a barn 35 years ago), and the other half, outside in a carport, plus the lawn area just east of the building. I set out 9 hides (I didn’t write down which odors went where, but I used all 4 odors):

  1. (Main room) Under the top in the corner of one of three big folding tables shoved together. The tables had about 6 chairs around them, none of which obstructed the hide.
  2. (Main room) On the metal leg of an etching press, about 30″ above the ground. The space between the press and the wall was just wide enough for the dog to get into.
  3. (Bathroom) Behind the latch of a glass shower door, about 36″ high.
  4. (Garage) Under the foot pedal of the snow plow.
  5. (Garage) Above the top hinge of a door.
  6. (Carport) Under the pedestal of a column that holds up the carport roof.
  7. (Side yard) Under and behind a metal power box, maybe 40″ high.
  8. (Side yard) In a sand-filled Buried tub, next to a blank sand-filled tub.
  9. (Side yard) Pushed into the grass, so the top of the scent vessel was just under the level of the dirt.

The doors between the kitchen and garage, the hallway and bathroom, and the hallway and carport were left open during the search, as was that chain link gate. The front door and garage door were closed. All the windows were closed. The furnace was not turned on inside. Outside it was sunny, with no discernible breeze, and about 60 degrees F. I did not set out any distractions.

I use the barn pretty often to practice various things, so I really tried to find locations I haven’t used before. For example, there is a row of drawers and cabinets that line the hallway, but I left that area blank this time, as well as the kitchen, which has lots of shelves and cabinets that we’ve used a lot. I’m not sure why I got the idea to use Buried tubs, but we’ve been practicing Buried searches with sand, so I thought mixing it up this way would be interesting.

One thing that I’m noticing now that I didn’t do–I didn’t really create areas of converging odor, except for maybe kind of the two hides in the main room, which were almost the same height. I need to make sure to do that next time. I also didn’t do any threshold hides, which I should do, as Carlin often blasts right past those.

So, we started by coming into the front door (top of the diagram). Carlin took a pretty decisive right into the kitchen (we’ve done a lot of hides in there). He didn’t find anything right off the bat, so he took me into the garage. Hide #4 was tricky–he kept sniffing the opposite corner (to the right of the closed garage door). It looked like he was going to get stuck there, so I called him toward the center of the room, around the back of the snowplow, and he caught the odor. It took him a bit to decide that the odor was inside the snowplow and not underneath, but finally he called it.

Next he found #5. Back in that corner, there is a small furnace and a hot water heater. He spent quite a bit of time searching behind and around those, and then went to the opposite corner to sniff the shelves there. Then he came back along the wall toward the hide, lifted his head, and bam, there it was. He indicated, and when I asked him “Where?”, he lifted his whole body up toward the hinge. Good boy.

We went back out to the kitchen, where he took himself first on a clockwise, then a counter-clockwise circuit of the room. Deciding that nothing was there, he trotted down the hallway toward the bathroom, where he quickly found #3. Being near the back door, he wanted to go out that way, but I called him back in to search the main room. He searched the chairs and the table, and found #1 pretty quickly. (Those tables and chairs aren’t usually in that room, so that changed the picture quite a bit from usual.) #2 on the press was easy–in the past, we’ve hidden lots of hides on the press.

Then I had him search the cabinets in the hallway, which I think he did just to humor me. They were blank, and I think he knew that already.

So it was out the door to the carport, which had a big pickup truck parked in it. He did a wide sweep around the outside of the carport, sniffing the out-of-bounds grass and concrete. While out there, he did a head-snap, turned his body, and then found #6. He then took himself on a circle around the truck, decided nothing else was in the carport, and headed out and through the chain link gate.

We’ve used that yard many times before–there are a number of places I’ve hidden odor, and he checked all of those. But all those spots were blank. At that point, he notice the Buried boxes. That stopped him in his tracks for just a microsecond–we don’t normally have Buried boxes out while practicing Exterior hides. I think he was curious, so he went to check them out, and dang, if there wasn’t odor in #8.

#9 was just about 6 feet from #8, and also in a spot we haven’t used before. But he found that one almost immediately after finding #8.

The last one, #7, took him quite a while. I’m not sure why. He was sort of avoiding sniffing along that wall for some reason, so after a minute or so, I directed him down the wall. Once he went down the wall, passing #7, he turned himself around and searched back along the wall in the opposite direction. He caught something underneath the various power boxes (there are a several on that wall), so he took a moment to search each box. Finally he found it and sat.

I was ready to quit myself, but if this had been a real Detective search, we would have no guarantee that we had found all the hides. A judge can set ten hides, so there could have been one more. So, I told him to “find another one”. He casted around a bit, and then went back inside to #3 again and sat. Returning to a known hide is often his signal that he’s done. And he was right!

Carlin did some things today that I haven’t noticed him doing on his own consistently before.

  • In two cases, in the kitchen and along the outside wall with #7, he took himself in one direction and then in the other, without my asking him to.
  • He didn’t give up after four or five hides and tell me he was done. He kept going until he was satisfied he’d found everything.
  • He didn’t try to pick up nearly as many hides. If he had his way, he’d retrieve the hides and bring them to me (being a gun dog and having had so training in retrieving). He still tried to pick up a couple, but happily sat when I asked him to, before he got that far. I do try to place my hides and use vessels that make it hard to retrieve them. I keep hoping that this will interrupt that self-rewarding behavior and break the habit. Maybe it’s working.

It seems like it’s taken me much longer to describe all this than it took Carlin to find the hides. I really tried to pay attention to what he was doing, and less to whether he’d found hides or not. That’s a tough one for me. Hopefully writing this out will teach me something, even if I don’t quite know what it is just yet.

We forget, and get a puppy again. This one is brown and curly, sweet, a bit older at 8 months, and way too smart. And named Two-E (which we almost immediately change to “Tooey”. I mean, what blogger wants to be constantly spelling a name with two capital letters and a hyphen).

Tooey grows up, and with the help of a lot of friends and some stiff competition, she gets her show championship.

She grows up some more, and we do lots of stuff together. Fun stuff, like hunting in 8 states and 1 province, spaniel hunt tests, barn hunt, and scent work; the not-quite-but-almost-as-fun stuff, like retriever hunt tests and Rally, and the stuff, Tooey says, I’m doing because Trice wants me to, like Obedience and the CGC. Titles in all of it (except the real-world hunting), enough to earn the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s All-Around IWS and the Quintessential IWS awards.

She has puppies. Two litters of them. Some of them are hunters. Most of them are pets. Five of them win show championships (making Tooey a Dam of Merit), and one of those wins a Best in Show Specialty. All are loved, and well worth loving.

Tooey was the love of Cooper’s life. She is Carlin’s mentor and friend. She has been Russ’s reliable hunting partner. And she is my best girl, my Tooey Honey, my comfort in sickness and companion in health.

And somehow I must have thought that Tooey would live forever.

But she won’t. Of course she won’t. None of us will.

On February 19, Tooey went in to have a tumor removed from the left cheek at back of her mouth. The biopsy report came back 6 agonizing days later: Canine oral malignant melanoma. And it is an aggressive one.

…The mitotic count is 32… Approximately 80% of the cells exhibit nuclear atypic…

A mitotic count of greater than 4 and a nuclear atypic score greater than 30% correlate with survival times of less than 1 year. Tumors located behind the carnassial tooth… are considered more aggressive.

So. Terror in the heart. Love, lots of love. And a memento mori, a reminder that time is always shorter than we think it is.

Carlin is 6!

Irish Water Spaniel

Carlin (aka Realta’s Carlin O’Whistlestop, Bud, Buddy Boy, Carlinator, Mr C., Cuddle Puppy) is 6 years old today!

Happy birthday!

… to strike terror in one’s heart. I’ve had cancer; I have close family relatives who have had cancer and who have died of cancer; my first Irish Water Spaniel, Cooper, died of lymphoma, a type of cancer.

And today I found out that Carlin’s sire died just last month of cancer. Harry was just short of 9 years old. Carlin’s dam died of cancer several years ago.

And on top of that, Tooey is going into the vet tomorrow to have tumor removed from the inside of her mouth. The vet took a sample and looked at it under a microscope. Not diagnostic, not definitive, but the cells in the center of the sample don’t look good. But, you know, maybe all those weird-looking cells aren’t really that bad. Or if they are, maybe they are encapsulated in the tumor and haven’t spread.

I try not to worry.

We did have a cancer scare with Tooey before. But those masses turned out to be benign. And she has several of these fatty tumors on her trunk, and they’re benign. So, let us hope, or pray if you do that. That Tooey is fine this time, like she was last time. And that both she and Carlin live long and happy lives for many years more.

Getting-older grooming

Unlike Cooper and Carlin, Tooey has always had the perfect duck-hunter coat. So thick that when she leaps into the water to retrieve a bird, her skin barely gets wet, if it gets wet at all.

But as she has gotten older, Tooey’s coat, thick and fast-growing, has gotten wooly. It mats much more easily. It’s increasingly hard to comb through. And she’s able to stand on the grooming table for much shorter periods of time. All of this means it takes longer and requires more work to keep her coat clean, combed, and free of mats.

I asked a bunch of people who also have older IWS, and got a lot of suggestions that have helped. Things like: use a spray-on detangler spray to help the brush and comb slide through her coat more easily; lie Tooey on her side with a pillow under her head so she doesn’t have to stand; keep her coat shorter than the typical show coat. I got others I haven’t tried yet, like using a sling under her hips to help her stand.

But even after implementing these ideas, I realize that a big part of the problem is that, as Tooey has gotten older, so have I.

My hands can’t hold the comb as long as they used to. My arms and back get tired. And these days, I have a few extra responsibilities and a few less of the pleasures than I hoped for. Sometimes, by the time I’ve combed out all Tooey’s mats, I find myself in tears of exhaustion.

So I’ve been thinking about what I can do. One idea, an expensive one, is to hire it out. But I actually like the bathing and the trimming. It’s just the weekly, heavy-going combing out that’s so exhausting. I could do it less often, but honestly, I think that more than doubles the difficulty when I eventually do the combing. That makes it harder on both Tooey and me.

So I think now the thing to do is just keep Tooey’s coat really, really short all the time. Instead of clipping her once every three or four months like I’ve been doing, do it every month. Never let it get long so it has less chance of getting too thick for me to handle.

It’s a pity because Tooey is such a beautiful dog. She’s beautiful in a short coat, but she’s stunning when she is in a carefully trimmed full coat.

But I think those days may be gone now. We don’t do duck hunting anymore. And I’m not as much a stunner as I was back in the day, either. So now us old ladies will just have to rely on knowing our inner beauty shines through, with a shorter coat for Tooey and not quite so much exhaustion for both of us.

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