Susan Garrett in her blog often talks about the Journey, and if you haven't seen her video on YouTube called "The Journey," go get some tissues and watch it now. I also have another favorite on my YouTube channel which is Lis Kristof's ADCH run with her dog Diva. If you haven't see it yet, go refill that box of Kleenex and watch it now.
There has been much said about the Journey and the bond it creates between our dogs and us. I completely agree. When I get too focused on a title or a goal, I need to be reminded of how much my dogs mean to me, regardless of titles. Those are usually the nights Devon sleeps in my room. Devon is the world's greatest dog to wake up with. When the alarm goes off, she crawls up next to you and buries her head in your neck as if to say, "Let's hit the snooze and have 10 more minutes, Mom!"
But something recently got me thinking about another part of the Journey: the people who are a part of it. They are the training partners, friends, competitors, instructors and mentors. The proud breeders who know they created a life and you cultivated the talent. They are the people who share in your Journey and the titles you earn along the way.
My memories of Ian making the Finals of the 2007 AKC Agility Invitational would not be complete without the people who were along side us in their Journey or even cheering us from home. Dr. Bonnie who returned a phone message when I was at a Red Roof Inn in Barstow, CA, the night before the Invitational after I had slammed Ian's tail in the door of the van. How many vets would not only laugh as you cried but assure you he'd be ok.
Sarah and Esteban Fernandezlopez who I met online years ago getting a reference for my first Gaylan's dog. They were at the Invitational with their awesome girl Sammie, who would make the Finals in 2008. As their dream in 2007 faded, Esteban said, "You're going to make it to the Finals!" I said, "Don't I have to run clean in Round 4?" He said, "Sure, but you can do it!" I think I wanted to throw up at that moment, so I don't recall replying.
And we did do run clean in Round 4. Sarah and Esteban were ringside as we did, giving us our first congratulatory hug and shoving a cell phone in my ear saying, "Say hello to Gayle! I was on the phone with her giving her a jump by jump commentary of your whole run!"
And then Gayle was on the phone laughing and crying with me! She'd only met Ian once, and she wasn't his breeder; but that didn't matter. She had become an important part of our Journey and she was there.
Another important person on the Journey with us that day is Susan Anderson and her great Belgian Sheepdog Ring (MACH Isengard's Precious). Susan and Ring are the #1 Belgian Sheepdog team, yet in 2007 their dream for the Finals ended in Round 3. But Susan was right there ringside for Ian and I. She is one of the best sportswomen I've met. She truly, truly was just thrilled to see a Belgian Sheepdog in the Finals. What a gem to have on your Journey.
When Ian earned his MACH, I had the joy of having new Indiana friends and old Ohio friends standing ringside. Proud breeder Julie Hite was on hand to see every run of the Invitational, and she was there to see his MACH run. I cannot imagine her joy to see a puppy from her very first breeding accomplish so much.
Not only was Julie ring side, but so was Susan Crank, who instructed Ian's first beginners agility class at Wild Weavers. As she said, she would have never predicted Ian would MACH or do any of the great things he has done when he started that class, but she was there to see it.
With a move to Indiana in 2005 and Devon added to the family, we added two new sports (tracking and field) and new people came along side us in our Journey. I will never forget the day Devon certified to track. At the ripe old age of 7 months, she was very small. Steve Ripley was an intimidating figure and I knew they had conformation Goldens a lot bigger than Devon. I kept saying, this is my puppy we were certifying. I will never forget the look on his face when Devon hopped out of the van and wagged furiously at him. He said, "HOW OLD did you say she was?" Not only did that day start Devon's tracking career, but it started a friendship with Steve and Janet that now includes every sport we train.
And I can't even begin to list those who have helped us along the way in our field adventures. Mitch has been a wonderful instructor and mentor. Behind that field pro exterior and his black goatee, is a set of sparkling dark eyes that dance and dimples that appear when Devon retrieves his coffee mug to him. He has given me far more training and advice than I could ever have imagined in this sport.
There's Pam Martin in Canada and her supportive emails and helpful hints when I need them. There's Carol Cassity with her one-on-one concern for our training in 2007 and her wonderful email recently wishing me luck in our upcoming tests. Of course there's Gayle who is always supportive with training advice on any subject. She's the best puppy raiser there is, and she's given me two of the best Goldens I could dream of having.
And then the Journey begins with Page. Now I have Lise coming along beside me in my Journey as Page's co-breeder and fellow dog trainer. Her talent as a trainer leads to conversations in field and agility. And Donna LaHaise is now along in our Journey as she watches Bizzy's little girl grow into an amazing working dog.
And regardless which dog I'm working or which sport we're concentrating on at the time, Kim Knight has been my best friend and training partner for nearly a decade. Even though we no longer live in the same state, we still are on the phone several times a week sharing training ideas, disasters, successes and anything else that matters like job frustrations and her girls' college choices.
What I've learned is the Journey isn't just about you and your dog. It isn't just about the hours of training to accomplish a goal and the bond you create with another animal. The Journey is also about the people along the way. Those who celebrate your goals met as if they are their own, and who mourn your losses and defeats as if they are their own.
The Journey may be about you and your dog, but it's a lonely Journey without people to share it.