she has never apologized for her choices, ever

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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


  1. You really helped me love my pup more with your story. Thank you for your raw hearted message and story.

      1. Franny was like no other dog I have ever known, it is difficult to describe, she was just simply an extraordinary soul

  2. I have to share this not only with you Nancy, but all who might read it. I remember a day early on in our relationship (you and me) when I was busy learning all that I could from you when I first started agility. I came to the field early and was helping set up the equipment. Spor was there and so was Franny and Ocean. Well I had watched Ocean perform more than one time and she is an amazing dog. Not just with her performances but just all around. The bond that you and she have is right out there for the world to see. She is right up at the top of the list for dogs that I truly love and admire.

    Well since we were early you decided to work with Franny a bit on the agility equipment. Franny put her head up and paid not one bit of attention to you! I was shocked to say the least. Here is this wonderful dog trainer who could get any dog to do anything you wanted, but at that moment not Franny. You were not embarrassed, your feelings were not hurt, you just accepted the fact that Franny did not want to do agility! I always liked you, but that was the moment I loved you. You taught me so much with that one acceptance of your dog and what she did not really like to do. From that moment on I looked at every dog just a little differently and my thoughts about them and their unique personalities totally changed.

    Franny will go with dignity because that is how she is. I will miss her sweetness and those brown soft eyes. My heart will be with all of you and Franny.

    1. Sharon, those mornings, some of the best actually. Your memory is better than mine, but I do remember some of what you are talking about. One of the aspects I liked best about our training group was that it was so supportive, no judgement. Love to you.

  3. My thoughts are with you Nancy. Not so long ago I travelled a similar road with my beautiful Jessie and she too sort to be with me more than at any other time in her life.
    The phrase “living in the moment” becomes more meaningful than ever before.
    Take care,

  4. Nancy,
    You write about this wonderful relationship/experience so beautifully. I’m sad that you and your family and friends have to go through this difficult time, but then, on the other hand, it speaks of the amazing relationship Franny has shared with you, and what a blessing it is to accept others as they are. That experience is so worth all the pain and sadness you feel now, and helps get us through it.

  5. With each dog that I’ve had to let go, I’ve thought ‘what a wonderful life we’ve led’. I know that’s what you’ve had with Franny. May she go in peace.

    1. Thank you. from what we have been told, when she goes it will be extremely painful and super fast. So we watch her closely. She is comfortable, happily eating, and can mosey around the yard a time or two a day. I want her to leave with me nearby, that is my own selfish wish.

  6. Nancy,
    What an amazing journey you both have taken and thank you for sharing. I know it is never easy and no two paths are ever them same. I look at Preston in such a different manner that any dog I have ever lived with and that is because of you and your experiences. Thanks for making me a better person.

  7. Franny will ALWAYS be her own lady and a classy one at that. You and she were brought together in this Universe for many reasons and I think you both gracefully stepped up to the task. Her time to help you learn and visa versa may be coming to an end but the memories of all the joyful things you enjoyed will remain. As you know I’m not so far off from that feeling you have right now. My heart is with you as our wonderful companion animals handle this part of life so much better than we do. Pray we can leave this earth that gracefully and unapologetic! One amazing girl brought to one amazing family! Bless you all!

    1. Sherry, thank you. You are so brave to have a houseful of seniors and to be able to say good bye with such love and grace over and over and over. You are my hero, I don’t think my heart could take it. Love to you.

  8. I’m so sorry, Nancy, that you had to write this very beautiful tribute to your Franny. She has had your love and respect and I hope your final journey together is as painless as possible.

    I am approaching with KC some of these same things. She also follows me everywhere and needs to be where I am. We are not quite where you are (yet), but your post is a comfort as I know we’ll be there soon. .

    My thoughts are with you and your family.

    Hugs, Nancy

    Sent from my iPad

  9. I remember our camping trip by the lake. Franny stayed close to John and I, she slept on our bed and the world felt safe, even when Tom thought a bear was walking around outside. When I think of Franny. My memory of Franny is one of complexity. Compassion for the little children was a strength she brought, making our world feel safe as our protector.

    I have now buried 3 dogs in the last 25 years, while they were all so very special to me, I have to say that Franny brought so much character and an array to the table, she was extraordinary and she lived life in a very extraordinary way.

    Look at the thousands, upon thousands of lives she has touched.

    Nancy, Tom, Piper and Renn……..your lives were blessed, the were touched they were made so much richer for the time that you have shared with such an extraordinary soul as you found in Franny.

    1. Oh Teri, I was thinking about our camping trip together just the other night. There were so many moments that are still so vivid and I know what you are talking about with Franny. She made us all feel so safe even at her young age. Thank you for this lovely memory, I am glad we shared with with you and John.

  10. Nancy,
    I hadn’t read any of your earlier posts but this one is so poignant. It is a similar journey to the one I walk wtih Kwiekje. Places that felt safe to her up to the age of about 6 or 7 still feel safe. But that’s it. Her “walks” now often consist of standing on the top steps, spending some time sniffing the scents that come her way, turning around and asking to play in the back yard. We are happy together and contented. I am not asking of her more than she can give. She knows she has finally taught me a very important life lesson about acceptance. I suspect and hope there will be more lessons or more depth on the ones already taught. It sounds to me that Franny has done a wonderful job with you, as you have with her. Stay in the moment in the time you have left together. Your memories of her will always carry you.

    1. thank you Kathryn. I told someone today that there is a special place for animal lovers in my heart, and an even deeper more loving place for those that have been there for their senior animals. I think it opens a part of our heart we hold so guarded sometimes. Love to you and Kwiekje

  11. Oh Nancy. I’m so sorry that you and Franny are at this stage of your journey together. Losing your friend hurts…and it hurts like hell. But we hurt because we love, and Franny is so lucky to have had you by her side, throughout this journey together, loving her so deeply.

  12. This journey is very fresh still in our memories (as you may recall we lost our Molly in Feb).
    The heart ache as you see your beautiful Franny’s health fail. I understand….
    May your days be peaceful as you help her along this last journey.

  13. My thoughts are with you and your family. Dogs are special members of our families, it’s comforting to know there are others that also feel that. I always managed to be close by to all my other dogs passing in my lifetime, except for my 2 huskies that you already know about. Not quite a year since they were shot mistaken for wolves. I always believed that entering the world and leaving are equally important. I don’t think it’s selfish at all to want to be close, I know your dog will feel your presence and you will have no regrets. Helene

  14. I don’t know if I can type thru my tears. I lost my Frannie several years ago, but there are so many times I think of her when I am somewhere we spent time together. She was an unexpected house warming present. In the long run she saved my life when my marriage feel apart. I was heart broken when I realized she could not longer go on a run or a hike or move cows. She would just wander off and I would have to go find her. I remember when she passed I kept apologizing to her. I don’t know why. Our 16 years together were wonderful, full of adventure and fun and over far too soon, but the love is on going. Peace be with your Frannie, you and yours.

  15. I am glad she was with someone who understood her and loved her anyway that is all we can ever ask for. Thanks and so sorry I hate knowing JT and I will reach this place but I am now whole enough let go but continue to love.

      1. Thanks Nancy I was so destroyed when my young 4 yr old dog went from healthy as an ox to so sick to being told he will be OK to coming home seeing my brother leaning against a shovel I cried at the mere thought of him for over 2 years when you truly love and are loved it is the most painful thing to go through gut wrenching for me and never an answer why. I did raise two of his pups and my female till they all were 13 and 15 yrs. old but I always worried

        JT and I are a team it seems 🙂

  16. I so understand. Really I do. I write on Friday’s about Fuzzy and Boomer. But every day I see little things in Fuzz (he turned 13 this month) that makes my heart stop…I hurry over to him, but he was just sleeping. Very, very soundly as I can touch him and it takes him a little while to wake up. I miss him already and he isn’t gone. So for every moment I have I will adore him and love him more.

    Your dog is beautiful….I am glad the Universe brought both of you together…that is all we can ask…to be together.


  17. This repost is so timely. I am sorry for your loss during that time. But the story is perfect for me and Stitch for this time. Managed environments. Stitch is a soulful, loving, cuddly dog. He looks into my eyes, into the depths of life. But he does have his “life scars” that may always show. How many people have asked me if I am returning him. “they’re not like fish – you don’t just throw them back” is all that I can say to these people. I am committed to this 50 lb pup. And we have learned so much together – so much! Let’s take the credits for what we HAVE accomplished, not try for the “stuffed dog” It may not be for everyone, but we are making a life of it. Until the day he looks into my eyes one last time, we are making a life of it.

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