Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Testimonial

I was first recommended to Jamie and Canine Behavior Training/Seize the Leash when, after four years, my fourteen year old dog, Guiness, began viciously attacking my four year old dog, Bailey. With three daughters in my home, I was frightened to leave the dogs unsupervised or around my girls. I reached out for help and the comments of, "Get rid of one of the dogs." fell on deaf ears.

After coming home, one evening, to a blood splattered porch and wall, Bailey's neck punctured and bleeding, I sunk to my knees and cried. My sister reminded me of the dog trainer we'd briefly met, Jamie, that may be able to help. Grief stricken and feeling helpless, I decided to call.

To my relief, Jamie came the very next day. She stayed for a one hour, free, in-home evaluation. Although the full hour wasn't necessary. Jamie swiftly and expertly identified the problems within the first 20 minutes. First, Jamie told me Guiness was in pain, and recommended a vet visit. I didn't know it was possible to feel worse, but now I did. I felt like a horrible dog owner. How had I not noticed? After having Guiness for 13 years, you would think I would! She still ran with me, chased rabbits on our off leash runs in the desert, dug holes and jumped on the bed. Pain?! How? Why?

Jamie explained dogs do not show pain like humans. Small flashes were apparent to her expertly trained eye. In addition, to my surprise, Jamie mentioned my 13 year old dog, Lucky, and 14 year old dog Guiness had an incredible bond. I knew this, of course, but how could someone that had been in my home for less than 30 minutes see? She advised that Bailey simply didn't know her place, and identified Bailey as the one in need of training. To be honest, I did not agree or think that training classes for the dog BEING attacked could help. Plus on a limited budget, smack dab in middle of the recession, every penny counts. I found myself thinking, "Is she just trying to make money because of the free visit?" But, knowing I was out of other options (because who gets rid of their 14 year old dog) I reluctantly agreed.

A vet visit and xray proved Jamie spot on. Guiness had three slipped vertebrae in her spine that were fusing together. At her age, surgery was not an option. My matriarch of the family was given medication to ease the pain. I was told she would have to be on it for life. I would do anything to make her remaining time with me more comfortable.

We started training Bailey, or more accurately, Jamie started training me. I was fascinated when I slowly arrived at the conclusion that it is the human receiving the training, not the dog. Several times I had to put my ego away and learn to listen and accept responsibility for what I was doing incorrectly without excuses or justification. So frequently I would whine, frustrated, "Bailey just isn't getting it." Jamie would calmly walk over smiling, and seamlessly have Bailey perform the task we were given. My mouth dropped open. I was then receptive to her showing me once again how to accomplish the "trick" we were learning.

My whole life I've aimed to learn to have more patience. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think a dog trainer and a dog would teach it to me. I was also keen to listen and learn because Jamie's method of training is outdoors and based on positive reinforcement. No choke collars, no yelling, no shock collars. Simply, ask the dog for a behavior and reward when it is given. The dog begins wanting to do the behavior, this also builds trust. Wow, how dumb do I feel. But as I think about it, if you didn't know Spanish and visited Mexico how would you feel if the locals hit you with a newspaper or yelled in your face shocking you with electricity, every time you pronounced a word incorrectly? You would stop trying and shy away. I notice when I try to speak Spanish, I am encouraged and smiled at for the effort. This should translate to dogs. How would they know what we are trying to say? Encouragement. But I digress...

To my utter amazement almost immediately, the dog fights ceased. There was one more fight after training started, and that was thankfully, the end of it. Jamie made another house visit, at no charge, once Guiness was settled in, and taught me ace bandage wraps and gentle touches and massages that would soothe Guiness' pain. Jamie's kindness and love for dogs is sure and true.

My story could end here, on a happy note. Tragically, it does not.

Bailey successfully completed her 6 weeks of training! I could not have been more pleased with myself, and her. I thought "Sit, Stay, Down" was what we were to learn. I didn't think not pulling on the leash, no longer randomly barking incessantly, sitting until I give the command to release (even when I jog or run around her) and not eating food when I accidentally drop it on the ground, were in the syllabus.

I didn't think genuine happiness for Guiness, Lucky, Bailey and my family, was part of the entire picture. Bailey and I bonded. Her energy and spark were contagious. I was laughing again, the whole house was. She was so willing to "work" and began offering behaviors, I craved to learn how to teach her more. I began saving my pennies realizing Jamie's fee is not only fair, but on the too generous side. I spoke with proud Jamie and she agreed, rally is the next step for Bailey and I. Rally is a class where the true fun begins. Superdog jumping over poles, snake-like weaving though objects, crawling up A-Frames and proudly sitting on top like she conquered Mount Everest. We enrolled. After our first few weeks of Rally, Bailey and I were playing our newest learned game of "tug." She ripped a small piece of fabric off the toy and swallowed it. This moment in my life will be burned into my memory forever. Something so simple, so stupid, ended up killing my dog. The fabric became logged in her intestine. When my husband and I took her to our vet, Dr. McMillian, two days later because she was lethargic and wouldn't eat, he gave her a quick xray to determine what the trouble was. He came into the room with a blank stare on his face and delivered the earth shattering news. He didn't think operating could save her, about 80% of her intestine were rotted and her body was shutting down. My husband says I was jumping up and down screaming. This is lost to me. We made the horrific decision to put Bailey down in April 2012.

I called Jamie, she was devastated and cried with me. The house became like a ghost town. The energy died with Bailey. The senior dogs became just that, seniors. They stopped playing. The energy apparently left them too, Guiness began to deteriorate and not even a month later I had to make the decision to put Guiness down. She passed May 2012. Now although this was more "expected" due to her age, the wounds were still raw from my recent loss and my ability to cope with losing my long time friend, was shattered. I was shattered. Lucky stopped eating and had to be put on anti-depressant medication.

Three days into this mess I called Jamie and asked her what she thought of us getting a puppy. Jamie said normally she doesn't recommend a replacement dog so soon, but in this case she did. Looking back I believe this was the moment that Jamie crossed over from trainer and into a friend. She called all her dog loving friends and adoption clinics. We visited the humane society with my family to help find a puppy that would fit best with Lucky. After all, Lucky is the new matriarch of the family.

We didn't find a puppy. We found two - sisters. Glorious, precious, wrinkly, loveliness. Half Shar-Pei, half Labrador. One outgoing and fun, golden like the color of the sun. The other hesitant but a snuggler, jet black with wide wondering eyes. The adoption volunteer asked how I felt about this breed of dog potentially living until they were 15-17, I almost cried in relief, although I do not believe that was the response she was expecting.

Jamie made another trip to the house (I live in Vail folks, this is a drive that requires a stop for snacks) and helped me introduce the puppies to Lucky. It took a grueling month and yet another trip by Jamie, for Lucky to become accustomed to all this change. The loss of her best friend of 13 years, and new puppies crawling all over her and biting her tail as it swished back and forth. Lucky now is in love. Smitten by these two, Ava and Roo, who adore her every move. Lucky has her spark back, and so does my family.

We immediately enrolled Ava and Roo in puppy class. Yes, ridiculous as it sounds. Jamie had us brush their teeth, mess with their paws, clean their ears, open their mouths to touch their tongues, rub their fur backwards, and more random things I would have never thought of. I laughed because I knew this was unusual by normal puppy training expectations. But that is why I swear by Jamie.

All the little things are so simplistic, yet so important. Not a week after, Ava was stung by a bee and her entire mouth and neck began swelling. My eldest daughter called me panicked and I left work for an emergency trip to the vet (I'm thinking, Really more dog drama?!) We arrive and after an immediate injection to stop the swelling, the vet was searching her mouth for the stinger. Dr. McMillian was able to locate and successfully remove it because Ava held perfectly still and didn't mind her mouth being probed, a bit. Dr. McMillian said,"Have you been working with her?" To which I proudly replied, "Yes." He looked at me for a beat and said, "Thank you, that was wonderful. No squirming dogs or risk of me being bitten" and he smiled.

The puppies could sit at 8 weeks. And under Jamie's guidance and watchful eye, we gradually learned: roll over, leave it, to sit in or on anything I place in front of them, go around, jump over, wait, beg, lay down, and touch. Now, at 7 months, Roo can jump through a hoola hoop!

My story does have a happy ending. My incredibly painful loss, subsequent devastation, and broken heart has lead me to a new friend, and two playful and wonderful new additions to my family, the ever spoiled Ava and Roo.

P.S. I have, as of this very day, been invited to apprentice under Jamie to learn to teach people, and their dogs her magical ways. If I can help just one person, or just one dog, it will mean the world to me. To be able to pay it forward, and return the favor that one great lady, who dedicated her life and livelihood to helping others, has done for me.

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