a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: And We Were Having Such A Good Weekend, Too!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

And We Were Having Such A Good Weekend, Too!

I carpooled with Arlene and her two Little Black Dog(tm)s to Madera. This time, we left Friday evening. It was a mix of good and bad. The whole (shortened) weekend, in fact, was the same way.

Friday evening

I originally thought I'd have to work late Friday to finish some things for work, so we were thinking that Arlene would get here at 7:30 and we'd then load up the car and be on the road by 8, which would mean a late arrival at the motel in Madera. However, it was apparent by midday that some moderate reorganization and research for part of my document was just not going to get done and it would have to wait for the next go-around, so we decided to meet at 6:30 instead.

Well--Arlene didn't expect the southbound traffic to be as thick as it was, and she arrived a bit later than expected (which was good because I was able to finish up work stuff without her sitting and waiting for me, but bad because it delayed our start a bit). We loaded everything into the car--yes, like a jigsaw puzzle or more accurately like those 3-dimensional puzzles shaped like eggs or cubes where every piece wedges into one place exactly.

Then she pulled out of the driveway to get out of my way...and my van wouldn't start. Best guess: battery is reaching the end of its useful life and I had the interior lights on most of the day. That was bad news because my jumper cables were now buried under dozens of heavy, exactly fitting jigsaw pieces. But Arlene cleverly had her own jumper cables (surprising to me how many people do NOT carry them), and we were able to successfully jump the battery. All of that plus handwashing and such probably delayed us another 10 minutes, maybe a bit more.

We had already agreed that we needed to stop at the local shopping center to (a) drop off my bills at Postal Annex and (b) pick up ice at Safeway. Well, the double bad news was that (i) we missed Postal Annex's closing by about 10 minutes, and (ii) because we didn't want to turn off the car while it continued to charge, one person had to attempt both errands.

We were finally on the road--about 8:00! So the good news was that we had tried to start earlier but if we had gone with the original plan, who knows how late we'd have actually been on the road! The other good news was that Arlene's sweetie of a spouse made us sandwiches to eat on the road, so we wouldn't have to make an extra stop for dinner. This turned out to be good news shortly--

Because the good news was that we got past the 152/156 nightmare backup because there *was* no backup at that time of the evening (a bonus for leaving later), but the bad news was that slightly after Casa da Fruta, traffic came to a near standstill. We turned on the radio and KCBS conveniently told us that there was a major injury accident in the clearing stages near Dinosaur Point (wayyyy at the top of the ridge, and we were still at the bottom), but apparently it had been closed completely for a while and now traffic was starting to get through. So, if we had gotten there earlier, we'd have simply been sitting, not moving, instead of creeping along at 5 mph. So the good news was that we hadn't eaten our sandwiches earlier, and this turned out to be an excellent and safe time to consume them. It took us almost half an hour to get to the accident site--I think it's about a 5-mile drive--and the rest of the trip passed without incident.

Saturday morning

Arlene took her dogs out for a quick potty and reported that the weather was cool (not cold) but quite nice, actually. So I stepped outside with 3 wild things on leashes, and it was raining! The nice thing was that there was a complete rainbow (I don't often see complete ones), and I managed to grab my cheap digital camera and get the whole thing in 2 photos. Not great photos, but it's there--by the time Arlene came out again a couple of minutes later, it had already faded to just a partial. I left my bill payments in stamped envelopes on the unoccupied Motel 6 (used to be Liberty Inn) desk, hoping they'd figure out to mail them, and we headed to the trial site.

Rainbow Saturday morning

At The Races

It stopped drizzling long enough for us to set up, and since it was quite a small trial for a USDAA event, we were able to set up near the middle of activity but in an out-of-the-way spot. The BAD news was that, as I was unpacking and setting up, I realized that I had completely forgotten that the zipper on Boost's crate had given up the entire ghost last weekend--totally damaged enough (after failing slowly for the last 4 months or so) that I simply could not zip the bottom closed at all. I had meant to get it replaced last week. But--out of sight, out of mind. The GOOD news was that, at this particular trial on this particular day, my van was parked three feet behind our canopy, with boost's and tika's crates easily available facing out the back. So I turned off all the interior lights and just used those crates for them. Next week's trial I won't be able to park anywhere near, so I'd better remember to get that crate cover replaced.

If I'm lucky, Doggone Good will have it in stock (they're just up the road a piece) and I can pick it up immediately.

Tika's first run of the day was Pairs Relay, and she was teamed with The Booster's mom (Tala). It was a gnarly course, particuarly the first part. I thought that we could handle both, but the first part had a dogwalk, so I suggested that Tala do that part. Turns out that Tala had an offcourse early on, so then it didn't matter that Tika knocked *two* bars on her part of the course, but we moved around the course itself very nicely.

Next class was Gamblers, with a send out over a jump to a set of weaves, then a slight push out over a jump and then in to a final jump. *I* thought it was going to be a piece of cake that I could mess up only by one of my usual stupid moves on "piece of cake" gambles and that everyone would be getting it. Well, turns out that (and of course I know this) (1) not everyone's dog has excellent weave pole entries, (2) not everyone's dog will send out, let alone to weave poles, (3) not everyone's dog will weave solidly through a set of 12 that's 15 feet away from the handler. And although in the opening we had one knocked bar (costing us a point) and a slight pause for disagreement and confusion when she didn't stick the Aframe contact (probably costing us a 3-point tunnel at the end that we didn't have time for), overall the opening was beautiful and we couldn't have been in a more perfect position for the gamble when the whistle blew and she did the whole gamble without a blink of doubt AND kept all 3 bars in the gamble up, and, wahoo, not only a Q, but we placed *3rd*--we hardly ever place in USDAA even when we Q.

Then came Standard. We don't have a lot of Masters Standard legs--only 3--because you must be completely clean and usually we have either a knocked bar, OR a missed up on the dogwalk, OR our other bugaboo, a refusal going to a table after a contact. Well, this course had a table after the dogwalk. I asked Arlene to videotape that portion in particular for us so I could see what the problem was. Tika kept all her bars up, but it looked like she blew over the up-contact on the dogwalk--although I couldn't see the judge's arm go up, I can't always see it when the judge is off to the side/behind like she was. So I really, really drove the entrance to the table from the dogwalk like I've never driven a table approach before--and she went right on and dropped to a down. Handling on the course overall was just lovely--she's running SO nicely!--and turns out that the judge didn't call the dogwalk up contact, so ANOTHER Q and ANOTHER 3rd place!


The last event for the day was Steeplechase. We ran our standard run about noon and then we were done except for the Steeplechase. Now, the judge who was judging it had to finish the Novice ring first. Nowwwww, the judge who was judging the Novice ring for some reason didn't fly in on Friday night like she was supposed to (I never heard the story) but instead arrived in Fresno about 8:30 Saturday morning. So, instead of the novice ring starting at 8:00, it started about 10:00. Which meant that, instead of the Steeplechase starting at about 1:30, it didn't start until 3:30.

Which meant that the Steeplechase course was open for walk through for three and a half hours. Now, there were two potentially difficult places on the course (maybe more for others but overall I thought it would be a straightforward course for me and Tika). And there were two or three schools of thought on each of those two spots. The 3.5 hours were enough for many of us to rewalk and rewalk and rewalk and obsess endlessly and change our minds repeatedly. By the time the class began, I knew every inch of that course in and out and every possibility for handling every which was but Sunday.

Then I had the advantage of watching the entire 22" class and most of the 26" class run the course. The opening was one of the two problem areas. I had finally decided that we could get it no matter what we did and that I was obsessing needlessly--it was three jumps around a curve to the weave poles, and the choices were to push to the weaves or pull to the weaves. I had decided that the pull was what we were going to use, and it was interesting to see that by far most handlers used the push. Basically--it worked if you and your dog knew how to do it, and it didn't if you didn't. Seems obvious in retrospect, but this was just one of those places. I decided that Tika and I knew how to do it either way and she has great weave entrances, so I stopped worrying about it.

But I watched team after team blow the entrance or pop out of the weaves early. No faults, but lots of time wasted as they had to retreat to redo the poles. Now, remember, Steeplechase is time plus faults scoring. AND it's worth money! I became convinced that we'd beat most teams simply by having excellent weave poles. Our issue would be whether she could keep all her poles up, especially on that fast 3-pole lead-out curve.

The 2nd problem area was after the 2nd set of weave poles, when you had to pull the dog into a right-angle left turn, then go *between* the Aframe and a jump to get to a double (triple?) jump, which was the start of the final 5 jumps. Everyone was worried about the dog not making a sharp enough turn and losing the dog over the wrong jump. I had decided to weave away from my dog, veering close to the aframe while she completed the weaves,and just giving a quick mini-RFP to pull her my way.

So I watched handler after handler overpull their dogs *around* the double, which was another big time waster, and/or knock the bars on that jump. Maybe because the handlers were so worried about it. I decided that I knew what I was doing and stopped worrying about that, too. I was primed to go in and win the Steeplechase. (Well, you know what happens when you get cocky--or do you?)

I went to get Tika out of her crate--and she stood up all hunched over, her little nubber tail down, looking hang-dog. She came out of the crate looking miserable and yet eager. I tried to get her to move around a little to stretch out, and she yelped a couple of times. But then she looked mostly OK. She wasn't limping. She took goodies eagerly,but did Left and Right turns *extremely* slowly. I walked her out to potty and jogged her a bit, and she looked OK, but she absolutely would not under any circumstances grab a toy and play tug of war. I put her over a practice jump and she took it ok, but not really fast, and her nubber tail was down again. Yikes. I trotted her around again, and she looked OK, tail came up.

They were calling our names. So I took her to the line, set her in a sit, led out. She stayed like a good girl. I released her, and she went across all three jumps--not blazing, but smoothly--and they all stayed up. And she made her weave pole entrance perfectly--and stopped almost dead, took one slow step to the next pole, one very slow step to the next pole, giving me the most hangdog look, and I knew that I had a dog with a major problem. I pulled her out of the poles immediately and took her off course.

So much for the money

We checked her out on the sideline as much as possible, some massaging (which she seemed to enjoy) and trying to move her legs and so on. She's not one to let that be done (my fault--I should work at it more), but because she was getting lavish "good dog"s, she pretty much put up with it. Did yelp once and we couldn't figure out what caused it. Decided it wasn't obvious.

So after about 10 minutes I put her away again so I could watch the last of the steeplechase. Then I got her out, and she looked OK at first, but when I grabbed the goodies and she started to look eager, she yelped again.

The good news was that there was a vet onsite competing, and she hadn't left the grounds, and she was willing to check Tika out for me since I couldn't figure out the problem. Managed to narrow it down to her lower back more on the right side, but whether muscle or something worse like disk couldn't be determined mostly because Tika was so stressed and stiff about having someone play with her backside (and occasionally cause pain).

She suggested aspirin and no agility on Sunday and, if it didn't get better by Monday, take her in for x-rays.

Jake not competing

So was this good news or bad news: This was the first trial in which I hadn't entered Jake in anything. So my worst fears were fulfilled--down from 2 dogs competing to none. I had carpooled with Arlene, so I couldn't really go home, and I DO enjoy hanging out with my friends, and I could just work full time all day Sunday (like Karey did Saturday with her dog scratched due to injury). But Arlene kept asking are you sure you want to stay? And then she came up with a plan whereby she could stay and I could go home alone if I wanted.

I will leave out the long story in how we implemented it, but in fact I packed my bags and was home last night by 9:30.

(When I let the dogs out for one last run about 6:30, Tika blasted across the field full-steam with no sign of injury. Same thing when we got home in the evening--out onto the porch, bound down the stairs, across the yard just like normal. And this morning she was wiggling and twisting and turning like nothing had ever happened. So I'm SO hoping that was a fluke, maybe she pulled something a little bit overreaching for a bad frisbee throw earlier, I dunno. But I was SO scared and worried yesterday afternoon...)

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