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… 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.

Carlin became eligible to run AKC’s Scent Work Detective class when he earned his first Scent Work Master title last September. But the one time I had a chance to run it (at that same trial in September), I didn’t realize that his third Interiors Master pass qualified him to run Detective. So we missed that opportunity.

But honestly, that’s OK. Neither Carlin nor I are ready for it. For Detective, the search area is supposed to include both interior and exterior spaces totaling 2000-5000 square feet, there are 5 to 10 hides, and the team gets 7 to 15 minutes. We’ve never done anything that difficult.

So today, after the snow let up, I decided to give it a go.

The search area included four rooms inside our out-building (called “the barn”), plus the gate, fence, and driveway in front of the barn. The area probably totaled a bit less than 2000 square feet, but was challenging nonetheless.

Russ set the hides. We found six and I called Finish.

It turns out I missed three. The hardest one was set in a heat vent in the eight-foot ceiling. We also missed two others — one on a tall counter in a hallway, hidden in the folds of a blanket, and the other inside a paper towel roll hanging above the bathroom sink. Russ told me where they were, and when I took Carlin back to those areas, he found them.

Challenging. And lots of fun. And a learning experience:

  • Carlin is not at the point where he can clear a space with one pass. This may be because he moves really fast and not very methodically. So right now, I need to make sure he moves through a space in more than one direction. If we go up the hallway, we need to also come down the hallway; if we go around a room clockwise, we need to go through it again counter-clockwise. If we’d done that, we’d have found more of the hides. But this method is not optimal, as it takes up time. So I will need to investigate learning how to deal with this.
  • I need to be able to keep track of how many hides we’ve found. By the sixth hide, I’d forgotten how many we’d found, and thought we’d found seven. There have to be at least seven hides, so if I hadn’t forgotten, I’d have realized that we’d missed at least one and gone looking for it.
  • I didn’t call Alert on the same hide more than once. I’ve made that mistake before, so maybe I’m learning a few things.
  • Carlin is getting better at food distractions. After a quick sniff, he ignored the macaroni and cheese. This is a very good thing.
  • This is a really different experience than searching several small areas and calling Finish on each of the areas before you can move to the next, as in Interiors Master. In Interiors Master, you can just do a space and be done with it (except you do have to remember your total number of finds). In Detective, the search areas is just one big space. The team can move between rooms or from inside to outside (and back) at will. It means that you can go back into a space if you need to, but it also means that there is more to remember for both the handler and the dog.

But gosh, it’s fun. Carlin always whines in excitement when he has his harness on and is waiting for me to say “Find it!” And I love watching him do what he does so well, even when we miss a few.

(On a side note… wow. Six months since I wrote last. Just wow. So much stuff happening that I hadn’t registered the time…)

Anyway…

Carlin and Tooey and I have been doing a lot of scent work. In fact, aside from allowing the dogs to crowd me out of the bed, walks along the irrigation ditch, meals, and the weekly combing out, I haven’t been doing anything with the dogs except scent work.

And we’ve been doing pretty well. Carlin now has two Master element titles (Exteriors and Interiors), and Tooey has three Novice element titles (Exteriors, Interiors, and Buried). It’s fun and they both love it, so I try to practice as often as these short winter days and work schedules allow.

This morning I set up two different Exterior searches, but it’s the second one I want to tell you about.

I wanted to make it hard. I wanted Carlin to really have to think his way around the search. I set it up in an area of the yard we have searched often, but this time I put all the hides along the backs of the shop and sheds. They all back up to a chain link fence between our yard and the neighbor’s driveway, with about a four-foot wide path between the buildings and the fence.

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One hide, an easy one, is under one of the grey brick (lower right corner of the photo). Another one was up about five feet, stuffed into the corner of the steel shed, the shed farthest away, closest to the wooden fence. (This location is hard to see from the angle of the photo.) At the time of our search, the neighbor’s big diesel pickup truck was parked just on the other side of the fence, full of yard debris and lawn chemicals.

The middle hide was supposed to be the hard one, set about four feet high, right behind the heat pump mounted on the middle building. That’s the shop, and the heat was on in there, so the heat pump fan was running.

Like I predicted, the hide under the bricks was a gimme. And the one behind the fan was a puzzle that took Carlin several minutes. Lots of searching for the edges of the dispersed scent plume. He worked out and them back in, out in another direction and back in, up along the wall of the shed next to it, down along the wall below the fan, back out and in, out in. He found it though, and so we set off for the hide on the steel shed. That one was set high, but should have been fairly easy.

But just then, the neighbor came out and started up his truck so it could sit and warm up. You know what that means—a huge blast of stinky diesel fumes, right next to my hide.

I tried to call Carlin off. But no, by this time, he was determined to find it. He’s a dedicated worker, and besides, he knew he’d be paid in salmon jerky, and that is just too wonderful to put off.

I kept thinking, Dude, we can come back later. He kept searching. Doing his out-in, out-in thing. Finally, he found a whiff of anise in all that odor. First his nose lifted, then his shoulders, and finally his feet were up on the side of the shed, his nose pushing the hide even deeper into the crevice where I’d hidden it.

Good boy! Now let’s get out of here, I said. You can have bites of jerky on the way.

And so we did.

I was thrilled to learn that one of Tooey’s puppies, Pax, was selected as the Best of Breed dog at the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s 2019 National Specialty.

I wasn’t there to see it, but I got lots of texts giving me the good news. And now here he is on the cover of the club’s May/June 2019 newsletter.

photo by Jeremy Kezer

Pax is owned and loved by Brenda. I think Pax heard her say that this show was going to be his swan song in the dog show world (he’s over 7 years old now). So he decided to show her that he still had it.

And boy does he. He was also selected for Best in Veteran Sweeps and Best Veteran Dog. I am so pleased for Brenda, and glad that Colleen and I (mostly Colleen) could breed such a fine puppy.

Carlin Diving Dog

Carlin has always been happy to jump into ponds, lakes, and rivers, but he’s never had the opportunity to jump into a pool. And it’s been many a long year since I’ve taken a dog dock diving in a pool, or anywhere, for that matter.

Cooper, of course, jumped into water of all kind for fun and for hunting, hunt tests, and hunt training. And a five or six times, we got to take him dock diving, mostly into ponds, and once, into a pool. He loved it. And therefore, I loved it.

But since moving to Boise, I had been unable to find a pool Carlin could jump into. A wonderfully generous friend let us use her irrigation canals for Carlin to train in and jump into, and a couple of other folks had ponds that we had access to for a couple of summers. But no pools.

Then Vicki moved in about 45 minutes away, and she brought her pool and dock with her. So last Sunday, we went to try out Vicki’s pool. Oh, lucky us and happy Carlin!

The pool has a ramp from the dock into the pool. Ordinarily a dog comes back out of the water and onto the dock using the ramp. But for a first-timer dog, one who may not be certain that that clear stuff is actually something one can dive into, the dog uses the ramp at first to go into the water, and then come back out.

Once Carlin realized that there was water in the pool, there was no stopping him from jumping in, except temporarily while his handler got into position. Like the very good boy he is, Carlin waited at the back end of the dock. I stood at the front of the dock and dangled a very special toy. When I said “OK”, Carlin bolted to the front of the dock and jumped off just as I threw the toy. Ideally, I would throw the toy so that it would stay just a foot or so in front of Carlin’s mouth as they both flew through the air and into the water.

That happened once.

Irish Water Spaniel dock diving

All the rest of the 45 minutes we had in the pool, I threw the toy inexpertly (too short, too long, too high, wrong direction…) and Carlin got to sail through the air and splash, over and over and over.

Tooey got in several leaps as well, though mostly she just liked the opportunity to swim.

It was glorious.

We finally drove home, dogs zonked out in their crates in the car, all of us tired and happy and feeling blessed.

I admit it. I’m like my dogs. I work for rewards.

Now, my rewards are different than my dogs’. Salmon jerky is all right, but it’s not enough to get me to go out and do one more practice, to set up another blind retrieve, to study Rally signs, or to travel to the spaniel club practice or scent work class.

I admit it’s shallow, but I like recognition. And I’ll work for it. Fortunately, my dogs will work for salmon jerky and dried liver, and they’ll mostly go along with whatever I need them to do to earn it. At some point, though, I usually forget the recognition thing, and mostly just do the work because it has become fun in and of itself.

But, there are those days. You know. Those days when the work just doesn’t sound that fun. When it’s too cold, or too hot, or the drive is too long, or you have to practice alone, or the equipment is just too hard to get out yet again. Those days, it’s the possibility of recognition that will get me out of my chair and working again.

Cooper, Tooey, and Carlin have all given me the opportunity for a lot of work, a lot of fun, and more than my share of rewards.

Like Cooper and Tooey before him, Carlin just earned the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America’s (IWSCA) Quintessential Versatility Award. A beautiful glass medallion is given by the club to all dogs who earn this award.

An IWS is awarded this by earning titles in 5 different AKC sports. For Carlin, these were:

As you can see, we’ve been working on this award for a while now. And I am thrilled that Carlin also has been recognized for his work ethic, talent, and enthusiasm.

And it gets better!

Carlin, to my total shock and surprise, won the club’s Top IWS Scent Work 2018 trophy. The trophy is given to the IWS with the most points earned in AKC Scent Work for the previous calendar year. The IWSCA determines the points, but basically, the dog earns a certain number of points for each Scent Work title earned, with more advanced titles earning more points.

I knew Carlin had done well. I knew he’d be right up there. But I had been convinced that another dog had earned the award. So when I opened the package sent by the IWSCA Awards Committee, I about fell down, huge smile on my face. Totally blown away, was the only way I could describe it. I’d spent some energy trying to just feel good for the winner and not let my disappointment that Carlin hadn’t won get me down.

But then we won! We won!

I still can’t quite believe it. It still makes me smile. But you know, Carlin doesn’t care. He just loves the work. And the fact that he loves it and begs me to do it with him–that’s often all the recognition I need.

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