A Matter of Tyme

This is the first in a new series at Honor the Dog called Journeys, where we will feature personal stories of self discovery, triumph, and will.  I want to thank my friend Chris Duncan for being brave enough to be the first, sharing her personal story with us, and offering us a glimpse into her world and her heart.  Thank you Chris.

I asked the question “When will I know if it’s the right time?” The answer I got back was “He will tell you”.  “What the hell is that meant to mean?”

You see Blu, my first shepherd, was getting old and slow.  My biggest fear was I wouldn’t know when the right time would be to set him free. It was something that filled me with dread. Three years passed before I understood those wise words.

Blu was a wonderful loyal boy; a bit of a loner, not an attention seeking dog.  One evening after he’d had his meal, I went out to sit with him in the backyard. After a while this deep feeling came over me that was so hard to describe. Then Blu did something he’d never done before.  He gave me three licks and cuddled close for about 5 mins. I had tears pouring down my face and did not know why; it was such a powerful feeling I didn’t want it to go.  It was a very special moment.

The next day Blu was like a pup again.  He wanted to play a little ball and even take a short stroll.  Great my boy is fine I thought. But then the next day he crashed. We rang the vets and they said to bring him in and they could try some things.  Suddenly, as if it wasn’t me speaking, I said “No he wants to go. Please give us the day together then come out this evening to set him free.” It was the worst thing I’ve ever asked but it was so right, and suddenly I understood the answer he had told me not in words, but with love, right into my heart/soul with so much feeling he knew I’d understand. That was the first time I can truly say I was in touch with my heart.  Thank you Blu.

The next two occasions that I went with my heart instead of my head was when I was picking a new pup. First it was Bear. All was not right with the breeder, he was an only pup, and I wasn’t allowed any contact with the mother.  But one look at this pup and it had to be as the pull was too much.  He had to come home. Five years later when I went looking again, I was going to get a bitch as Bear wouldn’t handle another male around. I had all the answers in my head, but when the breeder brought out the male and female long haired pups, I didn’t even see the female. For an hour I tried to take her home and I couldn’t. All the reasoning in the world went out the window and then it hit me. “Go with what feels right.” SoI picked up the male and Zeke came home with me. Of course Bear and Zeke got on fine and were the best of buddies and a pair of shepherds to be proud of.

I learnt a lot from Blu but Bear was the true beginning of my journey with dogs, he had the most beautiful soul.  He could tame any wild animal and was so gentle for a big dog. At the time all the training I did was dominance. “You will do as I say when I say”, and still Bear was the most well behaved balanced dog I knew. He could play with pups or be with the most reactive dog and calmly keep the peace. I was so spoilt with Bear.  He took whatever I threw at him, from yelling and screaming when I wasn’t getting my own way in life or pushing him away because dogs don’t get attention unless I ask for it. He suffered a lot in regards to his health, always ill.  We were told he wouldn’t make it past 3 years but Bear had other plans; he was a big part of my journey.

Once Bear got to be about 11yrs old, he had slowed down a lot so he and I spent a lot of time together while Arthur and Zeke went tramping and hunting.  He was wonderful company. It was then I thought, “Well, you’ve helped turn Zeke into a wonderful dog, what do you think about helping with another pup.” So over the months I started looking for another long haired boy (no thoughts of a bitch this time); I found a possible litter and we waited to hear from the breeder to see if she had two long hair boys.

A few days later on the tail end of a big snow storm, we went tramping in the bush to meet a friend. We had the dogs with us and Arthur suggested “Let’s leave Bear in the car, he’ll just slow us down.” I’d let the dogs out of the car for a run around and to this day I can still see the grin on Bear’s face when he saw where we were. I was slowly learning to go a bit more with my heart by now and not my mind, so I said “No, Bear can come. You and Zeke can go ahead, I’ll take Bear as far as he wants then come back and wait for you.” Well Bear was like a pup that day, he trotted along, even saw and pretended to chase a couple of deer.  They were even kind enough to stop running for a bit to wait for the old crippled dog in hunting mode. Oh he had so much fun that day and hiked for nearly 2 hrs. He was one happy dog.

Two days later Bear walked up to me and I knew something was seriously wrong. He was badly hunched in the stomach, so a rushed visit to the vet.  Let’s just say things went downhill from there. Misdiagnosis for 3 days before they worked out that it was his back. By now Bear was 70% paralysed in the backend. I was gutted.  Why hadn’t I worked out what was wrong? So 10 days of rest and anti-inflammatory drugs were prescribed.

So again I had to ask the question, “Is this Bear’s time?”  I didn’t feel he was telling me anything, but to see him so lame and unable to do anything broke my heart and I started to question that maybe he wouldn’t ‘tell’ me. As the days passed we got a small improvement, but not much. Then a week later I was feeling very stressed and exhausted so I decided to take Bear down to his beloved lake to cheer us up. Just before I left I checked my emails and there was an email from the breeder.  She’d sent a picture that said “This is your pup”.  I was like “big deal, I don’t care, I can’t think about a pup right now”. I wrote back and told her fine, but Bear was very ill and I needed to put all my energy into him and then I headed down the lake with Bear. Because he still couldn’t walk I was going to leave him in the back of the car with the lid up to enjoy the wind but for some reason, I don’t know why, I got him out.  I carried his back end while he walked over the bridge and down the track. We must have gone 50+ metres when we got to a big beautiful Kowhai tree.  Then we went down to the beach where Bear lay in the sand. It was a beautiful, very windy day, so his long fur was blowing in the wind while the waves were crashing near us getting us slightly damp. There was a lovely cloud formation on the horizon and Bear stared out over the lake seeming to watch the horizon for a long time. To this day I still see the wonderful vision it created. It was then that I suddenly felt something, something hard to explain. It was like an overwhelming feeling of loss. Bear turned and stared me straight in the eye and he reached right into my heart. The tears flowed as he continued to stare me in the eye with the softest most loving look. I knew I was getting a message and it felt like this:

“Thank you for a wonderful life.  My time here is done and my job is complete., I have waited until I knew you had a new buddy coming who will show you the true way. It is time for me to move on”.

Bear stared out onto the horizon again. We sat there for a long time just being together at peace.

The next day the vet arranged for me to take Bear through to Auckland to a specialist to see if they could fix his back. It would mean a 3am start to get there in time. It wasn’t a good night with a terrible fight with Arthur over Bear and how exhausted we all were.  It was very emotional. Suddenly around midnight I leant over and patted Bear who lay beside the bed, turned off the alarm, and we both slept soundly. I had heard my heart, Bear had told me what he wanted me to do and I would honour his wishes. Later that morning my Bear flew free.  Just as he slipped away he again looked me in the eye right through to my heart, “Thank you”. Bear was one in a million and he showed me time and time again that I should follow my heart. I so wish I had learnt this earlier, for his everyday life, not just at the end.

It was a terrible time after Bear went. With Blu it was like I had accepted he was gone, but with Bear it was like I’d missed something and I didn’t know what! Then a few weeks later the breeder of the pup wanted me to come and pick up the pup early. I wasn’t ready for a pup as it just didn’t seem like the right time, “No no no” I thought. When I asked why she wanted me to pick him up early, she muttered something about him getting beaten up by another pup and how he’s not socializing with the other pups, but he’d be fine once I got him because I had Zeke. I wasn’t thinking straight so it didn’t set off any alarm bells for me, or if it did I wasn’t hearing them. She talked me into coming a few days later and if all was OK, I’d just take the pup home with me. I didn’t know what to do but something was drawing me to go through with this no matter how much I just wanted to crawl into a hole right now.

So I drove to Wellington to see this pup, I know today that common sense wasn’t with me that day as lots of things were not right.  But one look at the pup and all I felt was that Bear wants me to have this pup (call me dumb or superstitious).  Ty, my little Typhoon, the whirlwind of my life came home to set me on such a new, eye opening, heart breaking journey into the real me.

Let’s just say the hell started from about day two.  This little 7 week old pup had a go at my folks Aussie Terrier and I remember feeling “This isn’t right.”  But then like everyone around me, it was put down to the puppy settling in. Then the pre-puppy classes. Ty and a Sib pup not puppy fighting but something more evil, something meaner. Again that feeling but I couldn’t make sense of it. The vet nurses laughed and said to let them go because all puppies fight, while this voice inside was saying “No something is wrong here”. Then again at dog club puppy classes, Ty so stressed lunging at other pups  and so overwhelmed. By now the voice inside was getting louder “get him out of this, he can’t handle it”.

By now I’d started to dislike this dog and I will admit a few times I hated him. Why couldn’t he be kind and gentle like Bear? Why was he doing this to me? That’s when the fights between us started. A couple of times I alpha rolled him and have never felt so much guilt when I saw the total fear in his face. I yelled. I screamed. All the time I blamed the dog.  Hey I knew how to raise the perfect shepherd, I’d done it three times before hadn’t I! Dominance training didn’t work, clicker training didn’t work and 10,000 other methods and ideas didn’t work for this dog. Something was missing, but what?.

My life began to get narrower and narrower, as everything revolved around management of Ty.  Don’t let him near other dogs, keep him away from kids, never let him loose or he’d take off after something. He gave our cats hell, and he made my life hell. Twice I seriously thought of giving him away but every time that thought came up I got a picture in my head of old Bear grinning down at me, reminding me ‘I sent him to you for a reason’.  I’d yell “Well tell me what the hell it is then” and I’d go back online and order more and more books/DVD’s to try and understand this dog and what was wrong with him. After two years of incidents and heartache I contacted a trainer in the south island and he said “Until you train this dog in prey drive you will never manage him.” What the hell…….. He sent me up a video clip of him working a shepherd with a tug toy and shock and horror he let the dog win the toy, totally opposite to what I’d been told to do.  I remember saying to him, if I let him win it he will run away with it.  He said “Just try it”.  I did and guess what, Ty rushed back to me for more. WOW. Suddenly I was fun in Ty’s eyes.

So then the journey to learn more about this training in prey drive started, so back online I went and after a while I found this guy Kevin Behan’s website. There wasn’t a lot on it then, but I remember reading his articles a few times thinking it all sounds good, but there was no ‘do A then B and dog will do C’ stuff.  I was still in a mechanic type mode where I wanted a quick fix for this dog. A few months later and many hours of travelling I was able to spend half a day with this trainer in the south island. He was the first person in 2 ½ years to tell me “He’s not aggressive; he wants to play but doesn’t know how”. He then spent time showing me how to play tug and letting the dog win, and he also very politely told me to ‘shut-up’. I had gotten into the habit of verbal diarrhea which had become nothing but back ground noise to Ty. Funny how with Bear and Zeke I hardly spoke and here I was nagging Ty’s ear off. We made progress after that day but there was still so much to try and understand. My search started again but this time only dealing with prey drive. Again this guy Behan came up so finally I ordered his book, Natural Dog Training.  So much of the book made sense and it felt right but I still didn’t get it. I tried pushing for a few days and brushed it off as nothing. I tried a few other methods but all the time I’d go back to the book. Then I found Neil Sattin’s and Lee Kelley’s websites, and ever so slowly, bit by bit I understood a little more. I’m a sod for quickly trying something and if I don’t get an answer right away I try something else. So finally I promised myself two weeks of pushing no matter what. Wow. 4 days later there was this settling in Ty that was hard to put a finger on, but this felt so right.  And guess what……I was really starting to like my dog.  We were having fun together.

There were so many times I wanted to give up, I didn’t get it, something would happen in the paddock or in the forest and I wouldn’t have a clue how to deal with it. Slowly Kevin’s ideas and Bear’s lesson’s came to pass. Stop looking for an answer and feel your way; stop thinking. Ty is a great teacher; he’s so like me with his emotions on a hair trigger and as hard as it has been for me I’m learning patience, having to let go of being a control freak.  It’s not easy after so many years of getting away with it. Ty is making me look at who I really am and it’s not always pretty getting shown by a dog your dark side.

One day I received an insight of true raw emotion between us, a glimpse of our true bond (if that’s the right description). Sadly one of our steers had to be culled due to illness. I drove over the hill in the truck so I didn’t have to witness the event and after I heard a couple of shots and I’d shed a few tears I drove back to help bury the steer. As I drove towards the body it moved. The steer dragged its head to look at me. It hadn’t died straight away. I don’t think I’ve ever ‘lost it’ like I did at that moment. I guess the best description was I howled and screamed. I even ran in circles totally freaked out that this animal had suffered by our hand, it was total raw emotion. The situation was being dealt with but I couldn’t handle it. I rushed into the barn and paced back and forth I was so distraught.  It was then I suddenly realized Ty was beside me.  Why was he here as I thought he’d rush off to the steer. By now the steer was dead and getting dragged to the hole so I pulled myself together and went down to help. I put Ty on the long line and when I got to the pit I tied Ty to a fence rail to keep him out of the mess. As I walked away from him the deepest bark I’ve ever heard came from him. I didn’t believe it could have come from him but it was Ty, no high pitched banshee yap, this was deep and from the gut and it was beautiful. I managed to get my wits together and grabbed a big stick and got him barking again and again, then getting him to bite the stick. Wow what a bite!  Then he grabbed me with his paws like a bear hug to make contact. I had shown my true emotion this day, so he did too.

All my dogs have shown a different part of me but it’s been Ty that has shown the part I didn’t want to see. He kept on showing it until I could really see it for what it is. I think having dogs in your life is like a wonderful train ride, each dog takes you down a different track.  When one goes and another arrives you change tracks but you are still on the same journey. With Ty, well, we derailed big time but with heaps of pushing we’re back on track and it’s no longer a big dark tunnel we’re in.  It’s one with light, or maybe it’s my heart, at the end and I know we’re heading for it.

Together, Ty and I still have a long long way to go on this journey, but I’d say to anyone with a dog, jump aboard because it’s one hell of a ride……………..

If you’d like to see some more great pics of Zeke and Ty, check out Chris’ website at http://www.airchartertaupo.co.nz/bearzeke/index.html


7 thoughts on “A Matter of Tyme

  1. Wonderful, Chris. So glad you care to share and have the courage to show yourself to all of us out here. There are parts that remind me of Duncan and our relationship…all that dark stuff, ya know.

  2. Oh Chris, I cried and cried. I still have my picture of Bear & Zeke you gave me years ago, in a frame in my living room. What a journey these beautiful creatures take us on, the love, laughter and heartache… don’t stop blogging! xxxx

  3. Chris, I never knew your story with Ty, and I’m so glad you told it. I can relate on so many levels. Very moving, thank you!

  4. Chris, Great read , very moving and straight from the heart. Can relate to it all as having known all your dogs.Yes, Ty was a challenge compared to Bear who was so laid- back he nearly fell over. Well done

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