Sunday, October 05, 2003

For Better or For Worse

No matter how bad you've got it, someone else has it worse. No matter how bad you've got it, you've also probably got something better than everyone else, too.

I suppose there are exceptions.

But I'm thinking of one of my agility instructors. One of the top competitors in the country and, in fact, in the world. Has been a national agility champion repeatedly with multiple dogs--and that's *hard*. Has placed first in the world in at least one category and has made the U.S. World Cup team with two of her dogs at different times. She works hard for her success.

Her first and favorite border collie, with whom she first won the Nationals and with whom she first placed higher than any other U.S. dog at the Worlds up to that time, was diagnosed with lymphoma 4 years ago. They've worked just as hard at beating that, but between that and a neck injury in the dog, he had to retire from agility much earlier than he might have otherwise. Meanwhile, she's trained 3 other dogs.

Her 2nd World Cup dog has been on the team for 3 years, I think. This is also amazing. Only 5? large dogs from the U.S. are chosen to compete, and you've got to work hard and be extremely successful each year to be chosen for the team each time. The only way to guarantee yourself a spot on the team is to win the AKC Invitational. This year, they won the Invitational--and the dog started showing signs of discomfort. They got a wrong diagnosis, and by the time they got the correct diagnosis (because the problem wasn't getting better), it was too late for rehabilitation in time to go to the World Championships. It's a soft-tissue injury and fully recoverable, but she won't compete with him if he's not in perfect shape.

Then, in the same week that she had to make the hard decision to withdraw from the World Cup team, her first dog succumbed to the lymphoma.

I can just barely grasp how she must feel. In the same week that Rem was diagnosed with fatal cancer, Jake came up in pain and I had to put him on 6 weeks' rest and rehabilitation. I went suddenly from having 2 dogs competing at the top levels of agility to facing the possibility of no dogs (until Tika became ready). But even this seems to pale in comparison.

She's probably a stronger person than I am. But I'd guess that when you're on the top of the world the fall is a lot harder--

There are so many tragedies, when your companions have a life expectancy of barely more than a dozen years to begin with. But there are also so many success stories. So many dogs and handlers out there have a story of odds they've overcome, and I find myself relating those stories whenever someone new comes to watch a competition.

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