Goodby, My Elite Friend
When you bring a dog into your life, you know going into it that you'll most likely outlive them. Goodbyes are hard. They are even more heartbreaking when the dog you bid farewell to is your partner as well as your pet and you’ve developed a trusting, working relationship over many years. Seamus was such a dog and his loss is something I'll not get over soon or easily.
Seamus had an odd personality from the beginning, never one to warm up to people or other dogs and nervous about any change in his environment. Even so, he would do whatever I asked of him. He had a brief show career (hated it) and a brief go at Rally, which he enjoyed at home but not at trials. Then he was introduced to K9 Nose Work® and his life was transformed. Through nose work, he found his self-confidence and was able to overcome his many fears. Seamus was seven when he began his nose work journey, and he was still enjoying it at fourteen. He was in the ribbons every step of the way and made me proud to be at the other end of his leash.
Those who compete in K9 Nose Work® know just how difficult the NW3 title is to achieve. A team has to get the NW3 title three times to get the coveted Elite title. We were lucky to get into a trial not too far from home (Seamus was not a good traveler), and I was beyond thrilled when we came in 1st place overall. Seamus was 11 years old. Trials are few and far between, and more times than not a team ends up on a wait list. After our first NW3 trial, we were waitlisted for over a year. During this time, Seamus was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. The vet who broke the news to us said, "You know, he's had a good life. He's 12 years old. Maybe it's time." Time to find a different vet, I thought. We took Seamus to Dr. Ann Jeglum, who confirmed the diagnosis and said, "We can treat this. After all, he's only 12 years old." How encouraging to hear!
While undergoing treatment for his cancer and taking medication to keep the seizures he'd begun having under control, Seamus got into a couple of trials. I was on a rollercoaster of being ecstatic to get in, only to have to forfeit our place because as the trial day approached Seamus wasn't feeling well. His health and well-being always came first, but I was keenly aware that the clock was ticking and being wait-listed was frustrating. A month after radiation treatment began, we were finally able to trial and Seamus got his second NW3 title, again in first place. I was beside myself with pride and happiness! Our Elite title was within reach, if we could get into another trial while Seamus was healthy enough to compete.
Months went by and turned into almost a year. The tumor had gotten smaller and, thankfully, stopped growing. In springtime practice searches Seamus was having fun, even though he seemed to be breathing harder than usual. He still enjoyed searching more than anything (our trainer once said she'd never seen a dog love it as much as Seamus did) so I continued to enter trials and cross my fingers.
A couple of weeks after his 13th birthday, Seamus ran in his last NW3 trial in New Hope, PA. I was simply hoping to pass so he would get his Elite title. When I got to the site, Seamus was feeling good and excited to be searching although his breathing seemed heavy. We ran all the searches conservatively, not trying for placements, just trying not to make any mistakes that would disqualify us. I was ready to leave early if Seamus showed any signs of not feeling well but he was having fun and we were able to finish all four elements. At the end-of-day awards ceremony, they called out the dog in 3rd place, then the dog in 2nd place, and then Seamus once again in 1st place!! I burst into tears and sobbed shamelessly. Seamus had set a record by earning the Elite title with all three of his NW3 titles in first place! He’d done it in spite of cancer, and unbeknown to me at the time, in spite of laryngeal paralysis.
After that amazing trial we continued to practice, my sights set on entering an Elite trial, but at a practice one hot September day, Seamus collapsed and struggled to breath. Somehow I got him back to the van, put fans on him and turned on the air conditioner. In a few minutes he was fine. I chalked it up to his age and the heat. But not long after that episode, he had another. This time it was at home in the backyard on a cool day. The diagnosis was laryngeal paralysis. Seamus underwent surgery to open his airway. He’d been given another lease on life but his competition days were over. I retired Seamus from the sport he loved, the sport that gave him such self-confidence and joy.
As a certified nose work instructor and competitor, I can’t say enough good things about the activity and sport of K9 Nose Work® . How it changed Seamus from a dog who literally was afraid of his shadow into a dog who would go into an ominously dark building without reservation if he smelled target odor there. How it changed him from fearful, reactive dog to one who could pass by other dogs comfortably on his way to a search. How it changed him from a dog who growled in fear at strangers to a dog who would run up to a stranger with his tail wagging after completing a search, proud and happy, expecting a treat.
Seamus was with us for one more year after his retirement from competition. In his old age, he became ALL about food and would practically take your hand off if he thought it held a treat. Sometimes I’d hide kibble around the room for him to find, which he delighted in doing. His favorite treat above all others was cream cheese. On December 28, 2020, I held a container for him and he licked it until both he and the cream cheese were gone. 14 ½ years - over in a heartbeat.
Goodbye, my friend, my partner. You truly are one of the elite.
Maxwell's Altra Ego RN JH CGC CRO-L1 SCN ORT L3C L3I L3V L3E NW3 ELITE