Thursday, September 5, 2013

Draining Me

I probably alluded to this in previous posts, but today, it really hit me.

The truth of the matter is that agility sucked the life right out of me this year.

I wound up attending a lot less trials than I originally anticipated -- a couple canceled by the host clubs, a few scratched off the calendar due to Marge's injury, and others doomed from the reality of my ever-shrinking checking account. But, despite the fact that we didn't trial nearly every weekend as I had planned, it felt like agility was always on my mind. When does the next trial open? Where's my entry confirmation? What hotel are we staying at? What time are my runs? Where are Nationals going to be? Am I going to have enough points for Nationals?

Nationals, Nationals, Nationals. That's all this year became to me. A race to the top... or to the bottom, depending on how you look at it.

Suffice it to say, my thinking has changed quite drastically. It is quite clear that we are not going to AKC Nationals and quite frankly, I'm happy about it. I've stopped entering trials just for the sake of padding my calendar.. because as I was nonchalantly filling every weekend with agility, I was shutting other people and things out.

I'm over it.

As of right now, I'm entered in a grand total of three days of agility with Marge for the rest of 2013. That may go up by a day or two after I enter another trial or two. But that's it. As much as I enjoy agility trials, spending all eight weekend days of a month in a park (or planning to do so) means not getting to keep up friendships (and many of my friends live far away, so the opportunity to see them is not always there), not getting to horseback ride (because I can't really ride during the week with my school schedule the way it is), and not having adequate time for my relationship and my family.

It also means having to scrounge for money for things that probably matter a lot more, since, let's face it, I work one day a week at a not-so-high paying job and have a little extra cash from my newspaper route.

I had fallen in to a holding pattern -- every weekend was meant to be spent doing agility. It cannot be that way. Especially when it was being done for all of the wrong reasons.

I'm in no rush to go back to agility, honestly.  I don't yearn for it right now, after almost a month of my dog not running, as I thought I would. In fact, I'm thinking more about other things - like going hiking with Marge. And taking a vacation.. finally getting my ass on an airplane.

I'm not giving up agility. Not even close. But, I am scaling back. Trialing less seems like the way to go for a while. It'll help Marge's body catch back up, help my wallet catch up, and help ME see that there are other things in my life that need my attention.

For those that do have the time, money, and correct attitude (and the correct DOG) for heavy trialing: that's fine. Nothing wrong with that. This post isn't supposed to be about how heavy trialing is a bad thing.  It isn't. I've just discovered (the hard way) that I am not in that position at this point in time. And that's OK.

And that doesn't mean Marge is, in any way, shape or form going to be robbed of having fun. No. I want to start to do other things with her in addition to agility. Like taking lots more walks. Going on hikes. Maybe have her accompany me on an overnight non-agility trip somewhere. Maybe dabble in other dog sport activities, too. To be perfectly honest, she doesn't seem to be too terribly bothered by not running agility.  Even if I stopped agility altogether (which I'm not), she wouldn't be the kind of dog that'd be really upset about it.

For me, the phrase "I can't, I have a dog show" isn't how it has to be all of the time. There can be balance between in my life. And here's to finding that balance.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nine Days to Go

It's been exactly one week since Marge's appointment.  We have 9 more days to go until our next appointment on the 30th.

She seems to be doing pretty well.  I no longer notice any significant limp.  However, I'm not sure if she's 100% sound yet on that left front shoulder.  Between the fact that her activity is limited (which means I can't truly assess her gait) and the idea that I'm basically looking for something to be wrong, I'm convinced that she is still slightly off.  But, I may just be putting that idea in my head.

We've been very good about following the rules, which include:

  • Two short leash walks a day
  • Avoiding the stairs completely (except for the stairs in to and out of my house)
  • No strenuous activity like running or jumping
  • Shoulder stretches
Of course, Marge occasionally has a mind of her own.  While I wasn't home yesterday, I found out that she ran laps around my house right before dinner time.  I definitely was not happy to hear that. However, I've taken a decently active dog and dropped her activity level to basically nil.. it's to be expected that she is going to be raring to go.  

My mind continues to wander to our next appointment and what will come of it. Hopefully, I'll be told that she is looking good and can start a strengthening program. However, if I'm told that the resting phase of this is not yet over, I'm not sure what I'll do.  I'll likely get another opinion (probably my own regular vet's opinion first).  Obviously, we may not be back to really strenuous activities like agility for a bit longer, but I think Marge will go nuts if we can't at least add back in some long walks. 

My goal for Marge in the upcoming weeks is actually not what you might expect it to be.  What I would really like most is for Marge to be able to go on a hike with me by sometime in October.  Rather than overload on agility trials, I'd really like to spend most of my free time in October with Marge hiking, with some trials scattered here and there. Fingers crossed...

Friday, August 16, 2013

Two Torturous Weeks

We're a couple of days in to this now, and Marge seems to be dealing pretty well so far with her limited activity protocol.  She is spending lots of time in her crate by choice.  I think she's actually enjoying having it up on the main floor.  When not in her crate, she mills around the house pretty calmly. She is on a muscle relaxer called Robaxin, which may be helping our cause, as sedation is a possible side effect of the drug.  Still, I wonder if after a week or so, she'll start getting stir crazy!

I, on the other hand, am not dealing with the situation as well as my dog is.  I am really missing her! The weather has been so beautiful the past couple of days and it plain old sucks that I can't take her for some long walks.  I'm trying to make sure that I spend other types of quality time with her instead, like sitting outside with her or brushing her.  We also practiced "watch me" and "touch" today, since they are two behaviors that don't really require any physical movement.

I also worry about how much deconditioning will take place over the next two weeks - muscles very quickly begin to atrophy when not being used, and thought two weeks isn't an extremely long time, I still think it's significant.

My final worry is how well my family will continue to adhere to our protocol.  My dad took Marge for a short walk today, and though it was only a short walk (within our time limits), I can't really know for sure how fast or slow he had her walk.

As you can tell, I'm worried all around, as I tend to be with anything involving my dog! The next two weeks cannot go by fast enough.

In the meantime, here is a picture of Marge and Arrow sitting by the cornfields in Quakertown, PA last weekend.  Hopefully I'll get a chance soon to write about what may have been Marge's final agility weekend for a little while.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Rally, Rehab, Reflection

Prior to this whole shoulder-iliopsoas fiasco, Marge finished her Rally Novice title (finally) in AKC Rally.  If you recall from her past rally days, most of her time in the ring was in APDT Rally, so it took us quite a while to finally finish the RN title that I knew she could get if I was willing to spend the money on the entry fees!

We had a Rally trial at our training building last Friday night.  Marge has trained very limitedly in Rally over the past year and a half or so, so I'm very happy with our 4th place and score of 97 for her third qualifying score, despite the fact that she is trained through Rally Excellent.

Here's Marge with her loot.. including an adorable stuffed walrus that I can't wait for her to be able to play with.

Perhaps most exciting about the night was the fact that a whole bunch of my Novice A rally students went in to the ring for the first time - and qualified!  I've been teaching dog training classes for a few years, but nothing has made me more proud than helping these teams get in to the ring.  Here I am below with all of my Rally newbies :-)

As for Marge's first night on a restricted schedule - she's doing okay so far.  She had no issues sleeping in her crate, and was loose in the house earlier today with access to her crate (and lots of pillows blocking her favorite spot on the couch).  Luckily for me, she seems to be seeking out her crate to sleep, so I'm pretty confident she won't jump up on the couch, especially with the pillows there to deter her.  Still, when no one is home for a long stretch of time, she'll probably be crated.

She gets to go on two 10-minute leash walks a day, which I'm sure is going to help both of our sanity a little bit.

When I am home, she is glued to me.  The next couple of weeks are going to be all about my life revolving around my dog and her care - which, honestly, isn't so hard, since my life has pretty much revolved around her since I brought her home.

I AM worried about starting school again on Tuesday, since I'll be gone for many hours at a time a couple of days a week and will have to rely on my family members to make sure Marge gets out of the crate but doesn't break precautions.  I'm hoping that my classes will end early and that I'll have some time in between to stop home and check on things.

Her limp is not completely gone yet, but seems to have improved, so hopefully we're on the right track and will be move out of the resting phase on August 30.

Hopefully, there will be a lot of learning from this experience - not only learning from a veterinary/rehabilitation standpoint, but also an adjustment in attitude, too.  Because of how mostly normal she is now, it is so easy for me to forget that this dog, 5 years ago, growled at any one who approached her, could not function in a variety of settings and sure as heck wouldn't be comfortable sleeping in hotels or RVs or near other dogs and people.

At this point, she has both of her Masters titles in agility, several Rally titles, and an obedience title, too.  When I started this journey with her, I never expected any of that. She never owed me a damn thing to begin with and certainly owes me nothing now.  Every time I go in to the ring with her, regardless of the result, I need to remember that.  Yes, I have goals, but my biggest goal needs to always remain, first and foremost, letting my dog have the fun that she was denied during that year of puppyhood that she spent locked in a crate.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


My sweet MargeDog is hurt.  Last Monday, after playing really rough and then laying in a crate for a couple of hours, she came up gimpy on her left front leg.  She seemed to work out of it for the most part, but I didn't do too much with her the next day in agility class, just as a precaution.

She seemed fine the rest of the week, so I ran her at agility on Thursday and then at the trial this weekend.  No weave pole or contact issues.. and she was running really fast.

This Monday, I noticed she was lame when she got up off of the couch. She seemed to work out of it somewhat, but not completely. When it continued in to Tuesday and today, I decided to get in the car and take her to a canine PT.  My regular vet knows nothing about soft tissue injuries.. so there was no point wasting time and money going there.

As it turns out, she's having spasms in her left shoulder (one of her Teres muscles, to be more specific). Her iliopsoas (hip flexors) are also ouchy.  Basically, her body is telling us to slow down... let her rest.

For the next two weeks, Marge will be on very restricted activity.  No running or jumping.  Leash walks will be limited to ten minutes, twice a day. She'll also be sleeping in a crate instead of on the couch (since she isn't allowed to jump up on the couch).  We'll also be doing some shoulder and back stretches.

She won't be running any agility for at least a couple of weeks.  We had some trials lined up for early-mid September.. those are likely a no-go.  Early October is a better bet.

She'll be re-evaluated on August 30.  If I do a good job keeping her quiet these next couple of weeks, we may be able to start her on some exercises then to get her back in shape.  One activity she might be partaking in is the underwater treadmill.  That should be interesting..

She was decently well behaved while she was there.. a bit wriggly, particularly when she was being lasered, but she was in no way aggressive, just extremely scared.  My poor girl.

I'm really sad that this is happening because I hate that my dog is hurt.  I also can't help but wonder if I could have prevented it with more proactive treatment.

Keep your fingers crossed for us that Marge can get back to normal after a couple of weeks...

Monday, August 5, 2013

Bad Energy

Agility trials are stressful places.  People often forget basic manners because they are so focused on what they're doing with their dog.  In my experience, it's not uncommon for someone to walk away mid-conversation, let a door slam on someone behind them, or cut the line while waiting for course maps or armband stickers.  Some of it is pure rudeness, and some of it is the result of inattention and stress.

A certain level of crazy is to be expected at an agility trial, and to get mad at all of the things I've mentioned above would leave a person in a full-out rage at any trial they attended.  However, this past weekend totally exceeded any level of bad energy that I've encountered thus far.  It was one of those weekends that left me feeling really discouraged and disillusioned with agility. And I HATE when that happens.

Every year, this trial has been a particularly noisy, close-quartered trial. I knew that when I entered, but because I had been there before (and Marge had run successfully there before), I thought nothing of entering. This year, however, it seemed infinitely worse.  It started in the parking lot (where there are barely enough spots for the number of cars at a 990-run agility trial), continued to the crating room (where people took up extra space by laying down more mats than they needed to), and reached its peak near the rings.

There were some administrative issues with the trial -- people being entered in the wrong classes, stewards using the wrong gate sheets for a class -- and I think it made people go crazy.  There was so much rudeness and franticness that it made the trial very unpleasant.

The dogs definitely felt it.  I saw dogs that hardly ever have any major issues really crash and burn in the ring.  My own dog was not immune to it, either, though I think that at least some of her issues were caused by me getting miffed about all of the craze around me rather than worrying about handling her.

Our first Jumpers run we really blew.  My handling was poor and she was high as a kite.  The Jumpers ring seemed to be the epicenter of all of the commotion.  I didn't think much would faze Marge, given the fact that the ring is comprised of walls on 3 sides, but I was wrong.

Our second run, Standard, we qualified for 17 points.  It was actually quite a nice run.  17 points is our new high total for MACH points in a single run, so I was really happy with that.

The next day, our Jumpers run was one of the worst we've had in a while.  Someone snapped at me prior to my walkthrough and I was really angry about it.  For a few seconds, I thought about confronting the person but I decided it wasn't worth it.  When I got in to the ring, it started out well enough, but then I didn't call Marge enough on a turn, so she took an off course.  Then I FORGOT the course, which led to more off courses, and finally, she took more straight lines instead of making turns. It was bad and it felt horrible.

Our Standard run was a bit more of the same.. it started out very well, but a hard line after the chute to the weave poles did us in.  Then, she sorta semi bailed on the teeter, though I don't think the judge called it. Then, I gave up, which lead to another off course.

I'm upset that the environment was what it was and I'm upset that I let it get to me.  I need to learn to worry only about having fun with my dog and tune everything else out.

We have one more trial next weekend, then we're taking a break from trialing for about a month.  I'm really looking forward to it.  We didn't really have any long breaks this year.. we didn't trial every weekend, but we trialed at least a couple weekends out of every month.

I'm also just about giving up on our goal of qualifying for Nationals.  With under 200 points out of 500 needed, school starting in 2 weeks, and only a few months left in the qualifying period, it just doesn't seem realistic.  I don't have the money, the energy, nor the desire to trial every weekend with Marge.. and I'm not sure she desires to trial every weekend, either. So, I think it's time to alter our goals some and just think about getting that MACH and having fun at our own pace.

Over all, Marge has 8 QQ's, 15 Masters Standard legs, 25 Masters Jumpers legs, and 365 MACH points.  We're getting almost to the halfway point.. so that's pretty cool!

Here are Marge and Arrow with their ribbons for the weekend.  Arrow had a really nice Jumpers Q on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


It took nineteen tries before we qualified in Excellent Standard.

It was always something... usually a teeter bail or table refusal, but occasionally it was something completely random, like a bar down or missed contact.

Then, after that long dry spell, Marge earned her AX title in November 2011 with three straight Q's.  Then began her Excellent B/Masters Standard career.

And finally, though we've been plagued with many of the same issues - she still hates that damn teeter - Marge earned her MX this Sunday in a 16-point run at my dog club's agility trial.

Her best buddy Spirit also earned her MX on the very same day.  We had the two girls pose together with their pretty giant ribbons.

Not much else of note happened the rest of the weekend.  Marge picked up 12 points in a Jumpers run, but all of our other runs were NQs.  The courses were very hard.. a couple of them almost too hard, if you ask me.  That, coupled with a few communication issues between Marge and I, put us in to a slump for the weekend.  

But, we still had tons of fun.  Marge hung out with her friends and got to play agility.  And that's what matters most!

Our new totals: 6 QQ's, 263 MACH Points, 10 MX legs, 20 MXJ legs.  For 2014 Nationals, we have 2/4 QQ's, 8/20 total Q's, and 96/500 MACH points.

We're taking a couple of weeks off (including no agility at all, not even class, this week), before gearing up for FIVE weekends straight of agility starting on Memorial Day weekend.  It's the most agility we've ever done, but I think Marge can handle it.  It'll be a big push to get some of what we need for Nationals before things quiet down for the warm summer months.

 I wouldn't do it if she didn't love it!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Nearly Wordless MayDay

(From our walk on the weekend.)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Mistake A Piece

Team Marge's successful streak hit a bit of a bump yesterday, when both members of our team had one mistake each.

Our Standard run was Marge's first run of the day (I had already run Arrow in Jumpers, where we took one lonely bar down).

The course was tough, with some questionable obstacle approaches and a really hard end line.  The qualifying rate was very, very low.

Our run started out fine as we passed our first big challenge, a flip in to a tunnel, without an issue.  We continued until we reached the teeter.  Marge barreled up it and then leaped from the center.  If you watch the video closely, you can see the judge tilt her head, probably thinking about whether to mark it a failure or not.  I'm not sure if Marge had a foot in the yellow contact zone at the end of the board or not.

The table came directly after the teeter.  Great, a place to stop and regroup... or not!  Marge hopped on the table and hopped immediately off.  And that's what we NQ'd on.  A table fault.  UGH.

The rest of the run was okay... not wonderful, but okay.  Marge keeps coming off of her A-Frame prematurely, which I do not like.

Then, in Jumpers, I was confident that we'd at least pick up some points, since we wouldn't walk away with a double Q on the day.  I guess I was too confident.. because although we worked beautifully together for the rest of the run, I pulled Marge right off of the #5 jump when I called her name too soon.  UGH.  Bad handler.

It's hard not to be frustrated by small and seemingly tiny mistakes like this now that we're working at such a high level and running so darn well at trials.  Of course, I am still proud of our efforts, but I know that I need to be more careful to avoid things like what I did in our Jumpers run. We'll be back out in 2 weeks for three straight days of trialing, where I hope to finally finish off that pesky MX Standard title, pick up a bunch of points and maybe a double Q.

We had a great time at the trial despite our mistakes.  Marge got to see some of her friends and made new ones, too. Look at this adorable Finnish Spitz puppy that Marge met at the trial.  He's owned by a friend of mine, who competes with one of her other Finnish Spitz.  Marge typically does not do well with puppies, but she was infatuated with this little guy and actually let him climb all over her while she was flat on her side!  Can you believe it?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

When Agility Makes Me Cry

I didn't get a chance to blog about it, but Arrow earned her final MXJ leg under my handling on March 30.

Some backstory: I have been showing Arrow for almost two years.  I ran her just for fun in a Jumpers run in June of 2011; I wound up with a blackened thumb, since I had no tugging experience, and we totally destroyed the course.  I had never run her before, but it was a lot of fun. I eventually began to run her in class and started to handle her at some shows. She needed two more MXJ legs to get her title.

She and I began to do pretty well in Standard, picking up a few legs, but Jumpers continued to be a problem.  With no place to stop and regroup, like a table or contact obstacle, I often wound up out of place, Arrow got faster and crazier, and bars inevitably came down.

We qualified ONCE in Jumpers in June 2012, but the dry spell otherwise continued, until this year.

I felt kind of silly, but I truly and honestly cried when I left the ring. I was more emotional after this agility run than I have ever been before. I think it was just the combination of working on it for so long and never expecting that it would happen this day, during this run, our first trial back of the year.

The real kicker is that Arrow went back out the following day and qualified AGAIN in Jumpers.  Two Jumpers Q's back to back?  After struggling for so long?  She would have it no other way.

Arrow has been an amazing teacher to me.  Handling Marge is really pretty easy; I point her in the right direction, and she goes.  Handling Arrow is another story.  Timing, verbal cues, arm position.. everything matters.  She always tries her hardest, but if I'm too close to a jump, the bar comes down.  If I take my eye off of her, she's 5 jumps away in an instant.  And if I call her in mid air?  She instantly folds herself in half to come towards me.. but takes the bar with her.  

Marge also really enjoys her company at trials - I credit Arrow (and Spirit) with teaching Marge to settle in just about any agility setting.  Marge thinks nothing of walking in to a new trial site nowadays.

Arrow is 12 years old. She is obviously in impeccable shape for her age. But, now that she has both of her Masters titles, she'll be running at a jump height 4 inches lower, in the Preferred classes.  It'll be easier on her body and our hope is that more bars will stay up.. though it does mean that she'll be running faster, so I'd better be prepared to keep up.

Her Preferred debut will hopefully be Saturday.  I'm being given quite a welcome to the world of showing two dogs at two jump heights - Marge's Standard class and Arrow's Jumpers class are running at the exact same time, first thing in the morning!

Photo by M. Nicole Fischer Photography
I am so thankful to have had this experience and am excited to start a new chapter!

Monday, April 8, 2013

April Agility Overnighter

This past weekend, Louie, Marge and I ventured to a brand new trial site in Pitman, NJ.  It was an indoor turf arena that I really liked.  The footing was great and there were some nice places to take walks.  I have reservations about trialing there this summer since the area where the agility rings are located is not air conditioned, but it was a really cool place for a trial.

Marge was very successful yet again, earning QQ #6 on Saturday.

There's not too much negative to be said about two qualifying runs, but I do think I could have tightened things up a bit and made my cues more clear.. like, for example, on the wrap at the end of the Jumpers run, where Marge takes the turn really wide because I did not cue the wrap at all.  Between these two runs, Marge came away with 26 more points, and reached a new high for number of points in a single run (16).  This Standard run was Marge's 9th MX leg.

Sunday, we were on the line for our MX.  But, I flubbed things up...

I sent Marge off course over the jump after the dog walk by rushing things.  I could have a) front crossed after the dog walk or b) shaped the turn like a rear cross.. instead, Marge did not read any change in direction of motion and followed my right arm to the nearest jump.  Bad handler!

We got things together in Jumpers later on Sunday afternoon.  That Jumpers run was my favorite run of the weekend.. from the bold lead-out to the many front crosses, I really like how we worked together on this one.  A few turns could have been tightened up, but to qualify on this course and earn 9 points.. I was happy with how things went.

And we had a great time when we weren't doing agility, too.  Though we missed Arrow, who had the weekend off, Marge enjoyed sprawling out at the hotel.

She also hung out and took walks with her best pal, Spirit.

Posing with her QQ loot:

Our efforts this weekend boosted us to 2 QQs, 6 Qs, and 68 MACH points on the year.  Over all, Marge now has 6 QQs, 9 MX legs, 19 MXJ legs, and 235 MACH points.

We'll take next weekend off, then head out for one day of outdoor trialing in Willingboro, NJ the following weekend.  I hope our good luck and solid teamwork continues!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Where We Stop, No One Knows!

This weekend marked Marge's return to the agility ring after a nearly 5-month hiatus from trialing and a 6-week break from heavy agility training (due to my surgery).  It seemed like we were destined for a rough weekend, especially considering that Marge has not seen a contact obstacle since November.  Seems Marge had other plans!


Standard was up first on Saturday.  The course was tricky, with a weave pole entrance that everyone thought was very challenging.  The rest of the course had wonderful flow. Marge ran the course beautifully, but missed the weave pole entrance.  I was originally going to pull her out of the poles and have her re-start them, but because she was so determined and moving so quickly, I decided that it wasn't worth it to risk demotivating her for a run that would have been an NQ either way.

I think I should have slowed down more and perhaps shaped the weave pole entrance as you would shape a rear cross.  I think our fault here just came down to lack of experience with this type of challenging entry.

We did have a successful Jumpers run and scored 9 points.  This was Marge's 15th Masters Jumpers leg. I really liked this run, particularly the cross behind the weave poles.  It's such a cool skill to show off :)

We were wildly successful on Sunday.  Once again, Standard was first; once again, we smoked the course, only this time, we qualified for 14 points.  I was thrilled with the way she moved around the course. This is Marge's 8th Masters Standard leg, which means we only need two more for our MX title.

My instructor did point out that she thinks I released her a bit too quickly on the A-Frame; you can't see in the video, but she was adjusting her stride to hit the 2o2o and I released her before she could even get in to the position.  To avoid missed contacts, my instructor wants me to hold her a bit longer.
I also think that I ate up a lot of time because of how slowly I crossed in front of the teeter; I think I could have chopped a second off of our time by doing that more quickly.

Later in the day, we qualified in Jumpers for 10 points.  This course was a lot of fun.  Marge was a little pokey in the beginning, as she seems to often be at the beginning of a Jumpers run, but then picked up speed later in the course.  It was fun to be able to layer the jump before the tunnel and to do so successfully.
New totals: 5 QQs, 8 MX legs, 16 MXJ Legs, 200 MACH points!
And, in our quest to qualify for AKC Nationals, Marge now has 33 of the required 500 points, 3 of the required 20 Q's, and 1 of the required 4 QQ's!  If she keeps running like this, we may have a shot at it.
The nicest thing is how happy Marge looks in these videos.  I think the time off actually did us some good.. Marge was very happy to be out trialing and her performance reflected that.  It's hard to believe that 3 years ago, at this very trial, Marge made her Novice debut.
Stay tuned for next weekend, when we try out a brand new indoor sports venue.  Hopefully, two more days of shows yields some more great results!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Day 1681

Once again, life has gotten in the way, and I've missed the official MargeBlog anniversary of January 21.

When I first created this blog, I had owned Marge for only 207 days.  I had known her for only a week longer than that.  Though I had developed some sense of her personality, I still had so much to learn about her.

I didn't know how resilient she would be. Her (quite frankly) shitty upbringing did not predict the dog she would become.  She is social in a very specific way... she isn't over the top about it, but once she loves you, she loves you.  Unless she is playing with her friends, running agility, or impatiently waiting for dinner, I find that she seems to carry a certain aura about her.. of calmness, of loyalty.

And yes, I maintain that she does, in fact, have a sense of humor.

Marge will turn six this year.  Though still a young dog, a few gray hairs adorn her chin.  She will not be here forever. I try to savor every minute with her, since she is a gift that I intend on appreciating as fully as possible.  After all of this time, I still can't take my eyes off of her (and my boyfriend can attest to that!).

Here's to life, love, MargeDog, and the future!


Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Devil Within (My 4-Inch Cyst)

I am possessed.

I have a mass in my abdominal cavity the size of a grapefruit.

"Lucifer," as I have been not-so-affectionately calling this beast, was discovered on an ultrasound less than two weeks ago.  I had some acute pain in December and, although the pain never resurfaced, I wanted to get things checked out before I went back to school.

And it's a good thing I did.

After the ultrasound came a whirlwind of doctor visits that landed me in record-breaking time at my grandmother's surgeon. He, although probably over-qualified as a top-notch gynecological oncologist to address what I have, graciously agreed to see me and will be removing the mass on Friday.

Surgery?  SURGERY? Ensue panic.  I've only had surgery once, and it was to remove a superficial-but-large mole from my back.  I've had general anesthesia, but I've never been through the whole true surgical process and I am scared silly.

It is most likely a very large ovarian cyst.  There is no current worry about it being anything more serious than that.  However, it is so large that the ultrasound could not detect exactly where it is coming from.  Rather than put me through more testing, which may or may not be conclusive, the surgeon is going to figure out what it is while he's in there (via a diagnostic laparosopy). The surgeon is ridiculously confident that it can, in fact, be removed laparoscopically and that I will be able to go home the same day.  I like his attitude and hope that he is right.

Really glad that he took me - I only want the best.  I know THREE women who had their reproductive organs taken out by him, which makes me feel better, since 1) they lived to tell about it and 2) this is hopefully just a stinkin' cyst.

Though I didn't have pain all along, I now have bouts of dull pain that comes and goes, a slightly swollen belly, and tons of general discomfort (some of it real, some of it psychosomatic, I'm sure).  I'm living in sweatpants. I haven't worn jeans in a week.

I cannot WAIT for this to be over.

It has messed up school (since you have to bend and twist and do all kinds of physical work in Physical Therapy school), riding (I'm not allowed to ride until something like a month after it's gone), and agility (I'm not allowed to run, either).

It's a huge bummer.

Anyway, I just thought I should post about this.  I'd much rather be posting about the Fearful Dog Seminar that I taught, but I reckon I'll have lots of time for that while I recover.

Just spare a good thought my way around 9:30 on Friday morning, when I'll be rolling in to the OR for my exorcism.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sand and Sandy

Marge loves the beach and it's no secret to anyone.  Some of my favorite photos are of Marge running with her tongue hanging out of her mouth up against a ocean blue backdrop; other times, I pose her on sand dunes or rocks.  You've all seen the pictures before.

Since Hurricane Sandy, the beach down the block from my house has been closed.  Quite honestly, under normal circumstances, the closure might not deter me from sneaking a walk in here and there.  However, it is in truly horrific shape, with debris all over the place, so it's closed for good reason. Despite Marge's best puppy dog eyes, I haven't given in and will not cross off of the asphalt on to the sand.

This meant that we missed some traditions - like walking on the beach on Thanksgiving, or in the days before New Year's.  It stunk.  The hurricane itself was bad enough, but the fact that it continues to impact our community and limits our leisure activities so many weeks later is frustrating too.

Tired of walking or throwing a ball in the slightly soggy, still-dirty athletic field across the street, I loaded Marge up in the car and took her to another park that I knew was open.  I thought the sand would be off-limits and expected to simply stick to the paved walking trails.  However, we were in for a very big surprise!

Marge painted the moisture from her nose all over my car windows and weaved back and forth in the back seat, whining her head off.  She had missed having fun with me just as much as I've missed having fun with her.

The sand was loads cleaner than I expected.  It was littered mainly with sea shells, which my sister aided me in arranging in to the letters of Marge's name.

Onward we walked, disappearing from the crowds.  I unclipped the leash but called Marge back to me when this sight appeared in front of me, a solemn reminder of why we were here at this beach, rather than our own, in the first place.  I knew it'd be a prime sniffing target and so did not want to let Marge near it.  This poor vessel has been sitting here, sand-lodged and unclaimed, since the night of October 29, 2012.

That wasn't the only sign of Sandy.  Take a look at how more than a foot of sand has simply been shelved away from the coast.  Marge thought it made a great way to jump up and down, but it kept collapsing under her weight as she neared the edge of it, as you can see in the far right side of this picture.

Marge also checked out a buoy that was supposed to be stationed off shore, but instead lay paralyzed  on its side in the low tide.  It startled her a bit, but with some coaxing, she went to cautiously check it out.

That was it for Sandy imagery - at least until we drove over to the marina portion of the park and saw a handful of boats leaning up against the piers, damaged and unusable.  My phone battery was starting to die at that point, so I have no pictures of that sad sight.

My favorite photo from the day is this one.  Every once in a while, those smart phones can take a really nice picture!

It had been far too long since our last beach excursion and I was so happy to see my dog running in her favorite environment again.  I'm going to make sure that it happens again soon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Chasing Nationals

Agility folks: your thoughts, please!

2012 saw some subtle but definite changes in Marge's running style in agility.  Still plagued by random slowpoke runs contrasted with blazing fast runs out of nowhere, one thing that has gotten more consistent is Marge's overall performance.  Unlike 2011, Marge qualified in the Standard class several times.  The teeter and table became less of an issue for her. She also boasted an even higher Q rate in Jumpers than ever before.  These two things considered, this meant that we stood a pretty good chance of picking up some double Q's at trials.

Marge finished the year with a total of 4 QQ's, 167 MACH points, 7 MX (Standard) legs, and 15 MXJ (Jumpers) legs.  Of that tally, 3 QQ's, 141 points, 6 MX legs, and 12 MXJ legs came in 2012.

AKC Nationals are coming to the East Coast in 2014.  2013 will be the qualifying year for the event.  Nationals only come this way every 3 years, so I figure that if we are to ever go, 2014 is probably our best shot.  (Marge will be nearly 10 years old next time it's here, in 2017.)

Qualification information for the event has changed; to qualify, you now need 4 QQ's, 20 total legs between the MX and MXJ classes, and, get this.. a whopping 500 MACH points.

Clearly, I know where our problem lies.  With a decent amount of showing, Marge can easily reach 4 doubles and 20 total Q's within a year.  But 500 MACH points?  I'm not sure she can do it.

I oscillate back and forth between wanting to make a try for it and brushing it off as too difficult.  The problem lies in that if I truly want to try to qualify, Marge's show schedule will need to be beefed up considerably.  That would be the only way to even come close to that amount of points.  To put things in perspective, Marge showed about 25 days (equivalent roughly 12 weekends) this year and only scored 141 points.  She'd probably need to show closer to 40 or 50 days to amass the points needed, assuming an even higher Q rate and even faster runs than she had this year.

I have basically decided this: to not decide just yet.  Marge will be entered in at least four days of shows in February and March.  She will probably show another four or five days in early April alone.  She could come out swinging and rack up a hundred-plus points right from the get-go.  Or, she might slug along with a high Q rate but not enough speed.  There really is no telling with Marge.

 Based on how well she does in the beginning, I will decide if a bid for Nationals is viable for us.  If it is, and I see that she is enjoying an increased trial schedule (which I happen to think she will enjoy a lot), then I will continue.  If it's not, or I see that Marge is not enjoying herself as much as I'd like, then I will enter the same amount of trials that I have in years past.

There are other questions surrounding an appearance at Nationals, should we even qualify.  For example, if it conflicts with my or Louie's school schedule, then there's a good chance that we won't be able to go.  There's also the money issue, since increased trialing for qualification purposes is a financial strain I'm not sure I can afford (and Nats entry fees are not cheap, either).  Lastly, there's the issue of whether Marge will be comfortable in a setting like the AKC Nationals, where multiple rings are running and loudspeakers are on and people are all over the place.

But, the joy of getting to trial with my dog more often, and the thought of realizing the feel-good story of scared-dog-becomes-agility-champ, are definitely two motivators for me.

My honest prediction is that we won't make a try for it and will settle on a different, less lofty but still respectable goal (like working our way back in to the AKC's Top 100 Mixed Breeds list, or finishing our MACH within the next couple of years). But, it doesn't hurt to dream, and I'm not pushing a run for Nats outside the realm of possibility.

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