Sunday, December 30, 2012

Twelve Up and Down

I appreciate all of you who have kept in touch during my blog absence.  December was a pretty tricky month, with 10 final exams that ate at my time for two weeks, several holiday parties, a stomach virus, and my grandma's ongoing recuperation from her hysterectomy surgery.  Things seem to have calmed down now, though I know that the quiet is only temporary (school starts again on the 28th of January).

I wish I had pretty pictures from a walk on the beach or a hike in the woods.  But, the fact of the matter is that we haven't been to a park in months, all of the beaches are still closed, and my digital camera is broken!  Marge's life has become mundane in that regard, with fetch sessions and walks with me along the paper route making up the bulk of her exercise.  Agility has started back up, though, and we're gearing up for what I hope to be a competitive 2013 season (more on that another time).

Anyway, I thought I'd pop in and make an appearance before the year ended.  It's been a difficult year in many ways, and I expect 2013 to boast a similar set of challenges, but there are bright spots that shined through this year that I hope will continue to be a source of happiness, comfort and entertainment after the calendar turns.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Live from Bridgeport NJ

We're at the hotel, relaxing after a fun day of agility.  Given the events of the past couple of weeks, we haven't run agility in close to a month.  

Marge picked up her 15th Excellent B Jumpers Q for 4 points.  Her Standard run was nice, but I sent her off course.  Arrow had a bar down and an off course in Standard, and weave pole issues in Jumpers.  But, all things considered, both dogs ran very well.

We were supposed to trial last weekend, but the trial was cancelled because of the storm.

Here's to a pair of QQs tomorrow! (Or, if I'm not being greedy, a Jumpers Q for Arrow and a Standard Q for Marge!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

How MargeDog Did

I have to say that Marge was an absolute trooper during the confusion of Hurricane Sandy.  In fact, despite the fact that the storm was much more severe than Hurricane Irene, and much more tumultuous (leaving the house with the storm surge rushing up your block is certainly enough to set a fearful dog off) than anything Marge has ever experienced in my household, I was really surprised at how well behaved she was.

Contrary to popular belief, Marge was NOT a Katrina dog (she was born in 2007), so I'm not sure she's ever experienced anything like this before.

Marge definitely knew something was up in the day or so before the storm.  She had that nervous look about her and seemed to watch my movements closely.  However, even once the wind started to roar, she was relatively calm.  She enjoyed a few romps on the beach on Sunday and Monday and didn't appear nervous at all.

She did nearly have a heart attack when we threw her in my dad's hatchback car and she rode with me in the trunk as we escaped the high tide, but that's to be expected.  She settled down once we arrived at my grandma's dark house, though I kept her on a leash to be sure I knew where she was at all times.

Most importantly, once we returned home, she responded very favorably to the visitors coming and going from my house in the wake of the storm.  One neighbor who had her house completely destroyed stayed at my house for several hours, and Marge was nothing but hospitable towards her. (We did put her away when folks like the National Guard rang my doorbell, though, because I knew she wouldn't take kindly to men in uniform.  It's all about setting up for success.)

My friends stopped by to check on me, too, and she greeted them with only a few hackles and mostly swooping, happy tail wags.

The one thing that did make her really nervous was walking past the front-loaders that were taking garbage away from a nearby block.  But, she recovered quickly, and a few minutes later, ran some zoomies in a successful attempt to burn off the stress she just experienced.

So, she may not be perfect.. but she's pretty darn close!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Staten Island Strong

New Dorp Beach, 2009
The beach we would so frequently sit on is busy with debris, yet at the very same time, left barren from the immense erosion of sand.

The field we would so frequently run in is now being used as a base for the National Guard, the American Red Cross, FEMA, and countless other relief groups.  The neighborhood blocks we would so frequently walk down have been left impassable by the endless bags of garbage - the content of people's homes, destroyed by the ocean, now left at the curb, sopping wet.  Helicopters fly in the skies overhead, starting as early as 7 AM and continuing in to the dark hours of the evening.  Cars line the roads, but most of them are not moving - some fell prey to the storm, others sit idle in a line for gas that stretches nearly a mile.  The roads are street corners are packed full with volunteers, donated clothing, spectators, residents, and the NYPD.

It's bad here.  It's really, really bad here.

Hurricane Sandy has absolutely ravaged my neighborhood.

Those who doubted this storm, those who thought the media was overhyping this storm, were proven very wrong.  Hurricane Irene, which did far more inland damage than it did coastal damage, lulled many people in our beach community in to a false sense of comfort.

Including my family.

In fact, we figured that since my grandma's house always loses power, that we'd bring her to OUR house, a half mile from the beach and in NYC's "Zone A" rather that pack up and go to her house, which is 60 feet or so above sea level, on a hill.

We were smart about one thing, though, and did have things packed up in case we had to leave at the last minute.

Aaaand.. we DID leave at the last minute.

Social media began to buzz after 7 PM on Monday night with reports of the storm surge starting to reach roads and residences.  I found out that a nearby block was under water through Facebook, and the local online news said that people were being rescued off of rooftops just 5 blocks away.

It didn't feel real until I looked out the window and saw what looked like the end of the world - the sky lighting up from transformers exploding, and a mass exodus of cars away from the streets nearer to the beach and closer to higher ground.  Police sirens blared as loud as the wind was blowing.

The final straw was when the water began pouring up my block.  I saw it between my block and the next out on the main road, and that is when I knew that we had to leave.

So, we very quickly packed up a family of four, an 80 - year old grandma, and a cat and a dog in to my dad's crossover, which he conveniently backed up on to my front lawn to avoid the floodwaters, and he drove us to higher ground.

In retrospect, it was a little stupid for us to leave, since it was entirely possible that we would not be able to get out of my neighborhood, and then would have been trapped in the floodwaters.  But, we made it to my grandma's dry, albeit pitch black, house.  My sister, the pets, and I spent the night in my grandma's spare bedroom, on the floor, listening to the wind howl, sandwiched between several layers of blankets.

Fast forward to Tuesday, when I finally arrived home.  The ocean water somehow skipped over my house and stopped dead on my front lawn. We had some damage in the basement from the sewers backing up and spewing filth all over the basement floor.  Some stuff got ruined, but nothing terribly substantial.  Nothing like the devastation experienced elsewhere in my neighborhood.  We were very lucky.

Since I arrived home after dark on Tuesday, I didn't get out to see my community until Wednesday.  It was like a movie.  Literally everyone I knew from my neighborhood was affected in some way.

There doesn't feel like there's an end in sight right now, though I know things will get better.  Already people here have made tremendous progress clearing out their houses, and Sanitation has been doing their best to get the garbage off of our streets.

I've never been one to be ashamed of the fact that I'm from Staten Island, the way some people are.  I've lived here my entire life, in this little house in New Dorp Beach, so one would hope that I like the place! But this week, I'm truly proud to be a Staten Islander.  The support people are giving to one another is amazing and will, no doubt, help us get through this time a little bit easier.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

We're On A Roll!

This past weekend, Marge and I competed in two days of agility trials at one of our favorite trial sites.  Marge has not competed in a show since the beginning of August, so it was really nice to get back out in to the ring with her.

She must have felt the same way!  She qualified in three out of four of her runs, earning a Jumpers leg on Saturday and her 4th double-qualifying score on Sunday.  We were one measly off-course jump away from a perfect weekend.  This was one of our best weekends to date.

Maybe she ran so well because she was happy to hang out with her best friend, Spirit, for the entire weekend.  (I was happy to see Spirit, too, as well as her mom, as well as all of the friends who I tented with or near).

Both Jumpers runs, though they were qualifying, were somewhat unremarkable.  She had slow weaves in both, which I think might have to do with the fact that they were very early in the course (it usually takes Marge a few obstacles before she really gets going).  She picked up 5 MACH points in each of them.

Her last run of the weekend, Standard, was completely different.

She started out at her normal speed, but, after completing the #2 tunnel, shot right over the dog walk and never looked back.

During one part of the course (just before the weave poles), I felt REALLY far away from her and had to yell out my commands to her from probably a solid 15-20 feet away.

She also attacked the weaves in this run, jumping in to them so quickly that I am lucky she didn't pop out due to lack of collection. This eased my worries that her slow weaves earlier in the weekend were the result of her feeling sore or injured.

She still placed towards the bottom of the qualifiers (seems I am doomed in the 20 inch class when it comes to placements), but she matched her previous high and picked up 15 MACH points for her effort.  She is no Border Collie, but the fact that she's running more quickly and more accurately is very exciting.

Here's a video of our double-Q runs:

Our totals to date: 4 QQ's, 148 MACH points, 14 MXJ legs, 6 MX legs.

We'll be attending one day of a trial in Long Island this coming weekend.  I hope we can continue to build on our success, and add another double to the ones we've earned at each of our last three trials!

Monday, September 24, 2012

These Little Moments

Life has definitely changed the past month or so, now that I'm back in (graduate) school and things have once again gotten hopelessly busy.  It's easy to want to plop down at the end of the day and totally abandon any of the other responsibilities that I have outside of school, but think I've done a pretty decent job so far of balancing my schoolwork with my hobbies and other commitments while still finding enough time to sleep.  That, in part, is the reason for my blog absence, and I'm not sure there's much I can do about that.

Since being a brand-spankin'-new PT student comes with so many questions about how I like the program, how I'm doing with it and how much work it is, I had a person tell me a few weeks ago at an agility trial that I'll have my whole life to do agility and the other things I love - that school should be my first priority right now.  While her intentions were good in making the statement, and while I suppose school should be pretty high on the totem pole, I didn't quite like the notion of completely putting the things I love to do off until a later date.

Marge is five years old; she's still pretty young for a medium-sized dog, and some would say that she's entering the best years of her life. But the gray hairs propping up on her bumpy little chin are a reminder that she will not live forever.  (To be honest, I get a little unnerved when I look at them, even though they are still barely noticeable.)

So, in that sense, no, I won't have the rest of my life to do agility or anything else.   Marge is living her life now, and I will not deny her the joy of doing the things she loves to do because I cannot find the time to do them.

Yes, I've had to make changes, like denying both Marge and myself the fun of taking more than one overnight trip for agility (but we are still taking one this semester!).  We also haven't gone on any hikes or trips to the park, but the high number of ticks we've had here are just as responsible for that as my sore feet are. But, at minimum, I'll always make sure that she gets to go out for walks, run around in the field, go to trials, and play with her buddies.

Some snapshots of the past couple of months:

It may mean skimping on vegetative stretches of time spent on the couch (kind of like the one I'm allotting myself right now...), it may mean passing on the occasional social outing, but the story of Marge will not be put on hold.  We can't afford to let that happen.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Few Words Monday

There are so many things I can update about.. but I'm still in lazy summer mode, and can't quite think of the words to write. For now, enjoy this picture of Marge on the beach Saturday night, taking in the sunset.

We've been enjoying a laid-back summer together.  I love spending time with my good little girl.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mourning a Friend

Goodbye, sweet K, a dog who lived and loved her life so fully until the very end.

We'll miss your courageousness and your zest for life, but are comforted in knowing that your spirit will live on forever in the mountains that you loved so dearly.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


I hope I come back to this post should I ever again consider entering a summer trial at a facility that is not air conditioned.  The past few days have been brutally hot, hot, hot and I'm not sure I could ever stomach it again.

As with all AKC agility trials, I entered the July 7th and 8th trial many weeks ago, before I had any idea what the temperature would be like (though you would think that the fact that the trial was in July would have given me some indication of the possibilities!).  In the middle of last week, I realized that this trial would coincide with yet another heat wave, with triple digits and excessive heat warnings posted for Swedesboro, NJ, where the trial was located.

I strongly considered not attending the trial, but my host, my good friend who is nice enough to let me stay with her in her RV, had decided to go, after deliberating it herself and speaking to those who went down to the site earlier than we did.  They said that the building was warm, but not at all unbearable.

Since I knew we'd have cold air conditioning in the RV (as well as the car air conditioning should anything happen to the RV electric), and since we wouldn't spend a heck of a lot of time in the building, anyway, I decided to make the trip down with her.  I decided that if it was too hot on Saturday (the day forecasted to have the worst heat), that I would just skip my runs and stay in the motor home.

We made the trip down Friday night and all was well.  We arrived by about 9:30 and hooked up the RV next to my friend's cousin's RV and hung out together for a while before heading to bed.

Saturday morning, we woke up early to get ready for our runs.  It was already starting to get hot, but I was hopeful that I'd get my runs in before the worst of the heat set in.

My Standard class was first on Saturday.  I liked the course a lot and thought we would do well on it.

We did do very well, but did not qualify.  Marge came out with her rocket boosters on during this run, and she leapt the A-Frame contact and took a bar down to prevent us from receiving a qualifying score. I do think that some of whatever she was feeling was stress, but because she did her teeter and table, I wasn't too worried and was still very, very happy with the run.

We returned back to the RV to wait for my next run.  I left Marge in the air conditioning to watch my friend run with her Golden, Spirit, and then waited for my Jumpers walk through.  I walked the course, watched a few dogs run, and then returned to the RV to get my dog.

However, by the time I got to the RV, my stomach was doing flip-flops.  I had my dog leashed, my treats ready, and I was ready to go, but I literally had to take her off her leash, throw her back in the RV, and run to the bathroom.  I felt very, very, sick, and don't think I would have been able to run without taking a potty break first.

I returned to fetch my dog and made the lengthy walk to the rings.  I figured that I was still OK on time, since I usually get my dog out way too early before a run.

Turns out I was wrong.

"They were hollering for you, Sam," said one fellow competitor.  I checked with my friend, who was working the class, and indeed, I had missed my run by about 5 dogs.

They offered to put me in, but another competitor was very angry and thought that she shouldn't be made to wait for a person who wasn't there and wasn't ready.  While I would be annoyed, too, she had a HUGE attitude about it, which made me very, very upset.

She was totally unsympathetic to the fact that there could have been - and WAS, though it was unbeknownst to her - a very good reason that I was late for my run.  This is when the ugly side of agility shows up - when people are such die-hards and take themselves way too seriously, and forget that this is a hobby.  We are parading our dogs over obstacles around a dirt ring in the middle of July, for goodness sake - it is NOT life or death here.

So, after hearing this person get all snarky, I told my friend to scratch me, citing "I don't need to deal with these people's attitudes" as the reason.  The snarky woman was well within earshot and I hope she heard me.

"Marge is not running," I told the gate steward.  Then, the snarky lady had the nerve to say to me, "Why don't you run?  They put you next in the order."  I told her no, that I wouldn't be running my dog, and that it was fine.

As I walked away, I thought I heard them call for my dog's name again, so I again stated that my dog would not be running.   As it turns out, they were calling for a different dog, and the snarky lady made sure I knew it, shooting nasty glances in my direction as she snidely and slowly pronounced out the other dog's name.

I was very, very unhappy with the exchange, very, very hot from the weather, and very, very uncomfortable from whatever the heck happened to my stomach. I went back to the RV in tears, telling my dog she was a good girl and feeding her the treats she would have received had she run.  I texted Louie in an absolute rage, which prompted him to ask me if I wanted him to pick me up.  Let me tell you, I was very, very, close to taking his offer, because there was no where I wanted to be more than home.

I get very upset when I am spoken to in such a manner at agility trials and this was no exception.  It reminded me of the time recently when I volunteered and got berated by one of the head-honcho agility people for not bringing the score sheets over fast enough.  That sort of stuff makes me absolutely livid, and quite honestly, I wanted so badly to go home after missing my run and having someone act that way towards me.

My friend's cousin, who was parked next to us, came over to chat with me and calm me down, telling me to let it roll off my back and reminding me that aside from those who I choose to spend my time with, the majority of these people are NOT my friends, do not want to be, and never will be.

My stomach troubles eased that night, as I played solitaire with my friends and chatted about whacko family members, but worsened the next morning.  I spent a disproportionate amount of time in the bathroom before my first run and was afraid I wouldn't be running at all that day.

To make matters worse, I wasn't the only one with tummy troubles.  Marge had diarrhea that morning as well.  She seemed fine and I figured it was likely just from the heat, so I didn't worry too much about it.

Thankfully, my stomach calmed down enough for me to run my first course of the day, a very fun Jumpers course.

Marge started out a bit slow and then picked up her pace towards the end, qualifying for 6 MACH points and her 11th Master Jumpers leg.  I was worried in the beginning as she trotted out of the tunnel (and so was my friend, who was recording!), but Marge appeared to feel fine.

Now that we had run and qualified in Jumpers, I wanted to make every effort to run in Standard and try to pick up a QQ.  

After walking the course, I went back to the RV to get my dog and sat with her in the bleachers while we waited for our turn.  Didn't want to chance missing my run or getting yelled at again...

Unfortunately it's not on video, but Marge qualified on the course for her second QQ.  It was a fairly difficult course with some nasty, nasty off course traps (including a tunnel and a table), but because Marge wasn't moving all that quickly, we managed to avoid any mishaps along those lines.  She picked up only ONE MACH point, but that's alright - we both had bum stomachs, it was over ninety degrees, and we really need those QQs - so I was very happy!

A little while later, after Spirit qualified in Standard, we set out for home.  I couldn't wait to leave.  

I don't think either of us have fully recovered from this trip yet.  Unfortunately, Marge still has diarrhea as of tonight, so we may be putting a phone call in to the vet tomorrow. It is very, very unlikely that I will ever enter a summer trial indoors without air conditioning again.  Even with the RV air conditioning, it was just too warm.  I'm happy that I picked up the QQ, but based on how horrible I felt, I don't think I'd ever want to do that again.

We're done trialing for about 4 weeks, and then will gear up for a couple of days in August, indoors, but in air conditioning.  Our new totals: 2 QQs, 110 MACH points, 4 MX legs, and 11 MXJ legs!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Marge Turns 5

A few days ago, Marge celebrated her 5th birthday (which conveniently falls right around her Gotcha Day, June 29).

I can't believe Marge is 5 years old.  I also can't believe that she's now been in my life for 4 years, nor can I remember what life was like before I had her.

I always feel a little sad around her birthdays, since they mark the fact that she is now another year older.  I can't stand the thought of an old Marge!  Thankfully, she hasn't lost any of her youthful exuberance (though the past few weeks, her main pastime has been holding down the couch... it's too hot to do much else).

As I've done in previous years, I put together a video collage of the past year.  This year's video is the longest yet, but if you want to get a taste of how Marge spends her days, humor me and watch a couple of minutes of it :o)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ten Up, Ten Down

This past weekend, nearly one year to the day after she earned her first qualifying score in AKC agility's Excellent B Jumpers with Weaves class (and nearly two years to the day since she finished her Novice Jumpers title),  Marge earned her tenth and final qualifying score and finished her Master Excellent Jumpers title.

(Thanks for taping, Amy!)

It's been quite a ride for Marge and me, and I really never would have thought a few years ago that we would rise to such an advanced level of competition.  Sure, she's not lightning fast, and our record is not stellar compared to some, but I'm sure whoever was responsible for her at the Cherokee County Animal Control in Georgia never thought she'd compete in agility.  They might even be surprised to know she made it out of the shelter/rescue system and is, in fact, alive today.

Our totals so far: 1 QQ, 3 MX legs, 10 MXJ legs, and 103 MACH points.  When we're slumping or not seeing the results we'd like, it helps to look at those numbers to see how truly far we've come.

My goal for the remainder of this year is to even out the number of Standard (MX) legs that we have and hopefully finish the MX title. Once that happens, I have no doubt that we'll pick up a couple of more QQ's and get to work on the title that we really want.  I estimate that I'll probably have about 10 to 15 more days of trialing this year to get the ball rolling!

Stay tuned for some non-agility updates in the future, including a new training endeavor we've taken on, as well as Marge's yearly video compilation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Heating Up!

This weekend, we braved the heat and humidity and attended two days of agility trials in Somerset County, NJ.  The trial site has, in the past, been a local favorite location for events, but bad experiences with flooding scared most of the host clubs to indoor sites.  However, a couple of clubs in our area clustered together to bring a trial back to the park this year.

Fortunately, we didn't have any rain, but boy, was it hot!  Arrow is unaffected by the heat, but Marge didn't put in any stellar times this weekend, courtesy of the sun beating down on her black coat.

Saturday, Marge was on the line for her MXJ.  The course looked quite doable, and I only identified one problem area for Marge.  If we were going to NQ, we were going to NQ on the tunnel.  Guess what? That's what happened!  Instead of driving ahead in to the tunnel (the third to last obstacle), Marge made a left and stopped the timer, taking an off-course jump.

At first, I couldn't figure out why this happened.  But, on my way to the site the following morning, it clicked in my head: I screamed out "tunnel," which probably sounds similar to my rear cross cue, "turn."  This has happened a couple of other times in the past, and it makes sense now - Marge is confusing the two words!  I am going to have to start saying "go tunnel," which has worked in the past.

Marge's second run that day was another near-miss.  A tunnel-to-dogwalk challenge did us in, and instead of rocketing out of the tunnel on to the dog walk, she went straight back in to the tunnel.  I didn't upload this video, because there's not too much to see in it otherwise.

Arrow had a stellar Saturday.  We snapped a streak of NQ's in Jumpers for her 9th MXJ leg, and then put the cherry on top with a Q in Standard. I was on Cloud 9 after her Jumpers run... it felt great to finally qualify, after coming so close so many times.

Sunday was brutally hot.  My day was made much more pleasant by Louie, who surprised me by driving out to the trial after telling me he wasn't coming to cheer me on and hopefully see me get at least one MXJ title.  (He brought with him a little MXJ present in anticipation of Marge finishing her title.. she didn't get it, but a present is a present and she'll get it soon enough!)

Once again, I stepped to the line in Jumpers, now with two MXJs on the line (one for each dog).  It wasn't meant to be.  The weave pole entrance was extremely difficult, moreso than I gave it credit for, and neither dog managed their entrance.  That was Marge's only fault - Arrow had a bar down in addition to the weave run-out.

Between runs, we hung out in my friend's RV with our buddies, Bailey and Spirit.  The dogs were very happy to get out of the sun and in to the AC for a little while.

Later in the day, Arrow had a little bit of a wild Standard run - she missed her weaves, took a bar down, took an off course, and released herself on the dog walk after hanging off of the side with her back feet way above the contact!  She also missed a jump after I botched a front cross. Not a great way to end my weekend with her, but I wasn't too upset, considering our very successful Saturday.

Marge, on the other hand, added a Q to what was about to become Q-less weekend.  Though I really wanted to finish her Jumpers title, I'll always take a Standard Q - they're hard to come by!

Some candids from the weekend:

And, my personal favorite...

Next up - one day (Friday) at a park we haven't been to in two years.  Two MXJs on the line again - here's hoping we snag them both!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Marge And The Spaceship

Last month, when the space shuttle Enterprise flew over NYC before landing at John F. Kennedy Airport, I was stuck at work.

I had literally been waiting for the event since the previous year, and it pained me greatly to see it on TV, miles and miles away, while I folded towels and got people ice packs.

The next day, I set out to Kennedy Airport to at least catch a glimpse of the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft with Enterprise perched atop.  It was really a sight to see and only made me more upset to have missed its historic landing.

I nearly missed the next leg of its journey, which occurred yesterday.  I thought its voyage from JFK to a holding terminal in New Jersey was set to occur today, but my father had apparently heard about it on the radio and discovered it was, indeed, moving that day.  After doing a little research, I found out that it would cross underneath the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge around 5:30 PM, and I was NOT going to miss it.

And neither was my dog.

I had no idea there would be that many people spectating... I honestly thought that, for the average person, the space shuttle hype had died down.  Turns out it hadn't.  Fort Wadsworth was packed with photographers, families, dogs... and screaming children.

I was initially a little worried and regretted bringing Marge.  I'm always happy to help her through her fears and adjust my plans so that she could be comfortable, but, I won't lie, I was getting a little unnerved thinking about having to move out of my spot and missing the shuttle float by because something spooked my dog.

However, as usual, Marge proved me wrong, and was happy to hunker down in the grass in front of me, despite the small crowd of people I was standing near.  (There was a larger crowd that arguably had a better view, but there were so many big cameras and so many kids running around that even I wouldn't have been comfortable standing there, let alone my dog.)

Still, I wondered if the shuttle's impending arrival would bring a swarm of people that would freak my dog out.  I had my Grandma act as a bodyguard of sorts and stand next to me to prevent any one else from coming too close to Marge.

As the shuttle emerged in the distance, no big groups came.  They were apparently, much to my delight, happy with their present locations, and did not wish to give up their prime viewing spots for one or two alternative shots.

Of course, the occasion couldn't be completely drama free, and my dog, although unfazed by the crowds, instead decided to make a spectacle of herself by nearly falling over a VERY steep cliff, her back legs dangling over the side and her front claws clinging desperately to the ledge in front of her.

I hoisted her back over just in time to get a couple of decent shots with my not-so-great camera.

As Enterprise was once again obscured by the brush, I gathered up Marge's leash and ventured to a new spot so that I could snap it again.

The crowds were even bigger here at this point, but Marge was still OK, and soon a few raindrops fell and led to an exodus of roughly half the people standing nearby.  Though the comments about Marge's behavior were mostly positive (one person mentioned that they didn't even know a dog was nearby because of how discretely Marge stood with me), one woman asked me to move "the dog" because "she's afraid of dogs."

Though I am generally sympathetic to the needs of others, I'll admit, I was super pissed about her request, seeing as 1) I was in a public place, 2) there were lots of dogs around; YOU move if you don't want to stand near them, 3) my dog was reeled close to me and not all that close to her and 4) she had not looked, barked, growled, not even sniffed in this woman's direction.

I do wonder if it had something to do with the fact that Marge is a black, muscular, pointy-eared dog, but who the heck knows.

I managed to snap one shot of Marge with Enterprise in the distance before I heeded the grump's request to avoid conflict.

Enterprise soon began to appear as only a small dot in the distance, and although my sister with her fancy big-lensed camera stuck around for a bit more, I headed back to the car with my family and Marge.

Of course, the perfect outing had to have one little fear blip in it, as a large BOOM resonated through the air, perhaps the sound of a vehicle backfiring, and sent Marge scrambling to the car for dear life.  I was sad that we had to end the trip on this note, but, it is what it is.

I'm hoping to catch it again Wednesday, as it departs New Jersey for its final resting place, the Intrepid Museum.  The journey will likely take me in to Manhattan, so Marge will have to sit this one out. Guess I'm trying to make up for the fact that I missed the flyover!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

An Agility Slumber Party

Last weekend, Louie and I went overnight to a two day agility trial with Marge and Arrow.

I only had one Q all weekend (Marge's 9th MXJ leg, for 6 MACH points).

This was probably my favorite course from the weekend, because both dogs did extremely well on it.  Although Arrow didn't qualify (due to having the first bar down and skipping the 3rd weave pole), my run with her felt so connected and smooth.

Arrow's Standard runs were plagued by bad handling on my part, and her Jumpers runs were both beautiful, heartbreaking near-miss runs (one bar and weave pole issues in both).  I hadn't practiced with Arrow for two weeks before this trial, which definitely impacted my handling, particularly in Standard, since timing is of the utmost importance with a dog as fast as she is.  I chickened out of front crosses that might have saved a run or two and went back to my old arm-straight-up-in-the-air nonsense that pulled her off of at least two obstacles in Standard.

You'll see what I mean if you watch a video featuring all of her runs here.  The Jumpers runs were so nice.

Marge's Standard runs featured the same old, same old... beautiful, clean, runs, but a teeter jump-off on Saturday, and a table jump-off on Sunday dashed any MX legs or double-Q hopes.  Her non-qualifying Jumpers run, too, was doomed due to a very stupid handling choice by me.  I haven't even bothered to upload them, because there's not much to be learned from them.

Bottom line.. I need to practice more.  between finals, graduation, the weather, and various other factors, I have not been doing a lot of agility lately.  And Marge, of course, needs some serious contact obstacle proofing.  We're NQ'ing in Standard on the same things, over and over again.

Despite the low Q rate, we had a wonderful time.  Arrow was perfectly behaved, and she and Marge shared the hotel room like they'd been living together for years!  They even played together a little bit.. a first for the two of them.  They have always sort of coexisted by ignoring each other, but I think after spending some time together at the past couple agility trials, they have become friends.

Marge preferred to snooze on the bed adjacent to mine.  Though she would have happily shared with Arrow, Arrow decided that the cushiony chair next to our bed was the perfect Border Collie recharging station.

Apparently, their sleeping quarters were more than sufficient, because they were both ready to go by 4 AM, jumping all over the bed to wake me up to go outside.  I was not happy, but obliged, since I knew Miss Marge had to poop.

The trial site did start to heat up quite a bit on the 2nd day.  I had a fan blowing on them and they had ample water, but the air was definitely stuffy. Arrow thought that jumping up and biting the hose was the perfect way to keep cool.  Marge preferred to suffer through the heat.

Understandably, they were pooped when it was all said and done, and curled up together for a nap on the way home.

Next up: two days at North Branch Park in a week.  Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but it sure would be nice to finish two MXJs that weekend!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fast and Furry

In addition to Marge's 6 runs at last weekend's trials, I also ran Arrow, the Border Collie, in 6 runs as well.

Arrow is a hard dog to run.  She is a phenomenal agility dog, but I have to execute everything almost perfectly because she's about a zillion times faster and a zillion times more responsive to slight body language than my dog is. A Border Collie in the truest sense, one misplaced hand, one accidentally outstretched arm, could mean an off-course or bars down (and it often has happened).

If given the opportunity to run both Arrow and Marge at a show, I always prefer to run Marge first to give myself a chance to grab another look at the course without having to run at warp Border Collie speed.. and, since Marge is not all about that type of precision, she usually does fine.

I have been running her in a few trials here and there since last summer, and while we've had many close calls, the only qualifying run I managed to score with her was in FAST.

On Friday, we had a shoddy Jumpers run, and then a near-miss in Standard (she went around ONE little jump).  Saturday, Jumpers, again, did not go so well, and I stepped to the line in Standard really not knowing what was going to happen.

We were clean until the table.  OK, good, I thought, now I just have to help her through that 90-degree turn to the teeter without any bars down.  Done.  Next was the weave poles.. would she stay in until the 12th and last pole?... yes, she did.  Then, she kept the double jump up.

By about that time, she was creeping down the descending side of the A-Frame.  I paused an extra second to make sure I knew exactly where I was sending her next.  I was not about to let any bars come down.  I was going to get that Q.

And I did!

Unfortunately, we weren't able to repeat that success the following day, but I was ecstatic over getting that one Q.  Hopefully, a Jumpers Q will be next, since that's what Arrow needs for one of the titles she's working on.

Running Arrow is vastly different from running Marge.  When Marge NQ's, it's often not because of the agility itself.. it's because her head is on swivel and she's not reading me clearly because she's stressing about something.

On the other hand, nothing seems to phase Arrow when she is in the agility ring.  Admittedly, it was kind of hard in the beginning to tell myself to stop worrying about the environment and stop being a cheerleader when I am running her, because worrying and cheerleading is what I had to do with Marge for so long.  But, I have learned to differentiate between the two and it has made me a better handler for BOTH dogs.

Next up will be a two-day indoor trial on Memorial Day weekend.  I'll get to show this wild and crazy gal again... and I am so happy that I've been given the opportunity!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Six, Seven, Eight

We had my dog club's three-day agility trial this past weekend, and I think we had a good deal of success!

Marge qualified in three out of six runs.  This is exactly what she did at my club's November trial, with one minor difference.  In November, she qualified three times in Standard.  At this trial, she qualified three times in Jumpers, giving her 8 of the 10 qualifying scores needed in Jumpers for the Master Jumpers title.

Here are her Jumpers runs:

She seems to be running really well lately - putting in some fast times and reading my handling very well. She picked up 9, 10, and 9 MACH points, respectively, in each run, putting her total at 83.

Our Standard runs were not horrible.  On Friday, she was a little bit stressy and went around a jump and then took an off-course dog walk (probably due to bad handling).  On Saturday, she skipped a weave pole (just a fluke thing), and then jumped her A-Frame contact.  On Sunday, we were clean up until the very end of the course, when she took an off course jump (that I pretty much sent her directly to) and then took down a bar.

She did do her teeter all three days, though, so that's a gigantic plus.  She did her table, too, but was hesitant to lie down on it, so we'll need to work on that before our next trial.

It's important to note that this is the trial site that, back in 2010, I was convinced that Marge hated.  There were planes overhead, trains going by, and it was just very noisy and industrial over all (it's sandwiched between oil refineries!). She ran here again in 2011 and did much better, but did not qualify.  The fact that she ran here this past weekend and DID qualify and DIDN'T appear to dislike the site makes me very, very, happy.  Naturally, now I'll start to change my tune a bit about this site and admit that I actually like it!

We've got a fair number of trials coming up - two days over Memorial Day weekend, and then FIVE days scattered throughout June.  I expect for Marge to finish her MXJ title and begin to put a dent in those much-needed double Q's!  This is the best she's ever run and I want to capitalize on it.

Friday, April 27, 2012

April Outtakes: Titanic Week

As a lover of historical events (though not exactly a fan of history as a whole), and as the sister to an amateur vessel photographer, I went up to Staten Island's North Shore, which looks out towards New York City, to watch a ship commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Titanic's ill-fated sole voyage depart from New York Harbor.

Naturally, Marge tagged along, and every photo I took mirrored those that my sister took, except for the fact that Marge was present in mine, but not in hers.  While they were the focal point of my sister's images, for me, the ships provided a backdrop for my lovely dog!

We were also shown on the New York Harbor Webcam, waving to hundreds of people streaming the cam live from their homes as they watched the ship set sail.  Anything for a little publicity for my gal.

(The man in the image is the person who owns the company that streams these cams from popular ports.  Tracking and watching ships is apparently a hobby, much the way I go plane spotting.  My dad looked on somewhat quizzically as all of this went down, but it was all in good fun.)

The week also included not one, but two trips to go see 1997 film, Titanic, during its re-release in theaters.  Yes, I am a Leo fan.  No, that doesn't have much to do with this blog, so I'll stop right there!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Why Hello There

Yes, it seems that three weeks have slipped by without a single blog post from little old me.  As I sit in my bed at just past 1 AM on this dreary, rainy night, I think it's finally time for a little update!

The first week in April, we went to one of my favorite trials, a two-day event about forty five minutes away.  MargeDog and I were lucky enough to get to stay in my friend's new RV (she literally traded in her smaller one and bought this new one only about 48 hours before the trial!).

I won't post everything from the trial since it was so long ago, but we had two nice runs in Standard (including one where we NQ'd on the second to last obstacle, and another where our only mistake was the weave poles), one wonky Jumpers run on a super hard course, and one clean Jumpers run for Marge's fifth MXJ leg out of ten needed.

We had a lovely run and the course played extremely well to Marge's running style, but encountered a bit of trouble at the back tunnel.  Some judges call a tunnel entry like that as a fault, and some do not.  I have been on both the winning and losing side of that call.. and that day, I was on the winning side.  Lucky.

I also ran Spirit, the Golden Retriever, to her AXJ, while her mom was at a bridal shower, and had a smoking run with Arrow, but bars came down.  We got to watch Amy and Layla earn their AXJ as well.

Anyway.. now to a bit more modern times!  Today, Sunday, I had a 1-day agility trial way out in Long Island, about an hour and forty five minutes away.  Rain was in the forecast and I strongly deliberated about not going, but Louie and I took a chance on it.

We got through the morning without much weather trouble.  Thankfully, when it was my turn in the ring in Standard, no rain was falling.  I always hate to run Standard in the rain, since I don't think Marge likes climbing on wet obstacles.  Fortunately, it wasn't an issue.

She had an absolutely beautiful Standard run.  I really liked her speed, her focus, everything.  Her teeter looked wonderful and it was so quick that it actually took me by surprise a bit (hence the botched front cross!).  We managed a Q for 15 MACH points, putting our total number of points at 55.  Only 695 to go!

With a double Q on the line, I decided to stick around for Jumpers.  The rain was really starting to come down, but since there were no contact obstacles involved, I didn't mind giving a run in the rain a try.

Marge was quite animated outside of the ring, barking and jumping, so she didn't appear to be too bothered by the weather.  When she got in the ring, she was definitely moving at a snail's pace, but picked things up a lot at the end.

We didn't qualify, because I didn't support the double after the weaves and she didn't even think of taking it.  She also went in the wrong end of the tunnel at the end of the course.

Oh well.  I appreciated her effort, since I know running in the rain isn't her most favorite thing in the world, so she got a whole snack baggie full of meatballs and chicken after the run.

Well, I've got lots more to update about, but I'll save it for another post.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


I was thrilled to be asked last week to do a review of, an online dog and cat food website.

From what I hear, Mr. Chewy is a pretty popular guy and many bloggers have met him already.  But, if you don't know the basic facts about Mr. Chewy, here they are:
  • They boast a selection of 70+ dog and cat food brands
  • They offer free shipping on orders over $49 
  • They donate to pet charities like Best Friends Animal Society and Bide-A-Wee for every new customer referred
  • They will gladly accept items back up to 1 year (365 days) since the date of sale.
Here are some of my thoughts on my shopping experience on  I was given a $50 gift certificate to use to buy items in exchange for my review, and that is the only way in which I was compensated for this review.

Site Layout
The site layout is plain and clean, with no advertisements and simple menus.  From the second you log on to the page, you can tell that MrChewy is clear in their focus to serve dog and cat owners.  I think the narrower focus is a good thing - companies that try to cater to every type of animal couldn't possibly stock a large array of brands and items.

They have lots and lots of different sorting options, ranging from sorting items by brand to sorting them by the form of the food (dry, canned, etc.).  This is definitely appreciated, as there would have been NO way for me to navigate through the 70+ brands without sorting them all different ways as I decided what I wanted to splurge on.

I would have liked to see an option for sorting by main ingredient or protein source, but I accomplished what I wanted just as easily by entering "duck" in the search bar.  Up popped all of the duck-containing products on the website.

The verdict? No major complaints about the site layout.  Lots of menus for sorting things is essential when so many different items are stocked. I would welcome seeing additional optional sorting menus as well.

Product Offerings
Now, let's get to the meat and potatoes (no pun intended) of what Mr. Chewy sells.  There is a lot of stuff on there.

My goal was to buy lots of different things to try rather than taking the easy way out and stocking up on Marge's or Layla's food.  I was pretty successful in that regard, because of the six items I purchased, five were things I had never tried before.. mostly because many of them aren't carried consistently in the pet stores here.  

After several hours of perusing (yes, I am a VERY careful shopper), I decided to buy the following products:
  • PureBites Freeze Dried Duck Treats
  • Stella & Chewy Carnivore Crunch Duck, Duck, Goose Flavor Cat and Dog Treats
  • Sojos Good Dog Treats, Blueberry Cobbler Flavor
  • Stella & Chewy Freeze Dried Chicken Patties
  • Nature's Variety Instinct Grain-Free Duck & Turkey Dry Dog Food
  • Merrick Wishbone Treat
The first four aren't carried in the pet stores I frequent (and I live in NYC, for goodness sake, so I can't imagine my rural readers see a lot of these brands).  The fifth is carried sparingly (and when it is carried, it's EXTREMELY expensive), and the sixth item I purchased with the last few dollars of my gift certificate.

Overall, their selection of brands is pretty exhaustive.  They stock lots and lots of high-end kibbles, including Orijen, Taste of the Wild, Nature's Variety, and Wellness.  I was tempted to buy and try a lot of them. They also carry some dehydrated raw products from Stella & Chewy and The Honest Kitchen.  These are all well known, well respected brands, and I was excited to get to try them.

The treat selection is endless.  Zuke's, Natural Balance, and lots of gourmet/raw brands I had never heard of before.  I left the site wishing $50 could buy it all!

The prices on all of this stuff were very competitive, some of them beating the pet store prices by a pretty significant margin.

As I continued browsing, I did see some supermarket brands... Iams, Beneful, Pedigree.. even a couple of products made in China.  I didn't appreciate that these brands were being sold alongside their much-higher-quality counterparts.  This made me question the focus or mission of a little bit.  I understand that their goal is to have a large selection of brands, but if they dropped the crummy brands and let the supermarkets handle those, perhaps they could have an even larger supply of high-quality foods.  Maybe they could consider stocking pre-made frozen raw and not just dehydrated raw (since I can't find frozen raw in ANY of the stores around here).  I'm sure those who live in rural or secluded areas and want to feed their pets high-quality diets would really appreciate another online buying option.

Still, virtually every large pet food company sells this type of stuff.. so I certainly wouldn't hesitate to order from them because of it.  I am a careful consumer and check the ingredients and country of origin of everything I buy for my pets, regardless of what site it comes from, and I urge everyone to do the same.

My verdict on product choices? There's tons to choose from, including lots of top-notch brands and a plethora of different treats, but I think Mr. Chewy needs to drop the stuff that's packed with corn and fillers and can be picked up at just about any store.  Replace the supermarket foods with even more offerings in grain-free and raw diets and the site will have a much clearer focus.  

Product Information/Options
I absolutely loved being able to read the ingredients of just about any product right on the product page on  This is particularly useful for people like me, who own animals with specific diet needs (Layla, I'm talking about you!!!!).  It allowed me to reasonably narrow down which products I was interested in buying without having to go to the company websites.

The "Mr. Chewy's Recommendations" widget just underneath the product info was a nice touch, too.  On a website so big, it can be easy to miss some of the products similar to the one you're looking at.  In fact, I bought the Stella & Chewy's Chicken Patties after seeing them on the Recommendations widget while looking at another item.

There are also lots of reviews from customers, which a lot of pet food sites lack.  I'm not sure whether this reflects positively on Mr. Chewy, its customers, or both, but I appreciated it.

One bone I had to pick with the website was that the product information itself was often incomplete.  I, personally, would have appreciated being able to see which country each product was made in, since I do not feed my animals any products manufactured in China.  I could have sworn that I saw something that read "Product of China" on one of the item pages, but I then never saw it again.

I also found that some products were miscategorized or incompletely categorized on the site.  For example, there are some foods and treats that are appropriate for both dogs and cats, but I only found them under the dog food and treat menus, despite the fact that the product name clearly reads "For Dogs and Cats."  I saw probiotic product clearly described as being helpful for digestive health listed under "Calming" supplements, which led me to not buy it because I wasn't sure exactly what it was.

Lastly, though I wanted to try a couple of different canned cat foods for delicate little Layla, I did not order any, because they only came in bulk sizes.  I suppose this is part of Mr. Chewy's mission, to be a continuous supplier of dog and cat food to its customers (hence their repeat delivery options), but I thought it was worth a mention.

The verdict? I like the ingredients list, product recommendations, and customer reviews.  Actual organization of products needs work, and I think the product descriptions can be beefed up a bit, with countries of origin added for all products in the interest of full disclosure.

I ordered my items the night of March 27. I received my order March 29.  So, they kept their promise of quick delivery times - all for free (since, even though I had a $50 gift certificate, shipping is free on orders over $49).

So, no complaint there whatsoever.  I'm super inpatient about getting things quickly, so I was happy to get my order that fast!

The verdict? Shipping speed from PA to NY was very quick, as promised.

Now comes the really fun part - getting to try out all of our stuff :)

Over all, I really enjoyed my shopping experience on and am very grateful that I was given the opportunity.  The selection was huge, prices competitive, and the shipping times were great.

I think I'll use them occasionally for food and treat orders, especially because shipping is free on larger orders, since many of the products they carry are not found in all of the stores here (particularly, the raw foods).  However, I don't plan on exercising their multiple shipments option, since I'm OK with going to the store if I need to in a pinch (I live in New York City, after all - the store's about a half mile away!).  I urge you all to check them all out if you haven't already, particularly if you live in an area where some of the better brands might be hard to find.

Thanks for the experience, Mr. Chewy!

(Disclosure: I was given a $50 gift certificate with which to buy products.  This review is based off of this experience.  I was compensated in no other way for my review).

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tummy, Sneezy, Gimpy Troubles

We had a little bit of a health scare with Layla last week.   It was a three-headed monster type day on Tuesday, with Layla's asthma and digestive problems both acting up, and also the addition of a third problem, favoring one of her front legs.  This all came only one day after Marge battled some sort of digestive upset that she quickly got over with the help of a bland diet.

I wasted no time and got her in to the vet Wednesday afternoon.   The limp really wasn't that bad and Layla was showing no hesitance jumping or moving around, but I figured that we had had a pretty good streak, having not gone to the vet since November, and that I may as well ease my mind and get her checked out.

The vet examined her leg and concluded that her range of motion was quite good and that although she probably has some arthritis, there really weren't any anti-inflammatories that he could prescribe.  I expected to walk away with Rimadyl or Metacam, just like I've gotten for Marge in the past, but apparently, they are not marketed for use in cats in the USA.

Over all, he didn't think her limp was very worrisome nor very severe.  He said it was likely either arthritis or perhaps some kind of soft-tissue injury that, if given time, would go away. He sent me home, told me to beef up her steroid dosage for two weeks, and check in with him then.  If the limp wasn't gone, then we'd pursue X-Rays and blood work.

We also weighed her (she dropped a bit to 7 pounds 10 ounces from 8 pounds 3 ounces), and checked her heart, which he said sounded good.

After only a couple of days on an increased dose, Layla's leg problem disappeared.  However, I absolutely hate that she is on steroids.  Her maintenance dose is quite low, and even this increased dose is low, too.  But, I've never really thought of steroids as a long term solution, and it scares me to think that she has been on them for a year now.

My vet is adamant that cats deal with Prednisone remarkably well and that her liver supplement, Denosyl, will protect her liver, but I am still uneasy about it.  I know many cats who take a long-term low dose of Pred, but I really wish I didn't have to.

Over all, she's doing really well considering she's 13 and has several chronic-type conditions.  Hope her relatively good luck continues.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

The Female Black Lab

One little known fact about Marge's history is that at the time I adopted her, three other people were interested in her.

I worked, at the time, at the kennel where she was sheltered, so therefore had the privilege of being able to bypass all of those other people as I decided whether or not she was a good fit for me.

I wonder from time to time, though, about those other three people who wanted the "female black Lab." Her fear issues were really not visible in the shelter, so who knows what would have happened if any of them took her home.

Let's just say that I'm happy things turned out the way they did!

This was Marge's intake photo, taken a couple of days after she arrived in New York after her journey from Georgia in June of 2008.  That's me holding her leash - a leash I still own to this day!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Day Two, Season Three

We went back to the hotel shortly after my Jumpers runs with Marge and Arrow.  I was initially nervous about how Marge would fare, but she actually really enjoyed the experience.  She thought the hallways and staircases were the coolest thing ever, and settled right in in the room after a few minutes of jitters.  I'm sure it helped that there were other dogs around.

I put a blanket down on one of the beds and let her go to town on a chew.  She remained on the bed pretty much all night and had herself a long, deep sleep.  I would not hesitate to stay with her in a hotel again.

The next morning, we got up really early so that we could get to the trial early (which meant time for obsessive walkthroughs -- woohoo!).  Our Jumpers run was first.  The course was more difficult than the day before and a lot of people were complaining about it, but I didn't think it was too bad.

Marge ran it like a pro!  She even worked through my lousy late front cross and a bad rear cross to the weaves.  We qualified for 6 MACH points and our 4th MXJ leg.

Arrow had her turn next in Jumpers.  Although everybody that watched said it wasn't that bad, I felt like we crashed and burned a little bit.  By moving forward just a couple of steps, I sent her off course over the jump next to the tunnel.  Then, she took down three bars.  Not sure what that was about.  She clearly enjoyed herself, though!

My last run of the day was Excellent Standard.  With a double-Q on the line, I felt pretty good about our chances.  Unfortunately, one wrong course ended that idea... BUT, there was so much good in the run that I didn't even care about the QQ.

For starters, she did the teeter even after I sent her off course, getting on it from a weird angle and riding it all the way down to the bottom (a huge deal, considering if she's even the least bit stressed or confused, her teeter performance is the first thing to go). She also did the table, even with the auto table count that I swore scared the pants off of her a year and a half ago at a 2-day, outdoor trial. (I'm still not convinced she's unafraid of the auto table count; I do think the loudness of the trial site helped her deal with it better, though). Her contacts weren't wonderful, but she was speedy and really running well.

Shortly after Standard (and after watching my friend and instructor get a MACH 5 on her Novice A dog!), we headed home. We were all pooped. We stopped for one little picture with our several-hundred-dollar little green ribbon from the weekend.

I thought it was a great way to start the trialing season.  Marge had a great weekend for many different reasons - the agility was great and she also enjoyed herself hanging out at the trial site and hotel... a little vacation for her, if you will.  We'll be back out in two weeks, for one day, at this same trial site.  Hope our sync continues!

Another Season Begins

What a weekend!  Our 48-hour plunge in to the agility world began Saturday morning around 5:40 AM, when I woke up and got the last few things ready for our trip to Dream Park.  Marge, knowing exactly why I was up at that time and what we'd be doing that day, whined in anticipation from the time I woke up until the time we got in Louie's car and got on the road.

Marge was all business when we got there an hour and a half later.  Forget the fact that we hadn't trialed since November; there was no adjustment period for her.  I even set up a crate for her in the crating room for the first time, thanks to Amy, who save me a spot.  That didn't bother her either.  In fact, I found her sound asleep in her crate on a couple of occasions.

Our first run of the day was Excellent Standard.  It was probably the toughest course I've ever seen at a trial, with lots of International-esque wraps and turns.  The opening, as well as the sequence in the back after the table, was eating lots of people up.  The Q rate was quite low.. less than twenty 20" dogs qualified out of about 100 dogs.

We didn't fare too badly, though Marge completed neither of the obstacles that I really wanted her to complete.  My bad handling set her up for a really bad angle to the teeter, hence her not getting on.  Then, she appears to read my motion at the table as a cue to go, so didn't complete that obstacle, either.

I chalked most of it up to it being the first run of the first day of the first trial of the year, and although I was slightly concerned about her not getting on the teeter, I didn't freak too badly.

We had a little bit of time between runs, so I wanted to make sure I kept Marge's stress level down and took her for a long walk around the big trial site.

(Yes, that's a Flexi I've got in my hands! Worked wonderfully for getting Marge some exercise around the muddy site. Promising a whole post on that later.)

The Jumpers course was pretty much the gimme-gimme course for the day.  It played so well to Marge's strengths that I knew we'd do well on it.

And, we did.  We ran the course clean in our typical rear cross style.  A Q in the bag for the weekend, I thought.

Oh wait.


Marge left the ring at the end of the run.  It's not totally unheard of her for to sort of run aimlessly at the end of her run, but it has never cost me a Q because she has never ran off without coming back.  In her defense, it looks as though she tries to come back to me once I call out to her, but couldn't figure out how to get back in the ring the way that she exited in the first place.  There goes the whistle. Huge heartbreaker.

Someone that I know who was watching us had a really weird comment about the whole thing. Instead of being surprised, asking why I thought it happened, or saying something like "what a bummer," she almost seemed like she was personally insulted that it happened.  I'm not sure what that was about. Maybe I'm missing something.  Whatever.

I spoke to the judge afterwards and told her how shocked I was that it happened.  I've shown under this judge before and am somewhat acquainted with her and generally find her to be a pleasant person.  I guess I just wanted to say SOMETHING to her, to make myself feel better, to the effect that although I was 100% in agreement with her ruling, I wanted her to know it was an extreme fluke!

Last, but certainly not least, I got to run Arrow in Jumpers as well.  I was seeking redemption for my Q that wasn't a Q and also looking to get Arrow her 9th MXJ leg.  Neither happened, but this was definitely my favorite run of the day.  Popping out at the weave poles and a bad cross at the end doomed us.

When the agility for the day was over, we did a little bit of this... because how could I deny Marge some time with her best buddy?  Adorably enough, she attempted to follow and sniff every single Golden at this trial.  At one point, Spirit walked by and I bent down and whispered her name in to Marge's ear... and Marge locked on immediately and wanted to catch up to her.  So cute.

Stay tuned for more...

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pillars of Strength

This Valentine's day, the proverbial day of love, we're dedicating a post to "K", KB's loyal chocolate labrador who is currently battling osteosarcoma.  If you haven't visited their blog yet, it can be found at  It is truly one of the most powerful blogs I have ever read, both for the beauty in the photographs KB posts and in the remarkable way that KB is able to so effectively convey how special her K is to her (and vice versa).  If you're looking for a good example of a "heart dog," look no further.

I have, most fortunately, encountered very few tragic situations in my young life, both human and animal, and I really cannot even imagine how it must feel to deal with a chronic, long-term and serious condition such as this in an animal that is so emotionally close to you.  In some ways, I'm struggling to find the words to post, because I don't know what I could possibly say to KB to lessen the burden of this nasty diagnosis on her.  In the most literal sense, I've never been through it.  I hope I never have to go through it because I don't think I could be even half as strong as she is.

Yet, I feel like I can't make a post about "heart animals" without mentioning my one and only Taco.  My relationship with him was so magical that sometimes, five years later, it's hard to believe that he even existed in the first place.  The only chronic condition he faced during my time with him was his advanced age and the ongoing thought that he may or may not make it another year.  I guess it might be a bit of a stretch, but, in that respect, I understand at least a little bit the emotions that KB must be going through.

Taco exceeded my expectations, though, and I spent six great years with him when, in reality, I probably only thought I'd have a couple at most.  Although the black cloud of "that time" always loomed in my head and, quite frankly, even at some points consumed my thoughts, I tried my hardest to put it aside and simply enjoy my time with him.

He and I did nothing exceptional together.  I never rode him, never even got on his back.  Yet it is those seemingly mundane and day-to-day experiences that made my relationship with him so great.

I hate to post something that I've already posted before, but I just want to snag a couple of paragraphs from my tribute to Taco that I wrote a couple of years ago.  It completely sums up my relationship with him and I think truly brings home that "hug your pet and seize the moment" idea.

"Taco taught me so many lessons in those six years I spent with him. For one, he showed me that friends can come at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places. He taught me about what it meant to be motivated, to be dedicated to something that you find important. He taught me to never take for granted life's simple pleasures. At death, he showed me that even the most horrible of endings cannot take away from what was a magical, storybook friendship. I am a different person - a better person - for having known Taco. He has had a profound impact on my life.

I guess it's those themes that I wanted to convey to you all by retelling this story. That when you love, you should love deeply. That when you make a decision, even if no one else agrees with you, what matters most is that you yourself believe that what you did was right. That when do you something, you must do it to the very best of your ability. And that when you come along someone who needs your help, you just might be able to change both their life and your own with a little bit of time and effort.

Taco, where ever you are, I hope it goes without saying that I love you with all my heart. Thank you for everything that you did for me. It was an honor to have been by your side, an experience that I will never forget as long as I live. No matter where my life takes me, my heart will always be in the aisles of that old barn, in the middle of that green paddock, in the places where I was with you."

It was KB herself who, when I originally posted this story, said that "I think that Taco taught you important lessons that now are guiding you with Marge. You're giving similar devotion and love to her as you gave to Taco." She couldn't be more right. I see so many parallels between Taco and Marge.. the "one man's trash is another's treasure" idea, the struggle to overcome problems that, at times, seemed insurmountable, the unwavering dedication we have to each other even when things do not look so good.  I have my heart horse to thank for laying the groundwork that made my relationship with my heart dog so brilliantly beautiful.  He lives on in everything that I do.

KB, try your hardest to not dwell on the diagnosis K has received and think only of the days of romping and rolling with K that you have to come.  Her zest for life has trumped her condition so far, and through the life and lifestyle you've given her, you have every reason to believe that that will continue for quite a long time. You are one of the strongest individuals I know, both because of the personal struggles you've been up against in your life as well as your "carpe diem" attitude as you and K go on this journey together.  I know that you are giving her the best possible chance to live a long, healthy, and happy life in spite of the "C" word that changed your world a couple of months ago.  She is a special dog and you are a special person - and it is so amazing and so perfect that you found each other!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Friends on Wednesday

And, this one takes the cake..

Monday, February 6, 2012

Cabin Fever

I've been sick all weekend, which hasn't exactly provided me with anything interesting to write about on here!  For the most part, I've done nothing but sleep, blow my nose, and sit like a zombie at my computer.

Lucky Marge actually managed to get a few walks, including a monster of a walk on Friday night that really tuckered her out and a decently long walk yesterday, but I really wish I could have spent some time out of the house, walking Marge in a park or something and maybe going for a ride (I haven't ridden now since the beginning of January!).  This winter has been so nice weather-wise and I haven't really gotten to take advantage of it thus far. I think I'm finally on the mend now, and, after being cooped up in the house for about three days, am actually sort of happy to be going back to school tomorrow.

Just about the only big news from the weekend is that I won $275 in a Super Bowl pool yesterday!  That was exciting.  I'm sure my winnings will all be spent on the individual pictured above..

Friday, February 3, 2012

Nerdy Fearful Dog Post

Something I've thought a lot about is the root of Marge's fears: whether they can be accounted for mainly by nature (biochemical imbalances, genetics) or nuture (bad early-life experiences or simply a lack of good ones).

Now, I know that neither of these are mutually exclusive, and that there is an awful lot of overlap.  But, it is well-known that there are dogs who aren't "wired right," no matter how uncommon extreme circumstances of this mis-wiring may be, and that there are dogs whose outward temperament is a product of their very bad life experiences and, should they have been raised correctly, they would not be fearful.

We can also throw a curveball in to this by saying that the reaction each dog has to its "nuture" is, in part, dictated by "nature:" that two dogs, of different genetic background, reared in the same negative environment, wouldn't necessarily both turn out to be fearful. Similarly, dogs of the same genetic background, reared in different environments, both won't necessarily turn out to be fearful.

In fact, that's where I really think the answer lies.

Have you ever heard of the diathesis-stress model?  No?

Okay.  Imagine a cup.. an ordinary plastic cup.  The cup is labeled "FEAR."  (Don't mind my crappy drawings.)

The cup is filled part of the way with the dog's genetic endowment.  In the case of fearfulness, a dog with a low genetic predisposition for being fearful would have only a tiny bit of their cup filled.  A dog with a high genetic predisposition for being fearful would have a LOT of their cup filled.

Now, for each environmental scenario that might push the dog more towards an over all fearful disposition, the cup gets more full.  Each "stress" added pushes the dog towards the top of the cup, towards the threshold (spilling over the cup = threshold = fearful dog).

Obviously, in a dog with a lot of genetic predisposition towards a fearful personality, it would not take a lot of different stressors to reach that point.  In a dog with a very small genetic predisposition towards fear, it would take an awful lot of those stressors - but, it is still possible, if the dog encounters very bad life experiences.

 The combinations are endless - for example, there will be dogs who, despite a large genetic predisposition towards fear,  never wind up with the fearful phenotype because they are raised in a relatively good environment.
I don't know how much of the theoretical "cup" is filled with each component - genetics and environment - in Marge's case.  Since I only know bits and pieces about her puppyhood and know zilch about her genetic background, aside from what her mom and siblings looked like, I don't know if her fears came more from a genetic predisposition or a shoddy upbringing.

Whatever the cause, there is something about Marge that has lead to a lot of her fears being reversible or at least partially reversible.  She is extremely responsive to classical conditioning, whereas a lot of other fearful dogs aren't.  That leads me to believe that it was her upbringing that caused her to be fearful, rather than a biological reason (which may have required medication to reverse).  But I might just be pulling that out of thin air.

What do you think?  How do you think a dog's outward behavior comes to be - from genetic endowment or environmental stimulation?

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