posted by Doranna Durgin
So I'm back from another agility trial weekend, this one a three-day event. It's Monday morning as I write this and I'm facing the week pre-exhausted. In fact, it's safe to say I'm already distinctly behind the curve.
Maybe it's not surprising that those close to me express mixed feelings about my canine performance activities. I train almost daily, whether in "formal" sessions or just small exercises for the dogs throughout the day. I participate in club activities, I teach and assist in occasional classes that don't nearly pay for the time. The weekend trials are expensive and absorb intensive energy. Given the overwhelming weight of my List of Things to Do (and I refer you back a few weeks to that blog!), it does add up to a lot of time, expense, and energy on something that's, well...optional.
When I was a kid, I scooped strays off the street until the consternation and scoldings convinced me to Stop Doing That. So I waited until I grew up and lived rurally, and scooped dogs off federal dam areas--prime dumping grounds--fed them up, put some manners on them, and found them new homes. There was no shelter in that area, so it didn't take long to acquire a reputation; even the UPS driver once dropped off a lost pup he'd found on his route. I loved it...the training, the caring, the nursing. I'd always wanted to work with animals and now I was.
Of course, that phase of life moved into another, where I was down to one dog for quite a few years. The incomparable Strider the WonderHound did everything with me...but now, after years of sharing mountain adventures, our activities were human events of which he made himself an indispensable part until he passed. So...still searching...
Finally--not so very long ago--with three Cardigans to my name and a brand new territory to learn after my radical move west, I went to a bark park event and stumbled across an agility instructor. Agility was a sport in which I'd always been interested, but was too busy dealing with...well, life...to pursue. Now, with opportunity in my lap, I signed up for class with my brain-injured middle dog, thinking it might serve as therapy for him (and oh boy golly, did it ever!). Six months later I started my then-youngest dog, whom had shown a distinct aptitude even as a pup. (There's a reason Belle's nickname is "Bellevator.")
And then...I went to my first trial...
I've always been nervy about competition. Upset stomach, anxiety, freak-me-out nervous. It never, ever occurred to me that I would get out on that agility course and perform. And in spite of many stranger-than-fiction adventures with Strider, I had no concept of how a dog-and-human could snap into a spotlight-on-the-moment team. There's no time for second-guessing or pondering--you do what you do, together. Two bodies, one brain, both moving in the moment to become something more than they can be as individuals. It was...epiphany.
Pretty dramatic way to look at bopping around a doggy obstacle course, I suppose. But for all I put into agility--this thing I waited half my life to try--those moments on the course give it all back. Yeah, I'm tired, and I'm behind, and I'm not quite getting things done as I should. But I spent the weekend grinning like a fool, and the buzz of a good trial energizes my spirit for days. It's not necessary to have wild success, not as long as there's teamwork--but boy it sure doesn't hurt, and this past weekend was a good one indeed. Belle and Connery and I are on a journey, although you never know--something might come along to keep us from finishing those goals I have for our rally and obedience competition. But it'll be okay, because it's really about the moments we spend together along the way--and about how we celebrate our teamwork when we're together.
And that's why I just do it.