When I finish running a Detective search, I almost immediately forget everything that happened. It’s like I’m in this tunnel-of-concentration when I’m running the search. It’s like a movie or something that runs through my mind and then turns off when I’m out. If I haven’t taken photos of the search area to remind me, all I have is the judges drawn map, which is sometimes of little use to me in remembering. (This has been true of all but Carlin’s 3rd Detective pass, which was just too memorable to forget.)

Course map from Carlin’s 4th Detective Q, October 22, 2021

Our fourth (and 1st place!) pass was under judge Carol Chase, at the Idaho Capital City Kennel Club trials on October 22 of this year. The day was damp and cloudy, but not raining, with swirly, variable wind. It was even a bit windy inside the interior space, a conference room with multiple open doors.

I don’t remember the details of our search. I do remember we started with the interior space, and then moved to the exterior space. I remember taking Carlin back inside after we’d searched the outside, and realizing that he thought he’d found everything already and didn’t need to search the inside again. I remember calling Finish, and hearing the judge say “Yes. And your dog told you he was finished a while ago.” “Yeah,” I remember saying, “People tell me that a lot.”

I also remember flashes of things I thought about during the search. And now it seems to me that the key to this search was making sure to cover every area:

  • To make sure to check thresholds, as at the start line (hide #1) into the interior area. I also made sure he checked the doorway to the outdoors, but there was nothing there.
  • To notice odd things, like the lone backpack (#3) hanging from a coat rack.
  • To not assume that just because a hide was on one object (garbage can #1), that a hide can’t also be on the same type of object (garbage can #4) somewhere else.
  • To make sure to get into alcoves, as adjacent to the #5 hide outdoors. That one was next to a recessed doorway, and Carlin first caught the odor in the recess, and then followed the odor out along the wall, up where the bank of electrical boxes were mounted.
  • To make sure to go outside the search area, so the dog can get into any odor from hides that may be out near the edges of the search area, like #6 and #7.

We did well in that search, using 7:01.32 minutes of the 8:00:00 minutes we were given. I was happy. And we had fun. But then, we always have fun in Detective.

Carlin’s 3rd Q in Detective

Carlin’s 3rd qualifying run in an AKC Detective search was a doozy. The interior parts were fine: challenging and fun. But the exterior?

Think loose guard dog immediately on the other side of the chain link boundary fence. Think an angry driver whose usual shortcut was blocked. Or how about a construction truck running through the exterior search area? And a lift-gate truck driving just into the edges of the search area, and then beeping loudly as it backed out again.

Recreation* of map, Detective search, Sept 24, 2021

The interior search area was in the narrow hallway in an animal therapy business that had the whole south end of a long strip mall. The exterior was a graveled alley that ran north and south along the back of the business, which faced west. We later found out that the alley served as access to separate outdoor storage business and as a shortcut for a nearby apartment complex. We also found out that it it often got a lot of traffic.

The hallway was lined on both sides with several folded up tables, lamps, crammed bookshelves, doorways to small storerooms and bathrooms, and overflowing boxes. I say “lined”, but really, the walls of that hallway up to about six or seven feet were almost totally obscured with stuff.

We found the first hide right at the start line, on the table just to our left. Then pretty quickly, Carlin found the hide on the lamp base. At that point, since there was so much stuff in that hallway, I decided to do little circles–up one side of a section of the hallway, then back down the other side, then up to the next small section. So we gave a good look at the shelves and boxes in the middle section of the hallway.

Then we got to the table on the far right of the hallway. Carlin indicated, but I hesitated. Hadn’t we found that one already? But then I said aloud, “It’s just a fault”, thinking that I’d found that one already. So I called it, and the judge said Yes. I guess I hadn’t found it… Turns out the reason it looked familiar was that the hide was placed exactly as our first hide have been placed, on exactly the same kind of table.

At that point, the judge asked me, “Do you want to wait? We can pause the clock.”

Wait for what?, I wondered. I couldn’t see anything to wait for, and Carlin was on a roll. Pausing would only frustrate him. What I didn’t register was the construction truck parked right in the middle of the alley, which was our exterior search area. I could see it through the exit from the hallway, but it didn’t occur to me that the truck might be a problem.

I shook my head No, and we kept going. We found the cypress hide on the last table on the left, got a Yes, and went out the door. By that time, the truck was moving out of the way as we went out to search the exterior area.

We got to the top of the stairs to the alley and ran into odor. Carlin had to go up and down the stairs a few time, and then around the corner to the alcove formed by the stairs and building. As Carlin was solving this puzzle, a lift-gate truck showed up just outside of that alcove, parked on the gravel just inside the search area, lifted some construction materials to the roof of the business next door, and then beep-beeped loudly as it backed out of the alley the way it had come.

Carlin didn’t care. He indicated the cypress hide, and we got a Yes. That one was a interesting puzzle. From the top of the stairs, the hide was below us, on an electrical box. But down on the alley floor, the hide was above us. Then nearby, we found a converging odor hide on the wall, under a power/water complex of outlets and inlets. After getting that Yes, we moved south to the other side of the stairs to take a look at the bobcat.

Just then, a sedan drove down the alley at speed from the north, and screeched to a stop just opposite the stairs and bobcat. The alley was blocked by spectators, Carlin and I, the judge, the timer, and a bunch of cones. And boy oh boy, was that driver pissed. Later people told me that she shouted that this is her usual route, she was in a fu**ing hurry, wanted us to let her through right now, go**amn it. But no one would.

So she did this 8-point turn around, jerking the car forward and backward in short squealing bursts, trying to get out of the alley by going back in the way she’d come in. Several times she almost backed into Carlin or me. She wasn’t watching out for us, I was in kind of a tunnel trace focused only on Carlin, and Carlin was paying attention only to the hide he knew was out there somewhere. And before the car could get out of there, find it he did, the one on the bobcat claws.

I called it just as the car finally got out of there in flurry of spun gravel. I called it. It took several moments, but finally we got an “Oh!… Yes” from the judge.

But I didn’t really register any of that at the time. And I wasn’t thinking about the car. I was thinking: That’s only 7 hides, and there could be 10. So I took Carlin over to the chain link fence to search the fence and gravel over there, and boom! Out charges an off-leash guard dog, barking and growling, teeth bared, and hackles raised. That dog had a job, and that job was to keep everything and everybody away from that fence and out of the storage yard.

Those of you who have followed this blog at all might remember that Carlin has been attacked a number of times, once enough to cause injury. This has made him deeply distrustful of strange dogs and more inclined to join in a fight than run away from it. So when he saw that dog charge the fence on the other side, he decided to charge it from his side, too.

My heart sank. I knew they couldn’t really get to each other, but I was afraid that his joy and trust in the sport of scent work would be destroyed. We’ve worked so hard for years to develop the ability to ignore the other dogs in what has always been a safe setting, and just do the work. And now, I was afraid, we could lose it all.

I jerked his leash gently and said, “Get back to work.” Carlin eased up a little, and the people on the other side of the fence ran out and grabbed their dog. He grumbled. I told him again, “Back to work.” He grumbled a bit more, but then, miracles of miracles, he went back to work.

Carlin slowed down his search, acting like there wasn’t anything else to find, so we went back inside briefly just to see if there might be something we hadn’t found yet. There wasn’t anything else in there, though, so we came outside and I called Finish. The judge stared at me for a moment, and started to say No.

But then she changed it to a Yes. After all, we’d found every hide that hadn’t been pulverized and ground into the gravel by heavy trucks and a squealing sedan.

I, of course, am thrilled with the Q, which was also a 1st place. But it also feels a little off. Best would have been for Carlin to have indicated the place where the hide in the gravel had been.

But I am taking this Q as a gift. There have been times when we’ve been NQd through no fault of our own: things like contaminated searches missed because no demo dog was used, a rule from another organization being applied to one of my AKC searches… You know, stuff like that. Shit happens. And when shit happens, sometimes we just have to take it.

So when we get a gift…, I think we can feel free to take those, too.

*The map in this post is a recreation. The original map is too faded to photograph well enough.

Irish Water Spaniel Carlin wins the IWSCA #1 Scent Work IWS and Spotlight awards for 2020
Carlin wearing the Spotlight medallion with his #1 IWS Scent Work trophy

Russ handed me a package and said “You’ve got mail.” I looked at the box. It was labeled “Bellissimo Traditional Cooked Meatballs.” 


“Russ answered, “It’s from Jeremy.”

Jeremy. My mind took a minute to process—it was busy solving a quilting problem. Then the proverbial light dawned. “Oh!” 

Russ took his pocket knife out and handed it to me. He knew I had to get that box open that box, like right now. 

And inside were several charms with Carlin’s and Tooey’s AKC titles from 2020, a certificate, and, oh boy!, a trophy recognizing the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s #1 Irish Water Spaniel Scent Work award for 2020. Carlin earned that by passing the most AKC Scent Work searches at the highest levels, beyond what other IWS did that year. (Although I know there are some others that are coming up quick!)

And there was also a medallion for the club’s Spotlight Award. The Spotlight Award was established to recognize a team for special accomplishments. Some examples are placements at National events, dedication to the world of dog sports, or any other notable occurrence worthy of special recognition from the club. It’s awarded to teams that are out there promoting the breed by showing everyone what IWS can do. 

The winning team has to be nominated by another club member. I am thrilled with the award and touched that Sarah nominated us. Just knowing my fellow club members, I am sure that there were many who totally deserve this award, and I am grateful to be in their company. 

Carlin was mostly happy to let me take his picture, in all his summer/field-cut glory. But then afterwards, he wondered, “Yes, okay. But where are the meatballs?”

The Pacific Northwest Scent Work Club offered four AKC Scent Work Detective runs over the Mother’s Day weekend, 2021. There were 11 teams that ran each search. Out of those 44 attempts, only 3 qualified: Three different teams each passed one run. And Carlin and I were one of those teams.

Patrice and Carlin with their Detective ribbon

Running Detective is exhilarating. Whether we pass or not, it’s always fun. Challenging for sure, but always fun. And this judge, Mia MacCollin, is known to have a few tricks up her sleeve when she sets hides. In this case, the three tricky hides for us were the cypress hide in a bucket (#2 on the map); an anise hide (#4) set close to and directly up wind from a clove hide (#5); and birch set high up on a plywood wall (#7). 

Detective map, PNWSWC May 7, 2021, trial 2. Judge Mia MacCollin

The wind was blowing from the west (west is at the bottom of the map). So we started by going downwind. But the area was conducive to moving around in circles in each separate section of the search area, so we could move in each area first downwind, then upwind, and sometimes across the wind. 

We got the threshold hide (#1 under the water fountain) first. Then Carlin found #2 (in a bucket), but I didn’t buy it—I mean, he often sticks his head in buckets. So we moved on, ignored Mia’s lunch and the mimic bunny, and went and found #3, the birch under the big rock. I didn’t buy that one either, at first, but Carlin insisted, so I called it. 

We then moved past the human distraction and headed east, downwind along the building wall and into a short narrow alley. The end of the alley seemed like it was almost at the edge of the freeway—it was so loud that Mia and I couldn’t hear each other. So I raised my fist to call alert on each of the hides (#4 and #5), both set on almost identical large coolers, and she shouted “Yes!”

Then it was into the small gymnasium, crammed with exercise bicycles; weights, weight machines, and weight benches; multiple pairs of used baseball shoes; lots of baseballs and bats; old towels; soda cans; and miscellaneous stuff. We found hide #8, inside one of the shoes, pretty quickly. But hide #7, up about 8 or 9 feet on top of a piece of plywood used to repair a wall? Well, that one took us awhile. 

Carlin got up on his hind legs, and searched up all along the wall. Then he examined each of the three or four exercise bikes, all parked below the plywood wall. He sniffed the seats, the handlebars, the wheels. And then he searched up again, all along the length of the plywood, about 16 or so feet. Finally, he went up one more time at the middle point of the wall, and indicated. I called it, and got another “Yes”. 

Coming out of the gymnasium, we almost zoomed past a hide in the bristles of a yard broom set at the threshold between the interior space and the exterior space (hide #6), but then he did a head snap, stopped, and indicated. OK, got that one. So now where? Carlin was slowing down, which usually means we’re done with an area. We had found 7 hides, and that could have been all there were.

But there were two more places I wanted to check–I wanted to go back along the wall, this time upwind, and I wanted to check that bucket again. So that’s what we did. Carlin sniffed the dog brush distraction briefly, but then he took me right back to that bucket and sat. I called it this time, got a “Yes”, and then I took us out into the middle of the search area, just to see if Carlin was interested in anything. 

He wasn’t, so I called “Finish”. Instead of a “Yes”, I got a hand raised in a high five. Just for a second there, I didn’t quite know what that meant. But then it dawned on me–we passed!!!!

And much later, I discovered that we’d gotten 1st place, too. 

Carlin 1/10th Detective

Finally the rain stopped, just in time for Carlin’s Detective searches at the Cascade English Cocker Spaniel Fanciers scent work trials held in Lacey, Washington, on March 22, 2021.

Judge Vicky Lovejoy holding Carlin’s 3rd place ribbon for our successful Detective search

There were two Detective searches. The first one was really fun. But we failed, just like every other team. It was a toughie: The smallish interior space had six hides inside cabinets, up on shelves, under a lawn mower, etc. One of the outdoor hides was up in a tree; and other outside hides were in a water-filled planter pot, a very distracting dog house, and up in a faucet. We missed one of the interior hides (up under a step stool placed on top a cabinet in a corner) and one of the outdoor hides (the one in the planter pot).

The second search was equally fun, but this one we passed, along with four other teams. This one had seven hides: six inside and one outside. Two of them were at thresholds: one upon entering the search (marked “1” in red) and at the door to the outside (marked “2” in red). And one was high: up on top of some folding tables, stacked long-way up and down (marked “7” in red). At 8:35.07 minutes, Carlin and I earned a 3rd place.

Going through the start line, down the ramp into the interior space.
The interior space, taken from the ramp. The orange toy on top the table edge is about 12″ away from the high hide.
The exterior space, bounded by the white painted lines. The one hide was under the brown recycling carts.

As I often have to do, I called Carlin back as he blasted through the the start line. I needed him to check the threshold. Thresholds are a challenge for him, and I know that. So, he found that hide (#1 in red).

Then he zoomed down the ramp, straight into the #2 threshold hide. Bingo. #3 was under one of the trash can lids, and #4 was under the hand railing at the top of the other ramp. As we headed toward hide #5, he stopped and searched the vertically stacked tables, going up and down and up and down all the edges. He didn’t commit, though, so we moved on and found hide #5, which was in the middle of a stack of horizontally stacked tables.

Then we did a bit of wandering, looking at boxes in the far corner, circling some stacks of chairs, sniffing at some light switches on the wall. Nothing.

At that point, he went back to the vertically stacked tables and searched again, but still didn’t commit, so I suggested we go outside. Which we did, going through the second threshold again. This time he found a hide and indicated from the outside of the building, but I guessed it was the same hide as #2, so I told him “Yes! you found that one.”

Fortunately, a light breeze was blowing from the one outside hide (#6) right toward us. He found that one in short order. I had him search the rest of the area, just in case, including all the cracks in the asphalt. But he showed no interest.

So, then went back indoors to take another sniff at those vertical tables. Again, he searched up and down, jumping up and crouching down. At one point, he tried getting at it by jumping on some nearby stacked folding chairs, which promptly crashed down. He ignored those, though, and went back to the tables. Finally, in front of the tables, he sat and looked at me. He was telling me, “It’s here!”

But where exactly? That’s what I was worried about. What if the judge asked me “Where?” I’d have to point to a relatively small area of all those tables. But, I took a gamble, and said, “Alert.” The judge said, “Yes.” And then I paused for a micro-second before saying, “Finish.” And the judge said “Yes!” with a big sigh. Turns out she’d been worried, too, that I’d call alert on the crashing chairs instead of the tables.

And so we passed our first Detective search. Carlin and I have attempted four Detective searches, and this was our first pass. Since the pass rate is (I’ve been told different numbers by different judges) about 5-10%, I’m quite happy with our 1 for 4.

Now, since a dog needs 10 passes for the Detective title, all we need is 9 more!

I got some lovely photos from one of Carlin’s Scent Work Exterior Master searches. The photos were taken by Briana Freshner. And the trial was held by the Bristle Nose Scent Work Club at a camp site in Murray, Utah on September 20, 2020. This search was judged by Hallie McMullen. And this was a search we passed!

“Hmm… nothing here.” — photo by Briana Freshner

“I know it’s around here close by somewhere…” — photo by Briana Freshner

“We’re done here, Mom. Where’s my cookie?” — photo by Briana Freshner

This search was kind of a backward C-shape. The start line looked down a long skinny alley between the north side of the building and the fence. Bur first we took a sharp left to look along a short section of the east side of the building (yes, there was one on the power meter), and then we headed toward the north side of the building. But just at the northwest corner, there was another hide high up under an open staircase. Two down, and possibly two more to go.

So then we headed down the long alley, checking the little garbage can area, a sidewalk along the building, and a picnic table at the northwest corner. Nothing. So we turned left again to search the stair rail and patio on the west side of the building. Carlin first went down the stairs, which were outside of the search area, but while he was down there, he located something back up on the patio. So he trotted up the stairs again, and searched along the stair rail, where he found hide #3. Good boy. Maybe one more.

So we gave the patio, fireplace, doorway, and BBQ a once over, and Carlin said, “Nothing here, Mom.” I called “Finish” and get a “Yes!” in return. We were done with a nice Q and a 1st place.

I don’t often get photos of my dog working. So I felt very fortunate to get these today. Gave me chance to relive a bit of happy success.

Tooey was one of the few Irish Water Spaniel bitches to have a long list of recognitions from the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America. Together, the three of us, Tooey, Russ, and I, earned these distinctions:

  • IWSCA All-Around IWS. To get this, a dog has to have an obedience Companion Dog (CD) title, at least a Junior retriever Hunt Test title (JH), and a conformation Championship. Tooey had all three.
  • IWSCA Quintessential Versatility Award. To get this, the dog has to have at least 5 titles. In addition to the titles she earned for her All-Around, Tooey also had a Rally title (RN) and a Junior spaniel Hunt test title (JHU). And that doesn’t even count the Barn Hunt and Scent Work titles she also earned.
  • Outstanding Producer. To earn this, a bitch has to have three puppies who have earned a conformation championship. Tooey had five.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Beyond all these recognitions, Tooey was a very good hunting dog. She hunted ducks, pheasants, chukar, and quail in eight states and one Canadian province. She excelled at finding birds that other dogs missed. And she was not about to let us go home without having got every possible bird. She did some long. long retrieves to get her bird. And, on the occasion that one of the gunner’s missed their target, she’d trot out into the field where the missed bird had landed, trap it, and bring it back to hand. And she’s kind of famous among enthusiasts for her hunting ability, having been written about in five hunting magazines.

More than all of that, though, Tooey was our Best Beloved. Cooper, our first IWS, fell instantly in love when he met her. She was the love of his life, and you could see the stars in his eyes when he looked at her. And for Carlin, she served first as a mother figure when he came to us at age 8 weeks, later a playmate, and then a steady solid presence that let him know he isn’t alone.

And for Russ and I, she was our Ms Tooey Honey, or Tooey Darling, or Too, or Miss Tooey Girl, Curly Girl, or Girlie. Always special. Always beloved. Always, now, to be missed.

Tooey Irish Water Spaniel

Tooey’s last portrait


December 9, 2008 — January 29, 2021

Irish Water Spaniel in the sunlight


Carlin SWM!

I am so pleased and so proud that Team Carlin achieved a goal we’ve been working on for three years: pending AKC approval, Carlin has earned his Scent Work Master (SWM) title.

He passed his third Buried Master search on October 31, 2020, under judge Vicky Lovejoy at the Pacific Northwest Scent Work Club trials in Keizer, Oregon. That was the last pass he needed for his Buried Master title. And since he had already earned the Scent Work Container Master, Interior Master, and Exterior Master titles, having the Buried Master title completes the last thing needed for the overall Master level title.

Vicky, Patrice, Carlin just after passing Carlin’s 3rd Buried Master search

As best I can tell, Carlin is the first IWS to reach this title. That is an achievement in itself, as I know many other IWS people are competing with their very talented dogs in the sport, too.

This SWM been a long time coming, or at least it seems that way to me. Three years ago almost exactly, I went to a Scent Work class on a whim. It was being taught by scent work judge, Hallie McMullen. It was fun, so we kept coming to class. She watched Carlin and I work for months. And then one day, we were sitting in the sun after a trial and she told me, “Carlin could be a Master dog, if you want.”

I did want. So Carlin and I have been working steadily with Hallie and her other students toward that goal. I love working with my dogs, and it’s especially thrilling when we exceed my expectations.

Our performance hasn’t always exceeded expectations, however. Not by a long shot. And Buried has been hard. At the Excellent and Master levels, the dog searches tubs of both sand and water, and for some reason, Carlin stopped finding odor in the water. It went on like that for several months. He found odor in the sand pretty well, but water… Well, in any case, we failed way more Buried searches than I liked.

But finally, we went back to training basics, upped the reward for success (oooooh–baked liver! Yum!), and just kept at it. Carlin slowly gained back some of his lost confidence. And I started to believe him again when he indicated he’d found odor in the water. And last August, he got his Scent Work Buried Excellent title, and now, his Master title.

We’ll take a little time to celebrate and maybe go hunting this fall. And then? On to Scent Work Detective searches, which are a blast to run and exceedingly difficult to pass.


Tooey, the miracle dog

That’s what the vet said as he came out to the clinic parking lot to talk with me about Tooey’s checkup today. She’s a miracle dog.

And why?

Because there’s no trace of the cancer that this same vet found when he removed the tumor from inside Tooey’s mouth last February.

No inflammation. No redness. No tumors. None of the aggressive growths we were warned about. Nothing. Just healthy pink tissues.

Of course, he cautioned me, melanomas are notorious for coming back. New tumors could appear in her mouth, lungs, or digestive tract.

There are no guarantees, he said.

But there never are, are there?

So for now, we’ll just celebrate Tooey, the miracle dog. Which is what she’s always been to us.

If you have read this blog much, you might remember my post from years ago about the killer dog show. The one where, shortly after failing a Novice Obedience run with Cooper, I collapsed with heat exhaustion and went to the hospital in an ambulance. The one where fellow dog show people took care of me, took care of my dog, and took care of my car and all its stuff.

I have never forgotten any of those people, or their generosity, or their selfless kindness and concern.

This weekend was just about as eventful. Except this time, I didn’t go to the hospital and my dog Carlin didn’t fail.

What happened was this: I was about 100 miles north of my motel close to the scent work trial I had entered for this weekend. I was stopping to get gas, when my car kept stalling and dying whenever the car moved really slowly. You know, like when you’re stopping at a stop sign, or turning a sharp corner, or pulling up to a gas pump.

The car started right up again each time after it died, so I wasn’t totally stuck. But I was in the boonies and wanted to get to the motel so I could go to the trial the next day (today). So I decided to just go on to my destination and deal with car issues there.

But while I was on a section of busy, congested freeway about 35 miles from my destination, I saw the check engine light go on. This is not good. Traffic was getting heavier. It could easily have turned into stop-and-go traffic. I had visions of my car stalling on the freeway, in 98 degree weather, with a dog on board.

So I pulled off the freeway at the next exit and called AAA. They said they could tow my car to a Ford dealership, but they couldn’t take me anywhere once we got to the dealership. While waiting for the tow, I called the dealership, so they knew I was coming. But of course, by the time the tow truck arrived at the dealership, the service department and the showroom were closed.

So I took a gamble and texted Alexandria, one of my fellow Scent Work enthusiasts, who is one of the students who take classes with my scent work instructor. I knew my she was going to the same trial I was traveling to. In my text, I just said, “I need help.”

And she helped me. Her husband Brian drove the 35 miles in rush hour traffic to the dealership and picked me up. Me, my dog, and all my scent work trial stuff. He drove another 35 miles to my motel. And the next morning (today), Alexandria picked me up and drove me, my dog, and all my scent work stuff to the trial.

She lent me her cool coat to keep Carlin cool in the 96 degree F weather. (Mine got left behind in my car by accident.) We shared our aluminet tarps to keep the sun off the car. She had extra water, some protein bars, and and a easy-up tent for shade. We watched each other’s runs, held each other’s stuff, and celebrated each other’s successes.

And at the end of the day, Carlin had earned the last run he needed for his Scent Work Buried Excellent title (SBE) which is the last title he needed to earn the overall Scent Work Excellent title (SWE).

And on top of that, that last Buried Excellent search was fast and accurate enough to win 1st place.

And then, even better, he won 1st place in Excellent Exteriors, which we ran just because he loves that element. And those two first places won him High In Trial for the Excellent level, too.

Such an amazing weekend so far. And I couldn’t have done it without the amazing generosity of fellow dog people who could, and then did, help me.

Now I have more people to never, ever forget. And thank God for that.

Judge Laurie Schlossnagle with me and Carlin

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.

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