DWAA 2013 winner of the Maxwell Medallion Award
She has never apologized for her choices. She has never lied. She has lived her life with raw honesty, take it or leave it.
I chose to take it, and have not one single regret.
My Franny is reaching the end of her life. She has gone from a senior dog who was very active, to an old age dog who is slowly fading. She is actively dying before my eyes, and I have to stop and wonder how this all came to be. I know, I understand the circle of life, I understand that death is part of our life experience, but when it starts to happen, in front of my eyes, it seems so not real. I don’t know how else to say it. From vibrant, active, and opinionated, to slowly letting go. She is doing this gracefully, me not so much.
I have written about Franny extensively. The blog series I wrote last year, ‘Living with a Dog Outside of Neutral’, was a very cathartic experience for me. I had never intended to write about my experiences with Franny, because at that point we were still living them, actively, every day. I think there is a fine line between sharing valuable information and exploiting a relationship, I had to wait until I found my voice to tell her story. But we are both very much a part of each others personal biographies, large chapters in each I would think, and I reached a point where it was time.
I met some wonderful people through this series, shared similar experiences, and have been invited to talk for small groups and clubs that work with dogs that are ‘outside of neutral’. But I also was contacted by a few who had nothing but negative comments, were extremely condemning, and had the need to point out all of my mistakes along the way. These few must have missed my the line in the opening paragraph, “I will do my best to tell this story with the unapologetic and raw manner in which she lives”.
On the final post in that series I wasn’t ready to comment on the success or failures of all of the work Franny and I did together. Now I am. I believe that all of the time spent reading, researching, training, and building a strong relationship were worth it, totally and completely. She has been an amazing teacher. Things didn’t go smoothly, hardly ever. Franny and I didn’t just color outside of the lines, we scribbled freely. We had to learn, so we did it together. When I hear of training programs where animals have been rehabilitated, I am still not certain that is what Franny and I ever did, or if it truly is possible for any animal, us included. Franny became very successful in environments where she felt safe, but there were plenty were she didn’t feel safe. Those environments never worked, ever, for us. Triggers were triggers, some lessened but they were still there. But we came to a mutual point, ‘the DMZ’, and we moved forward together. This was only possible through mutual trust, safety, and a strong relationship. Neither of us perfect. What worked in spades for Franny and I, and all of our dogs have benefited from this, is management and structure of the environment.
One person wrote to me and asked why Franny never reached the point of perfect, where she could handle all situations under all distractions, ‘your a trainer for God’s sake!’. To me that isn’t perfect, that’s a stuffed animal. Not many dogs, or humans for that matter can handle everything, all of the time, with grace. Trying to turn Franny into a sweet, loving, gentle neutral dog would be like moving Mt. Everest to a new continent. Not possible. Apples and oranges.
I started out as Franny’s guide. You see, I have been on the planet many decades before she was born, I have life experience that I could share with her, hopefully teach her. Holidays, birthdays, camping, weather, kayaking, movie time, etc. I had the privilege to introduce her to things, share what I knew, pass along some knowledge. But now it has flipped, she is my guide. She has become old, past senior years, she has entered a life stage totally unfamiliar to me, and she is doing this on her own. She must sense death is not far off, I can see it in her eyes and by her actions of wanting to be near me, next to me. She will experience letting go, taking her last breath, and saying good bye, all before it is my time. I cannot help explain this to her for I haven’t been there yet, I don’t know what it’s like. She is so brave to me.
Our time left together will be our time. Days, weeks or months. I don’t believe in a rainbow bridge, and would bet money she wouldn’t be sitting there waiting for me, I can only imagine her saying, fuck that. I wish her freedom and a chance to fly without human judgement. So to my Franny, even though you don’t read, this is for you, I hope you can feel it in your heart.
You have taught me so much
Taught me the purpose for my skills
Taught me who I am
Taught me to live with raw honesty
But most of all you taught me to do what is right
I love you