Saturday, September 3, 2011

Happiness and Loss: Lessons My Dog Has Taught Me

Life's like that sometimes... Now and then for no good reason a man can figure out, life will just haul off and knock him flat ...  But it's not all like that.  A lot of it's mighty fine, and you can't afford to waste the good part frettin' about the bad.  That makes it all bad.... Sure, I know - sayin' it's one thing and feelin' it's another.  But I'll tell you a trick that's sometimes a big help.  When you start lookin' around for something good to take the place of the bad, as a general rule you can find it.  ~From the movie Old Yeller


It's fitting to begin this post with the quote from the movie Old Yeller which is without a doubt, hands down, the saddest book and movie to have ever graced the silver screen.


Ever since man invited the first canine to share his dwelling, dogs have been an integral part of our lives - some more than others. Not everyone is a 'dog person' - I've even met a few and they remained an acquaintance. My friends are those you might call 'dog people' who understand the special relationship that exists between my dogs and I.


Over 20 years ago I became acquainted with my first field bred English cocker spaniel. A client who was the owner of a direct mail veterinary supply company came to review a catalog proof when Al and I owned our advertising agency and brought along Ivy, an 8-week old black and white English cocker spaniel. To say it was love at first sight is an understatement. I had never seen an English cocker, or rather, never really paid attention to them and certainly never was aware there was such a thing as a field bred cocker. My opinion of cocker spaniels was they were nervous little dogs with a lot of hair, prone to ear and skin infections - and they barked a lot. I could not quite believe that this bright, wiggly, adorable little dog was a cocker spaniel. 


It didn't take long before I knew that I had to have one and as fate would have it, there was a litter mate to Ivy, now 4 months old, still available. The only obstacle that stood in the way was Al but since he was outnumbered four to one (all three of our boys had come over the side of the English cocker spaniel) it was only a matter of time before he reluctantly gave in.


Chris and I headed off to the kennel to pick up Casey as soon as we could make arrangements. Intrigued with the thought of upland bird hunting I began reading about bird training and seeking out the kennel owner for advice. Before long Chris and I were attending training seminars with Casey, building a working relationship resulting in many wonderful adventures out in the field with her. 


When Casey was a couple of years old we received a call from our trainer/breeder friend informing us that he had a litter of puppies and would we be interested. I was reluctant but Al jumped at the chance to have another cocker to our family. Just like children, Emma's personality was entirely different from Casey: she had all the traits you look for in a good upland bird dog including being too smart for her own good. The adage that every dog should have a job was our mantra for Emma. In spite of her trainer, Emma was the ultimate bird dog. Emma never failed to find and return a bird that no one else, man or dog, could locate.


Our relationship with our trainer/breeder and his wife evolved into a friendship, at the heart of which was our love of the Anahar line of English cocker spaniels. Emma was bred with one of the kennel males giving the family four beautiful dogs: Bear, Spencer, Lucy and Angus. Eight years ago Lucy had two puppies: Riley and our Jinny.


A few weeks ago Jinny was delivered of her own litter, two females and a male, via C-section, avoiding a repeat of the heartache we experienced last year when Jinny was unable to deliver her two puppy litter and we lost both puppies.


Having had to say good-bye to our beloved Angus in early July, the puppies helped ease the sorrow. But as Agnes Turnbull said, "Dogs' lives are too short - their only fault..." we lost one of the female puppies to an unknown defect when she was 10-days old. I would have never guessed that another loss was yet to come - and that being the end of our friendship with the kennel owners.


You hear it all the time - especially if you have ever tuned into Judge Judy or The People's Court: always get it in writing. We had assumed that the gentleman's agreement from the time of our first litter with Emma would stand with this litter. When asked what my plans were for the litter I expressed that I had hoped for three puppies: one for our son and daughter, one for the kennel as stud fee and one for Al and I. I was told not to worry about him as "any dog (he) would take would only be another kennel dog." Of course we were always happy to allow our dogs to be part of the kennel breeding program to further the Anahar line. It was a joy to have Jinny deliver the two puppies seen on the x-ray but then to find a bonus puppy. That joy was cut short when we had to put to sleep the little girl that had Emma's markings and was the first to do everything, so like Emma.


The first inkling of trouble came with the email indicating that the kennel would be taking the female puppy and would co-own the remaining male puppy. There had never been any earlier mention or discussion about co-owning any dogs prior to the breeding. If there had, we would have certainly discussed sharing of the medical expenses; once there were puppies on the ground it was too late to discuss the$2,400 in veterinary bills we incurred with this litter. Rather than give the kennel a dog that we had $1,200 invested in and owning only half of the remaining dog, we offered to pay twice the normal stud fee for an unproven dog which was rejected. During a telephone conversation we were told the kennel would not be sending the AKC information on the sire so we could register the litter nor would they accept our offer to have the kennel register the litter and provide us with a Limited Registration of the puppies. "You have two beautiful dogs ...." 


There is no doubt that this is a result of an effort to correct a situation that they felt could result in a risk to their business if they continued to offer us Full Registration of the dogs. A number of years ago they changed their policy of offering only Limited Registration to anyone purchasing a dog from their kennel leaving us as the only customers who had Full Registration which apparently left them feeling vulnerable. I would have understood and agreed had I known that is what they wanted and would have been happy with Limited.  Apparently this feeling that their business was open to exposure led to anger and feelings of resentment, all of which came out during a telephone conversation. In the end, no amount of talking could bridge the gap.


As a self-proclaimed writer I find it soothing to my injured feelings to write the story where I am the innocent victim and have the story end where it all comes out in my favor. However, to retreat to that place would deny me the chance to come away a better, if not wiser, person. Taking time to allow the heat of hurt and anger to subside would have allowed for cooler conversation. The second lesson: to get it in writing.  But the best lesson I have come away from this loss has to do with the responsibility of friendship: we owe it to our friends to speak even when it means telling them a harsh truth. When you know better, you do better.


And last but certainly not least ....Charles Schulz was right: Happiness is a warm puppy.

1 comment:

Susan D. said...

Hi, Cindy - thank you for your comments on my blog. I enjoyed looking at your postings on your dogs - we have had 3 much loved cocker spaniels. See my recent posting with photographs on 26th August on "A Pet Tribute".

Susan: http://scotsue-familyhistoryfun.blogspot.com

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