Wednesday, September 4, 2013


(NOTE:  This topic is a "Dog Agility Blogger's Event."  See link below.)

When we found Keeper at the dog pound, she was just a little bipster. 

A sweet pup, she wanted (needed!) to PLAY, PLAY, PLAY.  She was my first border collie (at least "mostly BC"), and she taught me a thing or two. 

I was already firmly into my 50's when Keeper showed up.  On my 50th birthday I had happened to hear a series of "centenarian" interviews on the radio.  The interviewer asked several 100plus-year-olds how they made it that far. 

The answer that stuck with me came from a lady who was 104.  She said,

"It's easy.  Just keep moving."

That seemed a little more do-able than "Drink whiskey with every meal."  (Although I did feel strong admiration for that old fellow...)

So when I was fifty, I decided to move. (Honestly, the only time I felt OLD on a birthday was when I turned 25.  At the time, I just knew that was the beginning of the end.  Ha!)  

By the time Keeper was 1-year-old, we had discovered agility and she was teaching me what the word MOVING really means. 

By the time she was 2, we were competing in Performance classes at USDAA trials.  She's a big girl, with straight-ish shoulders and whompy hips, and I decided before we even started competing not to jump her at 26 inches. 

Part of that reasoning came from knowing my own limitations.  By the time you make it to your fifties, you realize that taking care of your body will buy you more mileage.  If you're put together too awkwardly to sprint, try jogging.  If your dog is put together too awkwardly to jump high, try jumping her lower. 

I didn't want my sweet Keeper to get hurt just because I wanted to be in the Championship classes.   So we did the next best thing....Performance, at 22. 

Still....once in a great while I'd slip her into an AKC class, and jump her at 24.  Those competitive feelings are difficult to deny. 

She was a great first agility dog.  Willing, reasonably speedy, and with a heart of gold.  She was that mixture of "tight" and "drivey" that everyone wants.  As long as I was watching her, she cleared jumps easily.  When my attention wandered, she knocked bars.  She and I were head-over-heels in love.

She did well, for a dog that didn't trial much.  She got a few AKC titles, and a whole slew of USDAA titles.  Over the years we made it into Regionals finals, into the Nationals, and onto a few USDAA Top Ten lists.

And she talked me into getting another dog.  A Border Collie, of course.  :-)

Keeper was retired one snooker-superQ short of her PDCH.  She let me know it was time when she started getting up stiff and sore from her naps after agility practice. 

I never gave her Rimadyl or any other drug to try to get her through practice or through a trial.  I took plenty of Advil at trials, but I long ago decided not to show any animal with a drug masking its pain, therefore masking its ability to favor a leg if need be.  (In my youth I watched plenty of competitive horse people go that route...and, in my humble opinion, it's not a good route to take.) 

The jump heights had something to do with her retirement from agility.  But it was the A-frame that really got to her.  She had a tendency to hit that steep up-contact with gusto.  It was hard on her front legs.  Although I tried to figure out a way to soften her approach...I tried too little, too late.  She developed arthritis in her "wrists" and started showing stiffness after a series of training sessions.  We trained less.  We trialed less.  And, after winding down her agility activity to No More, she was retired in 2010.  The same year I turned 60.

If I could figure out how to explain to a dog why he's being given a painkiller to run as fast as possible at a competition....and then figure out how to explain later why he is so stiff and sore...maybe I would've kept competing with Keeper.  She was that good.  But.  What do you do, hold up the blue ribbons and say, "See? This is why!"?   Is there any dog that would understand that?  Nope. 

If carefully calibrated warm-ups, cool-downs, and massages can't get your dog through low-jump training sessions and/or trialing, then it's time for him to retire. 

We all know that animals don't care about certificates and titles, so many of us say that we don't care about them either.  Ha ha ha...but I DO care!  Or I wouldn't be competing at all!  I'd become a worker bee, and just hang around the trials and watch these beautiful teams run.  (In fact, that may be exactly what I do, when it's time for me to retire from agility....)

I'll admit it is damn difficult to give up a run for a title when you're so close to it.... 
But you've got to watch your teammates, and take extra special care of them.  You're the one in charge.  They're the ones unwittingly putting their retirement years on the line. 

Dogs live IN THE MOMENT.  You don't want their old-age moments to be any more painful than they would be naturally.  You want your dogs to have active, healthy lives...but you don't want them to hurt in old age any more than you want to hurt in old age.

The advantage you have is that you can picture the future, and make reasonable choices.  Your teammate just follows your lead.  If you have a teammate like Keeper...she will follow you to the ends of the earth and beyond.

So I bear that in mind, while I try to play this wonderful game of agility.  I try to figure out what it means to age gracefully.  While I deal with my own injuries, I plan how to keep my teammates fit and happy.

Keeper taught me a lot about patience, about enjoying each present day of my life, and about planning for the future.  She is happily retired.  She doesn't move like she used to, but she moves pretty well.  We enjoy daily walks and occasional hikes.  We play controlled games like "find it" and "wait/fetch."  We enjoy each other's company. 
I take her out to the agility field once in a while, and we play on a "jumpers" course, with the bars set on the ground. She loves it.
In the meantime, Riff and I are learning how to be a good agility team.

He is teaching me what MOVING really REALLY means.   

Sometimes drinking whiskey all day doesn't sound so bad. 

PS.  Want to read more blogs about Agility and Aging?  Look here:

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