Funny how excited I am that Idgie is finally a year old, and on the flipside I find myself dreading Kelso’s birthdays.  He is 8, and will be 9 (oh god, 9…) in March.  My favorite times of a dog’s life are the very beginning, when everything is new, the puppy is cute and brilliant and the trainer hasn’t screwed anything major up yet; and the mid years, age 4-7 specifically, since that is such a prime time for performance, the dog is trained, you know each other well, and you seem to work together like a machine that took years to build. 

I do appreciate the dog’s retirement days, and I only love my dogs more as they age, but there’s something really bittersweet and surreal about watching your lively agility partner morph into a dog that just can’t physically do everything he wants to do anymore.  Kelso is actually still going pretty strong at his age, we are still seeking 2 double Qs for his MACH, a title I had no hopes of achieving with him until he was about 5, and his course times skyrocketed along with his confidence (something I regret it took me so long to figure out, he has been so very patient with me).  His course times are definately not what they were at that time, but they are still well under, and he still sails through the course with ease–most days.  But he does have kind of an old man back, and I am finding that though I used to do massage as a preventative measure for him, it is a necessity now.  In the past year I have also added accupunture to the list of things I do to keep him running strong, and I have to say nothing has made the difference that it has (thank you Dr. Long!).  He does get really stiff and sore after running his heart out on the mountain, but at this time I choose to let him run, and get him some accupunture and Metacam afterword. 

So what’s the point of this blog? Just to remember to celebrate Kelso every day, because he really is my doggie soul mate.  People in the dog world talk about “heart dogs,” meaning dogs that for some reason just get deeper into your heart than others, dogs that you’re not sure how you lived without before, and that you’re not sure how you’ll live without later, as you most likely will have to. Patricia McConnell said of her border collie Cool Hand Luke (a dog who even looks like Kelso, it’s weird), before he passed, “I imagine Luke’s death to be as if someone took all the oxygen out of the air, and expected me to live without it,” and I can think of no better words to describe the painful knowledge of a dog’s finite life. 

Kelso is not elderly or sick, but he is no longer young either.  This is the sobering time of a dog’s life, especially when that dog has been so very important for so very long, because you begin to be aware of their aging.  I am paranoid about Kelso, to say the least.  If he pants for no reason, if he looks worried, if he moves a little slower, if he sniffs his food before scarfing it, my mind spirals into a million different thoughts.  The other day while grooming him I noticed a swollen lymph node (which can happen for any number of reasons) in his arm pit and immediately had two other people I respect check it out.  By the time the doctor went to feel it, it had gone back down.  I am now obsessed with his armpits, officially.  Crazy? Maybe not.  I also do a full blood panel on him every 6 months, even though there’s nothing “wrong” with him.  Jumping the gun? I don’t think so.  This is a dog that is literally a part of me.  His existence is the reason I am the person I am.  He has taught me more about the way dogs learn than any book or seminar ever could.  Everything I do right with Idgie, and every dog after her, will be because Kelso showed me the right way in the first place.  Every dog I help throughout my life will owe a part of their success to this very special dog, because without him, I would probably be doing something entirely different right now.  I also got Kelso when I was 15, a rough time for all people, and it happened to be particularly difficult for me.  There are times looking back that I am quite literally not sure I would have survived had it not been for Kelso.  He took my heart, ran with it, and has protected it like any good dog ever since.  He is, and will always be, at the heart of everything I do that has any importance.  

December is our official month off from Agility, and we enjoy the break each time.  I would do agility every day, but I recognize it’s not good for either half of the team to do it constantly, and I have always given Kelso at least 6-8 weeks off in a row at some point during the year, a practice I have always believed ot be healthy for both of us.  We take that time to work on other things, walk together, be together, enjoy each other without competition or training.  Next month we’ll get back in the ring and hopefully finish up that MACH.  The title isn’t really the important thing to me, since Kelso has already surpassed all expectations, and has made me love him more than I knew was possible.  What I honestly can’t wait for is that final run, our connectivity, and our victory lap, knowing that this Kelso Willie Wonderdog and I got there together, through a lot of tears and mistakes, every step of the way like one being, learning first how to crawl, then to walk, and finally to run.