Sunday, July 28, 2013

How Did This Happen?


Sunday, July 14

I was sitting around the agility trial in Coeur d'Alene, minding my own business, not asking for trouble, so how did I get from there to here in less than 2 weeks? Simple - I looked at my e-mail. I rarely look at my e-mail while at a trial, but was a little bored that day waiting for our turn to run, so I picked up the phone and logged in.

The innocent looking e-mail was titled "Xander coming instead of Buddy". As Medical Intake Coordinator for Safe Harbor Lab Rescue, where we rescue and rehome 250-300 Labs a year, I get 250-300 emails like this a year. Do the math, that's 5-6 new dogs per week. So what was so special about this one? Xander was described as "18 months, neutered, good with kids, cats, dogs, housebroke, loves water, very ball and play driven. Very active but settles down indoors." That's when I heard a little alarm and a voice inside my head saying, "I hope he's not yellow."

Was it because I was at an agility trial, going through the motions of trying to pump up my very un-driven (but infinitely adored) Star and wishing I had a dog that would bring me up, since I'm just as low-key as Star? I dunno what it was. On my old un-smart phone, I couldn't see pictures in e-mails, so I had to wait until I got home that night to find out what color he was.

He was yellow. Uh oh.

I wrote to the director, "I was afraid he'd be yellow, after reading the bio. Sounds like exactly what I need for my next agility dog." Of course, next agility dog wasn't something I was looking for yet. If you've been paying attention, you know I've only just gotten relieved of the expenses of Sunny's last year and just finally gotten Star to be a stable competitor. And I've got a big remodel coming up this fall. 5 dogs running around the house would not make my contractor very happy. (I haven't mentioned yet that the live-in dog sitter has 2 little schnauzers.)

So I weighed the pros and cons, and decided in the end that it wouldn't be fair to the dog sitter to add another dog to her work-load. I did, however, decide that come spring, I would start looking.

Safely beyond the threat a few days later, I mentioned the near miss to my dog sitter. She quickly responded, "Oh that's ok. You can get him."

Oh dog poop. Did she really just give me permission?

Wednesday, July 17

Xander and his 9 traveling companions have arrived safely in Colorado. The transporter reports that he is a "big, goofy pup". The vet checks him out and reports, "Nice teeth! Has lots of energy."

Friday, July 19

When I get home from playing agility this evening, an e-mail from the director is waiting for me. She's already sweet on him because his name is the same as her beloved dog's name. She writes, "Not to tempt you, but I met Xander this morning. He's lithe, energetic and very nimble : )  Needless to say, he's full of boundless young Lab joy and is adorable too." Swell. Of course he is.

My rambling response concluded with, "If it's meant to be, I'll get another sign. Like someone saying they are driving to Missoula or Coeur d'Alene for vacation next month and want to deliver him. Oh, dog poop, just this very moment I remembered, a friend in Colorado was dog sitting the dog of their neighbor who had just moved to Spokane and they were going to be getting their dog back any day now. Oh shoot oh shoot oh shoot. I wonder how/when that is happening?"

That evening, Xander goes to his first foster home and promptly gets kicked out. For jumping over a 4 foot fence. Yay! He's got the jumping gene! The foster reports, and I don't doubt for a minute, that he was not trying to get away. He was just being a big, goofy pup, checking out the new digs, chasing a ball perhaps, and took the next obstacle. As soon as he realized he was outside and the people were inside, he jumped right back in. "He LOVES his people," was the next thing I read.

Saturday, July 20

The foster, upon learning that I was possibly interested in Xander, filled a page with his virtues. This wasn't helping my resolve to wait until next year. Every question I asked, the answer was always the right one, or the wrong one if I was looking for a reason to reject him.

And then I saw this picture, with the accompanying caveat that it doesn't do him justice, doesn't capture his wonderful facial expressions and irresistible brown Lab eyes.

Sunday, July 21

I pondered the day away, and as night fell, I booked a one-way flight and told the team that if his hips were good, I'd take him. In retrospect, I had more information about him at that point than I did when I decided to adopt Star 3 years ago. I chose her, or probably more correctly, she chose me, after a 15 minute car ride and a 30 minute effort to get her out of the car to leave her at the foster home to which she was assigned.

Monday, July 22

Now I have a logistics puzzle to work out. It's still 24 days until I can pick him up. He needs a safe place to hang out and the rescue can't tie up a good foster home that long. That would mean 2 or 3 other dogs couldn't get rescued. I'm intimately aware of this situation. This is a perfect dog. He would have been adopted and in his new home already if I hadn't gotten my name in first.

But logistics is what I love best. Or was that analytics? Same difference - analyze a problem, figure out a solution, send up a wish to the universe if things aren't falling into place fast enough.

I was told I could use one of the rescue's fosters for a week. I hated to move the little guy around, he was already so discombobulated with all the change in the past few days, maybe weeks depending on how long he'd been in the shelter after his owner had surrendered him, on account of not having time to give him the attention he needed, but that would buy me time. I had three fosters that I thought could handle his puppy energy and give him some good structure as well. Two of them weren't available and the third wasn't returning phone calls. I would have paid for his time at our preferred boarding kennel, but with a recent kennel cough outbreak, that also wasn't a possibility. And he hadn't been out of the shelter long enough for a board and train kennel to take him.

Thursday, July 25

I had to have a place for him to go on Friday and I was getting nervous. It was now Thursday morning and I really had to get to work, but I had to come up with a solution to this problem. I knew there had to be someone out there that I was overlooking who could help. I calmed myself and thought through all the people I knew in Colorado. Most were already in on the story, but somehow Anna's name popped into my mind. She had just adopted a youngster from the rescue. I knew her yard was too small for 2 wild things, but I threw it out there - do you or anyone you know feel up to a 3 week foster? I sent the message and headed off to work. The universe took it from there. Anna saw my message immediately, considered a broad post, but then a name popped into her head. She sent essentially the same message: "Do you or or anyone you know want to foster this little guy for 3 weeks." The reply came immediately - Sandy would do it! It was that evening before I could make the call and confirm my gut feel that this would work. In the meantime, I had gotten word from the vet that his hips looked great on x-ray, so I signed, scanned and returned the adoption contract, and gave my credit card number to PayPal. Sandy picked him up from the vet before I had even gotten out of bed the next morning, and by the time I got out of the shower, she had sent three more pictures of him. Her family was already in love with him. He was safe. I was dizzy. 11 days from "I hope he's not yellow" to "he's mine, sight unseen".

As I prepare to sign off, I go to Sandy's Facebook page to see if she's posted any new pictures of my boy. I am not disappointed. OMG he's so cute!

Star Feb-Jul 2013

Well, Dear Star, I am so sorry that you have not gotten equal billing. I am shocked to see I have barely written a word about you in 16 months! But, gosh, I never stopped loving you. I'm pretty darn crazy about you, in fact. But I'm sure you know that by the way I can't keep my hands off you when we are together. Besides, you can't read, so you don't know that I wasn't writing about you.

After the March 2012 trial, the last time I wrote about Star, our next competition was the May SDTC trial, and we did awesome, finishing our Novice Jumpers title and getting high in class on both jumpers runs. A big ribbon weekend for us. And then the rest of the year we don't want to talk about.

Oh, ok, let's talk about it. Mommy was insanely busy with school, work and studying for another part of the CPA exam. Work was asking for longer and longer hours. They only said they were ok with 38 to get me in the door, then they just started adding more and more, including working through all the three day weekends. I changed my summer school plans and postponed the CPA exam, but still tried to keep training and doing one little competition, Moscow in June, but it was too much. Star absorbed my stress and flipped out on the course on almost every run that weekend, getting the "zoomies" - taking off and doing laps around the course until I caught up with her and took her out of the ring. Oh, it was mortifying and depressing. And it went on and on, every week at class, every run at the August SDT trial.

In August, I gave notice at that temp job, so I could finish studying for the last part of the last CPA exam and enjoy one weekend off to help out at the August trial. Helping ended up being our big win for the weekend. Star got left home on Sunday, as I feared permanently ruining her with the stress. Instead, I earned my Novice Course Builder title and my first leg of Gate Steward, and enjoyed helping out without worrying about a sad puppy in a hot tent wondering where her Mommy was.

The fall semester started (last one!) and a new temp job came along a week after I notified them I was ready again, yet still I continued to train us in agility. Star continued to zoom around the course on our first run every Wednesday night, but settled down enough for us to have a nice second run, although I think I was always on edge because I could tell by her posture that she was still tense and on the verge of letting loose with a good zoom.

During this time, Star and I also went to a weekly focus class at the club, to learn more about working together in a less stressful environment. We really enjoyed that. Around day 13 at the temp job, they offered me a permanent position, which I accepted, agreeing to go full time on November 1, after the focus class was done and one of my masters' classes finished. The other change during this time was something I call the scared straight program. Whenever Star started zooming, I disappeared and nobody paid attention to her. The coach led her to her crate, covered her up, and left her alone. Eventually I returned and took her out and we ran the course. 

A week or two into December, I finished my degree. We went to our weekly agility class the next day, and (coincidentally??) Star stopped zooming. We started competing again a few months later when the next small trials were run at Deer Park, and we did great! We weren't worried about titles, just getting our sea legs back, so we were surprised to get an ASCA Jumpers title certificate in the mail one day. I think the May SDTC trial was our first return to AKC, and we had similar results to the year before - best in class on our Jumpers runs both days, good team work, moving faster. I laid the ribbons from that one weekend out on the top-less table (glass hidden away for a while until Sunny had learned to avoid obstacles) and someone suggested I leave them there when I put the top back on, and I kinda liked that idea.

I really plan to stop taking ribbons. I have two nice collections now, from our debut, and our re-debut, and a few miscellaneous ones hanging in odd places around the house and at work, and that really is enough. But, during a drought they do help lift the spirits and keep us going, and at the end of a drought, taking a few more is a nice celebration.

Since May, we had trials in Moscow in June, CDA in July and an ASCA trial a week later. Medal count was low, but we are finally playing the same game as everyone else - running a good race but losing a Q to one little bobble, more often than not a handler error. Yay, we get to have handler errors now, because we can finally do some handling! Finally, I can start learning from my mistakes. That is the name of the agility game. Every run has new challenges, new situations to analyze, and nobody likes a good analysis better than me.

We now have 2 AKC titles on the line - just one more leg needed for our Open Jumpers and one more leg needed for our Novice Standard. And in ASCA, we are 1/2 a Q away from our Regular Novice title. But we've gone through 2 AKC trials without getting those titles, so now we need to forget about that and be surprised. It's better that way. We'll have one AKC trial in August, one in September and one in October. I just want us to keep running well together.

A special memory for me from the CDA trial was a constant stream of comments on how well we are running as a team and how happy Star seems to be when she is running. Our coach said Star seems to have figured out the game is to do what Mom is asking her to do, and that she really seems to be enjoying it now. I love the feeling of turning on the speed and running as fast as I can, because the faster I go the faster she goes.

Another memory from that CDA trial comes to mind, but that's where our new chapter starts. Stay tuned...

Sunny Feb-Jul 2013

A whole new chapter is about to start in the Karsten household and I am so excited to write about it and share pictures, but alas, I feel compelled to bring you up to date on the old stories left dangling. So, Sunny first.

I can't believe I didn't write about his first eye surgery in that Feb post. I guess that shows how we sailed right through it. I was busy for 4 weeks moving us across town - bringing a load on my way to work every morning, filling up the Pilot again every evening. It was a $60 move - only had to hire muscle for 45 minutes (2 hour minimum) to move a few heavy pieces up the stairs. Everything else was done with the help of a two young friends with big trucks to carry some larger pieces (3 trips); a few not so young helpers - Dad and aunt; and my twin for a day or two. The rest was all me. I love a good move.

Right in the middle of it all, I went to the ER for 6 stitches to repair the finger that I filleted in a vegetable cutting accident. On Super Bowl Sunday. Where I learned that this is a very common injury seen in the ER on Super Bowl Sunday. Now I was down to 9 fingers to load and carry the boxes.

Just about that time, Sunny had been running in the field, and, with his limited sight, had gotten a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Ouch! I didn't see it happen, but did notice later something looking strange on his eyeball, but with everything else going on, I failed to properly assess the damage and realize that the meds he was getting for his other issues were exacerbating this new injury. The result (hallelujah) was that I was finally able to have that eye removed. If I sound cruel and heartless, please review last year's posts - this has been coming on a long time and costing me a lot of money to keep his doomed eyes going. This one was blind already, and now the cornea punctured, so it was finally time.

The painful eye was removed, no issues post surgery, and we finished the move and immediately set about making the new house into a home and enjoying the great backyard, and no more leash walks! (ref last post)

During this time, the dogs were without their sitter for about 6 weeks, while I came home from work for lunch every day. On April 1, I got a promotion at work and started working longer hours, so hired the sitter from the apartments to come out and play with the dogs a couple afternoons a week. They had all really missed each other. A month later, Micki was able to move into my downstairs "granny unit" and I got to work even longer hours, because I now had the luxury of a live-in dog sitter! Life was good.

But then on a weekend visit to see Grandma and Grandpa, I noticed Sunny running into walls, and back at home, he was running into the whiskey barrels and patio furniture (see April post). It was clear that the sight was almost gone from his second eye. So, the doc agreed it was time for the inevitable. I was ready. I figured that without a faulty eye to rely on, Sunny would start learning to navigate his environment in other ways, and would stop crashing into things so deliberately. I say deliberately because with his limited eyesight, he was deliberately walking towards the shapes he could see, hitting a wall instead of the void of the doorway next to it.

May 21 was the date. There isn't much more to say. If it weren't for the pain in his legs, I could say he sailed right through the operation and got back to the business at hand, but something must have happened during the operation to mess up his hips because he came out of the surgery, gave a cry and laid down on the floor. His first blind walk to the car was amazing. He took a few tentative steps down the ramp but then walked confidently the rest of the way. But at home, his mobility got worse and worse. I tried pain pills and making him stay off the stairs, but after a week he was still getting worse. A chiropractor was recommended. When I left for work the morning of his appointment, he could barely walk. Micki had to pick him up to put him in her car to take him to the chiropractor. I wasn't there, but apparently he just melted in the doctor's hands, and 45 minutes later, he jumped into the car to come home. When I got home that night, he was TROTTING in the back yard, like I hadn't seen him move in months.

So, while I am sorry that he had to go through that additional pain, he is now in better shape than he was before because he already had arthritis issues that were affecting his mobility. Over the next few weeks, all kinds of things got better. All those meds he was on for his eyes were so harsh. Now his body shape was returning to normal, his hair was filling out and getting softer again, and of course he was moving so well. Oh yeah, and his sense of smell seemed to be coming back (again, ref an earlier post). We read somewhere that one of his meds had a side effect that decreased the sense of smell.

The next thing that happened, at about the one month point, is he really started getting comfortable with his environment, and this is about when he started really getting back into play fetch with his tennis balls. I suppose the game now is Hunt, not Fetch. I'll close with a video showing the game. Watch in particular how his tail spins to the left, to the right, to the left, to the right, like a rudder, as he tacks to the right, to the left, to the right, to the left. LOL!

Don't miss the bonus photos inserted below the video.

The Dance
"Hurry up, Micki. Stop talking and throw the ball!"

The Run-Out
"I heard it land! Don't worry - I'll find it!"

The Hunt
"I can smell it. It's around here somewhere!"
(Mom chose this picture because she loves the flower basket on the deck.)

The Run-Back
"I found it! I found it! Let's do it again."
(Note the flying ears.)

Hi Mom. Whatcha doin'? Did you see me chasing the ball and running fast?!?