Luke and I started agility in January of 2007 when he had just turned three years old. Since then we have watched many of the dogs we competed with early on grow older, retire and/or pass away. With every year that passes, these losses hit me harder because I know that I, too, will eventually have to go through that experience.
Luke's 10th birthday is just around the corner. For a dog his size, that's pretty old. For as much as he's beat up his body over the years, it's pretty remarkable that he's not held together by duct tape at this point. ;o) I've been very fortunate that he has aged as well as he has, but even still I know that his retirement is drawing near. Sorry for him, but Kizzy's arrival has probably pushed that date up a little sooner than I may have originally planned, simply because I will not be able to afford to compete with four dogs. That's okay, though. I think we're getting close.
We are attending NADAC Championships later this month and it will be Luke's third and final time competing at this event. I really waffled on weather or not to enter him this year. He will be three months shy of meeting the Double-Digit qualifications at that time, which kind of bummed me out a little -- I would have loved to run him in that group, but he will have to compete against the "young vets" running in his Skilled 12" class. I feel he still has a chance to be competitive in this group, though, and we will go, have fun, and give it our best shot. We came within 7 points -- SEVEN POINTS -- of making the finals at our last trip to Springfield in 2011, so this year I'm going in with the mindset of "he CAN do it" and we'll have fun on every run.
I feel blessed to have had the time I've had with Luke. He was diagnosed with Addison's disease in October of 2009 -- just two weeks after returning home from our first trip to NADAC Championships. We had been closing in on our first NATCH at the time and I felt like my dreams were shattered. Beyond that, though, I almost lost my dog in that experience and it was a wake-up call to how special every moment is together. I didn't know if we'd do agility anymore, but I was happy that I still had my best friend with me.
Thanks to our wonderful vet, we did get back into agility -- and in record time, too. He was back to trialing in December and up to full steam just a few months after that. We finished that first NATCH that summer, only to be followed by two Versatility NATCH's (something I thought would never happen thanks to our issues making time in Weavers) and three more NATCH titles (and closing in on NATCH 5 now!). I feel so blessed to have taken this journey with Luke and will always be so thankful for what he taught me.
Not only did Luke have to put up with all of my rookie blunders in agility -- and there were a lot of them -- but he's also had to put up with all of the new dogs and fosters that have come through the house. :o) Luke was an only dog for the first four years of his life and he thought that was a pretty good deal. He came to work with me every day -- we'd often walk or ride bike to work, which he thought was the most fun ever! Then we'd come home and go to the barn together where he'd get to run around eating horse poop and followed me as I rode (either around the arena or out on the trail). If it was still light out when we got home he'd usually get to play frisbee, too, before going in for the night. It was a dog's life, for sure!
In spring of 2008 Luke's world was turned upside down. That's when Kaiser came along (because once you get involved in agility, heaven knows you can't just have one dog!). Luke was not impressed. In fact, he was downright depressed for the first month. He's gotten better about it over the years, though. Secret joined us in December of 2009, followed by fosters Max, Joe and Missy. By the time Kizzy arrived a couple of months ago Luke had learned to just role with the punches and in some ways I think he's actually starting to like the other dogs now. He's a wonderful role model for any dog that comes into the house, though, and I appreciate that he is 100% trustworthy around everyone. It's nice to have one dog that I never, ever have to worry about.
Luke is not the ideal build for an agility dog. He is very large, standing at 26" tall and weighing in at 77lbs (he was 85 lbs for the earlier part of his career -- he lost a lot of weight when he got sick and we just opted to keep it off for his own good). We had a lot of issues with injuries when first starting out in agility. There were shoulder injuries (frisbee didn't help any of these, either), bicipital tendonitis, spondylosis, Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, etc. For a while it felt like it was one thing after another. And then, of course, the Addison's diagnosis.
Knock on wood, Luke has been amazingly healthy in his senior years. I've lowered his jump height (he typically runs Kaiser's 8" jumps at home, 12" in NADAC and 16" occasionally in USDAA), rarely train him anymore, and make sure he gets plenty of activity. Last year I decided to let him start playing frisbee again and this is still his most favorite thing in the world.
I've definitely noticed a change in him this year, though. This allergy season has been very hard on Luke. In the recent hot/humid spells he has struggled even on our two-mile walks. Sitting in the yard last night after our training session it struck me that he is really starting to look older -- Look past the graying that has been there since he was three -- it's in his eyes.
So, in a few short weeks we will leave for NADAC Championships. We will have the best time ever and I will treasure the experience with my old man. There will never be another "first dog" and there will never be another like him.
Be sure to check out the other postings for this Dog Agility Blog Event!