Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Give your heart to a dog to tear...

This post is dedicated to Chan's friend Duffy, who died one week ago today.
It is also dedicated to both of Duffy's families, who miss him terribly.

I recall a friend once expressed to me her surprise about how owning a dog was actually a very social thing. We had been talking to a bunch of people in a dogpark near her home while Chan tumbled with another puppy. I hadn't thought about it, but she was correct. I've met many wonderful people because of Chandler. Susan is one of these.

She was one of the people that announced the happy arrival of her family's new English Shepherd puppy late last winter. Seeing as she lived in the same state I did, I finally caught up to her in the spring and emailed a suggestion that we meet to take a walk together. She happily agreed, but then the event was delayed, because Duffy was exhibiting some troubling behavior-growling and lunging at the neighbor's children.

When we finally met, Duffy and Susan were standing about half a soccer field away from the training center that Chan and I were exiting (the very same place that Duffy had puppy class), and he was barking nervously at the class now entering the building. I'm not sure how much time it took to get over to them; I didn't want to put too much pressure on Duffy if he was nervous, but when we did get over there, he decided that anybody who carries cooked chicken must be ok, and that Chan was pretty cool too, despite the fact that Chan wasn't about to let a pushy puppy get away with much. The dogs got along well during our short hike, and Duffy apparently had to copy almost anything Chan did, which was quite amusing. We only had problems when we encountered anyone else on the trail, as Duff would tense up and start barking again.

This would be the first source of my new friend's heartbreak, as that reactivity and barking got worse over time. Despite working one on one with a trainer, going to the dog park and daycare for socialization, attending three separate obedience classes (over time), consulting with Tufts behavioral department, and a prescription for buspar to calm him down, Duffy's behavior became more unpredictable. Quite honestly, suburbia was too stressful for him, with too many perceived threats and not enough of a job to do. With her family situation, there was no way that Susan could guarantee that Duffy would not get out and possibly bite somebody, so she made the difficult decision to take him back to his breeder, who promised to find him a farm home that he would be better suited to. She and her husband made the trip, and Susan was somewhat comforted to be able to remember Duffy joyously running free playing with his sister.

A month or so went by and the news was good. Duffy had settled into the routine of the farm, made a place for himself, and his breeder had decided to keep him. She was very impressed with all the manners Susan had taught him, and he had actually become her star herder. He had found his work and place in life, and was helping to bring his sister out of her shell. Susan missed him, but was happy that Duffy seemed to be a happier dog. She kept up the link with me, now bringing her older ES, Bridget, for walks with Chan.

I wish it could have lasted longer, for everyone's sake.

Some time in the early morning of last Tuesday, something attacked the farm's chickens, killing at least two. Duffy was unlucky enough to be struck by a car on the one lane gravel township road while "seeing off" whatever predator caused the problem. We're proud of him for doing his job, and sad that a farmdog's life is not without risks. At least he had a brief period of happiness without stress.

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