11 November 2018

Bonehead move.


In today's episode of really stupid things one can do at agility, I threw away the potential of a perfectly lovely Grand Prix Q and bye on a really nice clean run on a course with the hardest, scariest dog walk entrance possible (sort of raise left hand and say go go and take off running) and a horrible exit I thought Banksy would miss (beat her up there, get the hit and scream her name and front cross with gusto), by somehow running Banksy by the very easy last jump instead of telling her to go over it.

05 November 2018

Finding Ready Face


I could spend all day looking at my dogs' cute faces. Banksy has perfectly round crazy eyes, Gustavo’s tongue flaps out of his mouth sideways, and Otterpop looks like a manic landshark on crack. Dog training nerd that I am, my favorite face from them is their Ready Face. It’s their own personal game face, the one that says, “Oh YEAH. Let’s DO THIS NOW!” Not to be confused with a poker face, nothing hidden in this expression, Ready Face lays it all out on the line. When I see it at the start of a training session, or on a startline, I have no fear. It’s my dog’s way of telling me that life is good, and no matter what else is going on around them, they've made the choice that they're ready to run.

So, what if you don’t see a Ready Face? Instead of that excited, intense, happy look, maybe you get something else. Sniffy face. Nervous face. Squirrel face. Mopey face. Anything but Ready Face.

Not Ready Face isn't limited to dogs. Maybe you're this person. Maybe you know this person. Maybe you’re married to them. Keys in hand, coat is on, one foot out the door, you call out, “Ready to go?”

There’s no answer. Or the answer is faint and coming from somewhere that is nowhere near the back door. You notice a shadowy figure moving across the hall, perhaps muttering to themselves about just five more minutes, and they're not wearing pants. Perhaps they're just about to start a plumbing project under the kitchen sink. The plan of leaving on time, or maybe leaving at all, has been foiled.

You can nag. Beg. Cajole. Yell. Remind them of how late you are. There is an excellent chance that doing any or all of these things won’t actually help move things along, and will probably make it worse. Too much pressure. And boy-oh-boy, loves being pressured?

Reasons For Not Ready Face

I bet your dog loves agility. Why wouldn’t they? Chasing you, jumping over things, climbing up stuff, fantastic rewards awarded liberally for zooming around with their very best person. But maybe it’s harder for them to do it around (pick one or as many as you want from this list) a bunch of other dogs, beeping noises, score table snacks, nervousness exuding from your pores, gophers in the grass, squirrels in the tree, growly ringside tuggers, timers placed in front of the first jump by the devil, an evil teeter totter in plain view, weird ring fencing, weird handling, a pole setter in an ugly hat, a leash runner with no personal space boundaries, hot weather, cold weather, a flapping tent, no toy in your hand, no cookies coming along for the ride, not understanding the earth shattering importance of this Q, the potential of alien craft landing while they’re in the weave poles, and oh, so many more. Maybe your dog just has a sensitive soul. But no matter how good those contacts or weaves are at home, it’s going to be hard to ace them in the trial if your dog can't tell you they're ok to run when they're heading to the start line.

Instead of being ready to go, they might lay down and roll around. Give you a blank stare. Sniff around the dirt. Look backwards instead of forwards. Bite a mouthful of grass. Get up. Wander off. Run away. Doesn’t matter so much what it is, just matters that they’re telling you they’re not ready to go. And in that moment, whatever you do to try to get them going puts more pressure on them so they can't move off the start, which is a key component for an outstanding agility run.

I think the first biggest thing to do is what not to do. Not plead. Not scold. Not shout at them to “Hurry Up You Lazy Jerkface.” If your dog is having an anxiety fueled moment, likely all that's counterproductive. Just picture using that line at your significant other who's carrying around a detached kitchen faucet 40 minutes before your plane is leaving. Righty-o. A history of this happening over and over and over just makes it worse. Instead, wouldn’t you rather set up a new pattern, an improved dynamic, that helps them make their own choice to put on their very own Ready Face? One they bring to you, how cool would it be to count on that every time? At least for your dog. As far as changing your significant other, you're on your own for that.

Here’s some suggestions for Finding a Ready Face:

It's never supposed to feel icky.

It’s your dog! They love you! They've been there for you through thick and thin. And I just bet, that if they were feeling ok, they really would want to run with you, but some missing piece of confidence is holding them back. Agility's supposed be fast and fun for the whole team, not just half. It should be light. It can even be funny. Tremendously humbling humor can be found in an ill timed blind cross or wrongly screamed directionals. If your dog's lost their sense of humor, maybe yours can help them bring it back. Does your dog need to laugh? Look silly. This is not a job for the grim and humorless. When they start to expect something they think is fun, they start to show you a Ready Face.

Confidence building by playing

Dogs like patterns, they like to know what to expect. You go put on your shoes, it’s walk time. I bet you see some Ready Face then. What if their ready for agility pattern got messed up somewhere along the line? Learning some of the things got hard, maybe just hard enough that they lost a little confidence. Maybe their rewards got lower. Nobody meant for this to happen, but a little confidence lost along the way can add up, and if it got paired up with some outside stressors, that would certainly shut a dog down. Building up confidence can happen by messing around and having fun, just like you probably do every day at home, for no reason other than it’s fun to play with your dog. Maybe change the pattern by upping the proportion of play time to training. Snuggles. Toys. Ball tossing. Laughing. Lighten it up. Your dog loves being with you, and bringing the love back to the agility field is key. Ready Face is their choice, so you can’t force them to play or bite that tuggy. You just want to remember that playing with you is just as fun at training as it is in your driveway. When your dog expects something happy, they ask you to continue with it. Ready!

Dying bunnies.

You bring out the toy and your dog says, “Yuck, I don’t want to play with you and your stupid toy.” Can you change that pattern by getting rid of the pressure to grab the toy? A lot of dogs think a toy waving in front of their nose sucks. Do they like chasing bunnies? Especially wounded ones? Make like a maimed bunny who is desperately trying to get out of dodge. The toy runs away. It's low to the ground. The toy darts into a hiding place. The toy must get away from the dog to avoid certain death. Sometimes thinking like a bleeding, three legged rabbit can get your dog back to playing. Sorry, bunnies. When the game catches on, next time you hide the toy behind your back, do you get a ready face? Release them to the toy! Play again! The bunny is dying! Hide it in your pocket. Do you get a Ready Face? Release to the toy! Don't bring the agility piece in just yet, create a new fun pattern of wanting the toy first. Baby bunny steps.

Raid the toy bag.

Sometimes facing away from your dog, taking off, and dragging a new toy behind you is all it takes to get some interest. My toy bag has squeakies, balls, tuggies, long tuggies, short tuggies, furry things, things with pouches, things on long strings, things on bungie cords, toys tied onto toys, you name it, it probably lives in my toy bag. It’s huge. See if you can raid a friend’s toy bag and take a toy for a whirl. Just don’t start out with the front facing face dangle move that has a great chance of making your toy aversive rather than awesome. Think like that poor little bunny, and off you go. Make it YOUR toy, not theirs. The chance of something new and exciting might get your dog ready.

Play with your food.

Food toys where you can stuff the food are cool for the dogs that like their cookies, but just sticking a chunk of food in a furry thing and expecting miracles is the wrong route. Get it moving. Doesn't have to be fancy, throw the chicken in a paper bag and tie it to a rope, drag that stinky thing around while you’re singing your favorite Elton John song, see if your dog can catch it and tear it up. Your dog hates Elton John? Sing something they like! Your dog's love of chasing you is a huge part of agility, and bringing that back to your routine can help you get a quicker route to Ready Face.

The way your food gets delivered can sometimes shake things up. Do you always throw it in a food toy? Get them to chase it to your hand! Do you always toss the cookie in the grass? Toss it in the food toy. Put it in a box. Run away with a whole stick of cheese. Bring a pancake to the field with you. Food can be a whole game in and of itself. Move that food!

Comfort level building.

Belly rubs, pats, what makes your dog feel better? Some dogs just need to feel your hands on them again before you leave them. How does your dog like to play at home, in the house? Somewhere they don’t have any anxiety? Whatever has them too nervous to sit there alone while you leave and lead out can sometimes be relieved just by goofing with them on the start line the same way as you do in your own living room and nobody's watching. Maybe you’re sitting down on the grass with them, or laying in the dirt. Just the tiniest, littlest game. Does their comfort level start to come back? Observe closely. Was that a Ready Face? Quick, go back to playing! Rinse and repeat, tiny repetitions of tiny little play times can build a lot of confidence, and eventually start to not just condition your dog that play time building attention gets them more play time, but maybe more importantly, helps them feel better in situations that were causing them to be stressed out.

Everybody on the same page.

If your dog is really scared of something, your energy level might not help them out if it’s in a whole different universe than theirs. Probably it’s not going to help to be a jolly applause freaker, clapping and whooping it up for a dog who isn't ready or wanting to play. Make a quiet little game just for the two of you, right there on the grass, and see if you can quietly build their energy level back up to where playing might happen again. Finding a teensy, tiny Ready Face is the start to finding more of them.

Distraction refocus in little bits.

Using little pieces, go all the way back to rewarding eye contact, because who doesn’t like that in a ready face? When Gustavo was young, he was way more excited about the squirrel in the tree than training. And our training field is surrounded by great big trees. So I’d just put on his leash, sit there in a plastic chair and wait him out with a cookie in hand. The tiniest flick of his eyes back to me from the squirrel tree? Cookie. Repeat. So many times. Using this patience of a saint method, instead of the begging cheerleader method, eventually conditioned him that eye focus on me was more rewarding than the promise of the squirrel. Dog math says that more reinforcement over time is going to eventually win over a low probability chance of ever getting the squirrel. That turned into longer eye contact. Which turned into a stay. Which turned into a lead out. Which turned into doing an obstacle. And so on and so forth until there were whole courses with him chasing ME, instead of the critters running outside the field.

Making the whereabouts and reliability of the reward more easy to figure out.

Try backchaining with a magic box that can house whatever the very best reward is. Steak! Cheese bits! The very best tuggy! Whatever that very best reward is for your dog, stick it in a cooler big enough to hold a six pack. Let the dog attack the cooler, and reward. Repeat! Move it away. Attack cooler, reward comes out! Back chain this to a send. Then a jump. Then another. Try it at the end of the weave poles. You're just making it Extremely Obvious to your dog that there is reinforcement available to them. What starts as a dog who learns to drive to the cooler to find their reward you can chain longer sequences together where they see the reward. Then that cooler can start to move off to field in baby steps. Eventually moves to their crate. The sequences get longer. Eventually your dog gets it that their magic box is always going to be there, even if they can’t see it. Knowing for sure what's happening at the end makes it a lot easier for them to give you a Ready Face at the beginning.

Moving feet on dogs with stuck feet.

If you get that deer in the headlights look from your dog, get their feet moving with moving food or cute tricks that involve feet moving, not staying put. Do you have cute party tricks? Training tricks always cracks me up. Besides getting better at shaping every time I train a trick, I have an arsenal of things my dog can do that usually cracks them up too. Little spins, swirling around me, running through my legs, bouncing, backing up, revving up position, if your dog gets stuck on the startline in a freeze frame, practice these tricks in all the other places, and then move them to your start. Have you ever tried tossing a cookie, then running away to toss the new cookie? If your dog likes finding cookies, eventually your feet moving predicts, you got it, tossing cookies, easiest trick in the world! Prediction of a cookie coming is a great way to start a Ready Face.

Rough transitions from point A to point B.

If getting to the start is the problem, how about happy heeling, as opposed to sad heeling or dog dragging. This can set your dog up for a whole new pattern in that tricky transition from outside the ring where the treats are, to inside the ring where the agility begins. Use prancercise as your guide. You want your dog glued to your leg, bright eyes up, feet prancing like a pony in a parade. Lots of rewards for this in lots of places first, til it becomes a pattern that predicts the fun’s about to start.

Ready on the road.

If just getting your dog to engage with you and finding consistent motivation at your training field is tricky, a trial’s going to be even trickier. So don't do it yet. Have your bag of tricks ready, and start moving the games with baby steps towards the trial. Like from your yard to the driveway. With a squirrel watching! From the driveway to the sidewalk in front of your house. With neighbor kids on tiny pink unicorn bikes watching. To the nearby park. With the skateboard kids watching. To the grocery store parking lot. With bored security guards on a smoke break watching. To downtown. Where naked clowns on unicycles could be watching, depending on what town you live in. Move in little bits, til trials are just another spot where the prediction of fun guarantees you a Ready Face.

That's what you're making your new normal, they're bringing that face to YOU, so you don't have to ask for it. A Ready Face can't over ride all the stressful, scary things, but it's going to give you a lot better chance of your dog feeling good enough to pick playing with you when those things come up. Best of all, it should be fun to look for, because you're figuring out what the magic key is that makes your dog happy. Ready? Set? And go!

Pyramid Power


There are lots of different food pyramids. My personal pyramid, sanctioned by neither the USDA nor the USDAA, rockets skyward to a summit of chocolate peanut butter cup ice cream, hovering over layers of black bean burritos and artisan hard cider, especially the kind that’s been dry hopped with organic fruit. The firm foundation is a base of thin crust pizza and salad, featuring asparagus and caramelized onions. And sandwiches. This food pyramid is not to be confused with a food chain. The pyramid’s been carefully constructed as aspiring upwards starting from the bottom, where as the chain heads downwards. Great white sharks are at the top of the chain and their mission is to eat all us down below. Although we’re supposed to see the chain as not all together a negative thing, more circle of life, where life is actually pseudonym for death, as our guts end up decomposing in shark poop that fertilizes growing kelp which seagulls can carry ashore and is harvested for sushi wraps and toothpaste and so forth, which helps the world keep spinning around the sun.

There are plenty of warnings of pyramids and chains. Everybody always warned me about that food pyramid when I was young and could eat like a logger without gaining an ounce. Then I got older and got what they were talking about. For youngish agility people, the ones with all those colorful tights and thigh gaps of gazelle-like limbs, I am telling you now, it is not a lie. This food pyramid will undo your fast running, then you will probably have to re-pyramid yourself and the top is going to have broccoli with a row of hard boiled eggs beneath it. As for the chain? Predators with teeth sit up there in the top, and that's usually not the greatest place to be, below a beady eyed predator watching you from above.

Dog agility has it’s own pyramids and chains. Every subculture does. Traditional dog agility lore stacks the mythology like this. Winning a gold medal at the World Championships is the pinnacle. Congratulations to some of my friends who have won this, you pyramid toppers, you. Standing on the podium with a flag behind you in a crowded arena, complete with screaming fans and national anthems. Winners are the queen bees, the big hurrah. The conventional wisdom of the little voice inside my head tells me to strive for this. Even though I don’t compete in AKC events. Or have any interest in putting my dog into an airplane to fly across the sea. Or the ability to run those courses without an E.

But still. It’s the lore. It’s the pyramid. It’s the way things are done around here.

Sitting under the AWC are some of the other European vacation championships. They go by various acronyms. They too involve complicated airplane tickets and motel reservations in countries where English may not be spoken and vegetarian food may be sparse except for as a side on a plate of mutton, culminating in podiums and medals. They maybe don’t have quite the shiny reputation of the World Championships, but they still involve jet setting off to exotic locations to compete against the best of the best.

These are propped up by all the National Championships. Preface your own flavor with the initials of your choice. People zig zag across the country for these events, pack their dogs into motorhomes and again, the airplanes. There are shining trophies, fluffy ribbons the size of adult raccoons, and checks for winners. Exciting rounds leading up to the finals. Does everybody who goes really have a chance to win? I dunno. I’ve gone. I’ve never won. I have a glimmer, though, of maybe, just maybe, maybe in a someday.

The pyramid’s base? That holds all this up? The salad and healthy grains foundation? Perhaps Regionals, and then the local trials. Titling, tournamenting, the things you can do closer to your own zip code. Competitors interested in titles can compete to their heart’s delight, racking up the Qs for Top Ten points or fancy long titles, numerical MACHs and Metallics. Or maybe just enough to move up for the bigger events sitting on top for the people who don’t care about the titles. Something for everybody, with varied levels of competition to get there.

So just like how I enjoy a frothy dark beer and garlic fries way better than a bowl of raw greens, your candy coated pointy top might look different than mine. Thus we got our food chains. Where everybody thinks their pyramid is the magic power kind, and starts eating everybody else lower on the chains. Everybody on their own trips. You’re racking up local Qs to go to an Invitational? Good for you. I’m tired of gathering up local Qs so am going to a Regional? Bully for me. One of these things is better than the other? Your mileage may vary. The stronger the opinions grow as they move up the pyramid seems to make the biting down the chain a bit sharper.

We just tried moving up a rung on the agility pyramid. It wasn’t easy. I made a leap of faith, blew off work on the premise of Important Dog Agility Business, and packed up as much food from all levels of the pyramid as I could fit in my car. Ice, cooler, ice, cooler, shopping bag, zip loc bag, tupperware, repeat. Banksy and I headed down to a 3 day USDAA Regional at a fancy rodeo grounds on the outskirts of Phoenix, where the strip malls gave way to saguaro groves and dusty front yard furniture sales. The drive was twelve straight hours of dogs shoved in their crates, storing up their energy for nights in the cheapest motel I could find that wasn't located behind a bus station or adjacent to a strip joint. It felt like a grand, unique adventure. Although on the drive, I kept running into friends at rest stops in the desert who also had the same exact travel foods in their coolers, all of us listening intently to lengthy audio books over our car bluetooths, in the same exact cars. Grand, unique adventures all exactly the same for dog agility ladies.

The dog show had it’s ups and downs. Banksy’s magical superhero skill is to never hit a bar, and she took down 5 in the first few rounds. Our runs were just ok. I ate a freakish number of apples and peanut butter sandwiches and drank copious amounts of coffee. There is zero glamour in traveling to big events with dogs. Zero. Days in the cars, nights in a motel where the tv is bolted into the wall and semi trucks idle outside. More coffee and apples when you’re so done with coffee and apples. Dragging the stuff from the car to the motel room and back and forth again. Crabby dogs, dust, dry skin, falling into an unfamiliar bed at night and getting up at the crack of dark to do it all over again.

The big Grand Prix final was on Sunday. I walked the course and knew right away we weren’t winning anything, Banksy hates running dogwalks that shoot into a blank space or a wall, and this one did both those things. We ran, a pretty darn good run aside from the nothing wall dilemna, Banksy doesn’t like what she doesn’t like and that was it. No glamour, no applause, no podium, no medals or photoshoots with the desert wind blowing through my tangled up hair since conditioner never works in motel showers. No comments from the peanut gallery. Just me and my dog and an agony of defeat. Which didn’t sting too bad because, all in all, it was kind of a great run, if you happened to have blink when Banksy’s feet skipped the yellow on the down ramp of the dogwalk.

Back into the car we went, back across the desert with our coffee and apples and pb&j’s, back home to our people. Who scratched their heads when we had to admit that nope, we didn’t win anything.

“You didn’t win?”

Nope. How do you explain there can be so much good, so much joy in a nearly flawless Masters Challenge round, even though a bar comes down at the end or a missed contact in a Grand Prix final?

“So you didn't even win any money?”

Definitely not any money. A weekend of exhaustion, mild discomfort and low grade stress with a final tally that we reveal itself on next month’s credit card bill.

“Wow, bummer.” This is said with a very sad face for us, because apparently, I just admitted to loserdom.

I get it. You can judge me, this is how we find our spots on the food chain. We really tried. But we just didn’t win. Lots of people didn't win. Except somehow all of my facebook friends seemed to be posting podium photos. Did coming home with no more loot than the complimentary sunscreen and chapstick from my goodie bag move us up on the pyramid, or did it actually bump us lower down the chain?

“Well, if it weren’t for all those bars, that E in Jumpers, and that one missed contact…”

Here’s where the food chain gets a bit toothy as the pyramid gets slippy. Why bother going? If you can’t win at these things, why not just try to get more Qs at local shows? Climbing up the pyramid’s tiring, wouldn't it be easier to just stay home and try that new brunch place instead? I heard they have mushroom paninis. Is making that attempt and not winning more lofty than someone who stays home to get all the Q’s for more titles? If I were to tell you that I’m bored of trying to get Qs for titles, and I'd like try for some big events, is that the same thing while simultaenously completely opposite as someone who is working their butt off to get all the Qs for all the titles and who could give a hoot about the fancy trials?

The bipartisan dichotomies of modern times strikes again. Populists vs. elites, vegan vs. paleo, Jets vs. Sharks, pinch collars vs. cookies. No matter how you slice it, somebody wants to be a top and to have a top, you got to have a bottom.

Everybody on their own trips. No need to chomp off somebody’s nose and fins because their pyramid looks different than yours. Who cares if your summit to win the AWC, get a medal at a Regional or just get out of Advanced? I'll be happy when you're climbing your stairway up to wherever you're going, maybe you’ll be happy for me for where I climb mine to.

The pointy top on my pyramid? It may shape change by next week. It’s kind of a short pyramid. With an all knowing, glow in the dark eyeball floating around on the top. It's made out of tin, lives in the woods and pops out of trees. I have a ladder propped up to it, which sometimes falls down. I'll just write a little note in sharpie, on the back of a wrinkled envelope, and stick it on the side.

“Eat a carrot and hard boiled egg. Train more dogwalk exits.”

Back up we go, rung by rung. Reaching for the summit.

07 October 2018

Turlock Oct USDAA and why is she named Banksy?


Why is she named Banksy?

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/arts/design/uk-banksy-painting-sothebys.html

Who else could she possibly be named after?

Turlock USDAA. Drive fast, get there, run a beautiful jumpers except for the part where I send her to a wrap by saying OVER, which she takes literally, because she's 4. And a trained dog now. Over means jump that thing there and not turn. So that's what she did and then took the next thing too, because OVER. But gosh darn, the rest of it was so spot on and so fast.

Then a beautiful snookers. I wish I had video. I made a plan inspired by the worlds in Sweden and sent to some far things to do 2 (7)s in the beginning and had some trickiness to get my plan. It was great and she had the last bar on the last jump of the 7 combo in the close. But I thought it was a great run anyways. Banksy is amazing. And I didn't drift off any of the backsides, so that's getting better, for now at least. A work in progress.

Grand Prix. She's beautifully trained. So something I did turned her too wide on 2. No video to know what was this thing I did. I got rushy, because we had to beat our friend Snips to get the bye I wanted. And when I got rushy, I said right-tunnel at jump 4, instead of just right, and, being the literal genius that Banksy is, righted to the tunnel. She's amazing. I have trained her well. But she doesn't yet have a feel for when I am just joking and telling her the wrong thing. Rest of the run was amazeballs. Nice dw!

Then we went home, which was a good thing because the sky was on fire and my phone was buzzing by the time we got home. The end of the story was we did NOT have to evacuate the horses and it was not on fire up the road. But the beginning of the story it was and it was awful there for a while and I sure can't wait for the rain to start.

And to set up some sequences from Worlds in Sweden. Oh my! We did try one of the weave entrances before I taught Saturday class. It took a few tries! Oh my. A lot of inspiration and a long ways to go. Maybe I need to focus on just saying the right words! Or into the shredder I go.

10 September 2018

Who doesn't like flying with an angry, demented chihuahua?


Otterpop used to like flying pretty good. She could be crabby at the end of a long airplane flight, but generally thought the whole exciting trip through security, airport tours, and a nap under the seat in a tote bag was all a-ok.

Then she got old and her new view on this is, NO NO NO NO NO NO NO WAY.


She made that perfectly clear from the moment of being shoved under the seat, loudly and frantically, much to the horror of many of my neighboring airplane passengers. I threw in cookies, which maybe helped a tiny bit, but mostly just kept my hands in there petting here until she zonked herself out and fell asleep.

Luckily we weren't going far, just up to Portland to teach at a seminar.


The Oregon School for Clever Dogs Clever Confidence Camp was this weekend! A long weekend of talking and helping agility people with nervous or fearful or worried or unmotivated or sensitive or whatever kinds of dogs figure out how to help their dogs feel a little better and less nervous or worried or scared or emotional or even just not wanting to come back over to their people after a run. A lot of start line routines, end line routines, practice patterns of new ways of reinforcing, and playing with toys. And hunks of string cheese.

Everyone had some fun, I hope, except Otterpop. Everyone learned some things, I learned new things too, and had to head scratch on some ideas to help out some of the dogs. Tricky! And then had to pack up Otterpop back into her tote bag and fly her one last time in full meltdown mode back home.

Sorry Otterpop! No more airplane trips for you, I promise.



05 September 2018

Banksy likes to keep me guessing.


In March 2017, she crashed on a jump in the covered arena at Santa Rosa, and for the next couple of months after that, I couldn't tell if she was too injured to jump, or too scared to jump, or both. Mostly she didn't want to turn left over jumps, but it spread to all the jumps. So I gave her a few months off, no vets could find anything wrong with neck or shoulder her after that, and she was good to go. She was still nervous about jumping, and was afraid to jump if I did a lead out, so we just went to the no startlines, all the time style of running, which is thrillingly exciting at best, terrifying and impossible at worst. We scratched from any upcoming trials and she didn't compete or train too often that year, but started competing again in September that year. She made it to the podium in Steeplechase at that Western Regional.

The rest of the year, got to run in just 4 trials, where she earned her ADCh, and get qualified for Cynosports. She won 3 out of 4 Grand Prix's she ran in so had a stack of byes, this would be our year for big events! The plan was to use them up traveling to exotic far away lands like Arizona, SoCal and Washington, trying to get some byes for Cynosports and practicing going to a big event and not messing up, and trying to win. We only made it to Arizona in April, and we did mess up, and we didn't win. So good thing I made the plan to practice!

In April 2018, right after Arizona, she had her mysterious stroke/seizure/mystery weird event. That left her with a draggy right hind foot. I was just happy she was alive after that, and her doing agility ever again would have been a bonus. We just walked slowly around the neighborhood for weeks while she dragged her foot, and I was hoping that wouldn't be her permanent new life. We scratched from upcoming trials, and in our year for big events, I her pulled off our team for the Camarillo Regional. But it started to drag less so she could walk longer and further, and eventually I started to train her a little, to see if just a little toe drag on the tip of her toe would affect her running. It seemed ok.

In June 2018, I started her back to running on contacts. She fell off a dog walk for the second time in her life, the first time being at Power Paws when she was young and I hadn't stabilized it, she never liked doing dog walks there in that spot after that. This time I didn't see, I just heard her come off and when I looked up, she was running next to me. I worried that her still slightly draggy toe talking late to her brain caused it. And later on that evening, when I brought her down to class to demo something, lame on her left front. Vet couldn't figure out what it was. I scratched her from upcoming trials, including pulling her off another team. I gave her time off. And then she was ok.

In August 2018, after just a light training before I taught, I pulled into my driveway after an evening teaching classes, and she climbed out of the car on 3 legs. Her right hind, the neurological foot was all wrong. Next 2 days, every time she got up, 3 legs. Then, magically gone after 2 days. I ran her in a couple classes at a local trial, after winning Saturday's Grand Prix, she was walking funny on that right hind again. I scratched her from the rest of the weekend. Took her to the vet on Monday, she was walking fine, vet couldn't find anything except for the neuro foot wasn't talking to her brain again. I told my team, we didn't have any replacements in mind, so I walked her carefully around the neighborhood on a leash that week. No funny steps, and her brain and foot were back on speaking terms. I let her have one off leash walk in the woods by the end of the week, no funny steps or 3 legs, so I ran her in the Regional. She ran great. Only things that happened were direct results of handling errors on my part.

Right before Steeplechase Finals, she started walking weirdo while walking near a flapping tent. Left hind bad! But not panicking, I suspected a burr and grabbed her and pulled it out, she had the panic attack for us and didn't want to go near the tent anymore, which was right by the ring. That's so Banksy. She got over it though and went in and ran her heart out, but later wouldn't get up on the podium because it was near a flapping tent. So I didn't make her. Banksy's mind just works like that, and I'm used to it.

So Cynosports? No way. She keeps me guessing too much to plan a big trip. Even if I had earned the Grand Prix bye (we only have a Steeplechase bye), too much stress to spend so much time and money worrying about keeping her in one piece. Even training her is nerve wracking since I don't know what happens to her when she's had her weird injuries. Her Steeplechase time was within a second of Kirk's, who is as fast as it gets and we're usually at least 2 seconds behind, so that would have been fun to try for the finals, but I think we'll both be happier staying home and going back to forest running.

So another year, no tries at being champions. But when I remember that 6 months ago, I didn't know if she would ever be able to take a jump again or run another dog walk, there's no way I can be disappointed. After all that, anything active she can do is a bonus, and based on her pattern of the last year, there will probably be more future things that pop up. Banksy definitely does everything on her own terms, and she's so amazing that however she does things is cool with me. Agility is definitely her number one, it beats the beach, forest running, and even her other favorite sport, finding the soccer goals to run around on soccer fields and then catch a low flying flippy. Preserving her to be able to do agility and run fast wherever she wants to until she's old and creaky is my big goal now, that's how she'll be a super champ.

03 September 2018

USDAA Western Regional, Finals.


First round of the Grand Prix, Third Place

The second round didn't go so good. Banksy broke her startline, we took off like rockets, she hit a bar on the double, I thought I kept it together but did make a last minute decision about handling the jump after her dog walk. My hat flew off while I was thinking this so my brain must have been exploding so instead of showing decel I showed EXPLODE and she did then it got back on track until I couldn't find the red jump just past the teeter and I tottered around out there looking for it while Banksy jumped something the wrong way. Trippy!

Nothing like the occurrence of a shit storm in front of an audience!


Steeplechase Finals

This went super! I planned a broken start, almost didn't get her leash tossed away, zoom zoom zoom off we went starting with a rear cross and an extra unplanned off the cuff rear off the frame! She was fast! Best of all we got to go on the podium with our besties Channan and Kirk, they always beat us so we are always happy just to have a time anywhere near them! Also Anita and Veuve, we also can't beat those two. Super fun finals, even with the shit storm of Grand Prix.


Banksy got scared of the flapping tent behind the podium so that was as close as she'd go. Nosirree, not on that box, even next to Kirk! Sometimes that happens to Banksy, she's cool.

OK, edit. I just looked at the results. In the 2 classes she won, Banksy had the fastest time of all the dogs, all the heights in the whole regional. One was Biathlon Standard, Kirk had a faster time, but she had a bar. We are always happy to have Kirk beat us. Also the fastest time of all the dogs, all the heights, in Team Standard. Banksy's steeplechase podium group also had the fastest time of all the dogs, all the heights. With Kirk and Veuve less than a second faster, and they are really, really fast! Also her first round of Grand Prix group the fastest times of all the dogs, all the heights.

Banksy is amazing. And right now, having a nap.

02 September 2018

USDAA Bay Team Western Regional, days 1 and 2.


Team Might Get Hairy. No team Q, due to all 3 of us very democratically E'ed in Team Jumpers. Banksy won Team Standard, came in 4th in Team Snooker, would have been 2nd in Team Gamblers if I had checked her scribe sheet (oops), and bonus E with a classic mistake of drifting too fast across the jump sending to a backside in Relay! But it was no big deal, had a super fun time teaming with Holly and Dianne and didn't need a team Q for any special reason.


Banksy is running amazing. From 2 weeks ago thinking she would have to be scratched to this! She won Biathalon Standard, came in 3rd in the first round of Steeplechase, 3rd in first round of Grand Prix, and overall has had awesome runs with some handler errors mucking her up here and there. An E took us out of Biathalon but the E'less part was awesome and fast. Lots of points in team gamblers and snookers, many startlines, just all in all awesome running from Banksy, I couldn't be more proud of her.

One more day tomorrow for the finals, can't wait! Thanks Banksy and thanks Team Might Get Hairy!

25 August 2018

This happened, then this happened.

This happened today.



This happened, then afterwards Banksy had a sore leg and couldn't play anymore.



I'm hoping her sore leg isn't serious and feels better soon. Very soon. Because she's on a team next week for the Western Regional, the kind of team you wear a wig for. And Grand Prix and Steeplechase and all that agility stuff. Get well soon Banksy!

20 August 2018

How the heck are you, Gustavo?


Gustavo is back to normal. I actually didn't think this would happen, I figured he'd have a new normal, which was perfectly fine with me. Having any bit of Gustavo back is still a miracle. But having him back to normal, unbelievable. Maybe a bit paranoid when he sees dogs appear across the park field, til her registers they're just dogs. But he's his happy self to meet new dogs, follow us around, and chase Banksy chasing her frisbee again.


It's impossible to capture the level of dork that Banksy becomes at the pond. She was not too scared to swim a teensy, teensy bit yesterday. Gustavo puttered and Otterpop stood perfectly still most of the time we were there. Otterpop does weird things now, so she just stood still and looked to the far shore. She did have to stay on a leash, because with zero hearing the last thing I want is her to jump in the pond after a ball and start swimming and maybe forget where I am and I can't call. Most of her things are on leashes now.


Oh, yeah, what else can Gustavo do? Walking in the woods too. On a leash. The littles, forever on leashes in there, anywhere a coyote might ever chance to be, and Banksy always close in. Gustavo and Otterpop were happy as clams to go back to the forest. I was surprised about Gustavo, almost didn't bring him, but decided to just throw it out there. He was all, super! I was a little scared, and we haven't been deep in yet, sticking close by the road. Banksy was paranoid, looking over her shoulder and sticking close, so she's with me on this one. Baby steps.

12 August 2018

Purple is the new black.


photo by Dianne Morey

My size 10.5 foot of reality stomped down pretty hard a few years back. Turns out I didn’t become a rich and famous It-Girl who rose to fame and fortune while never leaving the privacy of her secret, ocean view, mountaintop pony ranch. Being of a somewhat slackerish misanthropic disposition, it wasn’t like I tried very hard to make that happen, but it had seemed like it would have been a nifty career trajectory for me, so go figure. Instead I ended up with the kind of life where you have to remember to drag the trash cans out on Wednesday and pay the DMV on time and deal with the ants. Go to work. Chop up broccoli. Answer the emails. Realize you’ll never have a nice couch. Everything was very serious, even though my job was a capital “V” vocation, it was still mostly scurrying around with a scowl trying to beat the clock.

With one grandiose swoop of the birthday clock, I overnight became too old to be young enough to see bountiful amber waves and fruited plains rolling out endlessly in front of me, but way too young to just throw in the towel at this discovery. I was exactly in the middle, the place where a nagging little brainvoice starts causing you to comment on the old skool way you used to do what’s now the fancy new skool way to do all the things. I believe this is also known as Grandpa Voice. The same brainvoice does the math of how many years came before, compared to how many are left and mumbles quietly cutely scripted slogans along the lines of life is short, enjoy ever moment, then turns into anxiety dreams about evacuating livestock during a wildfire as you fall asleep on the couch before it’s even 9pm.

The art of having a genuine hobby definitely hadn’t occurred to me before. Hobby? Like the skinny old dudes and their pickleball, driving around with their pickleball license plates and flapping plastic balls bobbing on their antennas? Weekend cake decorators instagramming from their home kitchens the construction of towering rainbow cakes in the shape of bashful unicorns, with genuine gold leaf eyelashes? Golf?

Not a thing for me, the hobby. I was too busy having a life that seemed to keep slipping off it’s trajectory tracks. Work that had started gently as hobby, but quickly advanced many years prior to work, sucking all the good juice out of what first brought joy, then brought money. Not like I was sweat shopping on an assembly line or plodding away in some dank warehouse, but just trying to do all the things right while constantly reminding myself how lucky I was to be doing what I love, was so darn time consuming. And financially, definitely on the crummy side.

That first agility class with my lovely pet Ruby was an unlikely gateway into loosening the still fresh ties of adulting and the newish slinking, smoldering sprouts of panic caused by the quiet tick tocks of the doomsday clock. It started innocently enough, with an untrained dog. The obsession crept in all sneaky-like, like when you recognize a lead singer, cap pulled down low in incognito shades, skulking on to an adjacent barstool for a drink. An hour to sneak out of the day, drive to a grassy yard, sit in a chair, and give the dog a treat when it climbed on the thing. Changing the channel from our usual programming. It didn’t always go quite right, but even that upset of the drama, the dog didn’t go on the thing, the dog didn’t stay, the dog is running away, was an escape because of when it worked and there was the moment of rabbit in a hat magic. Hold a cookie and it’s like wand waving wizard school out there, you just turned that owl into a stackable washer dryer set, holy smokes!

Eventually, the dog reliably ran through the tunnel for a piece of cat food. Maybe caused by better reinforcement placement or just better cat food. It was a blissful and amazing satisfaction found nowhere else. Each time, the dog sent through the tunnel faster, with a growing expression of demonic possession on her face. There was a measurable, quantifiable amount of something happening, changing, improving. The dog was going somewhere I wasn’t, she had her own vast future ahead, so many things to learn. The apocalyptic future landscape was fended off for a moment by a dog running around chomping on a cookie in it’s mouth. I was on to something that just might suspend time.

I still hid out behind my ironic detachment. That hour turned into a day, then a weekend, of communing with others who were not like me. They were everything I’d never be. I’d never wear a floppy sun hat, especially not one that had extra long flaps on the back for necks shading and a sturdy chin strap. I’d never wear a baggy man size t-shirt with a cartoon dog screen print on the front. My shirts were carefully ironic, having been hunted and gathered via selective digging through choice thrift store bins. Probably, actually, a legitimate hobby pursuit of days gone by. Ironically though, the dogs of the others, regardless of their fashion choices, could do the weave poles every single time without messing up. I could pat myself on the back for having a really cute tote bag, but started out this quest as the worst in terms of dog agility skills.

Maybe my horror of matching accessories in sturdy purple water resistant nylon was some deep seated phobia that deep down, I was a matching purple accessories person. Purple phobic neurotica? Whatever it was, gradually, I had no time to go hang out with old friends at an art opening, or take students to a weekend horse show. I stopped calling my friends. They stopped calling me. I was on my way to the purple side, me and my dog and our new hobby. There was the weekly dog class. Then classes. Then there was the never, ever missing the classes. Then there was the practicing. And more practicing. And the renting the field for the practicing. And the lugging equipment to all kinds of fields for practicing. Then the fun matches. Then more of those. Then a trial. Then two days of a trail. Then another. Then another. And so on.

Nowadays, the cheerful diversions are super specific, collection turns off running contacts, or perfecting a send to the backside while sliding laterally, that stave off the nagging tick tock of what the heck have I been doing all this time and how much time do I have left to do it now? Back in the day, even not so cheerful diversions were all right. Dog agility used to make me cry on a regular basis and I still couldn’t get enough of it. Things are different now. I get it. Just go back and train it. So simple!

I have friends who think it’s perfectly normal when I text them at 5:30am because I saw my dog take a funny step when she walked across the kitchen. A wild Friday night is dog practice, and a great Sunday brunch replacement is dog practice. My husband didn’t sign up for a garage full of shade clothes and dog beds and blue and white striped pvc, but he’s taken it all in stride. And is mildy interested in this idea I have about us buying a motorhome one day. In the distant future. Except that it’s got to be the not so distant future if we're going to do it, life is short and so on and so forth, says the brain voice.

My dogs don't see that my hair’s a little grayer, and that my middle bits are little lumpier. Otterpop, who spent all those years in the USDAA Top Ten, earning big fluttery ribbons that have long vanished into dust gathering clutter that calls to me, “Downsize, Downsize”, she’s deaf as a rock and waddles across the floor with back legs that don’t bend at all anymore. They just sees me, and that it’s time to train, just like we did yesterday and like we’ll do again tomorrow.

30 July 2018

UKI West Coast Cup, one bar or one refusal.

At least I'm consistent. Always just one mistake.

Banksy ran great and our team work was awesome for the most part. There was some good competition at this event, even though a small event it was mighty. We had some start lines! And some not start lines too. Only one time in a wrong side of a tunnel, in the Blue Ribbon Final. That was a too much, my mistakes are always a too much or a not enough. It's good though to see the mistake and now we have to start practicing more to fix them!









15 July 2018

SMART July Prunedale USDAA.

The good news is that I decided Banksy could run in a trial!

Really no bad news. Maybe a little lite on Q's, because of bars, bars, bars mostly.

One full on brain explosion in Steeplechase, the run I most looked forward to. Banksy's brain, not mine. I just excused her from the ring after the barsplosion.

All dog walk hits beautiful! All teeters stopped, except for Grand Prix where I let her GO! One crazy aframe. One bad slip in a damp tunnel! One off course by me! One stupid gambler rule brainsplosion in our perfect gamble. One perfect start line! A couple so so start lines. A number of terrible start lines!

I can't pull Banksy out for breaking her start. Life is too short.

What do all these runs have in common? A bar! And we're rusty. But I still liked them. Banksy is amazing.

Grand Prix


Standard


Biathalon Jumpers

30 June 2018

Did I just see that? Yep, I did.


We were all set for a trial this weekend! Team with friends! One of my favorite judges! Biathlon, our favorite! Running some titling classes for no good reason other than some running! I am bringing the ice!

Had a little practice Thursday, before I taught the classes, I was running hard to get to a backside off the rdw, hear the usual run/run from Banksy behind me which usually sounds like this, run/run/run/run/run and I look for yellow on the fourth run. All I heard was run/run and I kept running except then I quick stopped and turned around when I missed hearing the next run/run and there was Banksy, on the grass running instead of on the plank running.

She put herself back up on, she was off but now she was on and ready to try again. Let's go!

But the point being, for some reason she slipped and fell or bailed off the dog walk as she got to the top plank. A thing she's never done except once when we practiced on a dog walk that had a slope by mistake and she felt the slope and bailed. Other than that she's never slipped off in all this time.

She was fine, we fixed the sequence, she got her toy, victory.

A thing to note. When Banksy runs across the dog walk, there is no other speed than the fastest speed, unless it's a four stride hit and then it's even faster. So the terror of her ever coming off is that she's flying off with the momentum of a rocket crashing back to earth.  Physics, useful for dog agility.

So she had a rest while I set up some things, and she came out to show the first class something, I forget what. And when she came out of her x-pen I thought for a second I saw some funny steps then I didn't. So I thought, that was weird, did I see that?

But she looked great so I figured it was just crazy mind.

If you have horses and dogs, you know that. Did I just see that?

If you've had horses and dogs forever and see them move all day, you know better than to ask, Did I just see that?

Because you did.

But it goes away so you think, did I just see that?

She came out again, for How To Do A Rear Cross lesson. A thing that after all these years, I finally feel qualified to teach. I can do these now. And she came out and same thing, did I just see that?

A student said, oh, she's got a leaf on her foot.

He tried to grab it. I saw no leaf. And then she looked fine and we did a tunnel jump tunnel, of how to do a rear. Did it a couple times. Cross her path. Pick up your left arm. Show them the line in front. All the things.

And she got in her x-pen. And I brought her out while we were walking the course for the next class.

Oh yeah. I did just see that.

So two days in. Rest and rimadyls. Just stay put Banksy. Bailed off my team, I am now the person to not sign up to team with because second time I've scratched and left a team stranded to find a replacement.

I can't tell where it is. Somewhere. Seemed like her wrist, now it seems like I'm not sure. It does seem better with rest and rimadyl, not a limp so much now as a little hitch at the trot, so not to panic, just a little thing, hopefully just something strained, but no running no playing no fun just resting, until there's no question, there's nothing to wonder if I did or didn't see it.

Happy nap weekend, Banksy.

17 June 2018

Bay Team Titlemania West Coast


The best part of the weekend was all the best parts. Banksy got to do agility again, and she did great. She ran perfectly normal and happy and I made some mistakes and she said she still hates start lines and tables, but I got to run Banksy in agility. Gustavo got to walk around and see so many friends, and there was a special mini dog award for Championship and Performance top scoring All American dogs like him. Even though he's Mexican. And I got to walk back and forth from the car and see all my  friends and Otterpop got to sleep in the car and it was just like old times again. And I didn't lose my keys or phone or sunglasses.

Frankly, it was amazing.


That's some of Gustavo's people at the awards ceremony.

Banksy ran 3 standard classes and 3 Masters Challenge Jumpers. I hadn't thought I would run them all, but enter them all to have a choice and see how she was doing. She was doing great, so I just kept running and running and ended up running them all.

Banksy's highlights.

Standard 1. I left on her collar and half way through the course the judge saw it while Banksy was not yet laying down on the table, hovering there begging me to just release her. Toes on the edge, staring at the next thing which I was already led out to, while she was not laying down on the table. I did release her as soon as the judge kicked us out for having a collar on, she was so happy! The rest of the run till that was great, with a hard dw exit right tunnel for Banksy! E

Standard 2. Her dog walk contact was dicey but not called. My hat fell off my head at the beginning and since it was tied to my head with a string it stayed on, but over my eyes. I ran approximately 5 things like that until I could see again while she was laying down on the table this time. Probably a Q.  I have this on video and I think I am running pretty good while hat blinded, actually. Oh, yep, won it and a Q.

Standard 3. A bar between a tunnel and the aframe. Smacked it pretty good. Her table started to be slow again and since I already had the bar I standed her which confused her a bit and she unstanded herself into a down. Rest of it was great, her rdw was not the best hit but it was a hit. We need to practice contacts. Oh, nobody Q'ed so she won this with a bar.

MC Jumpers 1. A beautiful, flawless run but she ticked the broad jump. I didn't hear it but someone said it was called. That's cool. How great is it to run Banksy again? I didn't check to see if a Q because I actually did not give a rats ass at this point since we were actually doing agility. Oh, not called, won it and a Q.

MC Jumpers 2. Oh drat. This is where I sent her to a backside instead of a frontside. I had forgot to remember to do that. I had a refusal elsewhere where I was peeling off too fast for a blind. But I did get it quite nice after I fixed the refusal. I thought this was a nice run but for the enormous error of wrong side of a jump at the end. Even the dicey awful hard rear cross to a push back. Banksy was flying around and doing everything exactly like I told her, no complaints. E

MC Jumpers 3. Because she did everything exactly like I told her, when I told her front side instead of back side, she did this swell! Oops. One more E. I changed my plan, and that's what I get. And a bar, I have this on video, she didn't pick up her front feet enough which means I surprised her with that jump. Banksy no likey surprises. Me either. Her startline was gone by this run, but it was cool, we just ran off the start together, like we like to do anyways. E

No trophies. No dog of the year, which is the magic title you win by winning 3 classes in each division. Dog of the year! It's a title mania! I don't really get it but we had a good time. When we don't win I usually say oh it's cool we didn't win. But am secretly a bit miffed I didn't win. I do try hard and frequently don't win because we still aren't champions. But this time, I can safely say I was completely cool not winning. It was a thrill to run Banksy, and a thrill to have a Gustavo to walk around. They are totally the dogs of the year just by not being dead!

Probably by the next trial I'll be miffed again with myself for not winning. I would like to hope not. Even if I make more of those just one or two boo boos per run which winners don't do. Maybe I'll write The Dogs Aren't Dead in sharpie on my wrist in secret code, just to muffle the miffing. That should do it. You should try it, too.

11 June 2018

I do not hate coyotes.


Here’s a laundry list of the things they did to Gustavo:

bites, bites, bites. puncture wounds in neck, side, back, ears, head. most plentiful near throat.
drain for abscessed punctures.
broken ribs, all on the right side.
bruised lung and liver.
torn salivary gland.
scratched corneal ulcers.
torn abdominal wall.


Gustavo was in the hospital ICU for 4 days on an iv, sleeping mostly, not really moving, in a little dog bed in a kennel behind a sliding glass door, in a dim room full of sick dogs. His iv gets moved from leg to leg. There are a lot of xrays. At some point that drain got put in for festering absessed wounds in his neck causing gas to pocket in his tissue. His esophagus or trachea, I forget which, was not torn, just a bit smashed.

He would not eat. Nothing for a nurse, not at all. I got him to lick some ice cream off a popsicle stick, what they like to call in the hospital, tongue depressors. His tongue was not depressed though, it could only move out the side of him mouth to slurp up a bit of ice cream. We used vanilla as the gateway drug to chicken babyfood. Only the Gerber. Forget the organic stuff I got at Whole Foods.

I think his jaw hurt, I think his everything hurt. He was took by coyotes on a Sunday morning, on a Tuesday he was found. I can’t imagine what he went through those 48 hours. Maybe he hoped to die.

Gustavo would not let the nurses touch him. Nor the doctors. No temperatures no touching no blood draw no nothing. They still loved him anyways, or at least that’s what they said. He would like to leave the hospital please and is not shy to let everyone know this. He fought and wiggled ferociously, even tried to bite with his remaining four teeth. He is very, very happy to see me so they let me come to see him a lot.


I took him out to the parking lot on his feeding visits, he would eat the best for me. He started trying to escape that jail via the car park. He could only walk in the very slowest shuffle of little tiny steps, so it was very easy to capture him as he attempted the jail breaks. I just took one step. We spent a lot of time out there, in the shrubs outlining the asphalt parking lot. I didn't know, did it scare him, like a ptsd coyote would come out from the trash can enclosure? Did he just want to end it all by heading out into traffic on 41st Avenue? Or was he happy to breathe for a few minutes, it was his only bit of fresh air. It was very exciting when he peed.

After 4 days, they let me take him home. Popped out his catheter and released him to be my problem to get him to eat. He was losing so much weight and nobody wanted to put in a little feeding tube. I brought him back a few times for the docs to look at. He needed to eat more, but all the things, they were healing. It was hard to carry him, his ribs were broken, mostly he wanted to sleep in his dog bed, or sniff the air in the back yard.

I do not hate coyotes. If they had wanted, they could have easily torn him to shreds.


Likely I was a pain in their coyote asses, and they dropped him. A screaming lady thrashing around in your thicket hitting things with a branch probably feels uncomfortable for eating a small dog, not so nice for the digestion. I don’t hate you, coyotes, I just wanted my dog back. Whether they caught him to feed some pups, or just wanted to eliminate another potential predator of the woods, Gustavo, he who enjoys chasing squirrels and paper towels, we will never know.

I’ve been a few times to the school where the kids found him. I saw where the path dumped him off, underneath the deck. He crawled under there, probably to die, all his energy used up tromping through the woods when they dropped him, all the way down to the flat path that crosses the creek near the tree stump that looks like a gnome house. He did not take the shortest way to get there, that is clear from the path he chose. On Tuesday, the groundskeeper saw him, some 8th grade girls got him to come out. They said he could walk. One girl said he couldn’t. I don’t know what happened, but they got him out and gave him to the grownups and that’s how I got him back. It’s kind of a hippie school, there’s no uniforms or hard math classes there, they play violin and have plays and social justice. His photo is stapled to the office wall. He is the only dog now ever allowed at school, I took him up there to hang out with the kids on the last day of school, between 8th grade graduation and the picnic.


Four weeks now, he’s been back. Four weeks now, he came back from the dead. Four weeks, all the good wishes and buckets of money throw to me by friends and family and people I’ve never even met, at his hospital bills, with a large sum left over that I still need to figure out what to do with. Maybe in a few months, when they say for sure that tear in his abdominal wall is healed and not going to tear itself up any more. Three weeks back at my house, two weeks starting to feel good and eat more things, one week starting to see his personality come back and he turns back into Gustavo.

I still don’t hate coyotes. I am afraid to take my dogs to the woods, the only place they’ve ever known to walk. I stick them on leashes and walk them on the pavement of the neighborhood, we go to the park and I throw a ball. It's hot, there are very few trees, and we feel suburban and very pedestrian, but seems like fewer ways for them to die. Gustavo can even go on a little walk, I bought him a fleece harness and he can trot along, almost like how he used to. We walk a bit slower, we look out for traffic.

I don't hate coyotes, but maybe this is how we learn to live our lives for now. I don't really care. I had a miracle occur and I got my dog back. Can you see that by peering into my eyes? I had flipping angels fly around and deliver him back to me and then collect the money to pay for his bills. We can walk on the asphalt for now, we can learn to do things different. Nobody usually gets something back that is that much gone, today, I am not nobody.

Part Two: The kind of person who gets poison oak.

Part One: Bambi Quick the Thicket

05 June 2018

Tired.


Mostly, Gooey is tired. He needs to sleep a lot still. He sleeps in late, goes to bed early. I think some of it is that his diet isn't quite right yet, I'm working on getting him back to eating what he should.  But at least he's eating. The other of it is, I think he's just really tired.

He's a little worried of things. A little jumpy. This isn't surprising, I'd be too. We keep a close eye on him. I took him up to the school where he was found yesterday, we walked back out to the deck, now I know exactly where he came up from the creek, he had taken the easiest yet furthest path, it pops right out at the deck. It's a bit of a project to get to that path, but he knows all the ways to it. He came up out of the woods from where it wraps around, and that was the first place he saw to go to rest or hide or die, maybe all of these, I don't know.

He wasn't happy to be there. He did know exactly where he was, he perked up but in a worried sort of way when we walked down there. I won't make him go back there again.

03 June 2018

The kind of person who gets poison oak.


Part Two, Part One is called Bambi Quick The Thicket

In these bipartisan times, the world is easily divided into two kinds of people. There are the those of us who never get poison oak, and there are the others, the people who do. I’ve always been a never gets it. I spend a lot of time tromping through it, as do my dogs, and the worst rash I’ve ever gotten was a tiny speck on one wrist. Maybe officially that made me a person who does get it, but I always considered myself a not. I can listen to someone who is whining about their rash, and silently label them a weakling. Possessing the skin that can’t withstand the touch of a plant, sensitive skin that must be protected when tromping through the outdoors. Don’t touch the nature, mind the leaves of three, the others with the delicate constitution. Some of us who can move through the woods unfettered, and everybody else must move around it.

The day that followed the loss of Gustavo, I tried to come to terms with some harsh new realities. I now had only two dogs. I had sent my most precious dog out ahead of me into a coyote ambush into instant death. And I was now a fragile snowflake, with a rapidly spreading poison oak rash on my whole left side.

I was sure that he must have died instantly. I never heard any peep, not a sound, from him. Gustavo is a dog who if you even touch his hair wrong, screams. Loudly. Like blood curdling, high octave, scare the neighbors loud. He’s a pretty quiet dog in general. He makes gurgling hamster love noises when he’s happy, growls at paper towels that he’d like to tear up, and barks at the neighborhood cats that climb on our backyard fence. But touch him wrong, pluck a piece of delicate fur or stick a thermometer in his hiney, and you’ll hear wailing at a range that’s surprising from such a small body.

For hours I had thrashed through brush, screaming his name, only being answered by a coyote. Wanting to hear him scream back. Never once hearing anything from him, no scream of dismemberment, no death scream, not a single sound. There had been two coyotes and I was only getting one coyote scream back for each of mine. Was that a system? Or had one taken him elsewhere? All I wanted was some kind of sign, a sound, some acknowledgement that he was in there, possibly still alive.

It was pup season, so that was an idea, delivered elsewhere to a den for breakfast. But where? I had found their boneyard later on when it was quiet in there. But no sign of Gustavo. I’ve seen a lot of dead things. I’ve seen a coyote race from an impossible distance and pluck a chicken from just in front of my nose. I’ve seen and heard a group of coyotes in a frenzy over a carcass they had stashed in bushes, raising such a ruckuss I’d gone out and broke up their excitement throwing branches at them.  I’ve seen fresh deer kill from a mountain lion, neatly slit through it’s stomach, left adjacent to a trail for the next meal, much neater than coyote damage, always mangled and torn and shredded, rib cages pulled out from a deer chest and strewn about. A dog Gustavo’s size didn’t have a chance in the grip of a coyote. He’s not a dog with much fight in him. He can squirm pretty good when you need to draw blood or clip his nails, but that’s about it. He has exactly four teeth in his mouth, one of them being a lower canine fang that hangs sideways that’s firmly rooted in there it’s never going to fall out.

Gustavo is the dog who can trot up to the sketchiest dog on the street, wag his tail, and diffuse the situation with his good vibes. Dogs that raise my hair up on my arms when I see their stance, where I reverse direction fast, dogs that I know Otterpop would get into it with, and that Banksy will run from in terror, Gustavo walks up and says hi. And almost always they offer a hi back. He has a quiet, magic spirit. The only time he’s cranky with another dog is when they push a paw down on his back. That’s it. He starts to scream. Inappropriate touching, he calls out, he isn’t shy. I would have thought a coyote’s mouth wrapped around him would send blood curdling screams to the tops of the highest trees. And while he’s fast, he’s nowhere near as fast as a coyote. Had been ahead of them into the thicket, he wouldn't have stayed ahead long.

I had one hundred percent certainty that he was DOA. We were finally being taxed for our usage of their forest after all these years. Nothing is free. Land’s expensive, and land use comes with a lot of complication. All these years I thought we were sharing, and now we were paying. He was taken as a sacrifice and a toll. It was pretty cut and dry.

But I didn’t stop searching. I stayed home part of the next day to wait for a condolence alcohol delivery from a friend. That’s the thing now, you send a refrigerator full of beer when someone loses a loved one. Flowers are dumb, but plentiful beer is common sense. Another friend stopped by, even though I didn’t want company. She once had a little dog run after a coyote, maybe get plucked up, but make it back with a tear in it’s harness. She also reminded me of the impossible situation when one of her big dogs clawed it’s way out the window of their camper shell on their truck, jumped out of the truck onto the freeway at 70mph, and waited for them, uninjured, in the freeway median. They had arrived home, late at night, one dog short. Not really knowing exactly what to do, they drove back to where they had started, and drove slow down the freeway in the dead of night. And finally spotted her, in the center divider, curled into a ball and waiting for them, right at the Lark exit off Highway 17. It was a very impossible story, one for the record book. Nobody ever thought a dog would survive jumping out of a truck at that speed on a busy freeway and live. Let alone wait there to get picked up. And be found. But it happened. She had been a miracle dog, that one.

So back out I went. Pretty half hearted, but back into the thicket, back through all the trails. We even walked down to the overlook over the creek, where we sometimes either take the really steep trail down, or walk all the way up the hill to take the easier trail to the little waterfall. It’s a project to get down to the creek up there, but Banksy frequently pulls us down there on a walk. I usually have to carry Otterpop now, it’s getting way too steep for her to even get down there the easy way.

I have another nice place to sit and be quiet in those woods. It’s a grove not too far in. Sometimes in the evening, after work, we go for a walk but after a long day, we only walk up the hill and down the fire road and then take a carefully hidden trail into this grove. There’s a good sitting log there, and Gustavo usually sits on it with me while the other dogs putter around and find sticks. Pausing to be quiet on a walk is something me and Gustavo most like, where as Banksy and Otterpop use their time more effectively, finding sticks to poke me with to throw. Which I don’t. Because quiet time. Those two aren’t much for quiet time, not when they’re on a walk. Gustavo’s more like me. He likes to keep moving until it’s time to not move. There’s always room for both.

That grove was about 30’ from where they took him into the thicket.

Anyways, he wasn’t there. He wasn’t anywhere, we walked til dark on all our trails, back to the thicket, back everywhere, and there was no collar, no carcass, nothing. He had vanished. There was no moment I said goodbye. Nothing that day was out of the ordinary, gave me no reason to think I'd never see my dog again. We had got up and gotten in the car and headed out for a walk, just like every single day, except that day turned out to be the last day I’d ever see him again.

Gustavo’s somehow different than the other dogs. I love my dogs a lot. I am a freak of how much I love my dogs. I know I don’t love my horses the same way I love my dogs. And while I think I love all the dogs all the same, it’s not the same. Gustavo has this thing about him that makes him a little more special. And whatever that thing is about him, made it that much worse that he’d died. And not just for me, it was the same for Gary, and as word started to spread, apparently the same for lots of our friends. That little dog had a legion of friends.

This was more than sadness, more a sick despair that sets in with a heart break that also mingles with shock. Where the shock starts to wear off you’re stuck with new reality that sucks your breath away at how unrelentlessly bad it feels. To walk around the block was sad, to walk to the park was sad, his empty spot on the couch was sad. I couldn’t bear to look at his dog crate in my car and had to pull it out so I could drive.

And, for a bonus, I now had full blown poison oak. My whole head puffed up, my eye swelled shut, my left arm and neck was covered in oozing red blisters. I was marked, I was now somebody else completely. Life had to go on, I still had to go to work, and on Tuesday morning, two days after he vanished, I hauled myself and my embarrassingly weak skin up to work, telling everyone not to speak to me. We all have dogs, all us horse people. We all know what it is to lose a dog. My horse shoer expressed his condolences, and started to tell me some story about a friend’s dog and a coyote. I definitely lost it, then and there, holding the pony who needed aluminum bar shoes. Everybody clammed up, and I went about the day. It was possible to sit on the fence and call out to the ladies, more right rein, slow down, speed up, bend a little more to the inside. This was my new life.

We had put out flyers, taped to posts and things in the woods, for just in case. Missing, they read, with a photo and my phone number. Missing. What else would they say? Dead? He wasn’t lost, that forest was same as a back yard for him. He knew every square inch, he’d walked in there his whole life. It’s not that big. If he had wanted out, he’d have found his way. So just missing. People keep an eye out, maybe we get some closure. I had hoped mostly for his collar, sometimes we find those in sad places, a little collar from a cat or dog, a spot of color in some brush. I’d always carry them to the road, leave them on a post. Somebody might spot it, and know how their story ended.

My phone doesn’t work well in the mountains. I can get texts at my barn, but to talk on the phone requires standing in exactly the right spot and not moving a muscle. Voice mails are frequently eaten by the mountain, and only a complicated process of turning the phone on and off near the cel booster on the roof will possibly retrieve them, but not always. Everybody knows, don’t call me. I like this better anyways, with most people, I hate talking on the phone. I get a lot of bogus calls, too. Somebody selling something, somebody wants to come ride a horse, a lot of time wasted trying to talk on the phone at work. So usually it just sits in my trunk and I look for texts when I walk by.

Sometime that morning, I could see a local call had come in. That perked my interest, just enough. Maybe someone found something, so I took my phone to the magic spot to try to extricate the call. I don’t know if it’s the redwoods, or the mountain itself, but prying a voice mail from my iphone when it doesn’t want to give it to me is an arduous process. Turn the phone off, wait a bit, turn it on. Repeat. Maybe you can hear what it’s saying, or maybe you can’t. I’m not always a patient person, certainly not with the technology. I know, it has to talk to space. Steve Jobs figured out how to do it and paid the Chinese slave children his version of a living wage so that it can. Space is far, even though my phone is near, give it another minute, maybe it will give it up. So I waited, stupid phone, and kept trying to pry out the call.

I could only get a bit of it, a garbled voice from a nearby mountain school, the one on the edge of the woods. Something about the school, and a dog. We have Gustavo.

That’s all I needed. We have Gustavo. I didn’t hear anything about dead, that would be a body, this was Gustavo. I ran up to my car, screamed at a customer that Somebody has My Dog. Screamed down our 5mph lane raising dust as fast as I could. I had a new girl coming to ride in half an hour and a horse shoer that needed paying and I was screaming out of work as fast as I could go.

Somebody at the school had Gustavo.

There’s a windy old grade that goes almost to the school, cuts across the mountain the inefficient way. Somebody put those roads in long ago for hauling out lumber, you wouldn’t use them unless you lived on them, they wind around the contours and wind up and down with blind curves the size of pin curls. Always blocked in the winter by mud and trees, they drop down into dark and come back up in sun and down into the dark again. You don’t see the houses on them, addresses marked by signs nailed to trees and narrow bridges somebody’s dad made to get the truck across the creek. I flew across the grade, driving as fast as I could. Got to the straight part and floored it. Screamed down the main road, past the houses by the gulch, past where sometimes the mountain CHP guy sits to get people who floor it on the straight part, flying into the school car park. All the kids out on the field, it’s a private school, looks like a summer camp. And it sits on the far edge of the gulch across the creek.

Me and my swollen shut eye, no shower for days, still wearing that torn up jacket, in my dirty boots, thinking for a minute, maybe don’t look so crazy, school shooters and all. Trying to look calm, finding a grownup, asking is there an office?

A wary blonde lady takes one look at me, then realizes, “Oh, are you the one looking for the dog?”

“YES!” I scream or whisper, I’m not sure what kind of sound I can make anymore. “Yes! My dog! I’m here for the dog!”

She takes me in the little office, and I burst in to a group of surprised looking grownups, wild eyed feral school shooter?

“My Dog!” I think I’m gasping for air now. A lady comes over and takes my arm, she looks like a nice lady who would work at a private mountain school for kids. She has a nice smile.

All the grownups come over and the nice man says, “He’s in pretty bad shape, the 8th graders found him,” as he leads me to a little body in another room, under a blanket, in the corner next to a file cabinet. “We tried to give him some water, I’m so glad you got my message.”

I run in and grab him up, he feels alive but barely so. He feels tiny and light and limp and hardly breathing. His eyes are vacant and gray. He’s sticky. But alive.

I feel wounds as soon as he’s in my arms, I can feel part of his side seems to be the wrong shape. I am thanking, and exiting, thanking the man and thanking the lady and backing out of the office to get him in my car. They are all beaming and calm, do they even know this miracle they’ve induced? They’re talking to me but I don’t know what they’re saying. I only know I have my dog.

I put a blanket on the seat, and lay him next to me. I have to go screaming back across the mountain, because you never not pay the horse shoer. And there was a new girl, coming up to ride. I’m responsible and diligent, and cart my maybe dying dog back across the grade and scream back in and tell everyone my dog’s alive but I got to get him to the vet. Everybody says, “GO! Get out of here! Just GO!”

Back down the mountain I go, back onto the highway. He is laying there and breathing, not the right kind of breathing, he’s never looked up at me. He’s almost not here. I can feel his right side is swollen, I can feel puncture wounds through his fur. Somehow he has survived something, this unexpected tragedy in the woods, I’m not sure how. I tried to call Gary, the phone talks equally poorly through space on the highway as it does at his work, nestled up against the base of the same mountain.

“I have Gustavo!”

“WHAT?”

“I have Gustavo!”

“WHAT?”

He is screaming, he wants me to bring him to work. I am trying to explain, while space is crackling our voices, he has to go to the vet. He’s in bad shape, I’m not sure if he is going to live and I am taking him to the vet. One of our vets is just down the road, I’ll see if she can take him.

I carry him in, her husband is in the office. She’s in surgery, her husband sees Gustavo and says get him to Pacific. Just go, go now. I tell him that Gary may soon be in after me, tell him where I’ve gone. Pacific is the emergency and specialty practice, across town. Just a month or so back I went screaming in there with unconscious Banksy in my arms. Not my first rodeo. Back we go in the car, into the traffic, into town and across it, getting to Pacific. This is something I know how to do, drive a dying dog to the vet. Last time I did it, my dog lived just fine. They fixed her in the hospital, made her good as new. They could fix Gustavo.

I keep my hand on him, so maybe he knows he’s ok, that I found him, that it’s me. Well, that the 8th graders found him, then the smiling grownups from the school, but then me. There was too much traffic, it’s so hard to move across our county these days, I hate to have to go into the civilization, to the strip malls and the stop lights, but this is what we do.

I ran him into the hospital, same as I did with Banksy. This time maybe I am walking, he has to be carried carefully, he feels pretty broken. My vet’s husband had thought to call them for me, they were ready and waiting. A nurse came out and got him, transferred him carefully from my arms.

“What happened to him?”

“He got took by coyotes two days ago. Just got found this morning, the 8th graders found him laying under a deck.”

“Coyotes? Two days ago?”

I nod, and she takes him to the back. I go and sit down, and start up my phone. Here in the strip malls, the phone works good. The hospital’s in the old Sizzler building, where they had the all you can eat salad bar and cheap baked potatoes. Now Whole Foods is just down the row, past the dollar store and the bank that gets robbed on a regular basis. Across the street from the mall where you can take kids to go visit Santa surrounded by giant plastic dolphins, by the Trader Joe’s parking lot where everybody tries to hit your car.

Almost as soon as I sit down, one of my vet friends comes out. She’s not an emergency vet, she’s a specialty. Mostly oncology, a doctor for really sick dogs. She’s really smart. She looks surprised. She had already heard he was dead. Everybody had. Everybody loved Gustavo, and everybody already thought he was dead.

“Laura? They just brought a dog in the back and it looked just like him and they said it was Gustavo?”

“The 8th graders found him at the Waldorf School. Just now. He got took by coyotes on Sunday and they found him this morning.”

She goes back in. She comes back out. She says they will fix him.

The emergency doctor talks to me in a room, Gustavo's in the ICU. I told him what happened, about how he got took and we looked for him but we thought he was dead, about the coyotes and the manzanita and about the 8th graders, and he looks at me like I’m crazy, and then he starts to cry. I’ve never seen a vet start crying.

“You can save him, right?”

He's concerned, he doesn’t like to promise things. A little dog shouldn’t have lived through this. But he thinks that they can save him, there's a lot of damage, they need to make sure his insides are ok and no holes inside internal organs, the outsides are all punctures, there are broken ribs, he has teeth holes everywhere, even inside his ears. Something's wrong with his eyes. But he thinks that nothing he can see so far is life threatening, he’s in bad shape but he thinks he can fix him, he'll know more in a few hours.

I go back out to wait, sit in the waiting room and scratch my oozing skin. My vet friend comes out again, in her long white coat. She says you better go on facebook right now because a lot of people love Gooey and a lot of people think he’s dead.

So I do. I go on facebook, and I type in:

Hi Facebook friends. Thank you for all the kind words. I have a legitimate miracle occurring right now. I am at the emergency vet with Gustavo. He somehow managed to survive being taken by coyotes in the woods. He is in bad shape but we are confident he will make it. Please think good thoughts for him as he needs them, but the crazy amazing miracle, a true legitimate genuine miracle, is that Gustavo is alive.


to be continued in Part Three

Part Three: I do not hate coyotes.

28 May 2018

Bambi Quick the Thicket


Under the rules of Bambi, the meadow is bad because of Man, but the thicket is the groovy space for the forest creatures, bunnies, skunks, and flowers. The meadow has a soundtrack, you hear menacing violin strings that inspired the duun-nuh duun-nuh Jaws is coming music, Bambi’s mom looks up with that shit’s about to hit the fan face, and next thing you know, the race is on into the thicket.

Thicket safe, meadow bad.

She doesn’t make it, you know. Childhood blows it’s wad then and there, the saddest day in the forest happens, both meadow and thicket. “Your mother can’t be with you anymore,” from the dad deer, forest prince with his giant rack. Nobody comes back from the dead. They can’t be with you anymore.

Choke back your tears, and move on.

The forest isn’t a fairy tale. Darkness goes down in there. Do you remember the shrewd wolf that ate the six baby goats? Number seven hid in the clock case, when the goat mother returns and goes and hunts that big bad wolf down, she slits his stomach, frees the goat babies and sews heavy stones into the wolf’s stomach cavity, causing subsequential painful post surgical death.

Circle of death, the ways of the world, the forest is where it all goes down.



We usually stay clear of the meadow due to the coyotes. They watch us, they’re cunning and fast and travel in groups, hunt in pairs. When you see one, usually there’s more. They're stealth agents, if they don’t want you to see them you won’t. You can feel it when they’re near. They like it where it’s clear. Meadow bad, if you want to steer clear of them, usually hug the woods along the ridge, they’ll keep to themselves and steer clear of us.

The big cats are usually more on my mind, they’re way bigger and an interaction with them seems certain death. A coyote? Throw some rocks, make some noise, they vanish back into the brush, and we move on. We share the forest with them, they have to share with us. You dig, coyote? Deer and rabbits, pumas and coyotes, bikers and hikers and skunks. We’re all out in there together. Maybe belongs to some of us more than others, we may be daily visitors but it’s not my livliehood, skulking around in there. I can stop at Companion on the way home for a gluten free blueberry buckwheat scone and a pricey cup of coffee. Everybody gots to eat.



When my dogs alerted to the coyote just off the trail to our right, I was surprised. More surprised than scared. He was close, he was big, and he was in a spot I’ve never seen a coyote. He was hunkered down in a dead log, both eyes locked on our little group, and too close and too still. He or she, I don't know. Gooey and Banksy growled, they weren’t happy, they were scared, maybe more scared than surprised.

We haven’t even seen a coyote in a while. We rotate where we walk, when it seems like the coyotes are more plentiful, we rotate to a different zone. When one comes near, the plan is everybody stick together, little dogs get leashed and to my arms if possible, Banksy comes in and we move as a clump. I scream my special anti coyote kung fu scream and throw rocks and generally that does the trick. The human lady looks crazy, and crazy may be best avoided, nobody wants to be near crazy. When that doesn’t work, like with the giant coyotes that loom unwavering, tall like wolves, we retreat quietly but efficiently, and I always keep my voice up, with the hopes that it’s irritating enough to back them down and return to their previously quiet forest retreat.



Here’s where this scenario went wrong. The dogs alerted, we all looked each other dead in the eye. In the blink of that eye, when I called the dogs along to move up the path and away from big guy staring at me from the edge of the wood, they moved forward of me, so I sent them on ahead.

“Go-go-go-go-go.”

This seemed fine. Go ahead they did. I missed the opportunity to grab Gooey, who weighs in at something like 12lbs as he and Banksy ran on ahead, up away from the coyote. We’d climb up to the top of the path, edge the thicket, and move up to the fire road and on where the trail meanders across a ridge sitting up above the valley, a place I like to walk because of how the sun beams thread through the redwoods every Sunday morning. It’s like church for us, crunching along the path, climbing with the sun.

This should all have been fine. Everything always works out fine, right? We're part of the forest, we are forest creatures. It’s the one place we blend, the one place we feel right, and we’re careful and experienced. Maybe even we're magic. I don't know. Maybe all these years, I've had it all wrong. Because this time, something went wrong. The dogs sent ahead of me around a blind curve, a place where the path rounds a group of redwoods, a place where we’ve walked, maybe one thousand times? How would I count that, how many foot prints we’ve put on that section of path over decades of this is where we walk?

In this one instant, I saw a second coyote appear up ahead on my right, and move as a blur towards where the dogs were heading. And the big one from my lower right shot straight towards me on the path. Ran just behind my ass, where I had Otterpop tottering along on a long line. Another blur, a heat seeking missile, programmed by some unseen force to run to the convergence of two coyotes and my two dogs. A perfect storm, and perfect target, a perfect bulls eye of prey.

It happened too fast but in super slow motion at the same time. You feel this when you’re falling off a horse at high speed, you may very well be moving at 25 or so mph, as the horse lowers it’s head and prepares for it’s hindquarters to fire up into the air. You know the moment when the launch begins, that you’ve tipped a bit too forward to stay put, time slows down while you’re propelled through the air, and the clock only starts running again the moment you hit the ground.

I think I screamed the dog names, I think I started running. I think the only sounds I heard were all the ones coming from me, in that moment that happened in the slowest second ever recorded. The trees hid from me the view of what happened at the junction of dog and coyote, but as I ran into the fray, Banksy ran back to me, Gustavo wasn’t with Banksy, and I saw two coyotes take off like rockets into the thicket. The only place Gustavo could have been, in that one second in time, was in one of their mouths.



Let me explain the thicket. Tall stands of manzanita, with curling witch fingers for branches, old dead logs, redwood and pine and greaseweed and bay and poison oak and low prickly berry vines, and I don’t know what else, all arranged over a thick floor of dead, dried out fallings. Thick and pokey, plants that scratch and damage, carved with low tunnels for the movement of low animals, not passable by humans over the height of eighteen inches high. Thickets of brush are everywhere in the mountains, it fills the spaces between redwood and pine groves where nothing’s burned for many years. It’s a good place to hide out if you’re an animal, for a human, perhaps to cut your way to a clearing and set up a secret camp where entering and exiting are limited to commando crawling over the forest floor. The looming manzanitas have always creeped me out there, in the winter time the light sucks deep into them and if the evil sorceress from Snow White neede a spot to crash in our woods, the manzanita thickets are where she’d build her poison shack for a dry hot summer night.

I can see why Bambi would go there, it’s a good cover to pause and hide from someone like me. He probably didn’t know about witches, just hunters with guns, and a hunter with a gun is no how, no way going to be able to get into the thicket. This fact didn’t stop me. Without hesitation I started and screaming and thrashing and pummeling my way in, with Otterpop swept up into my arms and Banksy following close behind. We were off and running, screaming for Gustavo.

The clock had started again, now running way too fast. For every scream from me, I got one back from a coyote. A chilling, yipping, screaming set of screeches until I screamed back.

“G!” from the top of my lungs.

“Screech yip screech scream yip hip yip screech!” from one of the coyotes.

“GEE!”

And only the screeching would answer back.

We went back and forth like this for quite a while. I scream, you scream, I scream, you scream. Never once had I heard a peep from Gustavo. He had vanished into thin air, without a trace. I had two traumatized dogs being drug over and under everything in my path as I tried to get to the screaming ground zero, a redwood I marked in the thickest and densest area that I was having trouble reaching. I was lost and unlost, stuck and unstuck. Never once did I stop screaming, never once did that coyote clam up.

The longer we screamed at each other, the deeper the dread started to seep in. Why was only one coyote screaming? Which one had Gustavo? Why hadn’t he screamed, not even once? And the deeper I fought our way into the thicket, the deeper I crawled with Otterpop stuffed down my coat and terrified Banksy stuck to me like glue, was the screaming drawing us in, calling in more prey? Was my screaming for Gustavo hysteria or a strategy?

My clothes were torn up, I was covered in wounds, the poor dogs getting drug along traumatized beyond belief and possibly in more danger the thicker I was getting us in there. There were places we were completely trapped until I clawed through branches, and had a coyote decided to meet up with us knowing we were at a disadvantage, potentially exponentially, worse. I decided to retreat and run Banksy and Otterpop back down to my car, run back up the hill back up and search again without dogs, maybe now only looking for a body.

This continued on as the day grew brighter. Gary came up to help, we expanded the search area out of the thicket and to nearby trails that we frequented, moving back to the acres of thicket each time. Crawling back through, looking under rotten logs and in crevices and ditches and dirt mounds. At some point, my screaming deteriorated into sad little calls for Gooey. When I finally battered my way to deep into the marker tree, densest, darkest, hardest to get to spot in there of all, I found a small animal boneyard scattered around the clearing at the base of the redwood. Little skeletons of maybe raccoons and bobcats and possum, little skulls and femurs and tibias and rib cages, all laid carefully to rest round the tree. Almost festive, like a birthday party at the animal graveyard. Festive in a Radiohead song way. Never have I felt such a heavyweight feeling of dread, crawling myself into the place where so many little animals were brought to die.



It’s boring to look for a dog you think is dead. It’s an unrelenting sadness, it’s a stinging wall of shock, and a terror and pain you can’t numb of what did that poor dog feel, especially a dog such as Gustavo, perfect and sweet and kind like a baby, being taken and carried off. Usually I like to think of words, but I can’t even think of the words for this one. The words that mean the worst, really and truly the worst. So you’re feeling the worst, while you're looking for clues, paw prints, soft black fur on a bit of bloody skin, you’re seeing happy people on a hike with their kids, as you slink the woods uttering a single syllable, clothes now torn to rags and your face looks like one of the walkers from the zombie show, dead but for needing to find just this one thing, the only thing that matters.

This went on for quite a while. He’s dead for sure, might as well give up the hunt. Sit down on a log and sob, and then realize, perhaps he’s not dead! To search some more. To search and hunt, realize he’s dead for sure, sit down on a log and sob, then repeat the cycle again. Gary went out in the dark on his bike, while I stayed home, curled up on the couch in a ball.

The next morning I knew for sure, he was dead. I did go back up and search, but it was half hearted by then. I was searching for a ghost, so more wandering the woods, no dogs with me, just me and later Gary, walking through the forest, talking to our dead dog.

To be continued in Part Two.

Part Two: The kind of person who gets poison oak.