Road to Nowhere? Who’s Car Are We Taking?

For the past year, Desmond and I have been taking online classes from Silvia Trkman.   We began with some puppy Tricks, went on to our first Foundations class, spent most of the summer Running Contacts and just yesterday finished our second round of Foundations.  It’s taken a buttload of hours, we trashed two pairs of shoes and countless holee rollers along the way.  Before my surgery we hardly missed more than a day of training in a row, and I was back on the field two weeks after, having interpreted the Dr’s direction to “walk daily” quite loosely.  Thankfully, my husband understands when I run outside at all times of the day muttering things like “diabolical weave entries” and leave old envelopes with scribbled sequences in random places around the house.

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Des and I aren’t done by far, but finishing this class made me reflect on how far both Des and I have come in the last year.  And how many MB of disk space I’ve devoted to video of the speedy merlie.  (I now have a 1 TB hard drive!  A terabyte!!  That seems like insanity to someone who still has floppy disks in a drawer somewhere.)  And…I just dated myself.  Awesome.

After sorting through that digital pile of video, I put together a compilation of our work since last summer.   For anyone following my long overdue fusion posts, all the shots with snow were post-surgery.   Make sure your speakers are on and I hope you enjoy!

Rock on, little DesMan.  You are a joy each and every day.

Fusion Part 1: Nuts and Bolts

Six weeks ago today, I had my lumbar fusion surgery.  I now have four titanium screws, two pins and some sort of cage residing in my back.  What, you ask, have I been doing with my time besides figuring out if I’ll set off metal detectors?  (They say I won’t.  I’m skeptical.)  I’m not really sure, but it’s gone by a lot faster than I’d ever imagined.   For those who stumbled this way looking for a fusion story, beware, I am a dog training and agility superfreak looking to find the fastest path back to the agility field running my pups.  And for my agility friends, I promise to throw in a gratuitous Merlie picture every now and then just to keep things semi-normal.

Mama, get better soon!

Mama, get better soon!

But for those out there looking for a firsthand experience of the L5-S1 fusion surgery with a person determined to be active again, I hope to…well…give you some hope – all while I’m hoping like mad that my own fusion will be successful.  It seems that 99% of the experiences on the Internet are written to scare the living crap out of you, by those who seem to relish dishing out doom and gloom.   I suspect most folks after surgery heal, recover, and get back to their lives, too busy to visit back pain forums.  While it would be easier for me to skim over these details and go right back to writing about something much more fun, (woof!) I realize sharing my surgery and recovery experience may help others facing the same fate, or any physical setback, for that matter.

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition.  Giving up is what makes it permanent.”     -Marilyn vos Savant

Brotherly love at it's finest!

Brotherly love at it’s finest!

My stay in the hospital could have been quite brief.  Shortly after being admitted, hooked up to various machines and started on what the nurse called the “you won’t care” drug, I suddenly and violently cared.  I cared enough to clearly visualize flinging off all the machines and running screaming out of the building, gown flapping in my wake.  Thankfully, clearer heads (and a heavier husband with excellent calming skills) prevailed, and I stayed put until the drugs kicked in, and then yep…I didn’t care.  Thank you, drug provided oblivion!

In what seemed like three seconds after I was wheeled in the OR, I woke in recovery with a friendly nurse hovering overhead talking to me, asking me questions.  But the only voice screaming in my head like a fire alarm was my own:  Do your &^%$-ing toes work??”  Left foot – check.  Right foot…hey right foot, yes, YOU!  Check.  <<Deep breath and silent thanks to a surgeon who paid attention in class>>  But back to that nurse…thanks for the ice chips.  I think you saved my life.

The next three days went by in a blur, more for me than anyone else.  They said I was under for about 3.5 hours, and anesthesia really screws me up.  For a while I was setting personal blood pressure records, some that may have qualified me as an honorary zombie.  BPs like 75 over 57 made the walks I took several times a day quite interesting.  I’d hobble out slower than a turtle with my walker, with my entourage of therapist, nurse and IV on wheels.  I’d make it to the corner, start seeing spots, and come racing back like a Citroen on the last stage of the Dakar rally…usually on two wheels, and sliding to a stop back in bed.  Thankfully, this wasn’t my husband’s first post-surgery rodeo, and he both expected and kept up with my I’m-going-to-faint-turbo-speed. The three nights weren’t bad…except for being awakened every two hours for vital checks by the nurses, (who rocked) and every other hour by a screeching machine that didn’t seem to do anything but wait until I was again asleep to screech.  Then there were the pre-dawn vampires.  Being jolted awake at 5:30 by a woman claiming she was from the lab wielding a needle and sub par vein-locating skills was not my favorite part.

THIS was my favorite part.  Many an ET joke was made...

THIS was my favorite part. Many an ET joke was made…

Up to this point, I haven’t mentioned what the pain was like.  I know what 10 on the pain scale feels like, and I expected something close to that.  And…I didn’t.  Yes, there was a constant pain, yes, it sucked, but it wasn’t impossible to tune out the majority of it most of the time.  Maybe I was lucky and the drugs worked, maybe I had a talented surgeon, (and I believe I did) or maybe the back gods decided that by my third surgery I deserved a break, if not a frequent buyer’s card?  Whatever the reason, I’m thankful.  Sure, it hurt like hell to sit up and move around, I felt like my lower back had been replaced by something made by Cyberdyne waaaay before the T-101, and I wanted to boot every time I stood up, but I could handle it.  Getting through this was my quickest route back to getting my life back.

To remind me of that goal, I brought a little photo album filled with pictures of the pups that would have put any grandmother to shame.  I accosted any nurse who dared to come close enough for me to show them.  One nurse who’d been around the block a time or two happened to be quite a dog lover, so she’d ask to see a new picture every time she came in.  On my last morning, they said I could go home…after a therapist taught me how to climb stairs.  But she’d not be back until afternoon.  Having already been through two more minor back surgeries I was sadly familiar with the stairs routine.  My new nurse friend winked at me,  and before I knew it, I’d been shoveled into a wheelchair and deposited at the curb where my husband waited to take me home.  Never mind that I only made it two minutes in the front seat before crawling into the back for the rest of the ride home.  Never mind I recited a ‘don’t boot in the truck, don’t boot in the truck‘ mantra.  I was home.  With my pups.  With my family.  The worst was behind me, with a lot of healing to come in the weeks ahead.

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Weaves…Contacts…and a Deadline!

When my surgery date was set, I had five loooong weeks to wait.  That day, I set a goal of getting Desmond to full height on his dogwalk and closing Des’s channel weaves completely.  While I didn’t want to rush him, for me, a deadline is unbeatable motivation.  As a serious bonus, it’s provided a welcome distraction full of happy puppy thoughts and given me a reason to get out there Every.  Single.  Day.   As if I could resist this face…

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There’s nothing like knowing I’m going to be a chair jockey for a couple + months to motivate me to get outside and run.  And in the last five weeks, that’s exactly what we’ve done!

Des and I began working weaves in earnest around his first birthday.  I’d happened across the channel method as a part of the online classes I’m taking, and decided to give it a shot.  I worked him a couple times a week for a few months, succeeding at some gnarly entires while gradually closing the channel, yet leaving it open enough not to actually make him weave a lot.  In November, I began to close about an inch a week, and he weaved his first completely closed set right after Thanksgiving.  Since then, he’s blown me away with his ability to hit entries…at speed or with the meanest angles I can dream up.

And his running dogwalk?  Each time I’d raised the height of his dogwalk in the previous month, he never flinched, adjusting quickly to maintain his lovely striding.  That is, until we hit 45″; a mere three inches short of full height.  All of a sudden, things fell apart.  His strides became shorter, and he missed the contact over and over.  I pondered what to do. I promised myself he was *not* broken, no matter how heavy the sinking feeling in my stomach.  He needed to build back up his confidence.  With Duncan, I would have dropped the height and built back up a little less quickly.  But this is Des, who charges at most things like his fur is on fire.  So, I decided to take my cues from Des and do the same.  For several days, I ran alongside the dogwalk like a madwoman, making a heck of a racket, and most likely worrying the neighbors and scaring the wildlife.

But it worked.  Des got his striding back and began to fly.  A week later, we raised it to FULL HEIGHT!  

More than six months.  Learning to see his stride.  Learning to reward a good stride.  Des learning to adjust his own stride.  Dragging myself out before sunrise to beat the heat, rushing home and running in my work clothes to catch the last few minutes of daylight…it’s been a long journey.  One that’s been truly worth it.  What?  Video?  Of course!

We aren’t done yet…we still need to work turns, but getting to full height on the dogwalk and competition weave poles were two large and rewarding hurdles.  Ones that will help carry me through the upcoming months of forced idleness.  While I may be watching Die Hard (hey, it’s a Christmas movie…) or Downton Abbey reruns, I’m sure a small part of my mind will be be doing mental handsprings over what Des has done.  And looking oh, OH so forward to running him the moment I’m able to do so again.

Yippie ki-yay….

And….we’re back!

Have you ever looked at the calendar in July and realized it’s already October?  Well, maybe not, but that’s how fast our summer blazed by.  Quite literally.  This girl is not a fan of 100 degree temps and is glad to welcome hats, jackets and hot cocoa weather.

So.  Without further ado…gratuitous puppy shot!  Oh wait, he’s not really a puppy, anymore.  Okay, <ahem> gratuitous Dogwalk shot!  Oh, dogwalk, how do my Merlies love thee?

DesMan or SuperMan? You decide.

If that didn’t give it away, I’ll be blunt…  Desmond is following his older brother’s paw prints and is learning running contacts.  While Des is not a big boy in the doggy world, he’s a lot bigger than Dunc, and strides like he expects to go into flight.  But since I enjoy a challenge (and banging my head against hard objects) I decided to give running contacts with Des a shot.  Holy guacamole, Batman, this kid’s got wings!

4.5 months in the making…in the spirit of “dude, pics or it didn’t happen“, here you go:

Look mama, no feet!

Today was a banner day.  We’ve spent the last two weeks learning how to glue rubber onto a dogwalk.  It involved several days of sanding (belt sanders are tools sent straight from hell), and then several more days of gluing.  My fingers may never be the same again since a combo of sandpaper and glue has removed my fingerprints, but we debuted the finished dogwalk today.  (and maybe my life of crime??)  First time with slats, first time with rubber, and first time at 33″.  This is what Des thought of his newly improved contact:

I think that’s a big “Whoo Hoo” from the DesMonster.

 

Happy Birthday, Desmond!

DuncanDes…Des one year old.  Dude!  You got big!

One year ago, on the night of a monster full moon, little Desmond was the first of seven blue merle pups in his litter to arrive.  This once in a blue moon boy is a funky mix of sweet and funny, and so full of himself he makes me laugh out loud every single day.  I adore him with a capital “A”.

He was a cute little bugger when he came home to us.  Duncan wasn’t convinced of his charms, but Des just jumps into your world and heart (and up to your eyebrows) with unapologetic zeal.  Even serious Dunc decided he was okay and plays with him…as long as he doesn’t see anyone watching.

Desmond, 8 weeks

That cute little baby has turned into a handsome young man.  I find his sticky-uppy, slightly floppy ears about the most adorable thing ever invented and hope they are here to stay.  He will tilt them forward when he’s curious or happy, and they slam straight back for aerodynamic advantage when racing Duncan.

Des has one heck of a sense of humor.  At least once a day he turns into a nuclear powered freakazoid and may just slow the spin of the Earth with his lapping of the yard.  He’s a well-traveled road warrior, able to turn magazines into Des-origami, and a power shopper of any unsupervised bag of dog toys and goodies.  He can silently leap onto the counter, delicately removing whatever forbidden booty he can abscond with.  Des-Cat, indeed.

 

In the past year, Des and I have spent many hours out in the field, learning to become a team, and laughing together (sometimes with me on my butt and him flying into my lap) when I don’t hold up that end of the bargain.  He attacks every new thing I throw at him with good humor and nothing less than 100% supercharged attitude.  We’re pretty sure Lucy shared her sass and zeal with him, and it’s so nice to still have that Attitude in the house.

Here’s a video of some of our recent work:

Happy Birthday baby Des!  May you have many, MANY more!  I can’t wait to see what the next year brings!

Des-es still have springs!

 

 

And We Have Liftoff…

Summer has arrived.  With it has come the heat and the bugs, the sunscreen and the dorky wide-brimmed hats.  And the glorious long evenings.  Dunc and Des are putting them to good use.

Des doing Des stuff.

Since Desmond was a fall baby, and missed last summer’s heat,  I’ve been slowly introducing him to water.  After an inaugural run through the sprinklers, Des, following puppy tradition, quickly found the nearest towel to dry off with.  Too bad the towel was in the form of my shirt, and I was wearing it at the time.  That was refreshing!

Is there nothing better than a good roll in the wet grass?

The Double D’s love a good game of fetch.  Several months ago, I observed that Desmond, while full of unbridled initiative at trying to catch a thrown ball, lacks a little something in the accuracy department.  While he’s certainly breaking free of the earth’s gravitational field while launching himself into orbit, he’s still not entering the same solar system as the ball he’s aiming at.  Duncan, who just earned his 8th degree black belt in catching is not fooled by the acrobatic insanity of his baby brother.

We have liftoff!

Houston, we have a problem…

In the meantime, Duncan and I have some pretty exciting times in our near future.  Twenty six points now stand between us and our MACH, with our next trial swiftly approaching.  I feel so honored to have this brilliant little boy as my teammate and teacher, who has taught me boatloads along the way.  Thank you, Super D.

Double Q # 20

Over the weekend, Duncan reached a milestone in his AKC agility career, and earned his 20th Double Q.   We finished those 20 QQs about 14 months after moving into Excellent B and becoming eligible to start earning them.

For my non-agility friends, in AKC agility, a Double Q is earned when you qualify on both the Standard and Jumpers With Weaves courses on the same day.  One speed point is earned for every second under standard course time you finish a course.  To earn your Master of Agility Champion (MACH, or AKC Agility Champion) title, you must earn 20 QQs and rack up 750 speed points.  It’s a long road, no matter how you drive it, and daily double perfection on the agility field is an exercise in practice, focus and determination.

Photo by Randy Gaines

We’re not quite done yet.  Dunc has exactly 100 speed points left to go before he earns his MACH title.  But completing the QQ requirement was a huge accomplishment/relief for me.  Now, we’ll step to the line together with speed and fun as our goal (because if Dunc is having fun, he’s pretty darned speedy).  Doesn’t it look like he has a big Dunkie grin on his face in the picture below?

And another fantastic pic from Randy Gaines

To brag on my little boy a bit more, over a three day trial last weekend he earned three QQs (bringing the total to 21) and 2 QQQs, having qualified in the FAST distance class twice.  I am so proud of my Teammate, and best buddy, Duncan.

With three more trials scheduled in the next month, I think the Little Dog that Could is going to become the Little Dog that Did!  Stay tuned…

I hope to cease being the absent blogger soon.  If I were a UPS driver, it would be the holiday shipping season, if I were an accountant, it would be April 15th…my season of training baby firefighters how to throw dirt is a lot longer and busier than you’d think it should be!  But once they go off and do what they are trained to do, I’ll return to my rambling ways.

But in the meantime, we’re celebrating each milestone as it comes!

Thanks for the bubbly, my Big Aussie friend. Now, to find some Peeps to go with…