05 August 2019

Gifts from friends.

Sunday evening, 6:30pm

Me and some other toe dragging, shuffling zombies are slowly shoving three days of agility trial back into a cargo trailer. Masters Jumpers has just ended, we just want to go home. Nobody much is talking, everyone is thinking some version of the same thing. Traffic. Thai food. Work tomorrow. Beer mixed with grapefruit soda.

Donna and I look at each other for a moment, I’m trying to gather up an armload of jump standards, she’s lugging a tunnel. I know for that instant we had the same thought of, didn’t this used to seem easier? Like arms could carry more stuff and it didn’t pull so much on my back to bend over and move the tunnel bags?

“We’re not getting any younger.”


We’re not even that good of friends. We don’t hang out together, I forget her husband’s name. Maybe I never knew it. But I can rattle off all of her dog’s names, and remember when they died and remember exactly what they looked like running. I know most of one of her dog’s puppies and grand puppies, and their people. I don't know what she knows about me. I take the trash to the dumpsters and make the t-shirts and used to have all those little black dogs.

That kind of friends.

Saturday morning, 6:30am

“Any day we’re vertical is a good day,” says the lady who owns the bakery, where I’m stopping for another mug of coffee, because i was awake from 2am-5am, retrieving Otterpop when she bashes into a wall, trying to stop her from climbing up something she’ll just leap off of a moment later.

“Yeah. I’m gonna remember that. Vertical.” Self righteous bitch, I think, her and her overpriced muffins. She probably has signs that say Believe in the Journey and BREATHE painted in lavender script on barn wood in her den.

Except I'm working on having a positive attitude. “Vertical!” I answer back, a little more chipper this time, and salute her with my mug. Maybe I'll scrawl be vertical on my ceiling in black glitter and dryer lint when I get home.

I’ve known the bakery lady since before she was the mayor, when she used to live in her old house that was around the corner from my old house, then she moved to her new house right before I moved to a new house around the corner from hers. I moved in 1997. We don’t ever hang out, she doesn’t seem that friendly, and I’m not really either. She threw dogs at the beach under the bus when she was the mayor. She probably likes jazz and has a cat.

My last cat lived to 19, she faded slowly away into a bag of dusty, dry bones, and died one traumatic morning on my lap. My dogs haven't vaporized slowly over time like that. They get sick, we beat back serious illness until fatal, or they get dementia just like people. Some of them it’s fairly benign, some pacing and woofing, and for some of them, they’re escaping and leaping and screaming and bashing. Otterpop, not surprisingly, is the dramatic, manic head bashing one.

When I first started agility, I could run really fast without even trying. I had slippy skateboarding shoes and tiny little shorts shorts. I didn’t need a sports bra, there wasn’t enough going on to jiggle. I thought I had a fat roll around my stomach, except now I know, that wasn’t a fat roll, that was like a piece of gum. Don’t talk to me about rolls. The Y2k had happened, we didn’t turn into exploding robots, and I found extreme pleasure in sending my dog through a tunnel. Stranger things have happened. It really seemed like just running around and pointing worked out pretty well. Although, I was out there on the fringe. Everybody else was better. We taught weave poles by dangling a hot dog through the poles, threading the dog in and out in the hopes of grabbing a bite. Contacts were sort of this thing kind of stopping but mostly vaguely pointing at the yellow calling something out. Not sure what. It changed. It was vague.

My dogs went everywhere with me. Does that count as adulting? I couldn’t breathe without my dogs. I bought little fans for them, to blow cool air over them on those long, hot days. Never got around to having a baby. Spent a lot of time getting perfect weave poles instead.

Otterpop was such a jerk. She bit. She howled. She rolled in whatever stank the worst. She grabbed a stick and off she went. She was obsessed with me, and only me. Now she spends her evenings hobbling as fast as she can go around our living room, peeing by the back door and tracking it through the house til I can capture her. Most of the time she smells like pee.

Sunday morning, 10am

That’s my friend Rob, giving a nod across the field. He taught me how to serp, he's one of those friends that is happy to talk about dogs or happy to talk about politics or happy to talk about most anything else. We like a lot of the same songs, and he used to let me run one of his dogs. Lately the topic is, retirement. We’ve been friends for fifteen years? Sixteen years? Longer? I can’t even remember now. I haven’t seen him in months, we only see each other at trials. He misses some to do other things, I miss some for work, or for when my dog’s been injured. But there he is, I sure do hope he gets to retire.

Next time I see him, I have to remember to ask him, does all this time spent at agility count as pissing our lives away, or living life to it’s fullest? He’s one of the smartest people I know. Maybe he knows the answer to that one.

Sunday morning, 3:30am

Otterpop and I go way back. She wasn’t supposed to be a friend. She was a complete asshat of a stray, just one of those dogs you collect by mistake. I took her home from the lady that owned the ranch down the road from where I worked because she looked like Ruby and played ball with me on her lawn. I tried to pawn her off on a family with a red haired devil child but before I handed her off realized, my god this dog is going to bite someone and everyone if she doesn’t die first from bolting out the door trying to chase down a truck to bite it. I liked her, she climbed on my chest and bit my face, but in a nice way. She wanted to keep me. So I kept her. Not for agility, just because something told me I had to.

We’ve been everywhere together. Literally. We are joined at the hips. She has god awful separation anxiety and was always happier in a dog tote bag than being left at home. Howling would happen either place, but much easier to just shake her out of the bag and have her do some of her party tricks. Shooting a dog with your pointy finger in the middle of an airport elicits applause from the travelers as opposed to leaving a howling dog at home that the neighbors can hear clear as a bell through the windows. So that’s what we did, for all our years. Me and Otterpop, she would have done anything for me.

Except sleep at night. She's crazy and demented, and when the sun goes down, her brain explodes till it comes back up again. Hear that? That's the sound of flailing feet where she's stuck behind the chair, bashing herself into the wall.

Sunday afternoon, 1:36pm

One of my agility friends died without warning. She lived in Canada. I only ever saw her once or twice a year, does that count as a friend, still? We would say funny things to each other on facebook sometimes, and she was a good person. Maybe the funniest person I’ve ever met, not someone that had lived enough time. Unfathomable that she could be here one day, then gone the next. Unthinkable that there could be such short time to do things with dogs.

Monday morning, 9:30am

This new lady came the other day for a lesson. She came tearing down the drive in a forest green vintage Mercedes with peeling paint. As she flew past the parking spots, almost launching off the overhang at the bottom, which would plummet her down to a soft wood chip pile, the shady ringside tent and a huge old log, I ran out screaming, “STOP STOP STOP STOP what are you doing?!?”

She laughed maniacally. “HELLO!”

I told her she was about to get her car stuck in not one but three ways, could she just back up and park over here? I pointed to the marked parking spaces.

“Oh Sure!” she cackled. And threw the car into reverse, and flew all the way back up the drive. Somehow avoiding a water line, tree, fence, and shed.

I ran up the steep drive. “What are you DOING?” I yelled, waving my arms to get her attention. She was about to back into an electrical box in the owner’s front yard. If she hits that thing, KA is going to be beyond pissed off, I am going to be in huge effing trouble, and I am so kicked out of here, my only lifeline to agility in town.

“You said to park up here!” she called happily.

“Down here!” I call back, pointing to the parking spots. Where I’d pointed before.

She ground that Mercedes back into drive, and burned rubber back down the hill. Parked, and unleashed a doodle out of the passenger seat. Who ran over to the field and pee’ed on a tunnel bag.

I can’t say she was old, because now I’m old too. This lady’s older than me, probably the same age as my mom, who would definitely not be Evil Kneivling an old car down a hill on a mountain to run a dog around an obstacle course.

She just wants to run around on the field and point at stuff and is thrilled if her dog makes it over something. Anything. She totally made it up when she told me on the phone that she already knows how to do agility. She cackles like a 2nd grader. She’s crazy as a loon. She clearly loves this dog, a doodle who just wants to pee on stuff and chase his ball. She really just wanted him to watch me do some agility with my dog, and then for him to run around doing it all on his own.

I’m horrified, and instantly all crabby up on my high horse. It’s my mission to try and explain to you exactly how important this nose touch thing will be for getting your dog’s feet to touch the yellow, and for using the right arms to do the right things. It’s against dog code not to show you how to do it right. I stay up late after my other job to teach dog agility, I get up early on my days off to teach dog agility, I scream out of work early some days to teach dog agility. Dedication to my craft! My old agility dog doesn't sleep anymore at night and I had important agility business to attend to all weekend, running my young dog in a trial. So many ways for dog agility to make you tired. My patience is pretty much shot in this exact moment in time.

I tell her all the things she’ll have to learn before she can run the course. She’s not convinced. Foundations? Clickers? Wrapping cones and learning to put two dog feet on a box? Who has TIME for that? She only has so much time left.

That lady just wants to run feral with her dog.

Tuesday morning, 4:15am

Otterpop slams into a wall. This week I’m trying different drugs for her, a quarter tab in the evening, then get up at midnight for another one, when I carry her out the front door and down the stairs to potty. Then maybe I sleep on the couch for a while so I can hear her if she bashes into a wall if the drugs don’t kick in. Every night it’s a little different, some nights there's sleep, some nights there's not. If I could just find the right set of magic pills?

Her vet and I have a lot of talks. Quality of life, for her and me both. But every time I’m about to pick up the phone to call, to make the appointment, you know, THAT appointment, I start to cry and I can’t do it.

So I don’t sleep again, another night, just carry her back into the house, and think about all she ever did for me. Every single time she came running back with her frisbee. Every single gambler’s run she aced. How many of thousands of walks in the woods, how many walks around the pasture in the morning, putting out the horses, how many walks around the barn at night, putting on the blankets. How many bike rides, sitting in her basket up front, how many tennis balls tossed into the pond. How many times she was just right there, no matter where we were, how many time sitting on that grassy knoll in the park, where we sit in the shade on a hot day and do nothing.

Every single time she walked to the line, maybe even when she didn’t want to, and ran with me.

Because that’s what friends do.


Anonymous said...

there are no hearts on my laptop keyboard... so imagine hearts. lots and lots of hearts, some of them breaking....

Unknown said...

Beautiful writing.....blessing of love and light to you.....

gailanneM said...

that’s what friends do.
too true.

Jay said...

Otterpop & Laura best friends forever

Deb in so cal said...

Such a beautiful tribute to your best friend. It's always so hard to see them get older. Great memories❤❤❤��

Tammy said...

This is beautiful and so sad. Hang in there, Laura.

Terry A said...

I'm going to be late because I couldn't stop reading this. Gorgeously poignant and made me laugh and made me cry. Your hotly pure love for your dogs comes through so strongly. Made me laugh out loud and made me cry. Sending love to you both.

joy said...

teart eyed as I read this , as I , too, have a wonderful stupendous brilliant formerly super thigh athletic dog who didn't like agility but would step to the line with me every time I asked. it's hard. she's 13 next month. my lovely girl.