Monday, May 5, 2014

Tyler's Journey - My first K9 Partner

Born in 2000, Tyler was one of two pups left in a litter of 6. She and her brother were the only two black and white siblings in the GSDs “Free to a Good Home” advertised in the local paper… I was living in North Carolina. My last dog, Keisha had run off after letting her play with Jeff’s dog at their house. His was tied, I was naive. And I learned my lesson.

So, I wanted another dog in my life. I wanted a GSD. Never had one and always wanted a big, rough, fuzzy friend…found this ad and drove an hour or so to check them out…but only the two were left. Seems the in-house Shepherd, a female named Gretchen, was a former police dog. Gretchen’s owners, for some reason didn't know her old commands when they adopted her…not sure how that worked, so I asked her to sitz…she did, at attention! She platzed too. Seemed surprised that someone knew her language.

Meeting the two pups, there was a black one with a lil white stripe and there was a black and white one that was all wiggles and smiles… she ran to me and curled around my legs…and my heart. She was 5 months old when I put her in the back of my first Trooper.

Home life was frustrating as she’d not been properly house trained…like at all. So, it was about 6 months of clean up and frustration. Took her to work with me at this little pet supply store where she was the mascot and greeter…great socialization. We went on walks around a local lake doing off leash obedience in Cary, NC. At home, I brought pigs ears to a nearby church and began swiping them along the ground as I walked then hiding them among the little old tombstones….then I’d go get her, let her go and she’d follow the trail all the way to the treat every time! I was amazed at her intelligence and tenacity! This was way before I knew anything about SAR, mind you.

Once at the store, she opened the back door to go pee herself… I never knew anything till after I was done helping a customer, I couldn't find her…she was outside the front door. She had let herself out, peed, walked around the whole strip mall and was waiting at the front glass door to be let in!! Shit!! I let her in and asked her if she went outside? She took me to the back door that had one of those swing handles on it, jumped up and smacked it…going right out before the big heavy fire door hit her butt….whoa. I knew I was in deep with this girl.

Another 6 months or so and I moved home to my parents’ place in Central California. I don’t remember what I was thinking, or what spurred me to do it…there was no Word from on high. Just emailed the local contact for the California Rescue Dog Association, Norma Snelling. Met with her and a few others in their training group and Tyler ran a short trail…Norma said, “well I think you got a trailing dog there”. I was elated. And we began going to training weekly. 2 hrs from Exeter to Madera Co. I had two days off a week from my little security gig. I drove up Wednesday evenings to our typical search area…camped at Bass Lake, trained Thursday morning then drove home that afternoon. Did this for 2 years. (Those of you that bitch about 30 minute drives to training and not having “enough time”? If you WANT it, you’ll find the time)

Tyler was a low to medium drive dog. I didn't know that then nor did it matter. Like most newbies, I still wanted to work her cause she was my dog…we could keep her at a medium level, but as I've learned there is SO much work in keeping a dog’s drive up…when that energy could be spent in other areas. Tyler was no Dascha…but I am glad to have had Tyler as my first dog…my teacher.

After a couple years in CA, I moved my parents home to IL to retire. Tyler came with me and was a great training partner and helped introduce SAR to many interested in the Southern IL area. She was always with me and I loved it. As she got to about age 6 I decided to look for a new dog. Younger, more driven. Tyler was retired and helped raise three other search dogs in my home. Teaching them appropriate play behavior and manners in the house. Strong maternal instincts in this mutt!

In 2010 I moved in with a girl I’d been dating. Tyler chose this time to sleep outside. No reason why, just always wanted out…and she’d lay on the porch, content. I got her a dog house and she was good. No tether, she didn't wander far, just to the edge of the property and back…each year getting slower and slower, but always quick with a bowowow at strangers that pulled up, or a tail wag and hobble over for a scratch when I got home. Always faithful.
This last year she has taken on the look of the old dog, had a stroke (I think) about 5 months ago. She was immobile for 4 days, not having use of her hindquarters. Got “better” but started losing her appetite, strength and mass and I could feel her time was nearing an end. Two days ago it happened again. I couldn't let her life decline in stages.  All things, good and bad, come to an end.

A friend reminded me today, they are a small part of our lives, but we are all of theirs. And I thought, we outlive them, but they out love us.

14 years she has loved me. She’s seen me come and go, do right and wrong, listened to me bitch and moan, and laugh and cry. I've camped with her in the Sierras, on the coast in N. California, on the Snake River in Oregon, splashed in the water off the Pacific and watched her swim out to sea, chasing seagulls! I watched her break up fights at dog parks and nuzzle newborn bunnies. We flew over Fresno in a helo, and ridden together in ATVs for training. We watched fireworks over Bass Lake in CA. Trained at the K9 training facility on the NASA base. She’s been with me longer than any woman and more faithful than some. She’ll always be a part of me and I hope that I've been the kind of person she deserved.

Don’t post sorrys or apologies. Today is not a day for your sorrow. She had an AMAZING life. And I’m proud to have had her as my best friend for this long. She’s taken some risks and always come out on top and by my side. She’s a good dog. And now she’s Free.