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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