Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Run free, sweet Zoie.

If you've never felt the rich, velvety smoothness of Whippet ears, you have no idea what you're missing.  EVERYONE should experience the rich, velvety smoothness of Whippet ears.

I sure miss Zoie's silken, rose ears.  My sweet girl left this earth on Friday, March 28.  Thankfully her passing was as graceful as her time here on earth.  Making the gut-wrenching decision to release her from a devastating prognosis was my last gift to her.  That she went peacefully, her last gift to me.

I'm still in shock over how we found ourselves in such a position.  At 13.5, she was as gorgeous as ever.  She barely looked half her age.  She was healthy and happy.  When she wasn't lounging under the adoration of her many fans, she could be found engaging in various shenanigans around the house.  If you ever needed an unopened shipping container of bully sticks relocated and chewed into, she was your gal.  When it came to nosework, she was an ace carb detector, snagging endless packages of tortillas, muffins and loaves of bread (sourdough being her favorite) from the kitchen.

When I came home from work one Sunday night and found her on three legs, we thought it a soft-tissue injury.  Crate rest and a chiropractic adjustment seemed to do the trick.  But as she returned to four legs, it appeared the four legs were malfunctioning.  Her gait became intermittently awkward; occasionally a leg would mysteriously give out in a way that looked more neurologic than orthopedic or soft-tissue related.  The chiropractor suggested basic blood work and a spinal x-ray.

When we went for the x-rays and blood work, I threw in a chest x-ray, as our regular vet mentioned hearing a possible heart murmur.  The picture of her spine belonged to a dog easily half her age.  Her blood work came back stellar.  But the chest x-ray... the chest x-ray revealed a set of lungs riddled with white, blotchy spots throughout.  The vet shifted uncomfortably as she told me it *could* be a fungal infection, but, more likely, it was cancer that had potentially metastasized to her spinal cord, causing the neurological deficit.  Three days later, additional blood work told us it *wasn't* fungal.

From the beginning, I knew the prognosis wasn't good.  There was just too much involvement throughout her lungs.  And lungs are a pretty big deal.  She spent the first week in good spirits, eating, drinking and walking without much incident.  While she spent most of the day lying down, that really wasn't much different from most of her retired-life days.  She wanted to go for walks, often choosing to go considerably farther than I was expecting.  I prescribed a course of "window food therapy," where each day I'd bring home a fast-food item just for her: Breakfast Jacks, tacos al carbon, french fries...  all eagerly devoured as additions to her regular food.  But two weeks later, she mostly stopped eating, and her breathing became labored.  Still, she wanted to walk, so we enjoyed leisurely walks around the corner, or sometimes to the neighborhood park for some people-watching.  She spent her entire life watching people in that park.  Not long after, I knew it was time.  She was ready to go.  I made the gut-wrenchingly difficult call to schedule her final appointment.  We shared three weeks together following her diagnosis.  She passed one year and eight days after her housemate Quiz.

Part of what made the decision SO difficult was how amazingly healthy and strong she was everywhere else.  No arthritis.  Great blood work.  She had aged so beautifully that she didn't even look old, much less sick.  I really thought she'd be one of those 16+ year-old Whippets.  But finally, I realized that *because* she was so beautiful, it was that much more unfair to have her exist as a shell of her former, vibrant self.

That the demise of her health came almost one year to the day of losing Quiz only made the process that much more emotional.  Saying "goodbye" to Zoie marked the closing of a chapter of my life.  Many of my students will tell you that getting a dog changed their lives in that it led them to training, which helped them discover the fun you can have with a dog.  Many of us have developed close friendships with fellow dog-lovers as a result of taking a dog to training classes.  Some of my closest friends - most of whom I consider family - are people I've met because of my dogs - specifically Zoie, as she was my first dog as an adult, and the one I set out to train on my own.  She was also responsible for a career change, because in finding a training school, I discovered a love of training and was fortunate enough to volunteer and go on to teach classes.  I spent more than 10 years as a full-time dog trainer, and still train dogs part-time.

Zoie will be remembered for her velvety ears, soulful eyes, silly yodeling noises, see-thru back legs, her tri-toe front paw, catlike personality, her habit of lying on a dog bed with her body on the bed and her head on the floor, her love of carbs, and so much more.

She really was catlike.  Cuddling was almost always beneath her.  Her idea of "cuddling" was to dive under the blankets in bed on cold nights, where she'd stay so long as I didn't spend too much time loving on her.  She wasn't one to sit with me on the couch.  In fact, if she was on the couch first and I'd join her, she'd often leave in favor of her dog bed.  "Is that a Whippet thing?" people would ask.  No.  It was really more of a "Zoie thing."  She was her own creature, for sure.  We were bonded, and she'd be concerned if I left her with someone else, but when she had free access to me, she wasn't above playing *VERY* hard-to-get.  I guess it made the times she *did* choose to sit with me all the more special.

She was unfazed by other dogs on walks, even the trio of super-barky dogs we'd pass daily.  They were simply beneath her.  Always were.  When in the company of other dogs, if she wanted her space, she calmly gave the most powerful "stink eye" I've ever seen.  She mastered "the look" early on.  All other dogs seemed to respect "the look."  Seriously, if there was a textbook on "how to give effective stink eye," she penned it for sure.

We logged a lot of memories in our time together.  In her younger years, we trained for and competed in obedience, where she earned companion dog titles in two different registries, all with scores in the 190s, and even a 198.  She was the #1 AKC Obedience Whippet in 2004.  An especially proud accomplishment given that she was my Novice A dog.  She loved lure coursing and finished her AKC Master Courser title at 9-years-old.  While she loved it, she never once tried to rip up the bag at the end of course.  Instead, she'd look rather offended to think she'd just hauled her butt some 700-1,000 yards, at top speed in pursuit of a giant poop bag!  Then she'd happily trot over to me and we'd walk off the course while our running mates' owners struggled to extract the bags from the clenched jaws of their adrenalized hounds.  On her last-ever run, she told me it was time to retire by enthusiastically running half of a course, then stopping and trotting off the field and back to the car.  Gotta love a girl who knows what she wants.  At 13, she took up beginning nosework with a working spot in an online training class.  Oh how she loved it, and I LOVED watching her work with such enthusiasm, her skinny little tail wagging furiously.  In her absence, I treasure our series of training videos even more.

We did therapy work for a while, went on lots of road trips - one even as far as to Canada, spent countless hours training (she knew lots of tricks, which she eagerly performed her entire life!), she was on the cover of Whole Dog Journal, we hit the road for lure coursing so early even Starbucks was often still dark (now THAT'S love!), and met many wonderful people along the way.

She really did change my life, and I am grateful.  She is deeply missed.

Run free, sweet girl.  Have fun chasing all the bunnies.  And this time, they *won't* be poop bags.

In Loving Memory of Donmar-Valair Second Wind
#1 AKC Obedience Whippet in 2004 / AKC and ASFA FCh Pointed
Sweet Zoie, March 2014


P.S. In the midst of this sadness, there is some joy.  Shortly before Zoie got sick, I was evaluating a dog in an effort to help find him a working home.  When Zoie got sick, I realized he'd already found a home.  He's a little red Golden.  Did Quiz send him?  Did Zoie send him?  I don't know.  But I'm very glad he's here.  He'll get a post of his own one day soon.