The final diagnosis on Sir Ouch-a-lot’s foot is that he has cancer. It’s pretty localized, so we have two options: amputation of the foot (with the hopes that it hasn’t yet spread to places we can’t see) or keep him medicated and comfortable until the end. Our wonderful vet, Dr. Silverstone, called his various exotics-speciality colleagues and what’s really standing in Sir Ouch’s way is his age. If he were 1, we’d amputate and assume he’d adjust. But he’s 5. For an animal with an average expected lifespan of 6, our vet and his colleagues all agree that at this point there’s a quality of life issue that makes the recommondation not so clear cut. He’s older, so it will probably take longer to heal if we amputate. He told me that while amputation may extend his life some, it extends it in hedgehog time, which may be the equivalent of several months in human time. Is it worth him not being able to run on his oh-so-favorite wheel for most of his remaining time? I’m leaning toward medication and comfort over amputation. I don’t think I could bear to take his leg and he never recovers to run on his wheel again. What to do, my prickly little friend…
This morning, bright and early on a Saturday, Shizuka and I ventured off to Dock Dogs Orientation. Though I had a feeling she wouldn’t jump, we went anyway in order to devote ourselves to the challenge we made with friends over dinner one night. 365 days committed to just one dog sport (instead of our usually willy-nilly approach to dog sporting). An interesting array of dog breeds showed up: Rhodesian Ridgeback, English Bulldog, Fox Terrier (ish?), Pit Bull, Black Lab– and that mystery breed known as Shizuka. It was super hot and it looked like all the dogs wanted to be in the water. Here we go. Begin 3 hours of Intro to Getting Your Dog to Jump of a Dock Into Water as a Sport.
We were second in line. The Rhodesian Ridgeback before us almost took the plunge, but in the end, it was a struggle for them to get her to swim even from the ramp. Shizuka, on the other hand, waddled right in from the ramp and paddled around in her usual casual crocodile style. The Dock Dogs club had a trainer there who’s apparently known for getting stubborn dogs off the dock. Shizuka walked to the edge, looked down, yawned. We tried different toys…we tried squeaking toys. The President of the Club, standing chest-deep in the pool, irritatingly squeaked her toy right in front of her face over and over. Squeaky Squeaky SQUEAKY!!!! Shizuka looked away. Boring. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” he mutters. I explain that while she’s got a very high prey drive, she’s not got much of a play drive. Toys only occasionally interest her…but not predictably.
As we were collected around the end of the dock encouraging Shizuka to jump in, and she peered around us to see the other dogs playing in the yard, the trainer sat down and started with “I’m going to be perfectly honest with you: I don’t see a dock dog here.” They were really nice about it as they explained that without toy drive, she’ll never jump and that most non-jumpers have a confidence problem and that’s why they will eventually take the plunge, but Shizuka has total confidence around the water, she just chooses not to jump. They offered to fit me in free of charge to another orientation in the event I ever find a toy that she loves (probably not going to happen). And they offered to let me stay and watch the others practice (which, for some reason, at that point sounded more like torture for both of us). The three-hour orientation began at 9:06 and we were back in the car, tears in my eyes, by 9:30.
Why am I so upset that we basically got kicked out of a dog sport orientation? Maybe I’m projecting my own insecurities. The ones that echo in my head that I could be a better dog-companion, or that I personally don’t like to be told that I can’t do things so I don’t want my dog to be told the same, or some other voice that haunts me. I know she doesn’t really care. And I know that nothing they said about her was incorrect or new information. It really stung though, and I’m just disappointed.
Driving around in tears (yes, for most people this is an overreaction), I rewind in my mind all the things we’ve crossed off the list of doggy activities. When she was a puppy, I wanted her to grow up to be a therapy dog- she does not have the personality for that. Obedience class- full of yawns and walking slowly towards me when the other dogs run at the sound of “come!” Rally– more yawns and a bit of irritation. Agility- and the instructor pondering that perhaps my dog has some sort of psychological disorder (she doesn’t, I’m sure, but she’s just not your typical dog- my fault, maybe?). Here we are at Dock Dogs. She loves water. Water is the only medium in which she will fetch something. I thought we were on our way. I keep reminding myself that she did well on her one run last week at Lure Coursing, but I have a feeling that once she realizes that she’ll never catch the bag, she’ll lose interest. I really wanted a dog that wanted to hang out with me and do fun things. I think of all those border collies locked up in the prison of suburban American that are on prozac because no one wants to play with them. And then there’s Shizuka who wants almost nothing to do with me and possess all of the physical and intellectual traits required to do any dog sport I could want to play- minus desire to please. I’m spiraling- this happens- when I look back and think about how I maybe picked out the wrong dog for me, as so many first time dog owners do…
So, here’s my conclusion. Shizuka is the dog for me. I don’t want a dumb dog, or an overly people-pleasing dog that won’t leave me alone–ever. My dog keeps the yard free of things that eat the precious fruits of my garden and things that might be dangerous for the chihuahuas. Shizuka and I do like the same things: gardening and hiking. Yes, most dogs like to hike, but Shizuka loves to hike because it’s mobile backyard hunting. She may seem bipolar to some trainers, but we can rock an indoor agility course like nobody’s business. Also, though she hates it, we can really rock an obedience class. Bring it. Patty was right when she started training us three years ago, Shizuka is a “neat” dog. She’s funny and super smart (this is why we suck at alot of things, I think)- she climbs trees and talks to me (and can communicate her desires). Like Cesar Milan says, you don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need. I guess that’s us. Without me, she probably wouldn’t have survived puppyhood. Without her, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to work through my control-freak issues!
So, after the tears and judging of her and cursing my dog choice 5 years ago, I’ve resolved to push forward. I will watch and re-watch the borrowed Michael Ellis videos on top of my DVR and find a way to channel her prey drive into play drive. We may never compete, but we’ll keep going on the quest to pursue one sport for 365 days and see how it turns out in the end. Also, eventually I’ll probably give in and try dog sporting with Chilly because she does have the desire to please me- most of the time- and would make a great agility dog. To ten more months of Dock Dogs!