a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: October 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bay Teamers Hit The Road

SUMMARY: I cram my material goods into my minivan and various folks say farewell.

NOTE: I've been trying to post this to the Bay Team blog all day and it keeps timing out, so I'm posting it here instead.
I count 52 Bay Teamers who will be competing or attending the USDAA Cynosports Agility World Championships in Scottsdale, AZ this week. Some are leaving today, some (including me and my rideshare, Diana) heading out early Tuesday, still others leaving later on Tuesday and driving down leisurely over two days. Some of it depends on whether they entered the optional Time Gamble event on Wednesday; many of us didn't, so don't actually start competing until Thursday.

This will be an unusual trip for me because my right knee's medial and lateral menisci are torn, I'm in pain, and I'll probably have arthroscopic surgery sometime after I return. It will be hard--if not impossible--to run with my dogs, despite having worked hard to qualify Tika in everything again this year. Had I known that my knee would go out, I could've saved a ton on entry fees and classes! Why does no one fill me in on these things? The pathetic knee could make it--um--interesting getting around the huge site and competing. On the other hand, if I choose to use the really potent drugs in my suitcase, everything might just have the rosiest glow ever. Between the knee and the drugs, this all might give me a unique perspective on the whole event.

I've been staring at the "whittled down" stack of stuff that I need to fit into my car along with 5 decent-sized dogs and all of Diana's necessary stuff, too. Even with a car-top carrier (thanks, Arlene!), I don't know how this will all go. It's even more challenging now that I'm trying to also fit (because of my knee) a bicycle, a pair of crutches (which I hope I won't need), and a large cooler to hold plenty of ice for icing.

Plus there's the computer, the video camera, the nifty digital SLR camera (thanks, Erika!)...and Diana's computer, video camera, and regular camera... clothing changes for 6 days; the black pants in case I ever make it to a final round (extremely unlikely this year in particular) but otherwise will never wear; dogfood for all the dogs for 6 days; sheets for all the hotel beds; softcrates and shade fabric and clips; frisbees and riot tugs; running shoes; spare shoes; 6 days' supply of human-style bottled water and diet noncaffeine sodas; water bottles and buckets for the dogs; chairs for us; ... it just goes on and on and the car is bursting at its little welded seams. I even went so far as to remove all maps that I wouldn't be using on this specific trip and I got radical and vacuumed so that those little bits of gravel and twigs wouldn't take up perfectly viable molecules of packing space.

Well--here goes, anyway. If I get a chance, I'll try posting briefly Wednesday morning before we head out for the Westworld equestrian center.

Read Karey's and Tania's and other official USDAA reporters' USDAA blogs here: http://usdaa.com/news.cfm; they will also in theory post results as they're available.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

And Meanwhile, Back at the Knee

SUMMARY: Could be better. Has been worse.

The knee really hasn't recovered from last weekend. It's still clearly swollen. It still hurts to go up and down stairs (before that weekend, I was actually trotting up & downstairs normally without thinking about it). Hurts at night when I'm sleeping. (Hadn't done that in several weeks.) Soooo in truth, last weekend's experiment was a success: I figured out what I could and couldn't do and determined what is likely to happen to it with 5 days in Scottsdale. I'm more prepared for what I'm likely to go through. I'm borrowing a bike to take with me to help me get around during nondog times and also am taking crutches--neither of which I'd been particularly planning on before last weekend. And my expectations are probably more realistic. On the other hand, I'm dreading the pain and inconvenience more.

However, I still want to go, and there's no good way to talk me out of it. So I'm hitting the road Tuesday morning about 6 a.m. (so much for a noncompetition day!) to head down to Salinas to pick up my rideshare, Diana, and her two dogs. We barely know each other, but she seems like she'll be a good person to get to know better, and what better of an opportunity than two 12-hour trips!

Status On All Three Dogs

SUMMARY: Tika diarrhea, Jake playing, Boost doing weaves

Shooting Boost across a jump.
Tika and Ellen waiting for the timer's Go signal.

Went up to Power Paws practice for Nationals yesterday morning. Had two runs with each of Tika and Boost. Tika wasted her first and half of her second chasing the sheep, which had all gathered just outside the agility field fence to cheer everyone on. She was slow on her dogwalk contact, even when I tried revving her up and redoing it. But she held her startline stay both times--although the first time when I released her, she made a full-speed beeline for the sheep across the field. At least she waited for permission...sort of.

Boost--did her weave poles! I was so proud of her. We had only had chances to practice with the stiffened weaves at home that morning and the day before, and all day Friday I was having to use small barricades (green wire garden fencing, about 8" high) to block the places she was frequently skipping. Slowed her down and slowed her down, and I dropped the number of poles back down to 8, and then gradually (well--pretty quickly actually) she stopped skipping and started speeding up again. I wasn't sure whether just two days of stiffened weaves--and only at 8 poles at home-- would make a difference up at Power Paws with the full set of 12, but apparently it did! What a clever girl. And today, in the yard, I removed all the barriers, and she did all the 8s fine, so I added two more, and she did all the 10s fine, and she's speeding up even more towards where she was, although it looks a little uncomfortable. Wish I'd fixed those wobbly poles a long time ago. Oh, well, live and learn!

Jake is playing again just like the old Jake. --Well, almost. I still have to insist on him coming outside, and I still have to insist that he fetch the Tug-N-Treat the first time, but then the switch just flips, and he fetches and fetches and fetches. I've worked gradually up to today's extravaganza, where I just threw and threw and threw. I can even let Tika off her leash, and then Boost, and I just watch carefully to be sure that Tika's not crashing into Jake and that Jake has a clear view of where the toy lands. He didn't want to quit! What a guy! We must have gone for 15 minutes. I'd swing back my arm to throw the toy, Tika would take off running, Jake would take off like lightning as I started my forward throw, Boost would take off running on the periphery, watching the whole thing with her Border Collie Eye but staying plenty out of the way.

When we were done (I let Jake decide), everyone's tongues (except mine--poor unexercised mom) were dragging on the ground and everyone except Boost plunged into one of the Water Features or other. Boost I had to hose down, but since she's discovered how much fun playing with spraying water is, she stands patiently long enough for me to get her feet demudded and then we play a little water-chase.

Tika has very liquid diarrhea. I don't know why. In 20 hours, we'll be On the Road to Scottsdale, and she's got diarrhea. Unlike with Remington, who always seemed to have something upsetting his intenstines, this is uncommon with my other dogs. She hasn't had anything unusual to eat that I know of; she hasn't been anyplace unusual that I know of; her appetite and energy are fine. I'm just hoping that it was some random tasty piece of dirt that she dug up and ate and that she'll be fine later today.

And here are bonus photos of me and the dogs doing agility (waiting at the start line and running) from the VAST trial back in September where my knee went definitively south.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

By George, I Think We've Got It!

SUMMARY: I think I've found Boost's weave pole problem.

I've been worrying that Boost's problem with skipping was my crappy set of weave poles where the bases rusted out, so I've been using only a better half set, plus occasionally poles pushed into the ground, but they're all more flexible than most competition & class poles. And she blazes through them at home without skipping, in between skimming past poles in class & competition, so I've been more and more suspicious of their give.

So, after this week's class where we talked about making the poles stiffer to solve an entirely different problem, I bought rebar for the push-in-the-ground poles and I finally found stakes that'll fit my good half set, so I can have a full set of 12 very solid poles--and, voila! She's skipping like crazy at home, too. Victory! This means that it's something I can work on here, and probably make very fast progress with. I'm so relieved! (How often do you hear someone say "I'm so relieved that my dog is messing up"?! But naturally, in training, if you have a problem, you can't fix it unless you can reproduce it in a situation where you can do something about it.)

Of course, it might not be so easy as it seems at first glance, but i'm very hopeful at the moment.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I Should Know Better

SUMMARY: Knee is miserable. Boost weaves are...well...

In Tika's class last night, I continued to try getting her around the course without doing any running or sharp turns, but pushed maybe a bit more than a simple stroll, because in previous weeks, when I stroll, she loses motivation and interest. We did a bit better but still not up to our usual stuff. Knee was still quite sore from the weekend. Class didn't *seem* to make it worse, but it sure stiffened up overnight and woke me up a couple of times turning over.

Today in Boost's class, as I worked with her, I realized that the more I moved, the better my knee felt, which was interesting. I thought that maybe the problem this week was that I was letting it be *too* inactive and it really needed to be kept mobile. So I relaxed a bit and let myself go on more of her exercises, actually running a couple of times, and I felt pretty good. But then, by the time I had driven the 30 minutes home, the knee had *really* stiffened up, and now (8:30 p.m.) it is truly unhappy, doesn't like walking much at all, is just sitting here aching front and back and top and bottom.

OK, in retrospect it was stupid. But it *did* feel better in class than it had in 3 days! So go figure.

Since the weekend, I've had Boost doing only 12 weaves, not sets of 6, and lo and behold, she's often skipping poles even here in the yard, although much less than at the trial. She'll do 3 or 4 or 6 sets beautifully, then skip a couple or 3 times, then more sets beautifully. I can't quite put my finger on what the issue is, since it doesn't seem to be fatigue.

I've tried to stiffen the poles up a bit, too (interesting that Nancy brought that up in class today, too, as being important), but it's hard to do at the moment because the half-set that is still good doesn't have any stakes to nail it down with, so even when I'm careful about having its braces straight out to the sides, it still rocks as the dogs go through. And the other poles I've just got slipped over landscape poles shoved into the lawn, and they're quite springy. Rebar would probably be better, but I don't have any lying around. Guess I could go buy some. But, until I get the 2nd half of my regular set welded, the poles-in-the-ground are better than they are.

In class, she was a bit better this week than last--when practicing beforehand, she could go over a jump or through a tunnel and make the weaves happen correctly, oh, maybe 3 out of 4 times, but in class exercises with exactly the same sequence, she always skipped poles the first time. But then, when I'd line her up again, she'd get them almost always the 2nd time. And if not, if I just put my hand in her collar for the first 2 poles (even if she wasn't skipping the first 2), she'd get them all.

So I don't know. I'll just keep working it, moving the poles around, using the hand in the collar...

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Various Thoughts Around Nationals

SUMMARY: The brain's in overdrive.

I've been thinking about Nationals a lot. A lot.

The only one of my dogs who has ever made the Grand Prix semifinal round is Jake. That was our second year at the Nationals near San Diego. They announced that 50% of the dogs would move up to the semis, and then they posted the list (something like 200 dogs in our 22" height class), and Jake had missed by just a couple of dogs, along with our friend Eric's JJ. Being obsessive-compulsive about things like this, I actually counted--and discovered that they had miscounted by about 4 dogs and Jake and JJ should actually be in the semis. I reported it quickly so that we got a chance to get our walk throughs and actually run. I believe we were offcourse right away, but at least we got there. A couple of years later, JJ went on to win (or 2nd place?) in the Veterans Grand Prix national championship--veteran being dogs who had previously made it to at least the Semifinals in previous years. So Eric was pretty happy on both occasions.

And I just got news that JJ is coming home from the hospital and appears to be doing better--I created a blog just for his status here: http://jjstatus.blogspot.com/.

I think Tika's my best agility dog so far. (Boost has much promise, but we're not there yet.) She has missed the GP semifinals three times by 4 or fewer dogs, and there were no miscounts on these occasions. Driving me nuts. But whereas Jake was at the edge because his speed just was never up to the top level, Tika has missed because of assorted 5-point faults...but if she had been, say, 1 second faster even with the faults, in each case I *think* she'd have gone on to the semis. But I have to really drive her to get her best speed.

And my knee is not going to be up to driving my dog on any course.

That will be even more of a pity in Steeplechase. Even though I drove her hard the last couple of years, on speed alone we missed the finals by at least a second or maybe even 2, and with the competition at the level it is, that was probably 10 to 20 dogs faster. BUT we ALSO had 5-fault knocked bars each year, too, putting us way down in the list. So the odds of us making the finals in Steeplechase were very slim to start with, but if I can't push-push-push my dog before going into the ring and all the way through the run, we haven't even a slug's chance in the Indy.

It just breaks my heart, she's running so well, I've worked so hard, I've spent so much on entry fees and trying to qualify for the Nationals, training fairly hard at home on the things we need more speed on AND trying to fix the knocked bar problem, and I just won't be able to capitalize on any of it this year.

Not to MENTION the tremendous angst and grief and huge expense of trying to qualify in the Team event and finally, FINALLY making it-- not that our team would ever have made it to the final round (Brenn and Tika are fast but not the most fault-free dogs; Skeeter is remarkably reliably but not fast by any means) because the teams that make the finals are fast AND reliable, all 3 dogs of each-- but, gee, last year Tika placed 8th in team Snooker, our one moment of near-glory, and I was hoping to at least get some personal bests in the various team events.

Maybe it wouldn't seem so bad if it seemed likely that they'd hold the Nationals west coast again next year, but historically they claimed to want to move them around the country every 2-3 years, and this will be the 3rd year in Scottsdale. And I can't afford the time off for a much longer trek plus hotels and so on. This trip is pricey enough.

AND I can't get my entry fees back this year, so I might as well go anyway. Plus it's a kick to see all my friends run and do so well with their dogs. Watching a half-hour video summarizing the final Grand Prix round isn't nearly the same as seeing every detail of all three finals (GP, Steeplechase, and Team) in person. I am looking forward to that, anyway.

And, also on the other hand--my dogs are healthy and happy and good-looking, too. I'm thankful for that. Plus that it looks like the weather will be gorgeous in Scottsdale; just hoping not too hot.

Monday, October 23, 2006

After the Weekend

SUMMARY: No championship, no weave poles, no knee

Once again, Tika failed to earn that final Snooker Super-Q. On Saturday, all we had to do was complete my planned course, which was a nice, smooth, fast course that I was confident that we could do, even with me not running much. BUT she knocked a bar in the opening, which took us out of the Super-Q running right there, and then had a refusal on #6 in the closing, which was probably me slowing down because I didn't care much any more. So it was another regular Q but nowhere near Super-Q range.

On Sunday, the opening was tricky and I mishandled it right away, so we did exactly 2 jumps--one of them the wrong one--and we were whistled off. It's doubtful we'd have made the Super-Q on that one, anyway, because it became another speed-through-the-weaves competition primarily, not a versatility and sendability course, and sometimes we can compete in that crowd and sometimes not.

Ashley (classmate who's run her in class for 2 preceding weeks) tried to run Tika in several classes, but Tika kept leaving the ring to go find me. Didn't seem to matter whether I was standing where she could see me or not. They actually made it halfway through one course, but missed an Aframe entry, and when Ash brought her back to make another try at it--which is where in real life she'd likely be yapping and leaping and maybe biting at my feet--she bailed and headed back to me. Oh, well. I considered it part of her education (would *like* her to be able to run well with other people) and am grateful to Ashley for making the attempt.

Boost couldn't do weave poles. Period. 6 weeks ago (5?), she had trouble with each first time, but when I'd pull her back next to me and settle her and then send her, she made them all. This weekend--nothing doing, no way. The closest she came was doing 10 and then popping out. But the rest of the time it was skipping, skipping, skipping. So perhaps I need to rent the Power Paws field for half an hour a couple of times and work only on weave poles up there, since we've established that she often skips poles in class.

But most of everything else she did very well and very fast. At Tika's second full trial, she started flying off the contacts, taking off out of the ring to chase something more interesting, leaving her start-line stay without a release, and grabbing my feet and hanging on (the first time that she had ever done it, and boy did it take me by surprise!). But--her weave poles were almost flawless.

This was Boost's second full trial, and she held her start-line stay perfectly every time until my release, she ran to and held her two-on, two-off position on every contact and waited for the release, did some nice sending away when I didn't want to even try to run--including an experimental but perfectly done double loop through a tunnel 20 feet away from me! And never jumping or biting at me. But--she can't do weaves!

She finally earned one Q the last run on Sunday, in Gamblers, and took 1st place as well. (And that's even with a failed attempt at doing weaves.)

I watched her siblings Gina and Bette all weekend--2nd full trial for each of them, too, I believe--and alhtough they each missed some weaves here and there, eventually they both got them all well, and fast, too (Gina flies! like boost when we started!). And Gina is very fast and confident around the course. They're working on running contacts--which is dangerous, as on Saturday's Standard run, where they got called for missing both the dogwalk and teeter contacts--but also glorious, as in Sunday's Standard, where the judge didn't call the contacts and they not only Qed and earned first place, but were 10 seconds faster than we were--and Boost was only 40-some-odd seconds around the course. Of course, I'm holding her a LONG time on the contacts while I walk up to her (minding my knee), and I did try twice for the weaves before going on. But, still--when Gina and Tim get it together, they'll be tough to beat.

Still, when I looked at the scores through the whole weekend--Boost Qed only once, Gina and Bette each Qed only twice. And Gina took only one 1st all weekend, too. So in fact the scores don't show us that far apart...

My knee is not happy with me. (Although it's already better now, at 3 Monday afternoon, than it was when I got out of the car last night.) I think I'm going to be in for a rough time with 5 days at the Nationals. I'll take my cane-with-a-seat and my crutches, just in case. (Heave deep sigh.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Something For My Knee and This Weekend

SUMMARY: I have a wrap for my knee, which I'll try at this weekend's USDAA competition.

My knew knee hinge.

The human body is an amazing collection of limbs, joints, skin, and protruberances of various sorts. It always seems amazing that we can move around on two legs--even stand completely motionless on two legs--without falling over. Have you ever tried to balance something atop two sticks? Will the assemblage stay upright? Well, perhaps, if the sticks have some sort of horizontal foot that is heavier than whatever you've balanced atop them, and that locks in place. But our body is quite top-heavy compared to our spindly ankles--which, incidentally, can flex in many directions without bending, and yet we still remain upright.

Our body's ability to do this is called proprioception, which is a collection of inputs given to our brain from assorted mechanisms such as the inner ears--which affect our balance--and the tension and pressure going on between and among hundreds or thousands of muscles and tendons within our body. All is fed back to our brain, which allows us--most of us, at any rate--to chew gum while walking, without either having to watch our feet and without our tongue getting in the way of our teeth.

Proprioception is more than a little important to athletes. Without it, Monday night football would be... well, perhaps far more entertaining, but more likely would be a pile of inert collections of skin and bone lying around on the field waiting for someone with a better-developed sense of their body's position and orientation to come along and kick the ball. Without it, you'd always fail the touch-your-nose drunk-driver test.

I mention this because my orthopedist says that, with my kind of injury, a knee brace isn't going to do much for the injury. However, what she says it will do--what any kind of wrap or brace or support does--is somehow add to the information that the body collects into the package called proprioception. In theory, one becomes more aware of the joint and what it's doing without being aware that you're aware of it. I think this is cool.

The man who fitted me with a knee hinge (they don't call it a brace--it has stiff metal inserts up the sides with hinges in the middle) says that it does help to provide support when turning, so maybe the knee won't grind down as much on the torn menisci. Maybe.

So, this weekend I'm going to Madera for a USDAA trial. I've been preparing. I'm working the score table, so I won't have time to do a lot of walking around. I'm staying in a motel, so no hauling or setting up tents or van for sleeping. Friends are letting me share their canopy, so I shouldn't have to haul nearly as much stuff out to the field. Tika has been practicing with a guy in my class, so he can run her some runs. I'm going to try to run her in Snooker, which will be very challenging because, for SuperQs, you really need to push your dog, and I don't know whether I can do that.

And I'm going to try running Boost some and see what happens.

Overall, though, I'm going to try to save myself for Nationals while still getting in some experimental running. Then I've got 2 weeks to recover before we leave town for Scottsdale on Halloween morning.

Monday, October 16, 2006

It's All About the Shirt

SUMMARY: At Nationals, clothing makes the agility handler!

OK, it's all very well and good to talk about fixing up-contacts on dogwalks, about driving driving driving through practice snooker courses, attending Nationals practices and reviewing courses from previous years, but, really, let's admit it, Nationals is all about having the right matching outfit with the rest of your 3-dog team (assuming that you're so lucky as to have qualified in team).

My official palette. Photo colors are not the best reproductions. (Click on image for larger version.)
Tika and Skeeter have moms who are fair-skinned and fair-haired, but Brenn's handler is fair-skinned but dark-haired, and soooooo what do we do about colors? (I have not, however, edged in close enough to perform a detailed exam to determine what the basic underlying skin color is--for example, mine is vaguely yellowish compared to some people's much pinker tone). So what looks good on one might not look good on another. How to choose?

We decided early on that we wanted WendyWear for our shirts. Wendy Bruce is our local tie-dye guru. Her shirts are quite popular. We put in our order early, and decided on polos rather than t-shirts (150 t-shirts for me is quite enough, thanks, and I'll be getting another one for simply attending nationals anyway). My colors are basically "summer" colors; Carlene's (Brenn's mom) are basically winters. Of course--there are various types of winters-- and, as I suggested above, a lot goes into determining someone's palette.

I had my colors picked out individually for me by a professional in a long session in a brightly-lit room, but there are plenty of places where you can see the basic color sets for various "seasons" of coloring; for example:

So we had some polite but "um, I dunno about that" sort of color discussions, then turned it over to Wendy to make the ultimate choice, with the main principle being "subtle but not too subtle". (It's always nice to abrogate responsibility.)

Last year's team (Run-TMZ); shirts also by Wendy. And so were my previous year's team shirts. Coincidence? I think not!

Now Wendy says that the coloring is done but they're subtle enough that they probably ought to have a team name or logo or similar on them. (Commonly done on team shirts--photos of your dogs, team name, dogs names, clever mottos, and so on--but sometimes the shirts just match nicely, as in my team from last year.) But what to put? Our team name is Three's A Charm. We've sent a note back to Wendy saying, "OK, do something."

Isn't it nice to have a fashion designer one can trust for those really important social affairs, in case Joan Rivers shows up?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Photos of Bay Team Trials

If you have any interest in skimming through photos of the Bay Team's July CPE and Labor Day USDAA trials, I posted mine on my photo site here:
They're mostly photos of people and the site. And none of my dogs at all, at least not in Sept. (Don't remember about July.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bad Knee! No Soup For You!

SUMMARY: The meniscus is torn. Surgery likely.

Just talked to the orthopedist this evening. MRI is in. She didn't know it was in when she called me; just returning my call from earlier, so hadn't looked at in great detail. But read the report and looked at some of the images. Medial and lateral meniscus tears. Some wear and tear on the surface of the joint, too--not arthritis (yet) but yes could develop into it. She says I'll probably have to have surgery. She's referring me to a very good sports doc, she says; she didn't say outright but I interpret the discussion as saying it would be a bad idea in this case for me to keep calling them and trying to get in to see just anyone. But that means that for real this time it'll probably be 4-6 weeks before I can score an appointment. That would be after the Nationals.

I talked to her a bit and have been doing reading on knee injuries and have talked to a couple of people who've been through meniscus tears, so I have quite a bit more data than I did a week ago. But I'm a bit emotionally exhausted at the moment so I might or might not type anything up. (Although I might be able to get a copy of my MRI on CD--wouldn't that be cool? I'll have to find out more.)

She said that professionally she thinks I'm crazy for wanting to run at the Nationals with this knee, but as a human she understands what it means to me and she's not going to try to stop me (because, obviously, she can't if I want to do it anyway). She'll recommend a velcro brace that she says probably won't do much for me but if I think it makes me feel better, that's fine. And... so... I'm going to go to Madera next weekend, try running Tika in Snooker at least, Boost in Standard at least, see whether I can get someone else to run Tika some, and just decide there what else I want to do. Argh.

Then it's only 2 weeks after that to the Nationals, and I *really* don't know what I'm going to do there. Karey suggested maybe one of those cool little razor scooters for getting around the site--I've been looking at them and checking them out since they came out, oh, jeez, seems like only a few years ago but it's probably been a while. Not that I need to spend more money, but that might be a good way to do it. Better than trying to bring my dilapidated bike up to working order and trying to get it to scottsdale with everything else we'll be trying to back into my minivan.

So tomorrow, to make myself feel better, I'm going to go town to Renfaire at Casa de Fruta and walk around a lot. (No, no, I'm already planning to be there only a couple of hours max, with lots of sitting down in between.)

Dogwalk Up Contact

SUMMARY: Addressing a long-standing problem

Tika has missed enough Qs (or, in the case of Grand Prixs, clean runs) by going over the up contact on the dogwalk that I've known for probably three years at least that I should do something about it. I really meant to do something about it before last year's Scottsdale Nationals, and didn't get around to a private with Nancy until about a month before, which is really a stupid time to be trying to fix a major problem like that--and then we spent most of the time on attention and obedience stuff because Tika was being such a pill!

We did try adjusting her stride with barriers, but (as I reported then, I believe), she ended up finding amazingly creative ways to blast literally halfway up the dogwalk ramp before setting fooot on it. So, last year at Scottsdale, we missed the Grand Prix semifinals by about 4 dogs (out of 150 or so)--you guessed it, it was an up contact that dropped us below the cutoff.

Similar to what I have. The board is about a foot square and beeps when when pressure is applied near the center. It looks and feels like part of a dogwalk up-ramp.
So REALLY I was going to do something about it this year. So I am. Now that it's a month before Scottsdale (sigh), I've finally gotten a hit-it contact trainer. I worked with Tika for a month or so beforehand on just a plain square of wood, painted and textured the same way, trying to get her to move across it and hit it with her front foot, but it was hard for me to see whether she was succeeding and I'm afraid that my clicking was off. So we made some progress but not a lot. I needed something that would give a more reliable notice to the dog that she had hit the sweet spot.

Have had this for about a week now, and have been working on it every day. It's very odd. Going in one direction, she almost always hits in; going in the other direction, almost always steps over it. I've tried holding goodies or toys in the opposite hand, tried staying back away from her, tried tossing the goodie right on the ground in front of her so she keeps her head down (which she doesn't; she's still looking up at me when she gets to the board before she hits it)....

Oh, I just had a flash of inspiration. Maybe I could combine the treat'n'train with the hit-it contact trainer to keep her from looking at me for a reward? If she hits the beeper, I could use the remote to drop a goodie... hmmm, but then I could go in only one direction at a time over the trainer, not back and forth. OK, worth a shot.

Then, when she's doing it consistently, get her somehow to go faster and faster. Then, when it's the way I want it (ideally, she runs across it and hits the beep), I put a command to it. Then I move the beeper board onto a flat board on the ground and get her to do it there. Then I try putting the board on a ramp up, maybe to the deck, so she doesn't have to go all the way across the dogwalk to get the reward. THEN I put it on the actual dogwalk...

Can I do this in 17 days? Argh. Unlikely... But here we go again... She's clever and motivated and energetic; I just have to find the right way to convey the info quickly and efficiently.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tidbits--Bad News and Good

SUMMARY: Assorted brief items
I'll start with the bad news and work into the better news and mere statuses:
  • Awful dog news number one: my instructor stepped on her teeny weeny (really teeny weeny) Sheltie last night and broke his leg. This is the third time that this dog has had a broken leg in his short life (he's maybe 2? 3?). He had just finally healed enough to get through enough training to start competing...and now this. And we think we have a rough life when the dog can't make the weave entry. Argh. My heart aches for Nancy (and the dog).

  • Awful dog news number two: JJ (photo here and another here) the cattle dog is in the hospital in Florida (where he now lives). JJ was one of our teammates at Nationals two years ago, and his handler, Eric, has been a friend for a very long time (JJ and Jake used to run so similarly and we had a friendly competition to see who beat whom by what fraction of a second). He was in a dog fight, the wounds got infected, the regular vet seems to have put him on fluids and antibiotics and said let's watch it and wait. Frantic phone call to vet out here, who directed them to the University of Florida at Gainesville, 130 miles away, where they discovered that he was in renal failure. But have aggressively cleaned out the wounds and are treating and condition is...guarded. Everyone keep your fingers crossed.

  • Had MRI on my knee end of the day yesterday. Probably won't know anything until next week (they said 2-3 days to get to the doctor...I'll start calling tomorrow afternoon & pestering them).

  • Worked Tika in class last night. (Didn't go last week because knee was bothering me a bit that day AND it started raining slightly, so didn't want to be moving on wet grass.) Nothing involving running. Aside from her usual really annoying habit in class of going off to sniff at things, or stopping in the middle of a tunnel to sniff (thank goodness she never does this in competition), she got slower and slower as the evening wore on. I tried to treat things like gambles: lots of sends and outs, but apparently if they're not preceded by a hard-driven handler running her head off, it's not inspirational (or it's confusing). So I can do it in my yard standing still in the middle, but not in class. But my knee felt fine. (I was also very careful about what I did and how.)

  • Worked Boost in class today, more than last week. Again, tried not to break into anything more than a calm, collected walking stride, although once or twice I dared speed up ever so little bit. It's hard to run a fast dog without moving! But the courses and drills today in fact did NOT require a lot of movement on my part, and (except for the contacts, where she slowed down a bunch), she did better at driving around the courses than Tika did. We made more mistakes than Tika and I do, and those DANG weaves that she can't seem to do all 12 of (skips poles randomly) in class--although the last couple of sets she did nicely, not superfast but accurately--she got lots of praise and play. But the one full course we worked she looked great! And my knee still feels fine. So I'm very optimistic. (And everyone yelled at me every time it looked like I was even thinking about trying to run a couple of steps.)

  • Have found a way to get Jake to play in the yard again: One of my old tug-n-treats. Don't know why I didn't think of this before (well...because he never needed food motivation to play before! Any toy--or object--would do!). That's three days in a row now, twice a day, and he chases and brings it back and plays tug of war, and except for one treat at the beginning to get him going each time, I don't even have to use the food! I'm very pleased. (I also tie the other 2 dogs up so they can't interfere, which uses even more time out of my day because I can't run them all simultaneously, but at least he's moving. Which is good, because he's put on about 10% more weight...)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Good News on Animal Rescues During Disasters

SUMMARY: Katrina sparks some good work

For those of us who watched in horror as pets were left behind to die during the Katrina disaster, even when it would have made as much or more sense to take the animals with the people--or who read about our fellow agility-club members and friends' exploits while putting their lives here on hold to go there to help with animal rescue-- it's good news to hear that now pets must be included in disaster rescue plans:

Article from SFGate.com

If you want to read our teammates' harrowing reports from Louisana as they worked to save pets in Katrina's aftermath, go here (reports are in reverse chronological order, so click the Archives link for Sept 2005 on the right and scroll down to the bottom there to start at the beginning). Note that I found many of them to be so disturbing that I couldn't read them in their entirety.

But, in the space of a year's distance, one of our volunteer club members just filed this report:

It has been a year this week since I traveled with friends to help with the animal rescue efforts in New Orleans. Since the day I returned I have planned this thank you letter to the many people who donated money to fund that trip.

It might have appeared that I had forgotten it, but that is not, by far, the case. I decided when I returned that a simple thank you was not enough, I wanted to give each of you some insight or profound wisdom or lesson or meaning that might grow out of that mess over time. I have waited the year and can wait no longer, the task I wanted to complete lays somewhere between impossible and impractical. To share all that has grown out of the mess of New Orleans in my head and heart now will fill a book.

What I can do, stealing from the organizations that sponsor suffering children, is give you this very special list. This list is each animal that my partners Jill Moran, Wendy Volgelgesang and I personally rescued from homes, plus one more that I just have to include.

Remember it was three weeks after the storm.

At the very first door I opened my thought was “nothing can be alive in here” then I saw two yellow eyes in the far corner that seemed to be about 4 &1/2 feet off the ground. I ran out and called to Jill “there is a REALLY BIG dog in here”.
It took us some time to find him, he was very scared. Jill used the numbers I got off a note in the kitchen to find the owner weeks after we got back to California. He was a boxer mix owner by Dorothy who was in a nursing home. Her family loved the dog and got him back. He was not that big.

A homeless man who was hiding in the abandoned city asked us to take a brindle pit bull pup he had found, we did.

A DUCK! “Should we take him?” “How the hell should I know”?
This job came with no training. The debate ended with the fact that there was no living vegetation anywhere. You helped save one duck.

Black Puppy with a long curly coat, very young under four or five months.
“What did he eat?”
This house was the worst by far we had seen: imagine a doll house rolled several times then the contents coated with something like oil that stank beyond belief. This house changed us. I had wanted to leave after noticing a parrot in a cage on a four foot stand that had drown. Again I thought “nothing could have lived in here”. When Jill insisted on checking one more time and found him under a bed I knew we had to search every inch of every house. I never again thought that we would not find them alive, even when we didn’t.

Black Chow:
This dog was hanging around outside of the address we had on the list. We had no idea if he belonged there or not. He was very aggressive and hard to catch. We decided that he would be better off left there with lots of food so we let him go. Then we decided he would be better off coming in so we had to re-catch him. Many choices were not easy, especially when it came to all the strays.

“Chocolate” a feisty Chihuahua mix and “Carmel” a little spaniel mix. We were often flagged down when we happened to see the odd human. They would tell us of a dog they just saw running or of a pet they could hear but not get to. These were often city workers. This lady was lucky enough to get into her home, but she was worried about her Aunties dogs that lived around the corner. The window was broken so the dogs were able to run in and out. They were very hard to catch dashing in and out of that damn window. All of the family members were living in shelters. The dogs were taken in but I’m not sure what happened to them.

Yellow Lab mix, this poor dog could not walk well at all and was laying in a drive- way. He was happy for the food and water. We took him with us.

A Black Shepard mix ran right up to Wendy when she got out of the car, “I’d like to get out of here, please”! Inside the house a tan Shepard mix was found in an upstairs bathroom. Wendy worked long after we got home to reunite “Solja” with his family. One of the shelter volunteers adopted the black Shepard at Wendy’s urging, they let Wendy know a few weeks ago that they still have and love her.

This very sweet orange tabby was in a house that was full of dead cats, the yard too.
I just can’t figure how he fared so well when the others didn’t.

Black Kitten about 7 months old, stray in good shape walking down the side walk complaining bitterly.

This house with no damage to it was on our list BUT it had a note saying not to go in, that the dog was fine, but the city had been re-evacuated a few days before because of hurricane Rita and the note had no date. We made the choice to break in, the little Chihuahua mix had no food or water. We left the dog with a ton of food and water, feeling sure that this part of the city would return first, as before.

Mexico Street, a second story flat without any damage, small Min Pin mix with a long coat, I have a photo of this dog and tried for weeks to contact family from numbers I got from the house, no luck.

Yellow Pit Bull, a meter maid flagged down our marked car. She could hear a dog in the house. Workmen had been throwing food into a window but she was bone thin. She was the happiest to see us of all the dogs we rescued.

“How much is that doggie in the window” Jill and I started singing at the same moment.
The address had a tiny white Pomeranian displaying herself on window sill, she might as well have been waving a white flag. She changed her mind when we broke in and was very hard to corner. As thin and weak as she was I’m surprised she could move. “Snowball” is one of the happiest stories there is, when we called her owner they did not believe us, they had already had several false calls. When Jill described the house and said “your fish are still a live “ they knew it was their girl. I was lucky enough to meet this family and see the reunion. “We will never ever leave you again”.

“Muffin”, we could hear her barking the moment we pulled up, but we could not get in.
We did more damage to that house trying to get that dog than the storm did. We finally just literally beat the wall down. The dog looked so good we almost didn’t take her…
“someone must be coming here”. Not so… The owner cried when I told him we had her… “how fat was she” I asked, “VERY” he said. Not so any more!
This dog was featured on an Animal Planet Reunion show. That TV program was the first time I saw Clarence and Betty and their son and they got to see Jill and I too.

This little dog was not afraid at all, came right up to us. Filthy and stinky but he wasn’t embarrassed at all! When we called his owners they said “We went home and got our dog last week, saw that one in our house then but never saw him before”. We don’t know how he got there but we know he got cleaned up and came home on the plane with Wendy and I. She found him a wonderful foster home and searched for his family for months. On the plane we named him “Lefty”, because he was and I am! His new family adores him and his name is now Biscuit.

Plus one more…..
We did not rescue Baby Girl but I can’t leave her out. She was in our kennel area and I was the only one that could walk her. She was just a nervous wreck, you know how Shepards can be. After we started going into the city to rescue I no longer worked in the kennel barns. I would walk Baby as late as 11:00 when we got back in, she would always be very dirty by then. I kept trying to call her owners (their number was on her cage) to tell them that she was not coping. When I went out one morning she was gone, shipped to where ever. I saved her number and Wendy kept track of her, she ended up BY CHANCE ALONE at a shelter near Wendy in the San Diego area, Wendy visited her and facilitated the reunion with the family…. like so much that we saw it was stranger than fiction.

This is where your donations went, to these animals that might have otherwise died,
you did a great thing, thank you so very much.

Please forward this to anyone that you know that donated to this effort, I do not know where many of the donations came from.


Sandy Rogers

Monday, October 09, 2006

Waiting...and Missing...

SUMMARY: MRI scheduled; friends have great weekend

Despite the orthopedist's dire predictions about how hard it would be to get an MRI appointment, I called first thing this morning and got an appointment for Wednesday afternoon. Maybe I just got lucky, but I'll take lucky. Now--it's just waiting until then, and then after that, waiting for "about a week" for the doctor to get the results.

My back is holding up fine today, and I've had no diazepam (valium) or hodrocodone (codeine/vicodin) since yesterday morning. So that's one thing out of the way again (I hope).

I've heard that this weekend's competition ran for almost 12 hours both days (that's not counting getting set up and initial walkthroughs and such)--that's a VERY long day, and I know my knee couldn't have managed it. So in that sense, I guess I'm glad I didn't go. BUT three of my friends who have been working for what seems like ages on the last leg(s) for their championships ALL finished this weekend--Jasmine the Huberhound (who was supposed to be our pairs partner this weekend, but we'll try again in 2 weeks), Scully the Princess (aka Little Black Dog) (with whom we've traveled and shared hotel rooms a lot), and Brenn the Border Collie (one of our two teammates for this year's Nationals Team Tournament, and with whom Tika earned a Novice Pairs leg, an Advanced Pairs leg, although has yet to get a Masters Pairs leg with...). And I missed them all! All those months (well, I don't know how long, but it seems like forever) standing unobtrusively on the sidelines, keeping my fingers crossed--and I missed them all.

I just about jumped out of my chair in excitement at the news. It's quite a thrill to have anyone finish a championship, and even more so for a friend to, and even more so for three in one weekend... I'll just have to jump up and down and yell and scream the next time I see them. Which will, I hope, be in 2 weekends.

I was able to walk around this weekend (still--have been all week--) at the grocery store and mowed the lawn (carefully making turns) and across the malls to two movies, but still, walking not nearly at my normal pace, and trying not to favor the one leg. But the weather is gorgeous again today and I don't even have to be on drugs to appreciate that.

Now, back to my exercises and trying to find things to do to keep the dogs mentally and physically active and in good training form. Without being able to run--or nuthin'. I set up a jump bar this morning, stepped one step backwards, and the knee popped again. Hurt for about 15 seconds, then faded rapidly away to its normal state. Argh.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Crappity crappy crap--or--What a glorious day!

SUMMARY: Maybe it's a torn meniscus. Probably looks something like my tires.

Thursday, 8:00 a.m.: Wake up. Lower back is a bit painful. Why? Dunno, maybe slept on it wrong. Knee is stiff and still sore.
T9:00 a.m.: Doing some exercises. Definitely have to focus on back stretches this morning; it just aches back there. Knee feels even "thicker" than it has over the last several days. Mentioned it to Physical Therapist on Tuesday. Maybe it's getting muscles. Maybe it's swelling again. I dunno. Not really painful, just a little.
noonish: Take Boost up for class. Because it's still puppy class, we're doing short drills, stuff I can do (although not perfectly) without running. Have already discovered that, if I'm not running, she doesn't drive to the end of the contacts like the crazy juggernaut she does when I am running. Bears out in class. Crud. Don't want her to get into the habit of being slow when ahead of me.
1:00ish: Drill involves the dogwalk. I try to take some loping steps (gently, gently) alongside; nope, hurts. I stop that right away and don't try anything else like it.
1:45: Class isn't over, but I'm feeling a vague ache in my knee. Time to go home.
Midafternoon: Why is my lower back bothering me? Really achey. Seems to pervade my whole lower torso.
Dinnertime: Knee is really thick. Don't know that it's any more painful than it's been, but I really feel it when I bend it. And what IS it with my back? Maybe I should spend the evening lying down; really don't feel well.
Evening: Icing and anti-inflammatories help the back some. Not really feeling up to doing exercises for legs. Back not great but bearable. I don't know what the problem is. Except--stress, favoring my sore leg, not doing my regular walking and activity, more stress about all of that, I just don't know.
Friday, 2:30 a.m. Wake up in misery. Back really, really uncomfortable. Knee aggravated. Can't find a comfortable position to lie in.
4 a.m. Cannot get back to sleep, as tired as I am. Get up, take more drugs, ice the back, then heating pad. Finally back to bed; discomfort fades and I fall asleep sometime near 6.
Friday, 8 a.m. Wake up. Back is stiff and complaining. Need to do something about it, not sure what. After breakfast.
8:30 a.m. Just sitting at the table, trying to eat my cereal, back is getting worse by the moment. Feels like it's on the fast track to going into spasm. Better do something. Stand up--Pow! Muscle in lower right ties itself into a big painful knot.
9 a.m.: OK, have managed to make it to the living room floor, struggled through some old back-relief exercises from last time it did this several years back, which makes it possible to get up and get some ice and ice it.
9:30 a.m. Icing helps a bunch. Wasn't sure it would. It's not great but at least I can move. Maybe the orthopedist, whom I finally get to see today, can help me with that, too, maybe muscle relaxants. I am not optimistic about how things are going.
10:15 a.m.Leave for Kaiser for 11;00 appointment. (Back makes it painful to get dressed. Been here before. Relaxants will help.)
10:45 a.m. Have checked in, paid my co-pay, have my crossword puzzle book in hand. I don't even feel good enough to do some of my knee exercises. Start a puzzle.
11:20 a.m. Getting tired of puzzles; that's three already. Look for other reading material. Find June issue of Newsweek. Better than Sports Illustrated anyway.
11:40 a.m. Ask at nurses' station what's up. Dr. is way behind. Her nurse apologizes profusely, assures me that she's a wonderful doctor and sometimes she gets behind because she really tries to understand patients. I do manage to do some of my knee exercises. I'm bored.
NoonI'm in a room. Blood pressure is good, 120-something over 80.
12:10ish Doctor arrives & introduces herself. Says I look like an active someone who probably has a favorite sport. When I tell her, thank goodness she knows about dog agility, at least has watched it a lot on TV.
12:30ish Won't have time to deal with shoulders and ankle this time but knee and lower back will get started on. Puts me on hold for 20+ minutes to return to another patient who's just come out of x-ray and needs surgery.
1-ish We look at the knee and ankle x-rays. The good news: Maybe a wee tiny itty bit of arthritis starting, but nothing that would be causing what I'm experiencing. The bad news: So what is it? She suspects a damaged, maybe torn meniscus, which would possible mean surgery. Crap crap crap. More bad news: She says, boy, there's a lot of fluid in that knee (that's why it feels so thick). Even more bad news: She needs an MRI of the knee, and it takes about 3 months to get an appointment. So I have to call on Monday to get on their cancellation list and then call back every day anyway until I get in.

Well, that's how I got into physical therapy earlier than originally scheduled, and into orthopedics earlier than originally scheduled. Kaiser has a problem in this area, obviously.

I am near tears. What about Nationals, if it is a torn meniscus? Well, says the doc, then you'll go to Nationals and run on a bad knee. Probably won't feel great and probably won't run well, but you could certainly do it. If it needs surgery, if you do it before the Nationals, you certainly won't be going. But it could wait til afterwards. But hopefully you won't need surgery. But we won't know til we get the MRI, plus one week for processing time. Could things get any worse? Crap.
1:30ish My lucky day, it's the Farmer's Market at Kaiser day, and there's a hot dog vendor. I'm starved. Makes a good, quick lunch while I'm waiting for the pharmacy.
1:45ish Pick up prescriptions for Valium (muscle relaxant for back) and vicodin (pain relief for back--codeine and acetominophen).
2:00ish Pick up bottle of water at Rite Aid to wash down Vicodin and Valium--dont' want to wait to get home, and meanwhile I can finally go pick up the new glasses I've ordered.
3:00ish Dang, there was a long wait to get the glasses, too. But it's so NICE to have scratch-free lenses again, and no more broken frames. These are self-darkening, plus I have snap-on polarized sun lenses. I think this will be much better. I stand up to leave, and my back doesn't instantly hurt. I stride cheerfully out to the car, and realize that I'm striding. The drugs are setting in. Plus, it's a TOTALLY GORGEOUS sunny day! Life is good! Birds are flying, sun is shining! What could be better! Boy, I love codeine and valium!
3:10 I'm off the freeway at a stoplight, almost home. I have done NO billable work all day today so far; I'm SO far behind for this week. But who cares, it's a LOVELY day! Whee! I could use a nap! Whee! The nice mailmain in the postal vehicle next to me smiles and waves. I wave back. He points at my tire and says something. I roll down the window. "Your tire is low," he says. Crud. But luckily there's a gas station--with free air, no less--two driveways down. I stop. It isn't low, it's straight-out FLAT. What a lovely day! The world is good! I fill it up with air, can hear it hissing back out, and head the mile or two down Blossom Hill to the tire shop I already know about and like--they're usually cheery and fast and do good work.
3:15 There is no one else at the shop; no one! Can you believe the luck? The tire needs replacing; the outer tread is down to the wear-mark. Both rear tires are down to the wear-mark. Plus they're wearing unevenly, so that means the van needs 4-wheel alignment, too. There goes pretty much all the money I didn't spend on the last 2 agility trials. Guy says it won't be 5 minutes, but I'll be surprised how quickly they can get it done.

3:20 Car is already up on the thingie, and they're already rotating tires and replacing the bad ones.
3:25 Holy tire tread, Batman, the *inner* tread, which I couldn't see, is gone, completely gone! And there's a huge split in the tire where it had worn away. I'm so lucky--I could've been on the freeway, in the dark, in the rain, on the way to an agility trial, miles from anywhere, having to change a flat (or worse) with my crappy shoulders, knees, back... but noo, it's a beautiful, LOVELY day (did I mention what a great world this is and how cheery I am? And I'm thinking I probably need a nap, too?) and the tire store is RIGHT THERE. How lucky is that?
3:35ish They're still working on it. 5 minutes, my eye. But there's plenty to do--like look at the fountain at the miniature golf course across the street.
3:45ish Tires are on, but the alignment machine is being used by one of the 9 (!) other cars who pulled in after they got started on mine, so I have to wait. But there's plenty to do, like take pictures of the sign with their old name that will soon be replaced by "Goodyear".
3:55 Yup, plenty to do, hang out in the sun that feels so nice, back's not great but much better, knee's hanging in there. But the sun's getting lower--I'm running out of afternoon.
4:00 And so many fun things to do. Watch the light rail go by. Read the halloween-store billboard.
4:05 Van's on the alignment machine now, and the guys ask whether I want them to pose, since I must be shooting photos for a guy's goodyear tire calendar or something (yes, they're kidding with me). I tell them it's for my blog. None of them have any idea what I'm talking about.
4:10 All the wheels get these interesting devices clamped on for doing the alignment. (Crud, Firefox screwed up the uploads--the bottom halves of these last 2 photos don't seem to be there....Fixed one the next day, but this one's still flakey.)
4:15 Self-portrait with new glasses with clip-on sun lenses... and, ah ha, car is ready! So, I'm not surprised at how quickly they got it done, but I am surprised at how long it took considering that I was first in line and how confident they were that I'd be surprised at how quickly they'd get it done-- But no matter! It's a lovely day! I feel great! I should probably go home! Better living through chemicals! And through Wikipedia!

Casey and Char

SUMMARY: The ex-housemates visit

Casey and Char

My previous housemates, Casey and Char (whose name I never mentioned in the blog because, after all, it's about dogs, not people) came up from L.A. with her boyfriend to visit two weekends ago. Remember Casey? The Little Black Dog I wanted to do agility with until they hurriedly left town in the middle of the night one night? (OK, I made up that last part.) Casey pretty much ignored all my dogs--although he lived with Tika and Jake for 15 months and used to love playing with Tika, this time he had a quest: find every twig and shrub in the yard and mark them, because somehow in the year and a half during his absence they had ceased to carry his signature scent any more. The human contingent of us went out for a lovely breakfast while he carried out his mission. I must say that, when I went to the Guard-The-House-Goodie cabinet for the perquisite treats for my dogs before leaving, Casey expectantly lined right up with the rest of them like he'd never been gone.

Char sent me this self-portrait afterwards, and reports that Casey now also turns Left (reliably) and Right (not so reliably) on command, something they picked up from living in an agility household for so long. Such a clever little guy. He'd-a been a lovely agility beast. Such a clever dog-mom. She'd-a been a lovely agility handler.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

There Have Come Soft Rains

SUMMARY: Another summer fades away.

The icons in Monday morning's paper shock like icewater: Rain on Wednesday! It comes, it comes. Since May, San Jose has grown steadily more sere, grasses goldening, air yellowing, vines climbing, flowers blooming and fading and blooming again where households conjure artificial rain from pipes running hither and thither beneath the cracking clay soil. Summer, as always, seemed endless: Months of rainless days in which to patch aging concrete, paint worn woodwork, plant this, trim that, build the other. In a flash, with a simple raindrop-flecked square on the back of the Local section, summer dreams scuttle for cover or, awakened, leap with flailing arms, begging for attention.

Oh, no! think I, I had plenty of time left in which to repaint those porch steps, didn't I? Didn't I? --last summer's fresh new paint worn through to bare wood by a year and by thousands of repetitions of dogfeet running to engage squirreldom, dashing to find a tennis ball, rampaging back in time for dinner, or a walk, or a homecoming, or just up and down, in and out, because, just because.

I spend an hour wiping away a year's accumulation of muddy footprints, scraping loose paint from iffy subsurfaces, sanding the bare edges smooth and roughing the wood, vacuuming the dust and debris. I shake, shake, shake the primer can to remind it how to be paint after its long year's rest in the garage, cordon off the stairs from clattering canines, carefully brush a thick layer of primer to seal it well. And, yes, the sun just begins to emerge from the morning fog to help it dry and harden. I need only wait for two hours of drying to apply the dark forest green finish coat.

But, wait, oh, what?! The sun subtly slips away, the clouds condense, and it rains upon my not-yet-set primer coat! It still being Monday, not yet Wednesday by my calendar! I find a large plastic sheet, dash out halfway between showers and wipe the steps as dry as I can, cover the flight to protect it.

When at last the showers stop, hola! the primer has held. The coat is good. I rejoice in having successfully covered all that bare, elderly, sometimes not doing-so-well wood before the rain came to soak it all.

And now my stairs are a thing of beauty, deep green glistening in today's, Wednesday's for real, rain. Summer is over. Dogs still race up and down, undeterred by water and mud and mindless of the home improvement beauty beneath their scampering paws. They transport footprintsfull of my yard up my stairs, across my deck, and onto my kitchen floor. Autumn is a-cumin' in--right into my kitchen. Whence I still have not removed the vestiges of that old fluorescent wallpaper...plenty of time to do that during the summer...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Another Weekend of Rest

SUMMARY: Getting better but not there yet

I just got back from physical therapy, and my physical therapist said that, in her professional opinion, I shouldn't try competing this weekend. That's a huge improvement from the 2 weeks ago "You are NOT competing this weekend!" And she says that at the rate I'm going, 2 weeks from now should be fine.

But--sigh--she didn't think that even going for one day and a few runs was a good plan for this weekend. So I'm scratching my dogs again. Leaving me one chance for competition practice before the nationals. Not a lot. Not good. But better than none, I guess.

She said I'm making good progress and it's obvious that I'm diligent in my exercises. She gave me even more to do. I could spend my whole day doing exercises! Curses. But I can do several things I couldn't do a week ago, and today is better than even a few days ago. I was in and out of my car several times this morning, and not a twinge when I swung my leg around doing so. But when the PT put me on a trampoline and had me try bouncing with my knees slightly bent, it hurt just below the kneecap, so that was the main thing that really convinced her I shouldn't be out pounding the agility field for competition.

This week, as usual, I have class Wednesday night with tika and Thursday with Boost. I guess I will try little bits, since I've been trying even littler bits in my yard for the last 2-3 days with no obvious ill effects. (Last week I didn't go to Tika's class at all and did only those class exercises with Boost that I could do merely walking or standing.)

OK, I'm feeling a little better after my PT's assessment today--5 days since she last saw me. There's light at the end of the knee tunnel (???).

Monday, October 02, 2006

Somewhat Better

SUMMARY: Knee is improving--I think--

My office looks more like a physical therapy gym every day.

So here's the thing. My knee has been more or less the same, sometimes worse, sometimes better, for the better part of a year. I don't believe I ever talked to the doctor about it until it got all swollen and miserable in April of this year at TRACS. Then, it got better-enough pretty quickly, although I know for a fact that, after that, the swelling never completely went away. I don't actually know whether there was any swelling before that because it never occurred to me to look.

But now that I'm doing physical therapy, and the therapist keeps telling me, "No pain! If it hurts, stop!", I've become so much more aware of whether there's pain. And the problem is that I have NOT been in that mental space for most of the last year; it was more like "OK, it's sore, I'll get over it eventually." So, in fact, I don't know how much better (or worse) I am than when it finally went over the top again two weeks ago.

It's still puffy here and there; some days it seems worse than others and I'm not really sure what I'm doing differently. It is my subjective opinion that on days when I'm more active, it's better. But I haven't been tracking things like how much walking at the shopping center did I do.

I have gone back to doing a few exercises with the dogs in the yard. For most of the last 2 weeks I've been doing very limited tug-of-war (which is my primary means of exciting and interacting with the dogs) because (thanks, PT, I think) I'm more aware of how much pressure it puts on the knee and causes more pain when the knee is in its lower stages. I've been doing more tug-o-war off and on the last few days, although I'm trying to keep it to the left side (I'm *so* uncoordinated with my left arm!).

I'm trying not to run hard or pound, but just a few quick steps here and there to move with the dog.

I have not actually scratched from this weekend's competition. I have very kindly show secretaries who are cutting me a little slack, although I wouldn't blame them if they had simply said "decide now! why should you be special!". But I really do have to decide tomorrow. I've got an appointment with the PT tomorrow morning again and--well--we'll talk. It might be a short conversation.

Icing the knee. What better way to elevate it than on the computer? (No, my thigh is *not* three times the size of the computer, thank you very much.)

At the moment, I'm thinking I could go (all the way!) to Dixon for just one day to see how it goes. It is true that my knee seems to be in a state where, if I don't think about it, I don't notice whether there's any mild pain. And this is about the state in which I've been doing agility for months now.

OK, you don't all have to write back and tell me to get my head screwed on straight. If it's crooked, it's pretty much going to stay that way. If my PT is adamant, I'll probably scratch the whole weekend. But if there's the slightest doubt... I dunno. I just need to be on the field with Boost and I just want to do something with Tika! I could even just go for 2 or 3 classes for each dog instead of all 5 each.

And since I don't see the orthopedist until friday, which is really truly too late to decide go/no go, and since the best (tentative) diagnosis I have so far is arthritis, well, dammit, it's just going to hurt and that's the way it'll be for many years. So what's the big deal.

Meanwhile, I'm doing my exercises ("no pain!") daily: 100 "quad sets" (slight leg lift) each leg, 5-10 leg-lift sets, time on exercycle (supposed to be working up to 45 mins/day, but it's slow because knee does become annoyed), bouncing on the exercise ball (10-15 minutes 3x/day), assorted stretches and tightenings and balancings and so on. And icing, icing, icing.

We'll see, we'll see...