I’ve pondered about what I want to write, and it seems only fitting to write the whole story. About how I thought I wanted another cocker spaniel, but didn’t want to deal with the hair. About how I flew to Oklahoma to pick up a sight unseen puppy that screamed the loudest in the litter and then that entire litter scattered to the four corners of the yard rather than say hello to me. About how that puppy quickly let me know that his world did NOT revolve around me. He could scream loud enough to make my head vibrate. And he didn’t give two flips about my treats, my toys or, well, my anything.
It took four years to convince that young dog that agility was fun. It took eight years to get that dog to run as fast in competition as he did when I had a meatball in my hand. He packed his fifteen years full of lessons for me, and while I started off as an unwilling student, I quickly caught on that if I didn’t start to listen and learn, we wouldn’t get very far in the sport I was so passionate about.
It’s sad to me that so many reading this blog probably didn’t see Austin running in his prime. I’m not really into accomplishments of sorts, but it seems important to share some of them here:
MACH3 PACH ADCH-Silver PDCH Sun Meadow’s Summer Knight LAA-Silver TM-Platinum PTM PSCH PJCH PGCH PKCH PRCH CDX RE MXG MJC MXPB MJP3 MJPB PAX XF
He remains the highest titled vizsla in USDAA of all times, with 8 titles that no other vizsla has ever earned, including ADCH-Bronze, ADCH-Silver, and Tournament Master-Platinum, and a lifetime 221 titling qualifications, 50+ more than the next vizsla in line. He placed 3rd in the Invitational Finals and 5th at AKC’s National Finals (fastest non-border collie!). He also won both Standard and Jumpers at the Vizsla National Specialty. He really and truly did it all.
Austin was not my first agility dog, but he’s the first dog that asked me to become better. I once told someone, while running my cocker spaniel, Cole, that I did not want to be a dog trainer, I just wanted to be an agility handler. Austin led me kicking and screaming into the land of behavior theory and dog training. I was a slow, unwilling student. I had so much to learn and I made so many mistakes. But somehow, we got better together.
Over time, I realized that Austin needed earlier handling cues. He led me on handling adventures, seeking new knowledge and ways to “break the rules” and tell him where those long strides needed to travel. I learned how to sometimes choose my own battles, and let go of things like the perfect contact behavior, because motivation and joy were just more important. We developed a signature style that had me FAR off his line, because, well, that’s how Mr. Independent liked it. We only did leadouts when absolutely necessary, and his favorite was a throw back and run, especially to a tunnel.
Learning how to help Austin focus on and love agility is the source of so much of what I teach students. I can truly empathize with how it feels to have a partner that isn’t interested, or can’t stay with me, or doesn’t show the enthusiasm that I know is inside. Much of what he taught me to bring out his best at trials is the source for my online Fire & Desire class. He helped me connect with so many people that I know today, as we struggled in all of those seminars and camps as we tried to find each other. Heck, he even convinced me to ask at IBM if I could work at home half-days, so that he wouldn’t be alone for too long during the day. That tiny decision eventually led to wanting a more flexible job and going to SAS, and then taking the plunge to teaching full time.
What many may not know, is that I chose the vizsla breed in the hopes that Gary would find joy in that puppy, and that we could find pleasure in raising him together. Austin quickly became Gary’s dog in many ways. We laughed at Austin daily. That dog could sleep in the funniest positions, and frequently he would make us joke and laugh in the way he walked, or a look he gave. So much joy and laughter in our marriage was the result of this wonderful dog.
How do I REALLY express just how much we loved this dog?
Maybe it’s by telling you that when we found out he had cancer, we DID go after it aggressively, removing his spleen. Undergoing chemo. Starting the turkey tail powder. Maybe it’s by telling you that we fought the 2nd cancer. Again, undergoing surgery. Maybe it’s by telling you that we underwent a 3rd surgery, this time removing a benign lump. Or maybe it’s by telling you that we did NOTHING when we found the 3rd aggressive cancer, knowing that for our boy, the stress of doctor’s visits and surgeries and needles and tests was now worse than any chance of extending the duration of his life.
Or could it be by telling you that I stopped all his supplements, including the miraculous turkey tail powder, when he said he didn’t want to eat them anymore. Is it when we put horse water buckets in the house for him to drink out of, because they looked so damned much like toilets that he would drink out of them instead? Or is it when we stopped making him sleep in the bedroom because he loved sleeping on the sofa so much, and Gary would set his alarm for 2am every night to let Austin out, AND kept a baby monitor on, in case he needed to go out other times?
Or is it when we finally decided to let him go? My dog that could still go for 30 min daily walks. Who could still eat most of a meal? And who still wagged his tail every time he saw me? You see, how do I explain to you that the light in his eyes was gone? That life was a chore for him? That nothing brought Austin joy any longer? My dogs speak to me; they talk to me all the time. He so clearly said he wanted to leave. My heart broke, but I heard him and had always promised him he would never suffer if I could help it. My gift of a dog showed me some tiny signs the morning of, that he was just before the edge of suffering. Oh my god, just to make sure I knew it was the right time. And we all slept together in the sunroom that last night. He gave me several precious hours of sleeping on my stomach that I will never forget. I’m so grateful that I could live in that moment. No thoughts to a few hours away. Just holding and memorizing that body I had held for fifteen years.
Our last morning was beautiful. The angel that came to our house was amazing. Austin felt no pain or worry. He wagged his tail when she came in, so eloquently saying “thank you so much for coming by.” We were able to snuggle with him and cuddle with him and it truly was just as magical and special as it was heart wrenchingly painful for us.
So I don’t know how one exactly explains just how much a dog means to them, but I can tell you that we did our very best to be half as good to him as he was to us.