Sunday, November 25, 2012
Ella (V Elatha vom hohlen Huegel, SchH 2, Kkl 1 'a') has been my almost-exclusive hiking partner for the past year and a half, and during that time has become nearly as necessary to me as oxygen. But prior to that time my usual partner was Ieuan. So why was he not there by my side, as was Ella, during the walkabout last year and indeed every other trail mile I've been logging? Ieuan was with trainers, working on his titles. That is, until six weeks ago when I picked him up as Jess (my daughter) and I were on our way to the Monongahela wilderness area of West Virginia for a long weekend of backpacking.
Ieuan had just gone High in Trial and High Scoring Tracking Dog while earning his IPO 1 under Nikki Banfield, and it was time for him to come home. Perfect timing for him to take some well-deserved R&R, so for once Ella stayed home to make room in the car to pick up Ieuan as we drove south to the mountains.
The necessity of titling my dogs, in combination with the fact that being a breeder means there is always a steady stream of young dogs growing up and moving into adulthood, has dictated that for the past fifteen years or so I've raised my pups to a certain age, brought them to a base level of training, and shipped them off to Germany to achieve the titles that the German system requires for a breeding program. I was fortunate enough to work with friends and trainers in Germany who ensured that the dogs have come home just as happy as when they left, and it was a system I'd hoped to follow throughout my breeding career. Unfortunately, post-divorce financial realities have instilled hurdles that I haven't yet found a way to overcome, but one step towards reducing the cost of titling has been to work with trainers in this country (eliminating the shipping expenses). Tim & Carol Karchnak of Muddy River K-9 have been marvelous to work with and their methods ensure that the dogs work because they love it, not because they're forced to.
So, Ieuan achieved his titles, had a lovely vacation, and is home and has been logging many a mile as my hiking buddy alongside Ella. They make quite an impressive team, red coats flashing bright against the bronze and brown landscapes of late-fall woodlands. I relish the wildness that lights their eyes as develop pack hunting strategies, feeding off each others' instinctive reactions to musky deer scent of the autumn rut. I'm never more blissful than when spending days in their company, their unadulterated joy calling forth my own Paleolithic inheritance as our trail-hardened muscles carry us tirelessly, mile after mile. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the further we go, the stronger and fiercer I feel. I wonder if they feel that, too.
Where once I felt my responsibility as dog owner was to control and modify my dogs' natural behaviors, I now see myself as more of a supervisor, a witness, providing opportunities for them to discover their own capacities while maintaining some degree of boundaries for their own protection. There really is nothing I can teach them, other than to try to establish a mutually-understood language that allows us to function as a team. They are complete and more than sufficient unto themselves, yet they chose to partner with me, and that fact gives me more than enough to ponder on our rambles. The choosing to share a life with an Other, the struggle to understand and to be understood, to communicate and to share...isn't that what all relationships are about?
As the years have gone by, my idea of a "long walk" has evolved numerically and then geometrically (four miles became six became ten became thirty), dissolving boundaries both physical and mental. As these once solid-seeming barriers were surmounted, the very idea of limitations has nearly evaporated.
Though I've always been athletic and outdoorsy, without these canine companions I know I would never have ventured into the wilderness as extensively as I have, nor grappled with the barriers that hemmed me in. Granted, I'd warrant that most of those barriers were self-constructed. Nonetheless, the experiences I've shared with these dogs never fail to remind me of the limitless possibilities of a life lived unleashed.
And isn't that a Homecoming of the best sort?