29 March 2020

Similar yet different.

Picture a modestly sized disco ball, suspended overhead. Not one so small it would fit into your palm, live it up a little! And it doesn’t have to be so large as to fill a ballroom, unless that’s how big you need to live your life. Light drops spin circles around the room in a flurry of shooting stars that bounce up, down, and sideways all at once. It’s disorienting but oh, so beautiful. Difficult to decipher where the circles start, and I guess it ends when you throw your toy. Please keep your more OCD dogs from observing the moving prisms. We keep chasing our own tails round and round the dance floor, the kind that lights up underneath well worn, waterproof boogie shoes. Every revolution of the glitter ball helps us to quietly ignore the inevitable act of somebody flicking off the switch at the end of the evening. Say goodnight, John Travolta.

There's a familiar movie plot that recycles itself over and over. Hunters shoot Bambi’s mom, and we weep over the tragedy until a singing warthog carries a baby lion out on top of it’s head while the sun rises. Rebirth! Elton John is soundtrack, and Disney makes a million bucks before the cock crows three times. The loop’s set permanently on repeat. Sad, happy, sad, happy. You don’t get one without the other.

Thank dog for agility, the panacea of distraction that staves off the downs in the cyclic nature of epic life events.

The thing is, when you love dogs, and you love doing everything with your dogs, especially doing agility with your dogs, you tend to have multiple dogs so that you don’t ever have to quit the cycle. If you find this to be true, you know well the harpoon of heartbreak jammed through your ribs til you can barely breathe, when your dog dies. We know it’s going to happen, but we can’t stop acquiring dogs, because we need them just as much as we need our lungs, we need them like the air we need to breathe to live.

You can get on with all the things, but if that loss means you also lost your agility, there goes your panacea, your lifeline to quiet the crazy talk in your head. Luckily, the biological puppy clock will eventually kick in to keep the disco ball switch ticking, so it glitters another rotation. It has to. Agility or not, you're going to need that dog.

By the time you’re ready for another puppy, you’ve long forgotten the exhaustion and frustration they bring. Baby animals are cute for a reason. They shut off any inkling of future heartbreak when their little wiggly legs start wobbling around on our laps. And tiny, furry faces magically erase the past memories of the last puppy’s furniture eating and running away into traffic phases of development. Cute, fluffy thoughts only! Running contacts, start lines, good jump skills and perfect lines are a bonus way to stick your head in the sand. This is the baby lion king moment. Time to start again.

I don’t know if it was luck or fate that my most recent puppy became the Banksy that’s laying in the chair across the living room from me right now. She’s a big fluffy weirdo and she’s perfect. Her puppyhood was awful. She didn’t like me, and her best hobby was staring at dust specks on the floor and chasing moving vehicles. I’m not sure how we both survived it. Go back through my old Clean Run articles, I think you’ll find all the sordid details that I can’t even remember any more, I guess because of the special puppy amnesia that set in when she grew up. It’s faded enough that once again, maybe I need a puppy.

How do you find a puppy? Maybe you’re lucky and it finds you. Otherwise, it becomes a new obsession that fits hand in hand with agility training. Breeder? Shelter? Rescue? Puppy list? Ranch dogs? You troll Facebook incessantly, talk to every single person you know, quiz owners of new puppies in such a way that verges on stalker, and worry. Would that one be a good puppy? Maybe it would. But maybe it wouldn’t. Structure, eyes, legs, spines, temperament, feelings, breed, you name it. Any one of those things could be ALL WRONG! It might have bad eyes! OCD! Seizures!

Before Banksy, every single one of my dogs was procured accidentally and spontaneously, ie, from a lady at the beach! From the side of the road! Shivering in a cage at a shelter! I had no criteria involving any of the above. And they turned out pretty much perfect. In my eyes, at least.

This time, I had great plan to avoid the random puppy search. One of my best friends bred her dog, who happens to be Banksy’s number one frenemie. A dog I know and love, a dog with a great personality, stable temperament, awesome flair and style. A baby daddy was selected from loads of eligible border collie bachelors. Both mom and dad were known nice dogs with lovely agility pedigrees, so we were stacking the deck this time in favor of what I most wanted, a cool friendly dog who had a propensity towards being good at agility. No guarantees, but why not give it a try? There were appointments with the very best dog ob/gyn in town, DNA and hormone testing, and dog semen flown from Canada on an airplane. I was most excited at the chance of having a puppy with amazing border collie parents who I would know from birth, and couldn’t wait to play with tiny puppies before their eyes even opened. I started stocking up on cute toys. Cleared my schedule for the anticipated due date. Planned where to put the puppy pen in the house. No time like now for getting ready for the future!

I planned to raise my puppy without plastics and free from patriarchal oppression. I would teach her not to be a nut job during agility and how to send to a wrap from across the field and always turn the correct direction on a rear. I promised never to point my feet the wrong way during a threadle and not to shout bad words if she missed a weave pole entrance because I was running on her line but I didn’t realize it. I was going to figure out how to use my treat robot effectively and keep the batteries charged! Work on clear markers and perfect stimulus control. Make toenail clipping a breeze! Have an actual start line! I was ready as anyone could ever be for my puppy! Everything I messed up with Banksy would be redeemed in future puppy! I had never been so prepared in my life for a new dog.

It seemed to take forever for the day of the ultrasound to find out how many puppies were inside the expectant mother. The wait was excruciating. Would there be enough, one for me in there? The perfectly adorable one of my dreams? Even though I’d been thinking about getting a boy, I only called her a Her. I had a list of gender neutral perfect names a mile long. I could already see her. My new tiny girl puppy. That looked like her mom but had giant ears and hind legs like her dad. I was a little worried about if she had yellow eyes. Could that happen? Would they look like goat eyes or be cute puppy eyes? Would her ears prick up or be floppy? What if one ear flopped and one stood up?

Life must be good, if that’s where stress comes from, thinking about future dog ears on a puppy not yet even born.

In my puppy’s very first photo in the ultrasound, she wasn’t there. There were zero puppies as it turned out. The mama dog was never pregnant. Even with all the science and testing and international airplane trip for a jar of fresh chilled border collie semen, nothing happened. Rotten luck of the draw. There were tears, even though it seems silly now, weeping for something that never even existed, that we only imagined to be there. The circle of life isn’t guaranteed to be smooth, sometimes those rough edges really bite.

Not that I ever go off on tangents, but can I tell you what else happened on during no puppy week? First, a visit with human leg doctor number five. The fancy John Hopkins surgeon, known for his expertise in fixing ballerina feet and ankles. My own personal, non ballerina foot and ankle has been getting sadder and sharper, and all the doctors have been telling me, nothing we can do. Degenerative osteophytes on all surfaces. Deteriorating navicular bone and talon joint. Cascading blah blah blah of foot doom.

Party poopers. “HA!” I’d laughed in their faces when they told me my options, all of which had the big all caps NO MORE RUNNING. Didn’t they know who they were dealing with? Laura Hartwick, Team Small Dog Leader and Captain, Dog Agility Afficiando Extraordinaire. I moved my way through a set of highly recommended doctors, slowly and limpily, all delivering the same stupid fake news that my leg was toast. Now way was it true. Finally, I found the fanciest doctor of them all, at the Stanford Clinic. He would give me the good news, he could fix that crummy foot, and have me back to running in no time.

Well, except, ratballs. No such luck. I may have yelled at a very qualified and well meaning surgeon with the cleanest hands I’ve ever seen. “What if I was a really famous ballerina, could you fix it then?!”

“No, I'd tell you the same thing,” he replied.

“But, like, if I was the MOST FAMOUS ballerina? IN THE WORLD! How about then?!?” My temper was rising. I was probably wearing muddy pants and was probably the most non ballerina looking ballerina he'd ever seen.

Same answer. I had another weepy party. First no puppy. Then no foot.

And not that I ever go on a double tangent, but also on that very same day, Gustavo received an urgent invitation to an emergency surgery to remove a chunk of his lung. It was where it had been stabbed by a coyote tooth two years before, and while we were busy living life, turned into a giant air bubble on the verge of exploding. AKA, a bulla. Do you know what a bulla is? It looks like a bubble you would blow out your lips with gum, except that it’s your lung. A giant bubble that attaches to a lung after it gets pierced, sitting there like a little time bomb, waiting to explode, and when it does, the air escapes out into the chest cavity, causing the air that keeps you alive to crush your lung back into itself, asphyxiating you with nothing to do but wait it out til the end. Not what a lung should be. Wouldn’t even need a harpoon to pierce it, a feather touching his fur would do the trick, and he’d instantly start drowning when it did, until he couldn’t breathe another breath. Maybe it would happen with him in my arms, maybe when he wasn’t with me, maybe trotting down our path in the woods.

His vets found this accidentally, and I was asked by them to choose, to gamble that that thing would not burst, or to put him through a risky surgery to take off a hunk of lung. Either choice was wagering maybe life or maybe death. I picked the surgery, a more humane way to go if it came to that than unexpected traumatic asphyxiation. He was whisked off to surgery, and, long story short, saved once again. How many miracles do most people get in life? As many as Gustavo’s had? Gustavo hasn't done agility in years. Doesn't matter. He's still my best dog.

And not that I ever go on a triple tangent, but just after Gustavo’s lung got saved, the global corona pandemic started. A sticky virus cell that especially goes for lungs. A thing I never thought I’d see in my lifetime, instead of a Disney movie plot with singing animals, the whole world switched over to a really scary sci-fi movie. One with a less predictable ending and gloomy noir lighting design. Not on the list of approved plots I’d been thinking about, but a much darker one that doesn’t do as well at the box office. Nobody wants to see this one. Bambi’s mom gets shot, then the shooter's on a rampage for all the other forest creatures, squirrels and bobcats and rabbits ducking for cover under stumps. Everybody’s lungs were in danger, as well as their hearts. Nobody was safe.

And here I’d been worried about my next puppy and if I had enough cute toys for her. And my foot not running anymore. And my beloved littlest dog. Perspective is everything, hindsight is twenty twenty.

This disco ball, it keeps spinning, round like a virus you see under the microscope, over and over while you wash your hands and sing. The dog gets old, you get a puppy. Your agility legs get slow, you move a little slower. You appreciate those dogs, you appreciate those legs. Because at some point, is there an end to Time To Get a Puppy? Shut the front door, could that happen? Maybe. When does that day come? It’s a day I don’t want to think about, I’d much rather stick my head back into the sand. I’m going to wash my hands again for luck and fate, and just bank on keeping that glittery ball of light moving round the circle, trying to not let it stop.


Terry A said...

Get the puppy. Take an online class with Svetlana T. Dazzle the world with amazing distance skills. Getting a puppy = instant infusion of hope. We need all the hope we can get right now. Get the puppy.

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side...not a good time to go for surgery anyway.
You will find your puppy...you always do!!
Thanks for the updates on team small dog. Thank your the disco ball!!
Space quarters.