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Archive for December, 2013

Christmas is traditionally a time for gifts given and received. And this Christmas, I’ve been thinking about one particular gift — a changed life. And all it took was a series of kindnesses, topped off by the outsized personality of a dog those kindnesses led to.

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I’ve told the story of how I went to the Rose City Classic dog show and met a bunch of wonderful Irish Water Spaniel owners and handlers. And how one handed me some leashes and asked me to help bring her IWS into the show building, and how several more folks dragged me from one grooming table to another to show off their dogs. It was a busy, overwhelming hubbub.

Out of that hubbub came the first kindness. One of those people, Colleen R., invited me to her home to meet her two IWS, so that I could meet some outside of a show environment. She didn’t have to do that — it was simple kindness on her part. And with invitations from people you don’t know, it’s not always easy to tell whether the invitation is sincere or is just one of those nice things people say that they don’t expect anyone to actually take them up on.

But Colleen gave me her phone number, so when I was in her town visiting a friend of mine, I thought, “well, I’m here. Perhaps I should go meet those IWS.” And that’s where the second kindness came in.

I’m not always particularly brave around people I don’t know. I can get tongue tied and self-conscious. My friend, Valli, though, she’s always been brave this way. She’s willing to talk to almost anybody, anywhere. Like the time she went to some stranger’s door to ask them the species of plant they had lining their wall, or the time she asked three young guys in a dodgy neighborhood to help us when my car wouldn’t start.

So I asked her, would you go with me to this lady’s house to meet her dogs? I don’t know this lady at all, I cautioned her. Fortunately, Valli is brave and she loves dogs, so she said sure, she’d come with me.

So I called Colleen, and since she was home entertaining Amy, another IWS friend, she invited Valli and I to join in. When we got there, I was about as tongue-tied as I feared I would be. Valli picked up the slack, though, asking questions and talking about her own dogs, and gradually, I was able to participate in the conversation while falling in love with Colleen’s two IWS.

From that conversation came referrals to a breeder who had a puppy, and after many conversations and emails with the breeder, came Cooper.

But Cooper was in Minnesota. I live in Oregon. How was I going to get a puppy from Minnesota to Oregon? Well, that’s where the third kindness came in.

Tammy, who owned Cooper’s sire, was also getting a puppy, and Tammy’s parents live in Vancouver, right across the river from Portland. So since Tammy was flying to Minnesota to get her puppy, she offered to ship Cooper (and a third litter mate who was going to Amy) as freight on her return flight to the Portland airport. All Russ and I had to do was show up at Tammy’s parents’ house and pick up our puppy.

Those three kindnesses by those three wonderful women changed my entire life. I’ve often felt that in finding Cooper, and in seeing what I can do with him, I’ve found a focus for my life, goals to work toward, and people I want to associate with.

It’s almost impossible to describe how big a change this is if you didn’t know me before Cooper. Before, I was generally direction-less, living the first 53 years of my life doing whatever life threw at me or whatever other people wanted me to do, not really having any long-term goals of my own. Don’t get me wrong — I did a lot of good stuff: marriage to a great guy, travel, graduate school, a series of pretty good jobs. But after each of these, they all (except for the marriage) left me feeling, “so now what?”

But after Cooper, particularly after we could see how beautiful he is, and how driven to work with us, that’s when I started forming my own goals toward achievements I wanted to reach for myself. That focus has been a unifying force, bringing me into all new experiences with all new people. It’s been wonderful.

I am just about certain that if I were to ask Colleen, Valli, or Tammy about what they did for me, they would say that it was no big deal.

But it has turned out that their kindness made a tremendous difference in my life. So how does this relate to Christmas and gifts? Well, I’ve been thinking about where I can be kind to someone else. And examining those moments when I think I’m too tired or too busy to give someone a small kindness. And wondering if perhaps some small thing I do might be a part of changing someone else’s life for the better, forever.

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Tooey got fan mail! Two packages arrived from her baby girl, all the way from Australia. Amongst the nice long letter, several maps, a list of shows she’s competed in, and other assorted delights, were an absolute pile of 2-foot long, tasseled ribbons (which they call sashes) won in conformation shows all over Australia.

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Sorcha (pronounced sirk´ha, a.k.a Baby Circle), the beautiful Tooey x Cork puppy, has obviously had a revel of a time in Australia. In addition to her American championship, with all those Australian wins, she now also has her Australian show championship.

Congrats, Baby Circle! And congratulations and thanks to her faithful devoted servants, Robyn and Bianca (who say that Sorcha is their very loving, PUSHY, lap dog).

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Oregon in December is famous for one kind of weather. Rain. But rain makes for miserable upland bird hunting as wet birds, wet dogs, wet shotguns, and wet hunters are good only for duck hunting.

So when an early cold-but-clear snap happened this week, Cooper, Norm, Scarlett, and I headed south to the foothills near Monmouth, Oregon to go pheasant hunting. Several inches of snow had arrived 2 days ago, and none of it was melting. Today started at 9℉.

Layers, layers, and more layers made it seem just fine. To borrow a comment from duck hunting, “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing choices.”

We started with Cooper up on the hill sides poking around the scotch broom and Christmas trees (we were hunting on an old Christmas tree farm, another Oregon specialty). Cooper flushed one bird, which flew straight up like a missile and passed overhead. A quick shot was followed with an 18-foot retrieve, as the bird came almost straight down. We don’t know if it was the cold, or those particular fields, but that was the only bird Cooper located.

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Russ with Cooper showing his single pheasant for the day
photo by Norm Koshkarian

So we switched dogs to Scarlett and made our way through some corn and sorghum fields. That is where the birds were, and Scarlett had no problem putting another 6 roosters and a hen into the air. Of those, 3 were good for safe shooting, and so they came home with us as well.

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Scarlett and her birds, Cooper not sharing his

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It turned out exactly as I thought it would. Some boy Irish Water Spaniel would get Best of Breed, and Tooey, being the only girl in today’s ring, would get Best of Opposite Sex.

Not that I begrudge the dog who won BOB. He’s a handsome, spirited dog whose handler shows him skillfully to his best advantage. Tooey hasn’t been in the ring in years, so she’s out of practice. And she’s in season with a touch of attendant moodiness — she didn’t hold her head up as she ran around the ring, and she didn’t much like having that judge put his hands on her. And I’m out of practice, too. I forgot that she responds happily to squeaky toys — squeaking one as we went around the ring might have helped her lift her head and show some spark. (Kind of like she did when we got home and she spotted a squirrel.)

But still…

When the judge came up to us to examine Tooey, I told him that Tooey was in season and offered him a handkerchief if he needed it to wipe his hands. He told me he wouldn’t examine her rear, as he didn’t want to trouble all the dogs he had yet to judge that day.  So he looked at her teeth, and felt half way down her back, but didn’t examine her chest, or look at her face, or feel along her hips or back legs.

OK, I get why he didn’t want to touch her crotch. But in that instant, I realized the he’d already made his choice of Best of Breed, before he gave Tooey her full chance, or even the other boy dog in the ring.

So what do I think about that?

I guess I think that an experienced judge probably gets really good at quickly identifying the dogs and bitches that fit his or her interpretation of the breed standard. It’s like me when I was a teacher giving grades. After a while, I pretty much knew after just a few paragraphs which papers were likely to get an A. But that doesn’t mean that I stopped reading there — I read their papers to the end to give every student a chance. Sometimes, the middles and ends of papers held unexpected surprises.

So I also think that even if the judge thinks he or she knows who will get Best of Breed when the dogs first walk into the ring, every dog (just like every student) deserves the judge’s full attention for those few moments that the judge, dog, and exhibitor have together. The judge should watch the dog run all the way around the ring, and not turn away to the next dog before that. The judge should give every dog a full examination, and carefully compare all the dogs when they are stacked in a row.

Then, after every dog has had a full chance, then make it plain who the winner is.

Fortunately for me, I’ve had the experience of a judge who really looked. My dog didn’t win that day, either. But I knew that judge had really looked at my dog and saw his good points and faults. She paid full attention with an open mind, which is ultimately what we exhibitors are paying our hard-earned money for.

That’s what I think.

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Cooper earned two qualifying Rally scores today: one in Rally Excellent and the other in Rally Advanced. Combined, that equals one qualifying leg for a Rally Advanced Excellent title. (To earn an RAE title, the dog must have earned qualifying scores in both Advanced B and Excellent B classes at 10 separate Rally trials.)

We qualified, but it wasn’t all sweetness and roses. We didn’t get perfect 100 points in either run. Not by a long shot. Some was Cooper pulling some antics in the ring, and some was handler error.

First we ran the Excellent course.

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Pretty scary, if you ask me. Full of signs that Cooper has had trouble with in the past:

  • Station 4: Offset Figure 8 with toys as distractions — The dreaded toys! The dog is not supposed to disturb the toys at all, and Cooper loves toys.
  • Station 5: Send Over Jump using the broad jumps — He’s fine with the high jump, as in station 7, but broad jumps have puzzled him
  • Station 8: Moving stand – Walk Around Dog — For the last week or so, he has thought the command “Stand” means “Sit”.

But as it turned out, he did stations 5 and 8 just fine. What got him at Station 4 was not the toys. It was the pretty Irish Setter girl sitting just outside the ring. (Tooey is in season, and, despite his pleadings, Cooper hasn’t been allowed near Tooey for the past week. So, I’m guessing that girls look good to him, regardless of whether they are in season or not, and this Irish Setter might be the only Irish he’d have a chance with.) We got going from the Start, and when we did the 360 at station 1, he caught sight of the Setter, and kept his eyes on her even while heeling with me for a few steps into the Figure 8.

Finally, he couldn’t stand it, and when we went around the first turn in the Figure 8, which pointed him in the Setter’s direction, he took off toward the ring gate where she was sitting. It was only after I’d called him three times in a stern voice to “Here” that he finally came back, fortunately, without having exited the ring first. We lost 10 points right there for an “improperly performed” station. No kidding. At least he didn’t leave the ring — we’d have NQ’d in that case.

We lost a few more points for miscellaneous things, but we passed with an 83.

Then, after a break, it was on to the Advanced course, which is a bit easier than the Excellent course.

Advanced_131207By the time we ran this course, the pretty Irish Setter was gone, and he did really pretty well. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the dreaded Handler Error, we would have had 4th place. See that Station 11? That sign was in the Excellent course, too, and Cooper did a pretty good job — I think we lost a point for Cooper’s not being slightly crooked for the Halt part of that station (at a Halt, the dog is supposed to Sit in heel position).

But when we did that sign again in the Advanced course, Cooper sat slightly in front and perpendicular to me. And what did I do? I said “No, heel”. That was it. We lost all the points for that station because I corrected my dog. Another station “improperly performed”. I knew what I’d done just a half-moment after I did it, but by then it was too late.

I talked to the judge afterward, and she said that it would have been best if I’d just let Cooper sit where he did. That would have cost us 2 points. Or I could have backed us up and retried the station again — if we’d done it perfectly, the do-over would have cost us 3 point. Oh well. We passed with an 89.

But the goal was to have fun, and I think we did. In fact, several people mentioned that they’d enjoyed watching us run. If nothing else, Cooper has an intense joie de vivre that makes him engaging to watch.

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This upcoming weekend isn’t going to turn out as I planned. Not that this will be bad. Just way, way different with a few unexpected challenges along the way.

Some back story: Several weeks ago, I realized I had a whole lot of options for this weekend. I could show my dogs in conformation at the Greater Clark County Kennel Club show. I could show them in Rally at the Sherwood Dog Training Club Rally Trials. Or I could enter them in a Barn Hunt RATI test.

Finally, I decided to enter Cooper in Rally on Saturday. He likes Rally, and Tooey doesn’t. I also decided to enter Tooey into the conformation show on Sunday. She likes it, and I wanted to get her back into practice with conformation shows so that when I take her to the IWSCA National Specialty in 2014, she’ll be prepared. Even though he’s only shown one dog once, Russ then very sweetly offered to show Cooper in conformation, and I could show Tooey in the same show.

Great! Sounded like a fun weekend. So I entered everything.

Then Tooey came into season — a whole month early. We revised our plans. After discussing all the do’s and don’ts of showing a bitch in season, Russ said he’d handle Tooey because she’d be easier. With Tooey in season, we both figured that Cooper would be a bit nuts, and I generally have somewhat better control.

But as the last couple of days progressed, it became apparent that Cooper has gone beyond “a bit” nuts. He’s a lot nuts. If he’s in his crate and Tooey is out, he keeps his eyes on her at all times, and he how-ow-ow-owls whenever she’s out of sight. When he’s out of his crate and Tooey is in hers, he’s obsessed with sniffing every surface she has touched. He eats only a little. It’s pathetic.

And it’s apparent that I probably wouldn’t have a good time showing him in conformation, and neither would Cooper. So instead Russ is going to take him hunting on Sunday, while us girls go to the show.

Going to the show means that Tooey has to have a bath. Not only does she stink, but she needs a bath to make her coat look good for the show. I had planned to take her to the local do-it-yourself dog wash as usual, but… The dog wash can be a crowded, slippery, busy place, and I lay awake all Wednesday night worrying about whether I was up to all those logistics, plus the added complications of Tooey’s being in season. No, I decided, I’m not. So she has to get her bath at home.

But I don’t have an indoor bathtub. I have a tiny indoor bathroom with a shower. I do have an outdoor portable bath, but last night it was 21 degrees F and windy. Much too cold for an outdoor bath (even for dogs who plunge into icy ponds to retrieve birds).

What to do?

Why, put the portable bath into the bathroom, with the drain hose snaking into the shower stall.

That’s me, standing in the shower and Tooey in the portable bath. I had to get all the shampoo and towels together first, then get into the shower, then Russ brought in the bathtub, and then he persuaded a skeptical Tooey to hop in, and lastly he brought me the hose, which was attached to the faucet in the adjacent kitchen.

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It was a bit messy and very wet. If we do this again, we’ll spread lots of towels on the floor before the tub goes in. But she got nice and clean, and was ready to be dried off with my hair dryer while standing on the grooming table in the kitchen.

A very DIY winter bath for a hot show girl.

Lucky Cooper doesn’t need a bath to go hunting.

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