Written March 3, 2003; posted March 8 (update July 2)
March 8: Remington was put to sleep quickly and painlessly this morning before 6:00 after he started having violent seizures in the night.
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar
When I put out to sea.
Tennyson, Crossing the Bar
To know how and why Remington came into my life, you need to know about Amber.
Amber was my first very-own dog, not shared with siblings and parents. Her mother was a German Shepherd; her father, a Golden Retriever. Her eyes had just opened when I first saw her and reserved her from among the 6 in the litter. She was one of two blondes; the others were all black. She came to live with me on Christmas Eve of 1978, and I didn't have a place to live that allowed dogs.
She provided the impetus for buying my first house.
We lived together, just two bachelorettes in a townhouse, sharing everything--bed, breakfast, heater vent, canoe trips. She rode shotgun in my car.
She was a beautiful girl, well proportioned. Didn't look much like either of her parents--short wheat-colored fur with just a touch of white at the sides of her shoulders, half-erect golden-brown ears that moved her forehead and eyebrows with every emotional nuance so that she'd be wrinkled with concern or wide open with delight and attention, all long legs and bright brown eyes.
Once, she saved my life. A different story.
She lived with me for thirteen and a half years. Her toenail clicks in the hallway and how she played Stick or Ball and her ability to learn basic obedience even with me as her teacher were all part of me. Adding a 2nd dog and a spouse to the household never displaced her as my main canine pal.
When she died in July of 1992, I thought that I would never again be young enough and available enough to become as close to a dog as I had been with her. Her death ached for a long time. I wasn't sure that I could ever welcome another dog into my home or my heart.
Two years after she died, as our second dog was getting older, I slowly realized that I couldn't face a house without a dog belonging to it. Adopting our second dog, a husky, from the shelter because she was beautiful taught me some things: I decided to do some actual research. So I read lots, asked questions, searched for information on dogs' traits and evaluated them next to my list of desires. As a kid, I had always thought that I'd want a collie or a german shepherd; when I got to high school, I added golden retriever to the list. Amber had filled two of those slots.
But now I knew more. I narrowed the list to three breeds: Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, or Standard Poodle, which seemed to have all the personality qualities I wanted, but I just didn't picture myself as a poodle person. I was ready to start looking in earnest.
May of 1994. An ad in the paper touted a great price for our dogfood at a new pet store in the area. Spouse and I headed over, and discovered that Nike Animal Rescue Foundation (NARF) was holding an adoption fair there that day. Pens and pens and pens of wonderful dogs filled the parking lot, all looking for new homes. I thought I'd take a look.
I wandered slowly among the pens, petting dogs, talking to the people, looking for just the right one. There were Aussies and border collies and mixes of those breeds, and none of them immediately spoke to my heart. There were several good possibilities that I thought I'd come back to later. Then--in the last pen--there he was.
Short wheat-colored fur with just a touch of white at the sides of his shoulders, half-erect golden-brown ears that moved his forehead and eyebrows, all long legs and bright brown eyes. I knew at that moment that there would be no other dog going home with me.
And So It Went
Remington had his name when we adopted him. I couldn't come up with anything that Spouse liked better, so Remington he remained. He was 9 months old and a little wild. We had a long adjustment period, during which I realized over and over that Remington was not, after all, Amber. On one afternoon that will stick with me forever--I don't know what had happened, but--I looked at him, and I thought, "My god, what have I done to my life?" and I sat on the kitchen floor and bawled while he watched, cautiously, concerned, all wrinkled forehead and tail tip wagging tentatively between his legs.
He chewed things up. Once, I made a list of everything he had chewed. It didn't cheer me up much. Anything at ground level was fair game. He neatly picked one of every pair of my flip flops and dismembered them so that I had no matching pairs. It was exhausting, trying to puppyproof the house, and I hadn't yet discovered crate training. I dreaded returning home after any absence for fear of what I would discover in pieces on the floor or driveway.
As my Christmas gift that year, he stopped. It was as if a door had closed on that period of his life and he was ready to move on, and so we did.
The Next Fateful Step
He loved to learn. Desperate for something to do to occupy him, in addition to our twice or thrice daily 15-minute obedience exercises, I decided to spend 15 minutes a day attempting to teach him a trick. He learned to shake hands almost instantaneously. And he *concentrated*; you could see him watching me, thinking about it, putting the pieces together, tentatively trying something to see whether it would produce a goodie, and then embracing the new behavior wholeheartedly.
Soon I ran out of tricks that I knew dogs did. I bought a book and taught him more from the book. I saw what other people's dogs did when we attended classes or the mixed-breed dog club picnic, and I taught him those. He was insatiable, and his capacity for learning new words seemed limitless.
I tried other things, too. We started training for competitive obedience and practiced harder. We took a couple of tracking classes, which took a tremendous effort from his mom and provided not nearly enough entertainment or exercise for him. We signed up for an "acting" class, advanced, after convincing the instructor that we already could do everything in the beginning class and half the stuff in the advanced class.
Then someone told us about agility, and, in March of 1995, we took our first lessons. That was it, it was all over for every other activity, although it took me almost a year to realize it. He loved being off leash. He loved climbing and jumping and running. And--it took him a while to realize, too--he loved doing it with me.
I'm Hooked, I'm Hooked, My Brain Is Cooked
Our instructor finally convinced us to sign up for Just One, Try It, You'll Like It, competition in January of 1996. The first day was the coldest, rainiest, windiest, muckiest, muddiest most miserable day I have ever spent at an agility trial, bar none, in all the 80-odd trials I've been to since. It was the Trial That Will Live In Infamy. I was ready to go straight home and never return, except for one little problem--Remington earned a qualifying score, in the Gamblers class, which is one of the most challenging. It was exhilarating. The next day, he earned another in Jumpers. Also, it was sunny, warm, comfortable, and full of comraderie. Even better--on the way home, he lay down and slept. He had never been so tired, and I was delighted that I had finally found something to contain his youthful exuberance. I was hooked.
And I discovered that agility brought me closer to him than I could have ever been with Amber. It's a sport that requires that you both understand each other thoroughly and trust each other completely at canine speeds up to and exceeding 5 yards per second. And we learned everything about it together, sometimes in painful and frustrating steps.
Six and a half years of lessons and 77 weekends of competitions later, Remington earned the final qualifying score that he needed to become a NADAC Agility Trial Champion. That summer he was running faster and more confidently than he ever had before. He started taking 1st places in NADAC jumpers courses, where in the past we had often had trouble qualifying. He had just turned 9 in July, and he had never shown the slightest signs of arthritis or age or infirmity. It was August 3, 2002.
The First Crack In the Wall
Three weeks later, in Los Angeles for a competition, I let the dogs out of the car before the trial for a morning romp in the park. Instead of going wild, Remington merely trotted around the perimeter, sniffing. I thought maybe he was tired from the long drive the day before, where he had insisted on standing up the entire way to monitor the Cow situation.
Before his first run of the day, as I took him over the practice jump, he looked eager but took the jump awkwardly and landed gingerly. I walked him around to see whether he was limping, but he looked fine. When it was our turn, I walked him out to the start line, put him in a sit-stay, and led out. I turned and called to him. He stood, slowly, tail down. Walked a few steps out, head down. Something was obviously very wrong.
I took him off the course. For the rest of the weekend, he slowly deteriorated. He developed an odd gagging cough. He started to refuse food. He wanted to just lie there, not get up and do things.
First thing Monday morning I took him to the vet's. Almost everything seemed normal--heartbeat, pulse, eyes, gums, joints. He was dehydrated, although I didn't know why, since he had been drinking, and the vet treated for that. Blood test showed that he was somewhat anemic but we didn't know why. The vet thought that he possibly had bronchitis and treated for that.
Rem got better.
And So It Goes
Still, over the next couple of months, his agility running was sometimes on and sometimes way off. Instead of tiring gradually over a weekend, he might be fairly fast on the first run and not wanting to go faster than a trot the next. There was one evening in class where he suddenly stopped being willing to work, although he looked eager when I offered treats. We finally decided he looked like he was in pain going over jumps. By the time we got home, his head was dragging and his tail was between his legs and he needed help getting out of the car. I thought he must have hurt a muscle, gave him some aspirin, and the next morning he was better although still a little slow. Sometimes he thought about it for a long while before eating his meals, which was completely out of character.
I thought that, perhaps, finally, inexplicably and suddenly, he was showing signs of age. I didn't yet know enough to put all of these things together.
On Monday, November 4, he started acting oddly. He seemed lackadaisical and tired. He was restless, lying and standing and lying, as though he couldn't get comfortable. He refused dinner. He went out onto the patio by himself and just stood there in the cold, head and tail hanging, for a long time. When he finally came in and lay down, he started whining softly with each breath. It was no longer odd; it was frightening.
I took him to the emergency room that evening. By the next morning, I knew that he had an inoperable hemangiosarcoma tumor on his heart muscle, that it was extremely aggressive and deadly, and that I could expect between 1 and 6 months more of life depending on whether I decided to treat it aggressively and how well he responded to the treatment.
My world caved in. I have two other wonderful dogs, both of whom do agility with me and make me very happy in many ways. But neither of them are Remington.
I decided to fight it, as long as doing so allowed Remington to be happy and comfortable. So we fought. I posted the details sometimes daily in an online diary.
In November and December, I did no agility at all. I felt cut off from the world. But he seemed much better again, perhaps even happier and more energetic than he had for at least 3 months.
The way schedules worked, however, Remington competed in only two more trials--one in early January, where he once again showed his blazing speed and won his NADAC Jumpers competition, and one in early February, where he ran happily but slowly, walking though several portions, after which I pulled him from the rest of the day's competition.
I kept signing him up for future competitions so he'd have something to do while I was there with my other dogs, figuring he could run if he felt like it or I'd just pull him if he didn't. But, after he bled internally and dramatically again in mid-February, I officially retired him and withdrew all of his trial entries.
He was one jumpers run short of a Superior Jumpers title and only those 2 frustrating standard legs away from his MAD. It was hard to acknowledge that, after all that work over the last year or more retraining his contacts, we'd never get that MAD. The long, slow, gradual move into Veterans classes and eventual peaceful retirement that I had expected would never occur. The doctor put him to sleep in the early hours of March 8, 2003. He was only 9 years and 8 months old.
Remington, NATCH, AAD, JM, RM, CL4-R, CGC.