I have, from time to time, acknowledged the passing of a great agility dog on this blog. Last week I got the sad news that a friend’s dog had lost her two year battle with cancer. Yes Maeve was a good agility dog, but she was also a little bit naughty and likely broke as many start lines as she held. I am sure few of you reading this would even know her. Agility wasn’t the reason she came into Chris’s life. Maeve’s was a very well loved family member that, amoung other things, she did brilliantly.
Maeve touched the lives of everyone she met. She had looks- she was freaking gorgeous. She had character – she inherited her daddy’s “clacking” trait and used it for high scores on the cuteness meter whenever necessary. Plus, she had this intangible spiritual quality about her that seemed to shake hands with your soul whenever you said hello to her.
She was blessed with tons of natural drive and physical brilliance but never won any big agility Championship– but that was not because she wasn’t talented enough, nor was it because Chris wasn’t a good enough handler. It just wasn’t what life had intended for the two of them.
Does that mean the dog never reached her potential? Does that mean her talents were wasted or that she was just an ordinary dog? Absolutely not. I think there are likely hundreds of dogs out there that have the tools for agility brilliance but that is just not the purpose for their journeys. Throughout my yearly travels, I have countless people tell me “this dog would have been something really extraordinary if a better handler owned him.” I know you know this, but at the risk of overstating the obvious I am going to say it anyway, your dog IS extraordinary right now.
I think I could have been a phenomenal parent. I love kids, I was raised knowing how to change diapers and I had great role models for parents. I also think I could have been a great artist, science teacher or hockey player. My life could have gone in one or another, completely different directions then dog training. The fact that I have taken the path I have doesn’t mean I have wasted anything does it? The same is true of each of our dogs.
Thanks to Karen Hocker for all her great photos.
I remember years ago sitting with perennial USA World Team member Jean Lavalley watching a Sheltie she bred run in the the Novice ring. The dog was gifted, perhaps one of the best Jean had ever bred (and she has bred a lot of good ones). Running the dog was a 60 something, robustly build, arthritic woman who had a very infectious laugh but little skill as an agility handler. While Jean and I sat there watching someone came up beside Jean and said “that puppy grew up to be amazing, isn’t it a shame she didn’t go to a different home?”
Jean’s answer was polite but pointed as she said something like this; “She went exactly where she was intended to go, to a home where she is made to feel special and where her owner feels special to have her.”
Don’t ever think that any dog’s life story is one of unfulfilled potential. I am confident that each dog in our life is living out their intended purpose. From your first agility dog who may now be the star couch-potato of your family, to the dog that may be driving you to drink due to a never-seen-before level of agonizing frustration.
Regardless of how it may appear to any of us watching, every dog’s life is always one of great intention. The odyssey is unique to each dog and their person. Those of us on the outside looking in may never be privy to all that is being fulfilled during the time you have together but the impact is likely more than any world championship ever could provide.
Today I am grateful for Maeve, an amazing dog whose time with Chris may have felt way too brief, but whose life was one of great purpose.
I have never had a dog who competed in anything. Right now I have an 18 year-old mutt and two purebred Labs, ages 2 and 3. A dog doesn’t have to complete in agility or confirmation or be a professional therapy dog to love and be loved. A dog doesn’t need to have a box full of ribbons to love and be loved. As I was sitting on my bed yesterday evening, taking off my slippers and picking out a book to read, my 21 year-old son stopped at the door, looked at my dogs lying on my bed with their heads on my pillows, and said, “Mom, you’re really lucky to have Bitsey and Kiki. They are two beautiful, purebred dogs, and they are yours.” This from my son who could care less about pets. Both of my labs were facing the shelter when I got phone calls asking if I wanted them from people who knew the owners. I got them about a year apart. Yes, I’m fortunate to have them, and they are fortunate, too, because they are right where they are supposed to be.
Your statement is kind and touching, however bit offense, too. My point is, dogs don’t have to be agility dogs or therapy dogs to love and be loved. Those “educated” dogs are NOT “better” than mine. People don’t have to have post-secondary education degrees to love and be loved. All we have to be is who we are, whether human or dog or cat or horse or whatever.
Sharon is right: “If he’s best at warming your feet while you watch TV, he has reached his potential.”
Thanks, Susan. Yesterday I said goodbye to my best friend, a dog I always thought did not reach his full potential because I didn’t take him there. He has a box full of ribbons from competitions and a jumble of letters after his name but he’s not a champion. He, was, however, a therapy dog. And that’s where our greatest joy came from. If you think your dog has not reached his potential, maybe you’re looking in the wrong place. If he’s best at warming your feet while you watch TV, he has reached his potential.
HEAR, HEAR!! You are so right, Susan — way too many people are SO hung up and obsessed with “winning” and getting those titles at all costs! But if you and your dog are not having fun in the process, then WHY? Trust me, when you are on your deathbed and headed to meet your maker, none of that title and ribbon junk means ANYTHING. Get out and just enjoy the day with your dog and quit worrying about impressing other people, because, in the long run, none of that matters. At all.
My border collie was never an agility competitor, mainly because I am not a trainer, nor did I ever dream of being one when Rascal was a youngster. He’s now 12, has arthritis, and is just a great house dog. He came to me when my very first dog died at a young age and enabled me to grieve. Could he have been a great competitor for someone? Probably. Does his life have meaning for me….you betcha. Thanks for giving us this perspective through Maeve.
I agree with everything you said. As a dog trainer my self I agree all dogs are put where they need to be for a purpose. There are no if ands or buts about it. People alway ask me why do you have that dog or why do you have that dog,well they aren’t no good for nothing. well maybe not in your eyes but in my eyes they are my companions, working partners, herders, sled dogs, agility dogs, search and rescue dogs and the most important my best friends. thank you for that post
So true! What a great way to honor the relationship between us and our dogs.
Each one is SO special to us. Thank you Susan.
Susan, thank you so much for sharing these thoughts. I own a wonderful, young performance dog with great potential. Because of personal health issues, I have not kept up to my own planned schedule for her training. We are the joy in each others lives no matter if we are training, playing or resting. Thank you for reminding me and the other readers to see “the big picture”