Life with Liz: The window that opened when the door closed
I had one final chapter of my dog weekend adventure to share, but life interfered, so this is a circle back.
This time, it’s not about the dogs, it’s about the people. The group that organized the training and testing sessions that I went to is dedicated to preserving and promoting the “hunting, working” Airedale.
Now, it takes a special kind of person to take on an Airedale, as they are infamously headstrong, independent dogs, and it takes an even more unique person to want to take on training them to do the work they were originally intended to do. Our breeder is a member of this group and she’s the one who got Steve interested in joining it.
The very first time we went to one of their events, Steve had found his people. Even before he met them in person, he’d had lengthy conversations with several of them on the phone. “These dog people,” I thought to myself and rolled my eyes.
By the time we left the event, Steve had collected several more phone numbers, and was already making plans to continue meeting up with some of them for training or to call them for longer conversations.
Then, of course, fate intervened when Steve died.
Luckily, I had also made friends with several of them where I do most of my socializing: on Facebook, and when I was faced with two dogs and no clue, I turned to them.
They were incredibly helpful then, and continued to be supportive and encouraging when I made the decision to try to keep the dogs. Honestly, I don’t know that we would have made it through those first few weeks, especially when Dunc had stopped eating and was deep into his own version of grief.
I appreciate the journey the dogs and I have had, and I am so thankful that all of us have hung in there and have found our way with each other.
The dogs are my almost constant companions anymore, and that has become its own reward, but as I attended the Airedale gathering a few weeks ago, I looked around the room, and realized that the network of people that has developed is just as meaningful to me.
Although the group is always welcoming new members, this last event was attended mainly by longtime members. One of them commented to me that while it is always wonderful to welcome new faces, sometimes it is nice just to kick back with old friends, too, and she said this as she was greeting me with a huge hug in the parking lot.
I was extremely humbled to be considered an old friend and realized that even though I’d only known most of them for a year or two, I considered them to be old friends, too. Dogs have a way of bringing people together like that.
Over the course of the weekend, as I caught up with everyone, I realized that most of us have had a rough couple of years. I knew some of my friends had been dealing with unfortunate family circumstances, major surgeries, lengthy illnesses, and many other stresses.
I wasn’t alone in having the rug pulled out from under me. And, although our canine friends were the biggest reason for the gathering, I noticed everyone checking in on everyone little by little over the course of the weekend.
As I got to thinking about all the dog people in my life and how friendships develop, I realized that I owed this whole experience to another dog person from another period of my life.
When Steve finally decided on a breed, he had to find the right breeder. He’d done some internet searches, but there was a lot of information out there. He needed a direction.
On a whim, I reached out to a woman I had worked with as a vet tech years ago. Although she works with Australian Shepherds, I knew she had ties to just about every other breed out there, and she might know someone who knew someone who could help Steve.
Sure enough, she did. She gave me the number of a “terrier person” she knew, and after what seemed like hours on the phone, Steve had a few leads. After hearing what he wanted to do with the dogs, and what his background was, she pointed him in the direction of three kennels that she thought would have the dog he wanted.
Steve called all three of them, and after those conversation, he was confident that he had found the right person with the right dog for him. On that very first trip to pick up Duncan, I felt like an outsider.
The breeder and Steve hit it off right away, and Duncan only had eyes for Steve. Now, just a few years later, seeing her at Airedale events brings a smile to my face. Her puppy posts on Facebook are another guaranteed chuckle, and I’ve come to look forward to her husband’s terrifically awful Dad-style jokes and puns, as he is usually the emcee for our gatherings.
But mostly, I just think of her as the person who gave Steve and Dunc two of the happiest years of their lives.
Dog people are brutally honest. You have to be, there’s no point in being anything else with a dog. I’ve had hard conversations with many of them, especially when I was debating whether I wanted to proceed with handling and training my boneheads.
Their guidance and patience have proved invaluable when it comes to the dogs, but they’ve also become role models and an inspiration to me in many other ways. As always, it’s bittersweet.
If Steve were still here, this would have been his world, and I would have stayed on the periphery. I never would have discovered these wonderful friendships.
Liz Pinkey is a contributing columnist who appears weekly in the Times News