It just wouldn’t be an After Gadget post if I didn’t start with an “On the one hand happy, on the other hand sad” sentiment, would it? Thus, in order not to disappoint. . . .
On one hand, Barnum and I having been rockin’ it. I’ve been at my pinnacle of functionality since Lyme hit in 2007, and I’ve squeezed out every bit of strength, energy, and mental focus to train and play as hard as I’m able. As a result, lots of skills are coming together. Most are Levels work — perfecting some of the skills from Level One (L1) that I was not satisfied with, as well as making great progress or even exceeding criteria for L2. But I’ve also been establishing a solid play retrieve, which I’ll want for exercising him in bad weather; continuing to hone his elimination on cue (got him to pee with one foot on a brick yesterday!); getting him more clicker savvy and “operant” (thinking for himself and offering behaviors instead of looking to me for direction) by playing the muffin tin game, the “101 things to do with a box” game, and free-shaping him to figure out on his own how to nudge doors open to get what he wants behind them.
In fact, he is now demanding to train, getting restless, bored, and adolescently tantrummy if we don’t train a few times a day. If we’re on a roll, and I keep the excitement and success level high, rotating behaviors, we can do sessions of 45 minutes or an hour, which is pretty darn good for a seven-month-old pup!
In short, we’re loving each other and thriving on our teamwork. It is truly a joy to work and play with him now, and even his forays into teenage prankishness — ruining the zipper on my extremely expensive and new organic barrier cloth, getting his sandy paws on my bed, slamming into the Plexiglas shield on our screen door so hard that he has severely cracked it (“Let me in NOW!”) — I pretty much laugh off. (The fact that he hasn’t had an accident in the house since June 20, which I blogged happened right after he passed his L1 test, has really been lovely, as well!)
I thought I was getting away with pushing myself too hard; then my body sent me a strongly worded memo. More of a “cease-and-desist order,” actually. I crashed in a serious way this past week. Gradually my voice went away, and my pain got worse, but I kept pushing until I was immobilized by pain and exhaustion, completely nonverbal, and largely unable to move my limbs. (With all the lovely nausea, brain fog, dizziness, etcetera, that goes with it.) Okay, body, got the message, thank you.
The silver lining is that I was able to not freak out (well, maybe just a smidge), and to remember that this was an opportunity for latent learning to kick in for my star pupil. And when I was able, it gave us a chance to practice training from me lying down and nonverbal, unable to get out of bed, which will likely be conditions Barnum will need to work under at times in the future.
On the other hand — you knew it was coming — Gadget has been on my mind even more than usual. In fact, I think one of the factors that has made training with Barnum so challenging and compelling is how different his process and personality are from Gadget’s. It really forces me to stay in my head and become a better trainer because I can’t rely on just doing what I did with Gadg. I have to flex my creative muscles.
But this time of year is heavy with memory for me.
Last year, Betsy and I started our vacation on the weekend of July 25 with a birthday party for Gadget. We don’t know for sure when his birthday was, but I thought it was probably in July, based on my having adopted him from rescue in July 2000, when he was just about one year old. Officially, we were celebrating his ninth birthday, but really we were celebrating him. Celebrating that we’d made it this far, that he was happy and healthy — in complete remission from the beast of lymphoma.
It was such an excellent party. I had never organized a dog birthday party before, and I was worried I would feel silly and awkward, overly sentimental. But it was wonderful. Gadget had the BEST time. I was so glad I did it.
Two of his dog friends came, and he played with them. It was a really hot day, so he was uncharacteristically playful in the kiddie pool my parents had brought just for him for the party. He kept trying to lie down in the pool to cool off. However, it was too small for him, making his butt bump against the side. So he’d just sort of hover, letting his chest get wet, but no further. Quintessentially Gadget! (After the party, seeing how much he liked the pool, we bought him a bigger one, which he almost never used — of course.)
I broke the cancer-diet low-carbs rule and baked liver biscuits and a dog cake, and all the dogs loved them.
We introduced our canine guests to some light agility . . .
. . . and, of course, everyone wanted to play “bobbing for biscuits.”
The human guests were also totally into it and so kind. It was not weird at all; it was actually one of the most fun parties I’ve ever had! Our guests brought really sweet, thoughtful gifts; I had not expected people to bring gifts at all. Carol, my PCA who absolutely doted on Gadget, made him the “party hat” he’s wearing below. It looked so festive, and he didn’t even mind wearing it.
Carol’s other gift was rather poignant: She gave him a terrific fleece vest for winter, which he never had the chance to wear. Like me, she didn’t entertain the possibility he wouldn’t be with us when the snow fell.
Everyone just loved him up. He really seemed to know it was his special day. Some of my favorite pictures of Gadget, in this post, are from that day — thanks to my Dad, who brought his camera, and my Mom, who kept saying, “Manny! Manny! Get a picture of this!”
With Gadget in complete remission, we were able to just celebrate him and feel GOOD. I thought it would keep going on like that. I tried not to think too far ahead, but I couldn’t help imagining his next party, a year later, for his tenth birthday. By October, that hope had slipped away, as mast cell cancer began taking over.
I miss him so much.
Still, for one glorious day in the sun, we were all happy, living in the moment, letting him eat cake.
As always, we welcome your comments.
-Sharon, the muse of Gadget (birthday boy in spirit), and Barnum (puppy-in-training)