Four years ago today, I was forced to face my first euthanasia. We were having quite the monsoon here in Arizona and driving back from a weekend away with our three dogs. Dr. Berthiaume, being the spectacular vet that he is, didn't hesitate to brave the storm to come to our home at a moment's notice after business hours to lead us through our first experience. However, my focus today is on Boomer's life and what he taught me.
Boomer was a middle-aged beauty that we adopted from Desert Labrador Retriever Rescue. I took one look at his photo and knew he was mine. I contacted his foster mom Lori and learned that he had been adopted out, returned, and had gone blind during his yearlong transition from rescue to me. I had never had a blind dog before but knew I had it in me to take care of him.
I wasn't a trainer at the time and had no idea what I was in store for! Rob and I brought Boomer home and he proceeded to test our boundaries right off the bat. We supervise all incoming dogs very closely until they are given freedom to roam. In rescue, you have no idea what you get until it shows up. For my Boomer, he let us know right off the bat that he was a little bit pissed off at the world. He huffed and puffed much like a frustrated bull. My other two labs, Lola and Luigi, looked at me perplexed. He was looking for trouble but wasn't bringing it to the table. I instinctively knew he was no threat. Through my energy, I let my dogs know to give him a wide berth and ignore him. He was just trying it on and waiting to see if anyone was going to give him a hard time.
We taught him where his food station was so that he had a landmark in which to begin his mapping. We scented the doggie door with one essential oil and his bed with another so that he knew where he was at all times. I quickly read online that we should not move any furniture during the process and that's about all we knew. We gave him and the pack my trademark warm bowl of dog soup and settled in for a good night's sleep to let him decompress.
The next morning, I went to the other end of the house at 5 a.m. I never wake that early but my inner dog knew he had left our bedroom. There, I found my blind boy patiently sitting at his food station. First, I was amazed and impressed that he figured out in less than eight hours where his food station was! What made me cry was that he not only knew he would be fed and taken care of by us but that he was sitting in the dark waiting for his meal. Those emotions were from the mommy in me and no amount of being a dog trainer will ever change that tenderness in my heart. I wouldn't want to change that, either. However, it's important to point out that I will never share those tears and energy with the dog and I teach my clients the same. He didn't know it was dark. He didn't care that he was blind. He just knew he was going to be fed and was already trusting our family.
It was February when he arrived but he wanted to swim. I scented the pool steps and began training him on leash. He was a champ in the pool! As training moved forward, I gave him the trust and freedom to find his way to my voice. He was a stubborn mule of a dog and did not want to listen to my STOP command as he approached the edge of the pool.
I'm a very relaxed trainer with two exceptions. COME means come and STOP means stop--on command. I demand split second obedience. I don't care if the dog's sit is cockeyed or his down is sloppy. I'm training dogs into a balanced state of mind to be family pets. I'm not looking for AKC precision. However, those two commands must be 100% proofed. My logic here is that I am teaching the dog those firm commands so that it stays out of harm's way whether it be in the street or a dog fight. Come means come right now.
Back to the edge of the pool again. My stop command was blown off totally by Mr. Stubborn-As-A-Mule. I let him fall in the shallow end. I was there to guide him out but he blew right past me, swam to the steps and started over. Here's the really amazing part. He exited the pool, wove his way around the palm tree, meandered past the bbq grill, went to the landscape rocks where he toilets and walked back to the pool. I said nothing because I knew we were about to have a moment and I needed to let the mule trust himself. He was far superior to me in that moment of retracing his steps and I swear he could count them. His nose was not to the ground. He simply retraced a path, came to the pool and stopped a hair before the edge! I was such a proud mama and I know he was proud of himself!
The funniest moment of our short five months together came at our annual trip to Dog Beach in San Diego. My husband tells the story this way -- "we descended on the beach cottage like German paratroopers invading Poland"! We were loud and double parked while we unloaded three large labs, feeding stations, dog beds and tubs of frozen homemade dog food. We had just enough space to carry a bathing suit for ourselves! lol
They ran off in different directions in our shared fenced yard to smell every inch of the property and learn who had been there before them. The next morning, our cottage neighbors were greeted by Boomer joining them at their breakfast table trying to steal food from the kids!! He marched right up their steps and into the cottage. We were outnumbered and the dogs knew it! Even though that was deplorable behavior, he was having the time of his life and we're laughing all these years later!
Today, I give thanks for having such a goofy dog who made me laugh and challenged me to step up my game. I feel certain that he is at the Rainbow Bridge raising hell! I'll never forget the memories and all the laughs... xo