So I guess there’s another Assistance Dog Blog Carnival coming up, and the deadline is tomorrow. I haven’t written in one of these since before my gallbladder surgery, woe. But the topic caught my attention, so here we go.
The topic of this one is regrets. I had to think really hard, since I don’t have a lot of things I would call regrets. I have lessons, my, did Babs teach me a lot of things, but would I call them regrets? No, because although it was painful, those lessons were valuable and I would never make those mistakes again. I made a lot of mistakes with Trixie, but again, you can’t learn without screwing up. Even with Tansy, I sometimes wish I had the energy to tackle things that bug me and try to fix them, but they’re under control I think, and I wouldn’t call those regrets either. But there is one possible thing I could call a regret, even though, if given the same information all over again, I wonder if I would do things the same way.
Here goes. I regret prolonging Trix’s retirement as long as I did.
I know people are probably wondering just what the heck I’m talking about. She was only 7, not even quite 7.5 when I said we were done and never made her go out again. But the thing is, for those last months she was working, she tried and tried to tell me she didn’t want to do this anymore, and I didn’t want it to be so. I always wanted there to be a medical reason, a solvable problem. I wanted to believe that deep in her heart, she wanted to do this guiding thing, if we could just fix whatever it was that was bugging her. Meanwhile I think it was getting to be such a stressful thing for her, and she only did it to please me. Some days, it was too hard for her to even do that, and those were the days when she would refuse to move after she had done her business. Still, I hoped that maybe if we cut back the work, only took her on shorter and somewhat familiar routes, she would be happy.
A little while ago, for some reason I can’t remember, I sent Brad the logs that I kept while I was trying to figure out if Trix needed to retire. I read them over, and couldn’t help but notice the misery and stress she must have been going through. I mean, she had unexplained bouts of diarrhea, random red marks showing up all over her body, urgent needs to pee all the time, lethargy, and a dull coat. Without being able to speak a word, she was screaming, and I was too bull-headed to get the message.
The logical part of me says I had to try things, investigate things, get data, because if I had just given up, I would have kicked myself if the problem was fixable, or worse, if there was a looming medical issue waiting to strike, and I didn’t try and find it. But while I was doing all this experimenting with amount of work, amount of time running out on the flexi, lengths of routes in different amounts of light, having her follow and lead, running her through countless medical tests, she was stressing out more and more. Here she is, trying to tell me that this isn’t working, and here I am telling her to do it anyway. What kind of a team is that?
It was so hard to see it happen. Knowing what I know now, I realize that she was perpetually a little stressed out throughout her career. One of the things her raiser said was “We were a little surprised she made it. She had some confidence issues.” And although she worked well, you could definitely tell she took every mistake to heart…a little like her handler. In the words of Steve, “They match you so well!” All this worrying and low confidence stressed her out, and maybe I didn’t build her up enough. She got grey hair pretty young, and although I’m told that has nothing to do with stress, I have to wonder. She also had kind of loose stools whenever we would travel or have a particularly stressful route. So, when things got really bad, it wasn’t like we went from confident dog to mushy stress pot. But still, what she was at the end was a complete mess, and I do feel guilty that I might have selfishly kept things going longer than I should have.
I hear people with dogs on the virge of retirement saying “I only take him when he wants to go,” or something similar. Every time I hear that, I ask myself, “How do you know?” I thought I did. Trix would come over wagging and get into the harness. I thought that meant she wanted to go. It was only when we got out there that I would sense the second thoughts. I thought I was letting her make choices. In retrospect, I don’t think I was listening well enough.
Here’s a bit of proof of that. By the end, I had her on fish oil capsules and some supplement for skin and coat health that sounded like some kind of bizarre witch’s brew. It really seemed to help how much chewing and scratching she was doing. But after a few months or so of not working, Brad was able to ween her off the crazy supplement, and the chewing didn’t come back. I’ve come to believe that the chewing was just another manifestation of her stress, but I couldn’t see it. Now that the stress was gone, so was the chewing.
But I wonder if, when the time comes that Tansy raises her voice in protest, will I acknowledge that voice sooner? I can’t say for sure. I have to walk a fine line between not giving up too soon and not protracting her misery too long. I hope I can find the balance sooner.
So, Trix, I wish you could read blogs so I could tell you I’m sorry for making you work longer than you ever wanted to. I wish I could also tell you that I’ll never make you wear that harness again. Sometimes when you see me, it feels like you’re happy to see everybody but me, the wicked old hag who made you work beyond the point where it was fun. I didn’t mean to be that wicked old hag. I was just living in denial, and I’m sorry that you had to suffer. I’m glad you’re free of all that stress, and have a life full of treats, tripe and trails. I hope you and Brad have many many years together. You deserve that much, after how hard you worked for me.