Thursday, March 31, 2011

With Appreciation

The photo that accompanies this blog was taken by Debby Boehm.  Thank you.



The magic of competition obedience isn't solely about the dog, the exercises and that scary, eagle-eyed person with the clipboard.  It's also about the cast of characters who enrich the environment.  Many of whom never venture into the ring.  Mark Shults was one of those.

In the beginning, the very beginning with my Novice A dog Honeybear, I trained with Precision Canine.  Sandra Shults was one of our instructors.  (Some who are reading this are blessed with Sun Mountain border collies from Sandra's breeding program.)  Mark was her husband.  He'd show up at practice with Sandra and their border collie, Ott -- the first border collie I ever saw, the dog who hooked me on the breed.

Mark didn't train, didn't show.  Oh, he had the hots to show a mastiff in obedience.  He got the dog, but Mark sat better than he trained and the dog never made it to the ring.  But it was Mark sitting on the sidelines at class who was such a delight, such a breath of fresh air.

You see, Mark viewed life through a prism unavailable to the rest of us.  Once he told me, "Willard, when you get your next dog, you should name him YOU.

"You sit!"

"You come!"

"You heel!"

In 1992, as Honeybear (HB) finished her CD and prepared for Open A, I found a great way to practice out-of-sight sits and downs. At Paradise Valley Park, where HB and I trained, there were cement block outdoor bathrooms, men's on one side, women's on the other.  I figured out I could put HB on a stay in the shade of a big tree on the women's side, go inside, stand on the toilet seat and watch my dog through a screened high window.  She couldn't see me, but I could see her.  If she started to sniff , I'd roar, "Honeybear, don't sniff!" The sound would bounce off those cement block walls and Honeybear was convinced it was the voice of God.

Mark was an accomplished cartoonist; he could have made a living at it.  By and by he learned of my stays-practice arrangement. A few days later a cartoon came in the mail.  I'm standing on the toilet seat, on my tiptoes, looking out the window.  The dog is on a longline (which in reality I didn't use).  I'm holding one end.  The line snakes around the building and in the door behind me. And there's the dog, seated behind me, tail wagging, looking up, wondering what in the world this guy is up to.

That cartoon is framed and hangs on the wall of the room where I write. (It also appears on page 111 of REMEMBERING TO BREATHE.)

Unfortunately Mark chose to be a painter, not a cartoonist.  About two years ago he fell and broke his neck.  He spent his final years in a wheelchair.  Recently he went into cardiac arrest and died.

Everyone I've told about Mark's death has responded with, "He was such a nice guy."  Indeed.

"Willard Unleased" is not meant to be a forum for brags.  As it develops, it is planned to be a blog of national interest.  Brags -- as well as "What I did on my vacation . . . " -- are strongly discouraged.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What a nice comment from Laura, the longtime president of the Skippy and Honeybear Fan Club in Southern California. (If you don't know, you gotta read Remembering to Breathe to find out what that's all about).
What Have We Here?

As they say in the Bud Light commercials, "Here we GO!"

What you are reading is a brand-new blog.  I can't wait to see what it turns out to be about.  What I think it will be about is disa and data gleaned from the world of competition obedience:  What goes on inside the ring, outside the ring and in our heads -- the dogs' heads, your head, my head.  Our triumphs and our pratfalls.  The characters, human and canine, who flavor our sport.  A tidbit of news now and then.  Even a funny here and there.  And a lot about my affliction (yours too?), COOCD -- competition obedience obsessive/compulsive disorder.  Don't be surprised if , from time to time, I expose the antics of the bad apples in our sport.  And throw in a few training tips.

Oh, and did I mention a boatload of opinion?  Which I hope you'll frequently take issue with.  Be incensed enough to fire back.  Bring it on!  Your opinions will add pizzazz to the blog.

So . . . here we GO!

An Introduction

From time to time in these ramblings I'll refer to Bravo!, my border collie who, on cardiac arrest mornings, is at my side in the competition obedience ring.  A proper introduction seems appropriate.

First, though, a warning.  Bravo! spells his name with an exclamation point.  Leave it off and he'll go right for your throat.  Mention Bravo! in comments you post to this blog while ommitting the exclamation point and he'll hunt you down.

Bravo! is a rescue.  In the spring of 2006 we -- my wife Barbara and I -- were heavily involved in border collie rescue.  There was this owner turn-in that needed to be stashed somewhere for three days until the person who was going to foster him returned from a trip.  "We'll keep him," I said.  At the time his name was Carson.  (Carson?!  A border collie name?)  He was a few days shy of eight months old.

His owners brought him to our house at two o'clock the next afternoon.  Along with his leash, his crate, a few toys, his food -- and the all-too-standard cock-and-bull story about why they had to give him up. "Moving to Denver for two years.  Will be living in an apartment there. Blah,blah,blah."

The truth?  They had gotten in over their heads.  A common outcome when unenlightened people buy a border collie.

Seconds after we watched them drive away I was out in the backyard with the dog who would come to be known as Bravo!  I held a treat in my left hand just above his nose and we heeled . . . well, you know, sort of.  And he said to me with unmistakable clarity, "Oh, I like this!"

At four that afternoon he ran into the master bathroom, jumped into the bathtub and pooped there.  The next morning  he leaped onto the kitchen counter, walked around up there and stole a loaf of bread.  At which point I gave a thumbs up and said, "This is my kind of dog!

And so it came to pass that the little border collie who came to stay for three days has now been here nearly five years.  And now my little guy and I are lurching toward OTCHdom.

They didn't want him, but I sure do.

* * *

I plan to update this blog frequently.  So stay tuned.  And please comment.  There's potential for a multiplier effect here.  Comments trigger more comments and result in more good stuff worthy of your attention . . . and your comments.