Injuries, Adversity & Staying Positive

Over the last couple of months Merlin and I have had a great deal of growth and success as a team at trials. The game has been turning on for him. We still have some training opportunities to address, but he has a genuine excitement to be at trials now which is a far cry from where he was last year. I don’t find myself getting quite so exhausted ramping him up before and during our runs. No longer am I having to wait until the very last moment to signal collection in order to keep him driving towards the obstacle before we turn. My last second cues are now starting to send him out wide and I couldn’t be happier with his performances. We’ve worked very hard to keep it fun and exciting and that work it starting to show.

MC Jumpers 05-17-2015

MC Jumpers 05-17-2015

We had some absolutely phenomenal runs at our last USDAA trial, including a 1st place in Biathlon with quite possibly our best technical run ever. I was able to give him the information he needed sooner, and we weren’t experiencing a drop off in speed. We’ve typically done quite well with technical on its own or with wide open on its own, but when the two are combined we start to flatten out in the speed department. However, we were both running happy and the results showed it. We Q’d 6 of our 9 runs, all with first place finishes as well as wrapping up all of the needed qualifications for Cynosports.

The success of the weekend was an exclamation point for me mentally. Decisions that I made with our training were proving to be correct, even though they were scary as hell at the time. Voices in my head were being silenced. For whatever the reason, over our relatively short time learning and competing in agility the words “he can’t…” and “he wont be able to…” have been whispered behind my back on a few occasions (funny haha… it’s really interesting what audio can be picked up at trials when runs are being recorded). I have no idea why these opinions were shared, and to be completely honest there are times where I feel like an outsider in the sport. I didn’t come from a horse background. I didn’t have a BC from a big name breeder. I like running & sprinting my ass off on the course. Finally I’m a guy in a female dominated world. Perhaps it’s their own insecurities being spoken, but to an introvert it can be mentally crippling. When I started this adventure with Merlin I had zero training in agility. I had a dog, a dream and an open mind. In the end it really doesn’t matter what is said… now all it does is help to motivate me. These last couple of months have shown that we can and we will, and it has felt great.

The overwhelming sense of joy I had quickly came back down to Earth on the following Monday. When I had got home from work I could tell something wasn’t quite right with Merlin. It was just some subtle things that most folks wouldn’t pick up on, but when you have a sensitive dog you tend to be aware of everything they do that isn’t “normal”. This is where it’s extremely nice to be working with Dr. Woodside. I brought him into work and he got a nice little checkup. He appeared to be his normal self, with the exception that he was dragging his rear toes while walking and jogging. Decided to give Merlin some rest from agility and take him to our regular vet for x-rays to see what’s going on with his back, hips and knees. Hopefully the X-rays wouldn’t show anything and I’d now know what I had structurally.

"Hi. I'm sorry you don't understand how f'ng awesome I am!"

“Hi. I’m sorry you don’t understand how f’ng awesome I am!”

The X-ray appointment was scheduled for 30 minutes and I figured we’d be in and out pretty quickly since it should have only really needed the tech and assistants. Our regular Doctor, who has been nothing short of amazing for our animals, was not in the office that day and this trip reaffirmed my belief in going to specialists when it comes to the athlete and injuries. The standard couch potato house dog and the canine athlete are different animals and it seems a number of vets are not used to seeing fit dogs these days. Unfortunately there’s no such thing as a drive through service for x-ray referrals, and I’m pretty sure there were less hoops to jump through for any of my five MRIs. Instead we got the full clinical treatment with multiple diagnosis being tossed out at us to see what would stick. Ninety minutes later and I was finally out the door. My brain was fried and quite frankly I was pissed at the laundry list of problems that were given as possible reasons for his discomfort. I of all people know the struggle it can be to diagnose an injury in humans, let alone in the pups. I was appreciative of Doctor’s help in trying to figure out what was going on, but I don’t think I could have made it any more clear that I just wanted the x-rays shot. Life would be much easier if the animals could just hold up a sign.

Once Dr. Woodside was able to view the x-rays I had some answers as to what has been ailing Merlin…

Partially Torn Cranial Cruciate Ligaments. Yup… he managed tear both knees… at the same time. My little over achiever.

The next few minutes are a complete blank. We had just gotten done dealing with a multi-day Emergency Vet trip for one of our cats, and now this. I then started asking all sorts of questions I already knew the answers to. “So no agility?” “For how long?” “Can we go to Cynosports?” “What about swimming… it’s summer and he loves swimming…” At this point the devastation of reality set in. While this was not the news I wanted to hear, part of me knew that this could happen. We had been through a full tear of one CCL with our Ridgeback and looking back at that learning experience Merlin was starting to show similar symptoms.

FragileA few friends have asked me how did this happen and there really isn’t an easy answer. First off, I have no idea when the injuries happened. Considering how well he has been running, it either happened recently or he did an extremely good job of hiding his pain. He has lost three pounds (12% of his body weight) since his last checkup 4 months ago. He could have been compensating for some time and masked it very well. Single ruptures of the CCL are not all that uncommon. Tearing both at the same time is all sorts of special. Merlin didn’t exactly win the genetics lottery when it comes to his structure and that has most likely factored into the injury. He was also neutered at eight months, which I think played a larger role in this. Looking back at it I wish we would have had a vasectomy done instead of the castration.

While you never want to deal with an injury of any sorts, I am thankful for the positives that are in play. First and foremost, we caught it early and its not life threatening. The tears are hopefully minor enough that we can avoid surgery with proper rehabilitation and rest (which could be considered a BC’s death sentence) and eventually return to a normal life. Secondly, I can’t imagine trying to go through this with my previous work/employer. There are definitely some perks to working with a rehab vet when your pup is in need. We’ll get to experiment with a few new toys and see how it goes. I see weighted vest walks for both of us in the near future and as crazy as it sounds, I actually enjoy doing strength and stability exercises with the pups. Third, he is young. Merlin turns 4 on Saturday and the healing process should be much easier now than say at 9 or 10 years of age – Happy Birthday Buddy…

As this has all settled into my brain, I’ve spent time re-evaluating our goals. For now the dreams of his ADCH title he’s ever so close to (1 Standard & 1 Gamble), going to Cynosports and participating in World Team Tryouts are shelved. They have been replaced with getting him stronger and avoiding surgery. It is my hope that we’ll be able to return to playing the game we both enjoy, but I’m also aware that there is a chance that his body just wont allow for it. We won’t spend time worrying about things that are out of our control. Right now we are focused on his 8 weeks of crate rest, walks and stability exercises. We’ll re-evaluate and go from there. The hope is to start bringing him back into agility slowly after the 8 weeks. Mentally to get through this I need to believe that we will return. Thank you to everyone who has offered their support and kind words. We shall rebuild him bigger, faster and stronger.

“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.”

Merlin enjoying the sunset at the Fox River

Merlin enjoying the sunset at the Fox River

The Dog Is Always Right

i-m-so-alpha-my-beta-cells-stopped-functioning-white_designOne would think after dealing with Type 1 Diabetes for 28 years, that there wouldn’t be too many surprises left to give you a “how the hell didn’t I see that” moment. At times no matter how hard you try to manage Type 1, it will get the best of you. This past Saturday I had one of those moments.

Merlin and  I headed out to the Contact Sports Agility USDAA trial and we were both very excited. Recently he had gone through some applied kinesiology chiropractic treatments, which is a different methods of doing adjustments than we had tried before. The results have been great.  Over the last month he has been moving wonderfully and our teamwork has really started to click. Less and less I was wondering which of the many faces of Merlin I would see at the start line and I was more confident in my plan of attack for the course.

We followed our typical morning routine of a trial by getting up at the crack of dawn. Testing my sugar and calibrating my Dexcom Platinum CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor for my non diabetic folk). I was at 78 and the CGM said 74. Couldn’t ask for a better match. On a typical day I will calibrate the CGM 3-4 times to make sure it’s getting the correct readings. In the 7 months I’ve been using the CGM, the most it has every been off was 20 points. The venue for the trial was a 90 minute drive and once we got there I did another blood draw and calibration. This time it came back 145 vs 160. Still a very normal range for me after breakfast.

csa_gamblers_judy_reillyRoughly 30 minutes later we had our first run of the day… Gamblers, which has been our nemesis ever since changing almost all of our training & handling nearly 2 years ago. The course itself was not easy. The opening was a very wide open setup & there were some well hidden traps. The closing looked deceptively easy… it wasn’t, but it was something we could definitely handle. He ran the course perfectly, with the exception of my motion sending him off to the chute instead of completing a back to back a-frame. This isn’t something we get to practice very often, so I wasn’t surprised. He ran the closing like a champ and we got our Gamblers Q. I was feeling good. He was happy and confident.

Judy Reilly, who is also a T1D, has graciously allowed my to share her Gamblers course. On paper and even at first glance while walking, it doesn’t appear to be that difficult of a gamble… sound the alarm. A number of teams got caught short of time in the open and then had a difficult time setting up a smooth transition into jump 1, which you could either wrap or rear-cross. We ended up going with the rear-cross as my motion forward pushed him through it setting up 2 to 3 very nicely. Some teams got stuck in the Bermuda Triangle that was the jump – tunnel – jump. The dogs didn’t see the tunnel for whatever reason coming out of 2, and when the handlers motion was stopped at the gamble line, the dogs were almost spinning in circles looking for the tunnel. The fourth jump had a surprising number of knocks. Handlers that ran away from the jump while calling their dog didn’t seem to have any issue with it. Those that stood in place calling their dog  over seeming had more issues. These are the types of courses I absolutely love. Those tiny surprises on course that show up even when you think you’ve noticed every possible off course. I was rather surprised that no one I watched started on the dog walk side to setup the weaves. Some folks went for the chute to weaves and the large dogs with their big strides struggled to hit the entry.

Fast forward a hour to our Standard run. I checked my monitor before we started warming up and I was at 163. We got to the start line and I could see it was a different dog than at the start of gamblers. During the run, he was a loose cannon. Contacts were no longer needed, off courses to contacts instead of tunnels?!?! Ears pinned back. The boy was stressed and I had no idea why. I was starting to feel as though my sugar was a little out of sorts, but the CGM said I was in range. It’s a feeling that is difficult to describe, and I’m sure each Diabetic has a different sensation. For me it’s as though the muscles in my body feel warm and swollen while my skin is compressing down on them from all directions. It’s not pleasant and it’s a creeper that all of the sudden hits you like a ton of bricks. It’s also a feeling that you become accustomed to after dealing with it for so many years. Partially because of age, and partially getting so used to trying to push through highs or lows at work, or school or at an event. Striving to be ‘normal’ can make you ignore what your body is telling you and then those signals get lessened as it becomes part of the routine.

We had a bit of time before our MC Standard run so I took Merlin and River out to play, did some basic trick work and some massage to try to set him at ease. I ate my lunch, did my insulin and got ready for our next run.  The same dog that was there for Standard was at the start line for MC Standard. We got through the first 10 obstacles without much trouble, but he was stressed. So stressed that he bailed on the dog walk near the top of the down ramp. He blew off his a-frame contact and we walked off course, something we have only done once before.  Our day was done, something wasn’t right and I didn’t want to risk him getting hurt. His head clearly wasn’t on the game.

I still had the high blood sugar feeling and I checked the CGM again and it was right at 160. Started packing stuff up and grabbed the tester from the car. Another blood draw and the tester reads 438… WTF?!?! I looked at the monitor. 163. Do another blood draw and it comes back 441. Something went terribly wrong. Outside the fact that the monitor basically was giving me false readings since mid-morning, the insulin I did do seemed to have no response and I had been ignoring the signs my body was giving me. I quickly realized that I was Merlin’s stress.  He has alerted me in his own way a few times before I started using a CGM when my sugar were dropping. He’s woken me up in the middle of the night when my sugar has been low or high. We’ve done no formal training for this, he’s just very in tune with me and my diabetes. I ignored the signs and I trusted technology. I didn’t listen to myself when I was feeling a little off. I sat in the parking lot waiting for my sugar to return to a normal level thinking I had let my boy down. The distractions of the trial aside, this stupid f’ng disease had gotten the best of me.

Needless to say Saturday was a learning experience in so many ways. Going forward my approach to management on trial days is going to need some fine tuning. It was a stark reminder that sometimes we just need to slow down and listen to what the ‘verse is trying to tell us. As always, “Mr. Honest” Merlin was right. We just need to work on his method of alerting.

Out of all of this, I did finally come up with some direction for this site. Throw Diabetes, Health, Wellness and Dog Training into a blender and that’s what you’ve got. We all have our struggles in life and I’m hoping that some of my adventures can help inspire others. So much of what we do and what we do with our dogs as athletes goes well beyond what we think is possible.