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One of my earliest memories of Carlin is his trying to get Cooper to play with him. He’d grab one of Cooper’s rubber balls, put it on the ground several feet away, and push it toward Cooper with his nose. He did that over and over, but it never worked.

It broke a place in my heart. Carlin so admired Cooper, but Cooper never would have anything pleasant to do with the upstart brat.

So, last night, years later, when Carlin started that game up with me, that little place in my heart started to heal.

For many years, I’ve been asking Carlin to give me his ball so I could throw it for him. I don’t demand it. It’s not the same thing as throwing a bumper. The bumpers are mine, and when I throw or hide them, Carlin must return them to me.

The many rubber and plastic balls, however, belong to Carlin. I never force him to give me his ball, but occasionally, if I find one near my feet, I’ll throw it.

Then about a week ago, I changed something. It used to be that when I came home, Carlin would run off to grab a ball to show me. He’d parade it around, prancing with his head and tail up, for all the world a sign that says “Look at what I have!”

Several days ago, I just started trotting after him, not trying to overtake him, or catch him, or take his ball — just follow him.

Eventually, after leading me around in circles and figure-8s around the furniture, he’d flop down on his dog bed and let the ball fall out of his mouth. Whereapon, I’d grab it up and toss it for him.

Then last night, I was sitting on the living room floor watching a new Netflix series, and Carlin put his ball on the ground, and nudged it toward me with his nose. I tossed it, he ran to get it, and then lay down on his bed again.

Then, a few minutes later, I saw the ball rolling toward me again.

This time, I stood up, asked him for a Twirl (move in a counter-clockwise circle), and then threw the ball.

Same routine again, except this time I asked him for a Spin (clockwise circle). And again with a Sit, again with a Down at a distance, and lastly with a Heel Backwards along the wall.

I have no idea if this game will go on, or whether it was a one-time fluke. But I had a fabulous time, and I think Carlin did, too.

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Carlin is now a Man-Dog

We have discovered, through our experience with Cooper, that male Irish Water Spaniels don’t fully mature until they are 4 years old. Today, Carlin is now a Man-Dog.

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His birthday portrait also resurrects another tradition that fell by the wayside, which is an annual portrait of our pups.

Compared to Cooper and Tooey, our photo attention towards Carlin has been limited to being in the field with just an iPhone. He has spent little time in the studio compared to Coop and Miss Tooey. The last studio shot I made of this boy was for his 1st birthday.

And here is his first formal portrait at 5 months.

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Carlin at age 5 months

So happy 4th birthday, Carlin. And many more returns of the day.

My own joy stealer

Every dream turned into a goal involves a journey laden with setbacks, disappointments and milestones. There is joy in that journey. Guard that joy well so that in the end you rightly celebrate the accomplishment as well as the memories of the trip.

That’s from an article “The Joy Stealers” by Connie Cleveland. In the article, she talks about the comments we make that diminish another’s dream or accomplishment, whether out of thoughtlessness, misplaced kindness, or malice. And in one tiny sentence, she mentions that sometimes we can steal our own joy.

I think that’s what I’m doing in the back of my mind.

My first two Irish Water Spaniels were All-Around IWS. That’s an award given to Irish Water Spaniels that get titles in AKC retriever hunt tests, obedience, and conformation.  I worked hard for those titles, and fortunately, I had two dogs who agreed to go along with me (as well as a lot of help from other dog folks).

With Cooper, my first IWS, I wanted to achieve all that because I wanted to make his breeder proud of us, and because I could see that he had all the talent, work ethic, and beauty to achieve it. He loved retriever work, kind of got a kick out of obedience from time to time, and tolerated conformation because he loved me.

With Tooey, I thought I could do it again, and we did. She loved conformation, even though, being English, she didn’t look like the other American IWS girls. So that title took awhile. Retriever hunt tests took even longer — only when Russ decided to make it fun for her in the field, did she finally get that title. Obedience was OK, so long as the judge was a woman with a gentle touch, and not some big guy with a floppy coat.

So both of them got their All-Arounds. And now I have Carlin, who has all the beauty, brains, and work ethic that Cooper had, and he has a retriever title. So, all I need to get is the conformation championship and the obedience title, right?

Well, maybe not.

Carlin has issues. Ever since he was viciously attacked out of nowhere and injured by a dog twice his size, he has been deeply suspicious of other dogs he doesn’t know. Which, in a conformation ring or at an obedience trial, is just about every dog. He lunges and barks at them, and it raises my stress levels every time. I put a lot of effort and thought into keeping him safe, and those efforts are distracting when you’re trying to remember the Obedience rules or struggling to help your dog stay calm in the conformation ring. I’m sure some very intuitive person with excellent handling skills and a lot of dog knowledge could pull it off, but I don’t think I’m that person. And I haven’t found the person who can take him on without my sending Carlin away and spending a lot of money.

So. I may have to give up that dream. And the thought of Carlin’s not getting an All-Around like Cooper and Tooey fills me with regret.

And I think my own regret might be stealing at least some of the joy I could be feeling about Carlin’s considerable accomplishments:

  • A Master Hunter Upland Advanced title. It took 18 increasingly difficult spaniel hunt test passes and years of training to get that title.
  • A Rally Novice title. He loves doing the Rally exercises, but not the dog-filled environment. We got that title by concentrating on small shows with relatively few dogs and one ring. And he was on leash the whole time. And I kept him either busy or in the car, so he never had very many moments in a row to worry about other dogs.
  • A Coursing Ability title. That was not work — it was all fun. Just the joy of watching my dog run alone at top speed for 600 yards, and loving every second.
  • A retriever Junior Hunter title. That one was work, and a lot of training, and involved several failures. There were parts he loved (swimming and running), and parts he didn’t like so much (ducks). But we did it. When we passed that last test, I cried and hugged the judges. (They were very nice about it.)
  • A lot of very fast progress in Scentwork in just a few months. He loves the game, is very methodical in his searches for odor, and almost always finds it. If there’s a weak link, it’s me.

Really, when I look at that list, it’s kind of amazing. It’s a lot to rightly celebrate. And my trip with Carlin is not over yet.

Cooper in glass

If you’ve studied an Irish Water Spaniel in slanted light, then you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve seen it in the afternoon when the sun has started to sink, but its light hasn’t yet turned golden. Or maybe you’ve seen it in the early morning, when the light still has a touch of blue.

It’s that glint of purple along the side of each brown curl in the coat of a dark Irish Water Spaniel. It’s the hint of purple that makes some people call an IWS coat “puce”.

It’s also the color the AKC chose to recognize Winners Dog in conformation shows.

This is what I wanted to capture in this memorial for Cooper. He’s my own curly brown winner of my heart dog.

The white sparkly bits are what’s left of Cooper’s physical self, his ashes. The picture doesn’t show how lively they look in the glass. How lively he always was in himself, and how he still is in my heart. These ashes transformed are not gray and somber — they float around the brown curls and within the purple swirls like stars, shiny and bright.

My many thanks to Mossyrock Designs of Emmett, Idaho for taking care of my Cooper this way, and to Jan for inspiring me with her own glass piece made by the same artist.

The center of the universe last Sunday was a local Idaho state park. Carlin and his retriever training buddies use it regularly to train, alongside the walkers, trackers, disc golfers, horse riders, drone fliers, hay mowers, metal detectors, and other folks.

It’s a busy place, but on this weekend morning, Russ was able to capture a panorama of the field that made it look empty. Except for Carlin, who like all of us, is in the center of his own universe.

Tooey has long reigned supreme at the center of the universe, and finally now we have documented proof.

photo illustration by Russ Dodd

Of course, Russ did help reality along a bit with some creative photography and photoshop wizardry, but we won’t tell.

Today we had the great good fortune to visit with Linda and one of Tooey’s puppies, Finn, the former Mr Green (Tooey x JJ). Finn is a delightful dog, very friendly and affectionate. Although… not with Tooey so much. He kept just barking at her until finally she showed her teeth and snapped at the air next to his face. Maybe kinda sorta like a mom would do with an unruly puppy.

Once that little bit of correction was in place, we were able to get a photo of Tooey and Finn together. And then, once Tooey was escorted to the car, we were able to get a shot of Finn himself.

Just for comparison, here’s a photo Linda sent us just over 4 years ago, just after getting Finn home.

Now, here are mother and son today.

And here’s the boy himself, years later.

I don’t think they look much alike, except for the widow’s peak at their foreheads, similarly shaped eyes, and their horizontal mutton chops (Tooey’s are currently clipped off). Their heads, coats, and body shape are quite different.

But Finn has something that Tooey doesn’t have. Something Tooey would dearly love to have. Finn has a cockatiel roommate. Whenever the bird chirped or squeaked (just like a squeaky toy), Tooey ran over to the bird’s cage and just stared at the bird, eyes shining. You could just see the speech bubble over her head: “A bird! They have a bird! Oh, I want a bird!”

Finally, we pulled ourselves away and drove home, us to be grateful to puppy people who invite us in for awhile, and Tooey to dream of birds.

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