A few weeks ago my little “partner in crime”, Patch, reached the end of her road. I wrote about our incredible summer together here, and I knew she was on borrowed time, but it did not make the loss any easier. For several reasons Patch’s passing really does mark a fork in my road. She was 17 and that alone means she made a big mark in my life and the life of my family, but she was also the last in a line of pretty special dogs.
I need to go back quite a way to start this story. Through my life, I’ve always loved nature and animals, and I’ve nearly always had a menagerie and lived in the country. I grew up in Alberta with horses and cats and placid Alberta farm dogs. For a short time when my son was young I was without any animals at all, as we were living in rentals in BC towns while I took my University degrees. Other than those few years, animals have been part of my family for all of my 54 years.
My son continuously begged me for a dog, and one day we were offered a pup. She was a little Australian cattlle dog (or blue heeler) cross. Her Mom was a purebred blue heeler, a trained working dog and someone’s pride and joy. She had been bred before and the pups were valuable, but this litter was an accident. As the owner told it, “the mutt over yonder got her”. We laughed at the description and Barkley (though red in color herself) henceforth became our “purebred Blue Yonder”. I quickly learned that a dog from a working line does not make a good housedog without a substantial job, and I had to learn a new way of dealing with dogs. So began my education- I worked my way through traditional trainers until I got to an amazing woman who worked herding dogs. After learning from her I also began working with other trainers and Barkley began her various careers- first doing obedience work, and then moving on to dog sports.
In the meantime, just before I managed to get her in to be spayed, she was also visited by a dog over yonder and we had six very unusual looking pups on our hands. I found homes for five of them and kept one (Heidi- the image of Barkley) for ourselves. Several people wanted Heidi and I turned them all down. But fate stepped in- twice. The person who was to take one of the male pups suddenly died. I decided I could deal with keeping the male (Digger) too, though that meant I now had three very active dogs. Then, two weeks later I discovered one of the other pups (Patch) was not being taken care of properly. I went to check on her and found her hungry and thirsty, trembling under a bus. She was being kept there by a large black dog that had already obviously attacked her several times and was ready to kill her if he could only reach her. The owner relinquished her to me without any argument. I now had a problem on my hands. I had Patch back too and she was a mess. She had been abused and neglected and was so happy to be back home that I couldn’t bring myself to give her away again. But I was a single parent in a rented house with four active dogs- I couldn’t keep them all. In the end, Heidi went to a hobby farm to work for a couple who adored her from the start.
I was left with my pack of three (who I spayed and neutered asap, by the way) and it was a natural progression for me to open an animal training school. So, for the next several years, we were also work partners and as well as training and aggression work, they participated in dog sports. Barkley and Digger did agility, Patch did flyball and tracking and they all had a taste of herding. Barkley also did a bit of canine freestyle (have you seen Ashleigh and Pudsley? They are putting freestyle on the map but it was this routine with Carolyn and Rookie that got me started in freestyle). They also came along with me when I did private training. Patch was afraid of other dogs for the rest of her life (though she grew more confident with age) so she was never 100% reliable like Digger and Barkley. When I retired them from their “working” lives, they went on to become St, John Ambulance Therapy dogs and I became the evaluator for the dog/handler teams in our area.
I closed my school when I started my Master’s degree in counselling psychology, but still continued research into the animal-human bond and its healing powers. I went on to write my thesis on Animal Assisted Therapy. So you can see that this incredible line of dogs was responsible for a lot of changes in my life. Barkley died in 2010 at the age of 17, and Digger died last year at 16. That left me alone with Patch for a full year. I know Patch relied on me a lot as she missed the company and security of her pack, and she became my last tie with that huge portion of my life.
So, you see, Patch’s death was not just the death of one lovely dog, but another fork in my road as I am without any dogs for the first time in almost 20 years. On our idyllic walks this last summer I had plenty of time to think about what this would mean and two things seemed important to me. First, I will continue my walks, solo now, with the aim to start making them into runs. But I will always take the time to enjoy the route along the way, as Patch did right up to the last day of her life. I will cry at times (as I did with all my dogs) when I pass a spot in the walk that brings up a particular memory, but like Patch, I will also remember to lift my face to the breeze to feel the joy of life in my body.
Second, on the day Patch died I started another blog, called Animal Therapy. Though I have yet to sort out how it will look, this will be a blog dedicated to the give and take of the human animal bond and the bond with nature in general. In time I hope to use this blog to raise money to support animal therapy in both directions (that is- therapy for people, as well as supporting causes and care for animals). Suggestions for how this might look, or help (ideas) in getting it started would be welcome.
Then one final little gift. You may have noticed that my header picture has been changing. When I started the new blog, I began looking through my photos for header pictures, and I decided to do the same for this blog. Among my photos were several I took on a walk a week or two before Patch died. I knew the end was near and I wanted to hold the feeling any way I could. I found two that I took from a bridge over the railway tracks, and as I was editing and cropping them I suddenly discovered a shadow of myself and Patch in them. They gave me a jolt and I got a surreal feeling, seeing Patch there as a faithful little shadow in my life. As the header carousel changes when you visit, you may see one of those pictures. They hold an odd painted quality to them and they have become favourites of mine.