While Phoebe couldn't come along, I spent a happy five days last month visiting with her family, the Genabacab clan of collies: mother Quiz, grandmother Kiwi, littermate Tilly, and assorted aunts and great-uncles. We all gathered in the Cotswolds, UK, the second weekend of October for Kay Laurence's Clicker Conference and Challenge.
The Phoebe Chronicles
Later that night, Dr. Davis called. The staff neurologist had examined Phoebe and felt there were four possible diagnoses: Coonhound Paralysis, Botulism, Tick Paralysis, or Myasthenia Gravis. Dr. Davis gave me an update on Phoebe's condition. The paralysis had extended as far as her face. Now she couldn't even blink.
Esme, the senior collie in my house, has been my partner through eleven years of chasing and rounding up little boys. Years ago, she assessed the task in front of her-help Gale to keep wandering toddlers in tidy groups and children on wheels off the road-and got to work. She always keeps an eye on where I am, what I am doing, what I am saying, and springs to action if needed.
Phoebe and I have just accomplished a new trick that's been on my wish list for a while: circle me tail-first. It isn't an easy trick to learn or teach, but we managed it whenever I found five minutes to bring out the clicker and treats. The breakthrough, Phoebe's "aha!" moment, came one day while Nathaniel, my five-year-old, joined us for the training session to tell me all about turtles. (He's been interested in reptiles and amphibians lately, and we've all heard a lot about frogs. A lot. Now turtles will have their turn.) As I gave him my ears and Phoebe my eyes, she made a full backward circle three times in a row! Time to name the behavior. The cue? "Turtle".
Winter stretches on in Tidy Lawn, U.S.A. The temperature on this early March morning is -15 C, and may rise to -5 C by noon. The first day of spring, just fourteen days away, sends no harbingers this year.
Dog walks this winter require snow pants, boots, a down vest topped by a down jacket, muffler, hat, and thick gloves. Phoebe and Esme wait patiently while I prepare for the elements. The cold doesn't seem to bother them, but the salt spread on the roads burns their feet and the snow packs into their paws. Esme's arthritis flares up in the cold, and some days she would rather wait on the front steps than come along on our walk.