I hope none of you mind too much, I think I really need to tell you about my dog.
In May of 1993, I became a homeowner for the very first time. Shortly thereafter, I decided I needed a dog. I had a fenced in yard, parks nearby for walking....it was a great idea. Since I wanted to make a good decision, I researched dog breeds diligently. I wanted a male dog, because in my small yard, I preferred not to have brown spots on the lawn. I wanted an active dog, one where I could be active and feel like I was doing it for the dog. I wanted a dog that was a little unusual-looking. And I wanted a shorter-haired dog, because I didn't want to mess around with the grooming thing.
I narrowed my choices down to an Australian Cattle Dog or a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. I vacillated between the two and couldn't make up my mind. It seemed, from what I could tell, that neither breed was very common in our area.
But one day, there in the newspaper, was someone with Australian Cattle Dog pups. 1/2 ACD, to be exact, and I never did find out what the other half was. I went to this farm, and there were 6 puppies. The cutest ones, of course, the ones that looked like the dog of my dreams, were all female, and so I was having to decide what to do. Then, the lady showing me the puppies said, "Well...there is one more puppy, he's in the house....but we don't think he'll be very good with children...."
I said, "I don't have children" and asked to see him. Of course it was meant to be.
I brought my puppy home with me and on my way home stopped by mom mom's house to show her. I remember putting the puppy down in the grass and the grass was taller than he was!!! He was such a cutie!!!!
It was quite a while (about two or three weeks) before I came up with a name for the puppy--nothing seemed to fit. But as I got to know him better, well, he really really liked to play ball. And the Minnesota Twins had a player at that time, Kirby Puckett, who was an amazing ball player. It wasn't an "Ah-hah!" moment or anything like that, I called him Kirby Puppy because nothing else really fit at all.
I had wanted an active dog, and Kirby was that, for sure. In fact, I would walk him at least twice a day, and play with him in the yard (this was back when I had more time than ever) and he still just would not get tired. I started to think that maybe I had made a mistake and maybe an "active" dog wasn't such a good idea. I was sure getting my exercise, though, and I loved that dog!!!
I decided that "just in case" I couldn't keep him and he wound up at a shelter, I would bring him to obedience school--that would make him more marketable. It was right around this time that Kirby started to become dog-aggressive. On our walks, he was trying to start fights. In obedience school, he was trying to start fights. I got him neutered. It didn't make a difference. For his entire life, Kirby thought that he should be the only dog allowed to be alive in the universe, unless he gave his special doggy permission (like he did with the other dogs who joined our family eventually). The obedience instructor(s) would give me tips on both wearing him out, and on curbing the dog-aggression. One idea that I liked was agility classes, where dogs run an obstacle course. We both really liked agility classes, but I got more exercise than the other owners, because they were letting their dogs off leash and directing them to run the course. I had to run the course alongside Kirby, because if I let him off leash, he would immediately try to start a fight with another dog.
Unfortunately, though Kirby was in obedience school and agility classes for about five years, he never lost his dog-aggression. I did, however, learn to be watchful, and could command him to do a "down!" command (a submissive position for a dog) when another dog got too close. Maybe if I had known more about dogs at the time, things could have been a little less aggressive, I don't know! But we both enjoyed the classes anyhow, although I'm sure the instructors kind of cringed when we showed up every week....
Despite his dog-aggression, Kirby proved to be the kindest, gentlest dog towards other creatures that I could ever imagine. He would snuggle with kittens, let them climb on him. He would let a cat stand right under his front legs to take dog food out of his bowl! And the bunny. I had a rabbit named Cadbury, who was an inside "house rabbit". She was litter box trained, and very sweet. While I was at work, she lived in a huge dog crate, but when I was around to supervise, Cadbury had free run of the house (she needed supervision because she chewed on cords a lot). Every night before bed, I'd tell Kirby "Ok, time for bed." and he would very gently "herd" that bunny back into her cage. He knew what his job was.
Along the way I ended up taking in a stray lab/pitbull cross, "Megan". Megan was (and still is) the sweetest dog. She doesn't jump on people, doesn't lick people, all she does is snuggle. And most of the time she is very submissive. She's about 12 now, and I've learned that she is NOT submissive when she believes she is being attacked. One day, Kirby and Megan were in the backyard with me. I had bought them each a rawhide bone and they were each chewing on theirs. But Megan got bored and stood up to come over to me. She had to walk past Kirby to get there. Kirby, being who he was, decided that she was going to take his rawhide, and attacked. I have never experienced such a dog fight, it was terrible. I was smart enough to not get involved, but it became pretty clear that if I didn't do something, one of the dogs would lose badly....so I used a shovel to get to dogs apart, and when it was done, Kirby's ear had been mostly ripped off. We went to the vet and got stitches, and then he was a mostly one-eared dog. I was much more careful about treats after that. I had no idea that something like that could happen. I guess I was pretty naive.
Kirby was the perfect bedtime doggie. Every night he'd climb into bed with me, and we'd have a snuggle, then he'd go down by my feet for a few minutes, and then he'd jump down and sleep at the foot of the bed. He was so loyal, unless he was chasing a tennis ball, he would never leave my side (almost), if he had a choice. In fact, in one of our obedience classes, I was supposed to tell Kirby to "stay!" and I was supposed to walk out of the room. Of course every time I started to go out of his sight, he ran to catch up to me. So then the instructor held on to his leash while I said "stay!" and walked out of the room. And he just cried and yelped like he was getting tortured....it was kind of pathetic. After that we kind of adapted that part of the class (we did a lot of adapting, I guess :-) )
Tennis balls. They were Kirby's "drug of choice". He would chase a tennis ball until he couldn't stand up any more. Sometimes I would take him to a lake and he would swim after the tennis ball. He was usually afraid of the water. He would never swim on his own, but if there was a tennis ball involved, he was right there.
The agility instructors saw how crazy he was for a tennis ball and thought that Kirby might be a good flyball dog, but once again, Kirby's dog aggression prevented him from this activity....
When I met DH, he suggested that for our first "real date", we would go to a state park a few hours away for a picnic. I told him that I didn't think I could, because I had to let Kirby out. DH said, "Well bring him with!" So I did. (I didn't have Megan yet). It was a really pretty park, lots of hiking trails and woods, and since I knew that Kirby would stay close by, I let him off the leash. We walked along a small lake that was at the bottom of an approximately 20-foot waterfall, then we took a path upstream more, to a shallow part of the river. I walked to the shore of the river to see if there were any minnows or tadpoles in the water, and Kirby did, too. DH and I kept walking, and I was so engrossed in conversation with him that I didn't notice that Kirby wasn't with me any more. All of a sudden, another couple came up: "Excuse me, I think your dog just went over the waterfall!" Oh what a feeling in my gut. I had seen the rocks at the bottom of the waterfall. I didn't know even where in the lake to look for him, let alone to save him, and I had visions of a first date gone horribly wrong....DH later confessed that he wondered if I'd ever see him again if my dog died on our first date....I started to cry....and all of a sudden, Kirby Puppy ran out of the lake with his tail wagging, shaking off the water with a big "Let's do that again!" grin on his puppy face....I can't even express how relieved and happy I was....I kept him on the leash after that....I'm a slow learner but I do learn....
Kirby had his bad habits....he never outgrew them--like digging in the garbage. Even two days before he died, he spread the garbage all over the kitchen floor. He would go for months without doing it, then all of a sudden he'd decide he needed to remind us that he still could do that. And shredding stuffed animals. You know those "stuffies" that they sell at the pet store? Well, early on, Kirby learned how to get his teeth into them and shred them. If they had a squeaker, that was even better--the squeaker was always the first to go. Even tennis balls, in his later years, got shredded. He would somehow get all the fuzz off of the tennis ball, and when there was no more fuzz, he'd kind of chomp on the tennis ball in his mouth, until the tennis ball broke apart at the seams.
And he was always so afraid of thunder. It got to when he heard it raining, he would get scared and try to hide under the bed. I always felt so bad!
But he always was so gentle. When we had baby chicks, he would gently nudge them with his nose and lick them. When one of our animals was sick, he was right there, ready to comfort...
When he was 11, he started limping. A trip to the vet brought bad news: a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament)--fixable, but pretty expensive. I wondered if I was being smart, paying for the surgery for a dog that was already, by most standards, "elderly", but I did. I'm glad I did, because he had five more good years after that. After his surgery, though, I started to notice his age more. He didn't run as much, and slept more. About two years ago, he became almost completely deaf. At first I thought that was a sad thing, but then I realized he could no longer hear the thunderstorms that terrified him, and that was a great thing. Sometimes I still wondered, though, if Kirby ever wondered why nobody ever talked to him any more....
Last April the vet told me that Kirby probably had cancer. Since by then he was 16, and combined with my financial situation, there really wasn't a realistic hope of a meaningful recovery, so I opted to just keep on going like we had been. I knew his kidneys were failing too, but he was still eating well and walking down to the mailbox with me on occasion....sometimes, when he had been outside and he suddenly spied me in the yard, he'd still come running, his one ear flopping up and down....
And like I said, even a couple of days before he died, he was getting into the garbage....I knew the day was coming, but I guess you're never ready. I loved that dog so much!!!!! Sometimes I still can't believe he's gone. My dog....my dog.....