I never saw Honour as an old dog. Staring out at the world from behind milky, clouded eyes. Walking slowly and unsteadily on her always tender feet, would not suit her at any age. Even after she turned ten this year she remained young in my mind’s eye. Ten was just a number, a way to mark time in the life of a living thing. Never sick and always self-centered, Honour chose to live with Odebt. And she usually got her way.
Honour was held out for color one whole show season. But we continued to bring her along while we showed the other dogs. She barked and raved in her crate and spun and barked and raved some more. As bad as she was at shows, she was inconsolable when we left her home. On a whim, at the shows in Denver in February 2004, we paid a visit with her to the Dog Whisperer. What happened in the quiet, little booth made us mostly laugh not quite believing animals could communicate in such a way. After a few preliminaries the Whisperer asked Honour, without saying a word, a question we had long asked ourselves. Why she hated to be left home. Sitting smugly, we waited to hear the predictable answer of how she loved us and couldn’t stand to be away from us. What we heard brought us to tears. The Whisperer told us Honour hated to stay at home because the dogs that stayed home went away and never came back. It was true, though the Whisperer would have had no idea that it was. Dogs we no longer showed remained at home while we travelled to the next shows. They were eventually moved on to other homes. Better homes for them, where they could be the only dogs and have a family that would love them for themselves, not for what they won or how good a breeder they would become. It was all a positive to us, but to Honour it meant the end of showing, the most important thing to her. We never left her again.
When Honour became Odebt’s dog, with all her quirks and indomitable spirit, she was home. Living at the little farm she had her dog friend, Satie, and the only person who ever mattered to her. That was all she required. She developed a whole repertoire of new behaviors. Strange things making sense only to her. The morning after Thanksgiving Honour refused to come out of her crate. She lay still and curled up, seemingly cozy and happy and dead to the world. Sometime in the night her spirit left. She would never be old and sick and unable to bark madly, expressing her displeasure. She left us with the memories of a driven show dog, happy and unique. Honour’s death was convenient only to her.
Entering the yard in a van full of dogs in mid-December, the burned out hulk of the box truck stood sentinel. Its blackened cab with the two seats and twisted steering wheel pointed across the field in the direction of the dirt road. The demise of the box truck was hastened by an onslaught of tumbleweeds of biblical proportion. Piling up against fences and buildings, choking roadside ditches and spilling over, blocking roads, the weeds blew in for several days. Whatever goes on underneath trucks and cars is a mystery to me. But I know a significant amount of heat is the result of the processes. Add brittle, oil-filled weeds and the combustible inevitability cannot be controlled. Staring at the front passenger seat I could almost feel the vibration of the engine on our trip to Dallas last year. That last trip of the season had brought us points on our puppies and great memories to carry us through the winter until our new show season would begin. Dallas was our season-ender this year, too. We jammed ourselves, gear and six dogs into the red mini-van this year. Without the box truck we were limited on space and left a few comforts at home. Weathering the worse ice storm Dallas had experienced since Super Bowl Sunday, 2007, we drove back and forth from the motel to the show every one of the four days of the circuit. The friends and dogs inside the venue helped us forget the weather and turn our energy to the competition. The loss of the truck altered our plans but not our purpose.
Loss is a part of showing dogs. Loss of dogs, people, reputation and motivation. Any one of these can be so devastating that moving on seems impossible. Loss stifles creativity, a key element in breeding and training new dogs. In our time in dogs we have had many losses. We have had to compartmentalize these to continue in a sport we truly love. Beating back fear and dread with each breeding decision we continue to dream of producing dogs we are proud of, winning dogs that will live to contribute to our line or those of others. No dog or person passes out of our lives without making a mark. Sometimes the ones with the least obvious worth are the most affecting in death: Mr. Leonard, Honour, Tammi’s Blue and our three-day old puppy. Images you can’t shake, losses you can’t compartmentalize.
Walking around the burned out truck, nestled in the choking tumbleweeds it was easy to recall all the failures of the past show season. How our breed seems to have changed into something farther from the written standard than at any time in my life. People breeding, showing and winning with dogs of a quality that would not have been competitive some years ago. We keep winning, too. As we always have. But each year we find it a little easier to not care who wins our National and a little harder to respect the judges. Each show season brings news of the deaths of old dog people. Skilled breeders, judges, club leaders and friends. You see their names in the front pages of dog show catalogs, but few will be remembered long. Partially because they were unwilling or unable to pass on their tremendous knowledge to enough people to make a difference.
A few miles from the burned out box truck is a pine forest that depends upon fire for the germination of its seeds. As the fire scorches each tree, the cones open, their seeds spilling onto the forest floor beneath them. A new beginning from the devastation. Every new show season is a chance to move ahead. We make the decision not to be defined by the disappointments and losses of the old season, even if they cannot be forgotten. It takes more courage to continue than to languish in grief or merely quit. We have reached a point of no return of sorts, with too much invested in our breed to not continue. The addition of our German Pinscher has helped us see shows through new eyes. While we mentor others in our breed, we in turn, are mentored by others. It is refreshing to be new in some aspect of showing. Always looking forward. Accepting the losses in the ring as learning experiences instead of evidence of something darker.
We never make a conscious decision to show dogs in the new season. It is something that just happens. A premium list comes in the mail, a dog friend calls excited about a new puppy to show and like all pain, the losses of the last season fade. And being Terrier people we never quit. And maybe, in the house just behind the burned out box truck, two dogs and a breeder make their own start to the new season in the best way of all.