Monday, February 7, 2011
This One Goes to Eleven
The calendar got ahead of me.
Today is Pip's birthday. Eleven years old and still going strong. SAR dog, training partner, farm dog, pack matriarch, smartass.
The photo was taken last week. My "old dog."
Boy, here's a dog who has gotten me into a lot of trouble. If she hadn't been so damned much fun to work and train as a pup, I'd probably have quit SAR when Mel retired.
We had planned on another German shepherd to eventually take over Lilly's job. Had visited a breeder, met the dam, watched the sire on television. Great dogs, just what I wanted in a GSD. The litter was tiny, two males, and we were set on a bitch. So we waited impatiently until he bred her again, to the first sire's brother. Nice big litter, we were doing the happy dance.
And then they started dying. Mother was not producing enough milk, and breeder somehow failed to notice this.
By the time the breeder called us again, when the pups were a week old, half the litter of eight had "simply starved to death" and he was thinking of killing another weak pup. But no worries, we would have our bitch pup from the survivors.
Aside from our case of acute and debilitating WTF? about how a supposedly experienced working-dog breeder could fail to notice that his apparently overworked, undernourished bitch couldn't feed her babies, we knew enough about perinatal development to worry about the future of the survivors -- bodies and brains deprived of nourishment when they most needed it. We declined a puppy, leaving a pissed-off breeder who lectured me on how this kind of loss was "normal," as if I'd just fallen off a turnip truck.
So now it was a big problem. We'd devoted over a year to a puppy search, and over a year waiting for "our" German shepherd pup, and Lilly was not getting younger, her hip sockets were not getting any rounder or deeper.
Meanwhile, back at the AMRG ranch, our teammate Barb had been on her own long quest for a first SAR partner, and I'd been helping her.
She wanted a dog that was smaller than a German shepherd, but had a temperament like Lilly's, didn't shed much but was furry, would be healthy and long-lived. Border collie was clearly too high-strung, and the taillessness of Australian shepherds was a problem for her.
I'd heard about these dogs called English shepherds years before, when we still lived in Boston. "Like an Aussie with a tail, but calmer." We'd looked into them, but ended up finding Mel to become our second SAR partner and the transcendent dog whose soul merged with and vastly improved my own.
So I helped Barb find a nearby breeder who seemed to be on the right track, and visited to look at the dogs she was using. Saw a male and a female there on the dairy farm and had an instinct -- "Wait until she breeds these two to one another, your puppy will be in that litter."
The litter of five from Dust-Dee and Cocoa was as good a working litter as I'd ever seen. When Barb and I visited them at five weeks of age, I thought "Any one of these could make a SAR dog."
When our hopes for a German shepherd died along with those unnourished puppies, Theresa let us line jump. Barb got first pick, we got second. There were three bitches to choose from. Two nice, normal, balanced girlpuppies who performed beautifully on their puppy aptitude tests, and one cartoon lunatic whose response to adversity was to flip me the middle toe and ransack my gear box for a toy she'd seen ten minutes before and wanted, dammit.
Barb's Rozzie grew into a lovely, gracious, sensible dog. She was our dog-niece. And she lost her career to sickness and died far too young; I still believe it was goddamned lawn chemicals that gave her seizures and then, years later, finished her off.
We took the nut. Took her home on April Fool's Day, and ever since she's amused herself by making fools of us.
She spent her first months with us with her head inside Lilly's lupine maw. We later determined that the Old Lady had been injecting brain tissue -- and personality, character, attitude and highly specific memories -- via her impressive fangs.
Her operational testing for SAR in fall of 2001 was delayed by months when we all lost our damned minds, and every potential evaluator was either queued up or actively sifting through rubble for remains. By early spring, Lilly was more than ready to hand over the reins.
She has birthed and raised eighteen great puppies, and adopted one more.
Groundhogs tell their children tales of the bogeypip.
Baby chicks run to her for protection.
She stole and tried to nurse kittens when she was still a virgin bitch. Their mother resolved the conflict by curling up against Pip's belly and nursing her babies there, which was completely satisfactory to everyone.
She's been on ten commercial flights and has, despite her powers of invisibility in the normal course of travel, become legendary at the Denver airport as the dog who negotiates moving sidewalks at a dead run.
She has vanquished breakers in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and a couple Great Lakes.
She has carried a backpack and ten unborn puppies to 14,000 feet.
She has climbed and crawled and chimneyed through caves.
She can tell a totally untrained dog to go to the corner, lie down, and damn well stay there, without lifting her head from her paws. That dog will obey.
She is the only ES I know -- other than some of her children -- who has green eyes.
Troops of scouts, whole elementary schools, and hordes of adults are entertained by her tricks. She is most entertained by herself when she can make a monkey of me by accidentally not on purpose doing the tricks in the "wrong" sequence, but always in a way that fits with the patter of my narrative.
She would rather be a dead dog than a show dog, Republican dog, or just about any other kind of dog I might name to her.
She knows what to do about bears.
She rode the roof of a house into a boat slip during Katrina recovery search, swam back to shore, shook herself, and ran back to the top of the rubble pile to resume working, tail wagging, while the nice firefighters restarted Mommy's heart.
She tells me whether a foster or a client's dog is okay or screwy. If she really likes another dog, I know that the dog is totally cool, even if he needs a lot of manners.
She can look kind of lazy on search tasks, until she detects a whiff of scent and sews up the problem in a few minutes. Her find distance is significantly longer than Sophia's. Working hard and working smart aren't always the same thing.
She thinks rather well of herself.
When I'm not glowering about being the butt of one of her unevolved jokes, I am inclined to agree.