posted by Doranna Durgin

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Belle Dog, who has been confined to a crate for several weeks in the wake of a severe flare of her spinal disk disease. Well, I pull out the leash for her potty breaks, but these have hardly offered her the freedom she craves.

Jlchairsm Belle, as it turns out, does not live in a vacuum. She's part of my pack of four dogs--three other Cardigans and Connery Beagle. And though she's a quiet part of the pack--a beta girl who sidesteps trouble when she sees it brewing--she's still one of its strongest pieces. These past weeks the other dogs have been clearly aware of her absence. The Evil Genius Matriarch Kacey keeps coming to me for explanations she can understand (I have none, so of course she keeps coming back). Jean-Luc Picardigan has a baffled expression, although I have to admit that's not too unusual for him; he was brain-injured shortly after birth and sometimes there's just no telling what's going on behind that unwavering stare of his.

Connery is the most affected. Since he was a wee thing, he's been training agility with Belle. He travels with her, often sharing space in the same large crate, and he trials with her, whether it's agility, rally, or obedience. He sleeps on her, whether she likes it or not. And she cleans his face, whether he likes it or not, often pinning him in place with soft reminding jaws over his snout if he moves while she's at it. So it's no big surprise that over the past weeks, Connery has wilted somewhat without his canine mentor and buddy. Whereas the Cardigans have always slept apart--private, dignified souls are they--his Beagle self needs the close contact and comfort of his canine family. He's never understood their standoffish independence, and now he craves his time with Belle, the one who sighs and says, "Oh, come on," and lifts the covers for him.

However, Belle now has her walking papers. Literally. She is allowed out of the crate for short, controlled rehab on leash. Her first such walk exhausted her...but left her very happy. And her new freedom is just in time, since I had two weekends of trials and needed to bring her in order to manage her care. I could have done it if she hadn't been allowed the walkies, but that little bit of freedom sure made all the difference!

As it was, after weeks of confinement, she wagged her tail all that first weekend--she saw people she knew; she got scritchies. She walked around the very pleasant trial grounds, sniffed good green grass (we have no such thing here in our xenoscaped home and practice areas) and she got to watch the exciting world go by from her heavily padded crate ("the princess crate," we call it) in the shade shelter.

What's even better, in the hotel, she and Connery got to nap together. Up on the bed after their tiring day, Belle so glad to be there and Connery so glad to be sleeping right on top of her. The contentment oozed off him in waves, practically visible; for the first time in weeks, the world felt right again.

021224belle646sm_2 Here at home, those opportunities are gone for a while. The house is too open and the temptation to wild play too great; Belle is again confined to a crate when not leashed for walkies. But she at least still has the walkies. And as for Connery...

He came home first with a new agility title--his Elite Jumpers from NADAC--and then with a new obedience title--his first, a novice CD title--but mainly he came home a happy dog, invigorated by time with his traveling pal and packmate.

Me, too!

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