Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mimi and The French Fries

I posted about Mimi and the Cold French Fries back in April. I was cleaning up files today and came across the video of that event.

It reminded me of something I say to my flyball club often: it's a game we play with dogs!

I was fairly annoyed at the time but looking at the film clip now, I think it is pretty funny.

In the video, you can see that even though Mimi is pretty happy at the start line, she is distracted, looking over her shoulder several times.

I do manage to get her over that first jump, then WHOOPS! she whips right back around heading for those precious cold french fries in the dust beneath the bleachers.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Girls

My instructor, Debbie, refers to Mimi and Gracie as "the girls." Since that is modern slang for boobs, it's funny when she says it, as in "I'll see you and the girls tomorrow." But despite their deep and abiding hatred for each other, Mimi and Gracie do form a pair, odd and contentious a pairing as it may be.

There are two agility trials coming up in August, local ones in a venue that I really like and that is about 40 minutes from my house. Because doing agility helps me stay sane during the good times, I felt it was just as important during these bad times, so I entered them. Those entries represent a lot of PB&J sandwiches for dinner.

Since Gracie decided to get her AKC Novice Jumpers title at her first trial, she will be competing in Open Jumpers at her second AKC trial (only her third agility trial overall). Besides a pretty big increase in the difficulty of the courses, Gracie will now have to face all 12 weaves in Open--they only use 6 weave poles in Novice.

Mimi is a weaving fiend. She has astonishing control over her body and lately has been getting faster and faster. Her footwork in the weaves is so fast that I have to have video to pick out what she does (she slaloms like most bigger dogs do, alternating leads with each front leg). She can get a little carried away though. Last week, she was going so fast that she lost control and ran head on into one of the poles. BOING!!! Amazingly, she didn't lose her place or pop out and immediately resumed weaving at top speed.

Gracie, well, Gracie has struggled a bit with the weaves. She was mostly trained with weave-a-matics and has good footwork in the vertical poles but when she gets carried away, she'll start skipping poles. She's learned enough to know she has to exit the poles in a certain way and sometimes she'll adjust, skipping another pole or two until she is lined up correctly for the exit. When she does this, it is clear to me that she knows that there are 12 poles and that she has to do them all. (And that she can count to 12; most agility dogs can.)

Gracie was barely doing six weaves consistently at her first trial. Now she has to do all 12 and we don't get all those free attempts like we do in Novice.

As much as I dislike this particular technique, I found that if I tell her "easy!" around pole 6, and if she makes it successfully to pole 8, she can usually complete all 12. But she does slow down a bit after I say easy, mainly because she starts thinking super hard about what she's doing. Mimi probably weaves on auto-pilot now, but Gracie isn't quite there.

The Backyard Dogs exercise I set up for them had 12 poles, good practice for Gracie, plus a curved tunnel that required you to send the dog in then run around the back side and pick them up from behind it. Gracie, a green dog without many preconceived notions of what is proper, picked up on this right away. Mimi, an experienced dog who is sure she knows what is going on, really struggled with this the first few times we did it. I had to reshape the tunnel away from the original C-shape so that it would help her figure out I was BEHIND the tunnel and she was to turn away from the direction she thought was "right."

They both jump at 16", they both have the jumping style that straight-fronted terriers often have (lots of air time in high jump arcs), they both register about the same in my peripheral vision, they know the same verbal commands and start line stay routines, and I train them in the same handling system so they recognize all of those signals. In these things, they do make a pair, the girls.

But in execution, that is, running the course with them, they feel entirely different to me. Mimi handles like a bullet: compact, fast, wraps and slices nice and tight, sticks her contacts like she was glued to them. Point and shoot, off we go. Gracie is more like handling a kite: she's fast but there's some drift, and I have to cover more ground because I have to get closer to obstacles to help her commit. I can see the greatness in Gracie, though.

Consider that I didn't start any classes with her until last fall, and she's been to all of three trials so far, with considerable success. She didn't have the years of focused training that I gave to Mimi, yet look at how quickly she is taking all of this in and how proficient she is becoming.

If I were to get both girls into the excellent/masters levels, I think the girls would give us all a very entertaining and competitive show.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


A friend suggested that I was going to keel over from stressitis. It's certainly a possibility.

So much about my situation is currently undetermined, there are so many loose ends lying around, that if there is even a twitch in any one element, I'll start running around flapping my hands squawking "what should I do? what should I do?"

Will the lenders foreclose, or will they accept a short sale?

How can I find my cats new homes?

Do I make decisions based on the long term or the short term? Do I only consider rational pros and cons or do emotional aspects weigh in too? Am I truly being rational or do I just think that I am?

What personal belongings do I need to keep and what should I sell or store? Should I start packing up boxes now?

Should I set up the video camera every time I play ball with the dogs since it may be one of the last times I get to play with that dog in this backyard?


The dogs and I have been getting lots more exercise despite the summer heat. That's no doubt to all our benefit. I've been drinking a bit too much in the evenings, no doubt to my detriment, but I'm certainly not overdoing it. For one, my stomach and head can't handle overdoing it. For another, it's starting to get kind of boring.

In order to avoid dealing with all of the above, I am devouring books, sometimes one a day. The public library is close and best of all, free. Most of my reading occurs at night when I can't sleep because I spend my days on the computer chasing down job postings and applying for them.

I set up an agility sequence in the training field this past weekend for the girls. It is from the Backyard Dogs column in July's Clean Run magazine. It took me three weekends over the month of July to work my way through all of the exercises with both Mimi and Gracie. I came into the house on Sunday after working them then playing ball with all of the other dogs (separately, of course) and realized that playing with my dogs makes me happier than just about anything else that I do.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Day in the Life

The rhythm of life around Circus K9 has changed quite a bit since I lost my job. I get up between 6am and 7am. If it's not already too hot, I play agility with the girls, or throw the ball in the backyard for each of the dogs, or take some of them for a walk. This regular exercise is good for all of us.

Then it's time for breakfast! Oh my, the dogs are all starving. I switched to a less expensive kibble (Solid Gold is aptly named) but they all still get a spoonful of yogurt with breakfast. Every single one of those dogs slurps up their yogurt first.

My turn next. A half-cup of coffee, perhaps something to eat although I don't usually eat breakfast. Why only a half cup? Even diluted down with soymilk, coffee is pretty rough on my stomach and that is about all that I can tolerate each day.

I might do some dog grooming next. There are always nails that need trimming or ears that need to be cleaned. I like to keep smooth fox terrier butts and tails neatly groomed--all my dogs are in fine shape and a bit of trimming shows off their lovely muscles.

I've started to go through all my belongings, culling items to sell, throw away, keep, store. There is a growing pile of miscellany in the dog room labeled "items for yard sale". I'm gradually becoming less sentimental and much more brutal about this process.

Sometime each day I'll take a shower, earlier if I plan to run errands. My world has shrunk down to the public library and the grocery store so many days I don't leave the house at all. Still, I do make sure I take a shower no matter what. Once the personal hygiene routine begins to slip, you are already on a slippery slope.

I'll spend several hours on the computer looking for a job. I've documented more than 110 specific applications that I've submitted since late May. Some days, I'll apply to 5 or 6 positions. Other days, I may only get in 1 or 2. Some applications take hours to complete--reworking my CV and writing a cover letter don't usually take too long but sometimes the online forms associated with an application can be extremely cumbersome. I filled one out earlier this week that would not allow me to type in dates. I had to click on a calendar widget and SCROLL through months and years to click on the correct date. And the application unfortunately asked for dates, dates, and more dates. It was slow and frustrating.

My computer is in a room that faces west. I've bumped up the thermostats to 80+ to save money, so by 5pm, it's pretty toasty in here.

Time to play with the dogs again! I play a bit of tug with Harry and perhaps throw a toy for another of them. I putter around the house--I need to keep it clean and as uncluttered as I can now that it is for sale. Never know when it might be shown.

By 6pm, I'll be outside in the shade, glass of wine in my hand (box wine, much cheaper than that fancy stuff that comes in a glass bottle), watching my pups enjoy the waning of the heat. Lots of rolling and lolling. I usually take a book and hang out for as long as I can stand the heat. I'll pause to watch Gracie chase down locusts (yum yum), Jack fence running with the neighbor's dog, Harry doing his best plant imitation (face to the sun, motionless), the hummers visiting the feeder.

I might do some yard work at this time of day. Shrubs and trees to pick up after, and all that grass! It is an endless task to keep it mowed and edged. Still, it's growing much more slowly now with the heat. I've hardly had to water it because we've had almost perfectly spaced rain storms.

Dinnertime! The dogs are starving! Once they are fed and have had a chance to go out again, I'll make my own dinner. It is far cheaper to cook from scratch at home than eat prepared food, especially if I shop carefully, choose foods that are in season and on sale, and only eat meat a couple of times a week. If I've had a rough day, I'll go with a comfort-food meal: you can't beat pasta, homegrown tomatoes, fresh basil, a bit of garlic, salt, olive oil, and a decent cheese.

After cleaning up, I'll watch TV or read until bedtime, which usually arrives well before 10pm. I'll sleep for a couple of hours, then toss and turn for the rest of the night, usually falling asleep again around 4am.

And start it all again the next day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Cap and Mimi Show is Over

This past weekend, I returned Cap to Border Collie Rescue of Texas. With the future so uncertain, it was clear that I was not going to be able to give him the training and attention that he needed.

I am going to try to rehome all three cats and two of the fox terriers.

The house is now up for sale--I hope that we can get it sold before the lenders foreclose.

After that, who knows where we will end up?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Flyball Fun

Friends don't let friends play flyball without alchohol. Yes, they staged this when I took a nap, but it isn't like I wasn't drinking anyway...(taken in May, 2009)

Dogz Rule! put in a great showing at Reliant again this year.

What is Reliant? It is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, dog shows on earth. It has conformation, obedience regular and rally, freestyle, agility (four rings), flyball (two rings), aisles and aisles of vendors, and more dogs and dog people than you can shake a stick at. It takes place in the Reliant Center in south Houston. Houston in August is hot and steamy, the concrete floors are hard on your feet and knees, it's loud and frenetic. It is not a show to be missed if possible.

We had one team on Friday that was put together to allow two green dogs a chance to strut their stuff. Boy, they sure did a great job! We took first place in our division and one of the dogs earned her first two titles. Harry was a backup dog on that team and ran a couple of races with great enthusiasm.

We had three teams running on Saturday and Sunday. As one of my club members said in her wrap-up post, it takes a village to run a Reliant team. We have a white board listing the assigned jobs for every team: box loader, box bitch, shagger (self-shagging is just such a pain), line video, stats taker, pass caller, pass scribe, coach, and of course handlers and dogs! I was coach for our C team, running Harry in start slot for our B team, and handling a big barky BC named Marz in start slot for our A team. I was running around and yelling at someone or some dog all weekend long.

I rotated all six of the C team dogs in and out of the lineup so that they each ran almost the same number of races. I was also able to be somewhat strategic about my choice of dogs to use in each race, and that team, which was seeded fourth in their division, came out strong and led the pack to a first place finish on Sunday. This makes it sound like my line up strategy had something to do with that win. Really, though, we won because all six of those handlers and dogs were consistent and solid. We beat teams that may have been faster than us because we were running clean and they were not.

I got a perfect start of 0.000 seconds with Marz on the A team, my second perfect start with him. The hosting club gives out Tshirts for perfect starts. But the rest of the time, I had a case of nerves, I think, and wasn't able to maintain starts with Marz much better than 0.1 seconds, but at least I was able to keep him in that zone. This team finished a frustrating fourth place because we had to make some dog substitutions on Saturday with some slower dogs and because the core dogs had too many errors scattered amongst them. Marz in particular was having trouble at the box, dropping his ball. We decided he was getting too wound up at the start (causing him to reach the box at such a speed that he was not getting good turns or good grips on the ball) so I had to back way off and release him with a minimum of fuss and fanfare. This also contributed to my not getting better starts with him--I was afraid that my tension and excitement about pushing a very tight start would cause him to get too excited again.

But all of you really want to hear about Harry, right?

On Friday, he ran a couple of 4.8 second runs, to my complete astonishment. Over the weekend, he consistently ran 5.0 seconds, sometimes for five heats in a row. Sure, a 5.1 or a 4.9 run would slip in there now and then, and when he ran a 5.2 second heat, I gave him some K9 Restart which perked him right back up. But for him to race five heats every race, sometimes more if there were false starts, and do it for two solid days, and to maintain such a consistent peformance--wow. I am so proud of my little old man--Harry will be 11 in about 3 weeks! I will surely be corrected by a teammate, but I think he had one flagged error all weekend when he dropped the ball before crossing the line.

Harry at rest, July 2009.

Harry's team totally stomped the competition and took first place in their division. It was a fabulous line up of little dogs--Harry the smooth fox terrier, Tofu the tiny BC/pap/?? mix, Rudy the little staffy bitch, and Sisko the small BC mix. The total weight of the four dogs could not have exceeded 100 lbs. Great handling, great passes, dogs running clean and fast. A perfect combination, and it showed in our racing.

Harry picked up 835 points for the three days. He now has 19,409 points and is within two tournaments of getting his ONYX title (20,000 points), a very big deal in the world of NAFA. Dogz Rule! has four other ONYX dogs, three of whom are still racing.

There is another tournament in August and Dogz Rule! is hosting their annual tournament in November--so it could be possible for Harry to earn this title this year. It would mean a lot for me to do this with Dogz Rule!

I'm not sure I can achieve this goal for him, though. With no job in sight, it is hard for me to justify the cost of going to a tournament, even when I shave those costs down to the bone. For Reliant, a friend paid for my hotel, another friend bought me dinner on Saturday night, and the club gathered donations to pay Harry's tournament fees (I had to go into the parking lot for a little cry when I found this out). I can't ask them to subsidize me indefinitely.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Flyball Is In The Air Again (2)

This photo is from the summer of 2005, taken in my backyard in Austin. Clockwise, that's Iz out front as always, Harry, Jack, my neighbor's annoying dachshund, and Jen on my old pause table. It was a hot summer, but I was so excited to have Jen with us. Everyone was healthy and happy.

The Reliant Cluster of Dog Shows is this weekend. It's a big flyball weekend--three days instead of the usual two. Plus lots of clubs from far-flung places come to this show. In the past, we've seen teams from California, Mexico, even Canada. This year, Spring Loaded is running a team. They are the current world record holders: 15.22 seconds for four dogs to run down to the box and back. That's pretty amazing!

Harry lives for flyball. From the very first day (in 2000) that he saw this game, he knew he had found his calling. Since then, we've been with four different clubs in two states and seen a lot of different dogs and handlers.

Dogz Rule! is without any doubt the best club ever.

I wasn't going to run Harry in Reliant. He is ever so close to his Onyx, could possibly get that title this year, and it's a pretty big deal, but I am so worried about money. Traveling to Houston for flyball seems totally frivolous when I am probably going to lose my house.

But with the support of my friends and teammates, Harry and I (and the other five dogs--I save a lot of money by not boarding them) are heading to Houston on Thursday for three fabulous days of flyball fun.

The car is going to be jammed with crates and bedding and food, and of course, six dogs. I'll have to pack and unpack and exercise dogs and potty dogs constantly for three days. But it will be worth it to see my little old man doing what he loves best.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Summer Molt

I've been finding little clumps of orange hair around the house--Lola is going through a major summer molt. I took the Furminator (a grooming tool whose virtues I've extolled before) to her today. She seemed to enjoy the attention. Here's the result:

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sophie's Choice

It's really hot outside now so I thought I would post this picture of Harry and Iz enjoying the snow in Salt Lake City, circa 1999, Iz's first winter. I've been in Austin for several days--drought and 100+ temps wilt everything, including people. Thank goodness it's not quite as dry up here in DFW though it is still pretty darned hot.

I posted last night about the dogs acting out while we were in Austin. Now that they are back at home in their own space, I have heard hardly a peep from any of them. They all got a bath this afternoon, spent some time drying off in the backyard, and now they are draped all over the house in a state of post-dining, post-travel exhaustion.

The anniversary of Iz's death is coming up in a few weeks (August 1) and I've been thinking of her more often than usual. Her last two months were a painful struggle so I'm trying instead to remember all of the wonderful things that we did together. The many years that she and I did animal-assisted therapy volunteer work resulted in lots of good memories. She was so amazing in that role.

While thinking of Iz, I've also been thinking about losing my other pets.

I was recently faced with an interview for a job that would have required me to leave behind all but two of my animals. I have not received an offer, and now don't expect one from this particular company. But the struggle required to choose which animals I could not take was horrible. It was like asking me to cut off an arm or a leg--which ones would I abandon? Imagining my cats in a crate at a PetSmart adoption day is as bad as any nightmare I've had. Could I choose between Mimi and Gracie? How could I ask someone else to take on Jack with his many neuroses and anxieties? I think that my own anxiety about this resulted in a relatively poor interview--unconscious sabotage--but how many of you could easily make that choice?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dark Days Continue

It's been a very horrible two days. I had become so paralyzed by my housing and financial situation that I wasn't able to make the simplest decision. It's a good thing I'm not working because I can hardly dress myself--selecting a clean Tshirt and shorts from the limited selection in my suitcase is a major task. I wear flipflops because keeping track of shoes and socks is too complicated.

I had a bit of a breakdown this afternoon, partly prompted by hours of viewing desperate, cockroach-infested houses and sad mobile homes perched at the dry edge of someone's property.

All of my dogs are acting out in the most horrible ways because they know that I am not happy, that something is not right. Harry broke into the extra dog food I brought to Austin and ate close to five cups of kibble. He looks like he's pregnant and moans when I pick him up. Cap has buzzsawed his way through dozens of toys in the past few days. He threw up a pound of kibble and dog toy bits last night--took him five tries to get it all out of his stomach. I was wiping up feet and ears from an array of stuffed toys, pieces of rubber balls, the sad half-cups of destroyed tennis balls, bits of stick, and hastily chewed kibble. Mimi, Jack, and Gracie are so on edge that they bark frantically at the slightest sound real or imagined. And Jack attacked Harry this afternoon for the first time in years.

I'm going home in the morning and I hope that I along with the dogs can recenter and calm down.

I'm blessed to have many friends that I can call on, friends who have both advice and other friends, but mainly friends who will calmly listen to me without dismissing my fears or ignoring my request for their time.

My mother talked me down from the ledge this afternoon and my good friend DSL made me laugh out loud with silly tales of silly dogs.

I'm nowhere near any sort of resolution or end to this difficult journey but at least I'm ready to face a few more days.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mimi and Gracie, My Agility Queens

Last month, there was a local outdoor, evening USDAA trial. It was held at the same facility where Mimi had her meltdown last year. I was very hesitant about entering her at all but decided to enter her in Jumpers only the first night and Jumpers and Gamblers the second night. Both of those are pretty simple games that are well within her abilities. Even if Gamblers proved to be too scary, I figured I could at least get her around one or both of the Jumpers courses.

With Mimi's continued (but lessening) anxiety about amplifiers and speakers, it may be a while before I can play Snooker again with her. All of the clubs out here have the judges use wireless mics and speakers to call points and Snooker is all about points. But as far as I know, Gracie has no such anxiety so I entered Gracie in Jumpers, Gamblers, and Snooker both nights.

I couldn't let go of my stress and worry about losing my job and the first night was not a good one for us. Gracie did Q in Starters Jumpers but our other runs were unsuccessful.

I was particularly disappointed with Mimi's Jumpers run on Friday night. She was doing fine walking around the place and didn't seem to have any memory of what happened last year. She was barely flicking her ears at noises that in the past have melted her into a quivering blob in her crate. I got her to the start line and she seemed happy enough. But the weather was unsettled and just as she was entering obstacle three, the tunnel, there was a large clap of thunder. Mimi panics during storms. I ran to the tunnel exit and grabbed her just as she came out and ran off the course with her in my arms. I am not sure she even heard the thunder since she was in the tunnel but I couldn't know if there would be more and I just couldn't risk her having another meltdown associated with agility.

I left that night very upset, feeling that I had not been able to focus on the courses and that I had not done right by my girls. I didn't know how to stop worrying about money, job, house, health insurance, food....

The next evening as we were getting settled in for the second night, I went up to Debbie and said, I think I am my own worst enemy. This was the opening she had been waiting for, it seems. She had a little talk all prepared for me. I listened carefully then turned her suggestions over and over in my head. I thought she was right on target. I needed to make the effort to make this work for us.

And that second night, Gracie Q'd in Snooker and Jumpers again, and Mimi Q'd in Gamblers and Jumpers. Four Q's out of five attempts. Plus, that Jumpers Q also earned Mimi her Starters Jumpers title.

Here's Gracie's Snooker course (sorry for the poor quality scan, my course maps get kind of mangled after being stuffed in sweaty pockets for hours):

I decided to make it easy on both of us and do the #5 tunnel three times (red-tunnel-another red-tunnel-third red-tunnel) then complete the closing (obstacles 2 through 7 in that order). I handled the hell out of this course, turning it into a thing of beauty. Gracie simply nailed it. Perfect execution, read every one of my crosses and responded correctly, showed a lot of drive and speed. I had such a fun time out there with her.

But the really neat part was Jumpers. Mimi placed first with a Q...and her sister placed second with a Q! They were the only two 16" Starters dogs to Q. And get this: Mimi's time was 27.369 seconds and her sister's was 27.958 seconds. I have no idea how Debbie knew to pan over to the final time after both runs, but I'm so glad she filmed both of these runs for me.

First up was Mimi. You can see that she appeared to be pretty happy at the start line although she did flinch at the electronic "GO". She went around the first jump and was doing a lot of sniffing, both of which are usual signs of stress for her. And I almost sent her over the wrong jump there in the middle of the course!

Four dogs later, it was Gracie's turn. I barely had time to praise and treat Mimi and get her settled back in her crate, then get Gracie up to the start line--Jumpers classes move quickly. Gracie was doing some sniffing during the run too, but in her case it is because she is green and inexperienced. The sniffing slowed us down but she maintained pretty decent speed, considering this was her second agility trial ever!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dark Days at Circus K9 (censored)

I have chosen to self-censor my blog and return it to public view.

I was laid off at the end of May. I'm still looking for a job. No luck so far.

My stress levels are off the chart and it is a struggle to do more than sleep all day. I certainly don't sleep at night.

Our situation may become much worse in another month or so but until then, I think I need to start posting again.

Apologies if anything doesn't make sense.