Why Did I Retire That Dog?

As I walked an agility course this past weekend with a friend, she turned to me asked, “Do you wish you were going to Nationals this year?” Bella and I had earned a bye this year. As the 12-inch Preferred National Agility Champion, Bella, like other champions, could bypass the qualifications and attend. Yet, two months ago I chose a different path for Bella and chose the path of retirement.

“Why did I retire that dog?” I said, breathlessly after running her at the end class in early February. You see, I had asked my teacher, Cindy Mildbrand of Dog Works, if I could run Bella for old time’s sake.

One month to the day, I had retired PNAC MACH 2 PACH Tern’s Isabella Tess. Yet, I yearned to run her. It wasn’t a trial but what could a little run hurt at the end of my regular class?

On Jan. 3, at the last trial of her career, Bella had earned her PACH and was a week away from her 11th birthday. At age 11, she was still running standard courses in as fast as 40 seconds, and she was running jumper with weavers in 28 seconds. In 2015, she won the 12-inch preferred class at the AKC National Agility Championships by 2 seconds.

Yet, here I was, less than 10 months later, retiring my dog. As I finished the run in class, my teacher gave her signature, “Lovely. Just lovely.” It made me proud of my dog, my partner. Fellow student, Nikko Bob, so named due to two men who ran black Labrador Retrievers with the same dog name, turned to me and asked incredulously, “Why did you retire that dog?”

Here’s my signature answer. I just don’t have enough money to support the training, entry fees, hotel, and travel expenses for three dogs. Oh, I’ve done it. I’ve also gone in debt to do so. I now have two children in college and my priorities are set on their education.

Yet, there’s more. I have a 5-year-old dog that I shut down and turned my back on because she wasn’t Bella. I’ve never given her the time she deserved because I couldn’t put my eggs in more than one basket. Like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers, I had the dance partner of my life. Why would I want to change?

When my daughter went off to college, I inherited her Corgi. Mavrik Poison Ivy is aptly named because she is "Corgi from Hell." Yet, that Corgi is on fire covering an average up to 5.52 yards-per-second in jumper with weaves. I realized that with Bella in the picture I would never allow Ivy to become the dog she was meant to be.

So, why did I retire that dog? She’s done all I have asked of her and more.

She has good days and bad days, just like us. With adrenaline coursing through her veins and the sure reward of a meatball at the end of a run, she can show the world what she can do in less than 30 seconds. But in the early mornings, when I have to help her into or out of bed, show me she is ready to be retired. The days, when she cannot leap into the car, show me she is ready. The mid-winter hike with my husband where she was turned around and couldn’t be found, showed me she is ready.

So do not wait to retire your partner. Retirement for your agility companion can be as golden for you as for them. Bella goes to work one day a week with me at a nursing home. There she is petted endlessly. She offers her paw to be shaken, and she’s always willing to accept a biscuit from an elder. She’s been called “Toby” and “Buddy” and assorted names as elders with dementia think they are talking to their own dog. But, Bella doesn’t mind. She’s enjoying her retirement.

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