Out With a Bang

My dogs have an uncanny ability to see challenges in the strangest places, and they are more than happy to pick up the thrown gauntlet. For instance, if my vet says, “I’ll be out of town this day this day this day.” One of my dogs will invariably counter with, “Time to develop some mysterious ailment.” When my vet says, “I’m retiring from doing surgeries.” You guessed it. Challenge accepted.

 

Miss Jig has been having a rough couple of weeks. She tested positive for Lymes but even with a course of antibiotics and a few other drugs, she was just off. She had little to no appetite and a fever that would come and go. Monday her symptoms worsened and got us back to the vet’s bright and early Tuesday. When Dr. D came out of the clinic to talk to me, I knew it wasn’t good. Jig had developed an open pyo and would require surgery sooner rather than later.

 

I need to point out that I’ve been pretty spoiled where vets are concerned. Dr. D has been my vet for close to 30 years. She knows me, knows my dogs, knows I don’t tend to panic and don’t need things sugar-coated. Her staff is awesome and love my crew even with all their idiosyncrasies. I trust her. That’s not something I do easily. Especially where the care of my dogs is concerned. Unfortunately, my back-up vet lives over 3 hours north — which wouldn’t have deterred me except Jig hates to travel and they were predicting a winter storm. My next closest back-up vet was under-staffed and over-booked. They recommended a clinic about a half hour away. To have to entrust Jig to a vet I didn’t know at a clinic I didn’t know… let’s just say that didn’t help my anxiety one little bit. They had an opening Wednesday morning, however, and I had to take it.

 

That was The. Longest. Day. Ever.


Have to admit, I was a bit wound waiting for the clinic to call, realizing I’m not even remotely prepared to lose Jig. Bad enough to have her out of my reach in a situation beyond my control. It conspired to unhinge me. My morning litany consisted of repeating she’s going to be fine any time my thoughts wandered down the dark, tangled paths of imagining everything that could go wrong. I attempted to keep myself distracted as the morning wore on and on and on in that interminable way time does when you don’t want it to; teetering on that edge of wanting the phone to ring and dreading that when it did it would only bring bad news.



I even got to the point of spotting these two pics I’d hung up as a reminder to deal with that project.

I studied them a moment and it struck me how similar the images were, how alike the dogs in them had been, how one is gone and one not…

My superstitious brain took over. I saw it as an omen and snatched Jig’s picture off the wall.

It wouldn’t go back up until she was safely at home.





When the phone finally rang shortly after noon I was terrified to answer. The voice on the other end told me the surgery had gone well and Jig was in recovery. I damn near cried, I’d been that stressed about it. Even still, I wouldn’t — couldn’t — relax until my girl was home. A while later when the phone rang and the clinic’s number popped up again I about had a coronary. No worries, they just needed to check what meds we had here so they knew what to send home. Damn, damn, damn. Okay. Breathe. Be calm. Don’t imagine the phone ringing again in the middle of the night.

It didn’t. And as of slightly after 10:00 this morning, my girly-girl was back home where she belonged and my world righted itself.


 

With Jig down & out the last couple of weeks I’ve been having Dillon tag along for chores. The Man may not mind fending sheep off the wheelbarrow and feed trough, but I do. What’s the point of having dogs if you’re not going to use them. Am I right? Earlier this week, I decided to introduce Finn to the job as we haven’t spent much quality time together of late. He did rather well. He has this way of approaching a gate with so much enthusiasm you expect he’s going to be out of control on the other side. As soon as he gets into the pen, however, he just settles in and goes to work. He did so well, in fact, the Man decided both the boys should join us for chores the following day.

Surprisingly enough, it went far better than it could have. They’re so totally different in personality and working style I really wasn’t sure if they could work together. Finn is so intent on the stock, however, I don’t know if he even realizes Dillon’s in there. I’ll try and get some pics or video, but it’s rather hard having to manage a wheelbarrow, the boys, and a camera.

 

And now a quick update on other fronts as I’ve alluded to changes and then went silent. I hate when people do that, don’t you?

 

I think we can all agree, 2020 has been quite the shit-show. So many people have been affected in many different ways. All things considered, we’re weathering the storm fairly well thus far. My control issues have made things stressful at times, but I’ve managed to keep most of my remaining sanity. How much that is remains a highly debated topic in some circles. I truly do despise the over-used term new normal to describe life in general right now. We all need to determine our own normal. In mid-October I discovered ours would be changing. The company I work for announced we are shutting down due to our largest customer pulling their jobs from us. And by largest, I mean 99% of the work we did. As of the end of February I will be unemployed. What that means for us is still something we’re navigating. No, I can’t retire yet. A plan is forming, however, and you’ll be learning more about some of it in the coming month. Whatever happens, we’ll muddle through. That’s what we do.


 

Happy New Year
 
May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.

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The Healing of a Heart

It’s been a bit over three months since we let Cian go. The Sad still lingers. It likes to raise its head when I’m tired, stressed, feeling overwhelmed, or driving somewhere alone. Too much time in my own head. I keep his picture at the base of my monitor because I need that little bit of him with me, though it’s gotten to where most days I can think of him with smiles and not tears. On others, I’m not as successful.

It’s been a bit over a month since Finn claimed me. He snatched his piece of my heart with both paws and I’m afraid I love him too much already. I’m not sure I was truly ready for this because I’ve become extremely paranoid something will happen to him, which is very unlike me. It’s to the point where, the morning after Dave told me Finn took off in a game of puppy you-can’t-catch-me, I sent him this text from work…

It’s irrational and, being me, I find it unacceptable, but, there you have it.

Overall, Finn makes me smile, a lot. Okay, sometimes the smile is actually more of a grimace because he’s chomping on my arm or pulling my pants leg. He is the most gator-like puppy I’ve ever had, and nothing seems to convince him otherwise.

*Chomp, chomp, chomp.*
Me: Knock it off.
Finn: What? I’m not doing anything.

Because, you know, the poor puppy doesn’t have any toys to play with. Tell me again why it is my living room looks like a toddler’s playground? Hmmm….

Finn is a smart boy. With very little input, he has learned the best way to get treats, dinner, out of puppy jail, or most other things he wants is to offer a down.

He’s also insanely quick and agile. Which he proves by turning our sectional into his own Puppy Parkour course. Anyone seated there at the time becomes an obstacle. Yes, outrageous, bad puppy behavior. How can I allow such mayhem? Well, because he does it with so much joy and enthusiasm it makes me laugh, and laughing does my heart good.

He’s getting so big. He used to fit under that coffee table. Soon he’ll weigh too much to pick up and hug so I take advantage of puppy snuggles whenever I can get them.

Around the farm, Dillon is Finn’s best bud, at least for now. They wrestle and romp until Dillon has had enough of puppy exuberance and signals he’s done. Finn doesn’t always heed the signal, however, so there are times I have to intervene before Dillon loses his cool.

Jig has no cool to lose. She wants to eat Finn. Literally. Chomp first, ask questions later. All is not lost, however, because she was that way with Dillon when he was a puppy and now they play all the time.

Grady prefers not to be bothered. He’s feeling his age and puppies are obnoxious.

The hole in my heart is still there; some days larger and more empty than others. It isn’t Finn’s job to replace Cian, or make me forget him. Neither of those things could ever happen. Finn has no job other than to be a puppy, make me smile and laugh, and take me on a new journey.

It may have been too soon to bring in a pup, but it’s also too late. Come what may, this little guy isn’t going anywhere.

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Winter Interlude

There’s generally not a whole lot to write about this time of year but winter has been unusually and suspiciously mild around here so far. That, combined with some time off, has given me the opportunity to get in a bit of training. And, of course, there’s this…

Okay, on to working dogs. I was fortunate enough to talk Bob into coming out one day and bringing his camera which is one of the few times I get pictures of my dogs during training. I have a group of this year’s lambs that I hadn’t been working until recently. I’ve been using them more over the past several weeks. They’re good for helping teach so many things as they aren’t fetchy, they’re sensible, and there are at least two the dog needs to keep an eye on or they’ll leave.

I’ve been taking both dogs out on them for different reasons. With Jig it’s still fine-tuning her gather and cover with a little driving thrown in. With Dillon it’s working on a gather, getting to head, and rating better. He does a good job of that in the small arena, but out in the open it’s push-push-push.

Knowledgeable eyes on you while training is always a good thing and that opportunity also presented itself a few days ago. (Thanks, Janna!) She pointed out several things I was doing with Dillon that weren’t helping our cause any. Like, trying to fix the gather at the end instead of at the top where it needed fixing — which would probably take care of the rest by default. Also, I was moving my feet to try and make Dillon right, instead of moving my feet to make him more wrong which would cause him to correct himself. And, lastly, um… “He’s looking at me way too much.” Hmmm… how would I know that unless I was also looking at him? And where should I be looking? Yeah, not at my dog.

Me, not watching my dog. This is one of the times when I guarantee he wasn’t looking at me in return.
I was thinking of setting up a parallel drive here, but Dill was being Mr. Pushy and that needs fixing first.
Miss Jig got some camera time as well, doing a little driving.

And before I forget, I wanted to share an example of how our focus and what’s in our heads can influence our training and our dogs.

I was working Dillon and had very clear expectations for our session. I was focused and completely in the zone which, honestly, doesn’t happen that often. When I gave Dillon a flank he took it without hesitation. We were really working well together. I wasn’t watching him, he wasn’t watching me. I was not only cuing him verbally, but my intentions matched. I was, quite honestly, lost-in-the-moment.

I broke him off to set him up for another gather and that’s when I spotted two figures in camo walking our lot line. I stopped to watch them and see if I needed to ask what they were doing, but they headed off into the neighbor’s woods. I continued to ponder what they were doing, what hunting season it was, and who they were when I asked Dill for a go-bye. He started, paused, curved back. I redirected, but I was still looking in the direction of the figures and my mind was now completely on them. Dillon stopped his flank and stood there, watching me. Yes, I looked at him in return, then pushed him out into his flank. It wasn’t his best but, then again, at that moment neither was I.

Just something to keep in mind for the future. The right mindset can make all the difference. Especially with a dog that’s really tuned into you, which Dillon definitely is.

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A Slight Reboot

Life has been busy of late. That’s my explanation for the lapse in posting… again. I tend to set myself these crazy-busy schedules until I’m reminded there just aren’t enough hours in the day and something has to give before that something is me. Unfortunately, it’s generally the blog that suffers first which recently led me to question the why of it.

I started this blog because 1) I’m a writer at heart and that particular muse demands an outlet, 2) I hoped sharing my training journey might just resonate with others on a similar journey, and 3) those folks in #2 (and perhaps others as well) might just find themselves enlightened, inspired, and, if nothing else, entertained.

Because it kept falling off my plate, I toyed with the idea of ending the blog, but my muse staged a revolt. And, since I have dubbed this The Year of Training, and because of reasons #2 & 3 above, I’ve decided to put a bit more effort into it and use the blog as my training journal. I actually do keep one of those, albeit irregularly, and highly recommend it. I go through mine frequently to remind myself just how far I’ve come as well as to refresh my memory on how to approach a certain problem. How, you may ask, is that different than what I have been irregularly posting? In essence, it’s not. I am, however, going to aim for weekly entries that go into a bit more depth than in the past.

To kick this off, I’ll start with an introduction to my dogs and where each one is at in their training in the event you’re new here or just can’t keep them straight. I’m currently working three dogs. Crazy much? Yeah. That’s been established.

First up: Jig, 6 1/2 years old, one cattle leg shy of her ASCA WTCH. We’re fine-tuning everything in the hopes of making a bid for Finals in 2020. Jig and I–okay, mostly just me–tend to have frequent disconnects wherein I completely lose my shit. This generally happens at trials, though I learned just a few days ago that it can also happen on the home turf while training. The trigger seems to be when we find ourselves in a tricky situation. I start to get a bit buggy, Jig starts to push and, as you all know, the more frantic we get, the more our dogs react. So along with making every effort to remain calm and in control,

Image result for animal zen

Oooooooooooohhhhhhhhhhmmmmmmmmmmm

I’m also working on getting Jig to be more fluid in her response to my commands. We need to tighten up her ‘There’ and improve her driving all while I attempt to stop pinching her and allow her to work even if it isn’t perfect. Also, when I see things starting to fall apart I need to FIX THEM instead of waiting to see if she will. I seem to keep expecting her to know things she doesn’t.

Dillon is next in line. 2 1/2 years old and currently my main challenge.

Dillon doesn’t seem to understand the gather and is extremely resistant when asked to take the Away flank. By comparison, his Go Bye is smooth and relaxed with no hesitation. Most every dog favors one direction over the other, but I’ve never seen one this insistent on avoiding it. That makes me wonder if something happened to him on an Away side that I never saw. To cover all my bases, I’m going to rule out any health-related causes. I’ve scheduled a chiro appointment for him next week, and he’s got an eye appointment in August. We’re back to working in the round pen until I can get him going both directions smoothly, and because it’s a nice area to free him up as well as help him better understand the fetch.

 

I’ll tell you this, the dog wants to work and has no quit in him. And, as several people have observed, Dillon truly wants to please me. There’s so much to like in what he does, I just need to be patient and work through this.

Cian is the baby of the group. He’ll be a year old on July 2.

 

He doesn’t get as much work as the other two, and the main focus right now is helping him learn self-control. We’ve done quite a bit of foundation work so he has a great down, and understands moving off my pressure. He is also super biddable and very keen.

As you can see, he also has a very long tongue. I hope he never trips over it.

There you have it. Three different challenges, at three different ages. They definitely keep me on my toes.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dillon’s Day ~ Slow, But Steady

One of the pitfalls of training alone is that it’s sometimes hard to see improvement which, in turn, can lead to frustration and discouragement when we get to feeling like we’re spinning our wheels. Thankfully, I have friends who turn up from time-to-time and aren’t afraid to tell me what they’re seeing. Such was the case over the past weekend. My original plan was to have one of them work Dillon because it’s so much easier to see what’s going on when you aren’t in the thick of it. Yes, I could just video our session, which I have done in the past, but I really wanted to know if I’m the source of our problems. The only way to do that was have someone else handle him. Dillon, however, is apparently a bit of a momma’s boy. No way was he working for anyone else. So much for that great idea. Watching me work with him, however, they both agreed Dillon is doing far better than he was the last time they saw him. I definitely need to hear that because, you know, what I said up there.
I know I’ve mentioned more than once that I’m finding Dillon to be quite the challenge. Not only is his working style different than what I’m used to, he watches me — a lot — which I’m sure must be something I caused, I just don’t know how, plus he’s still a bit immature. I don’t give up easily though, especially not when I see potential. Bringing out that potential is my responsibility. I made a commitment to myself and Dillon, among others, and I intend to honor it, even if it does stretch me as a trainer.
After spending some of our weather-induced downtime musing on our problem areas and the things I’ve already tried, I decided what I needed was a pen that wasn’t large enough for Dillon to ever feel as though he was in fear of losing his stock, yet offered a strong draw, as well as room to do some gather/fetch work. Enter the holding pen/alleyway turned training area.

Roughly 55′ x 16′, with a smaller 12×12 pen at one end, which adds to an already strong draw in that direction, this area comes complete with chickens. They refused to leave when asked and did get their feathers ruffled once or twice. It took a while, but eventually they went on their way.
In any case, controlling stock while allowing them to move toward a draw is one of the things we’re having issues with. When the stock heads toward a draw Dillon prefers to position himself in their path and hold his ground to prevent them from continuing on, that makes it a tad difficult to repen stock, move them through a gate, or take them anywhere they truly want to be.


This clip is a little dark from shooting into the sun, and for a lot of folks it won’t look like much beyond the basic stuff any young dog should know. You could even pick it apart because Dillon’s slicing his approach. The thing is, for him to leave my side, even in this small of a pen, and actually go on a ‘gather’ is monumental. One of the biggest hurdles I’m trying to overcome right now is lack of a gather/fetch especially toward a draw, as it was in this case. He’ll take his flanks if I’m between him and the stock, and if they aren’t in a position to get away from him, but sending him from my side typically results in a straight-on walking approach and a drive away or hold to a fence. Honestly, that’s what I intended to capture. I wanted video of a ‘bad’ example. Instead, I got this which, small as it is, is a step in the right direction and tells me my work and patience are starting to pay off.

Rebel Kitten is normally chief of the Distraction Training team but found himself otherwise occupied with Butthead, Dave’s bottle ram. Kudos to him for finding not one, but two substitutes. They weren’t quite up to Rebel’s standards, though, and soon abandoned the job altogether.

 

I’ve done quite a bit of work with Dillon on cleaning out corners and working in the pens to help build his confidence in tight situations. Here he shows the benefits of those tasks by making himself a gap to push through between the sheep and the fence with any hesitation.

Dillon’s bad side is Away to Me. He’s far freer on the Go Bye side. Here he’s fast and tight, and would have likely fallen to the inside if I hadn’t given him an extra push. We’ll work on that, but I believe in facing one battle at a time.

You can see his Go Bye is a better. He’s still fast and tight, even considering the confines of the working space, but he’s relaxed and making the effort to get around.

Even though the pen is only a bit over 50′ long, I’m able to do some fetching from one end to the other. Turning back to the draw, Dillon will often want to charge ahead and stop our forward progression. The pen is small enough that I can easily block him and keep him behind, showing him a clear picture of what I want. These sheep were pretty heavy and content to stay with me. If they would have broke, I would have let Dillon go to head to fix it, then would have encouraged him to get back behind.
Baby steps.

Being as heavy as they were, this group of sheep provided an un-looked for learning experience for Dillon. One he handled very well. After working on a few take & repens, the dark-faced ewe decided she wanted only to be in that pen and tried several times to push past Dillon when we were moving the group to the other end. Dillon held the pressure when she faced him off and even had to make a few cutting horse maneuvers to keep her from bolting past. When one of the others joined her ill-conceived crusade, Dillon kept both of them at bay, moving in step-by-step. When they finally turned off, I had him lie down and then broke him off with lots of praise.
I quickly made note of which group of sheep I had, because that little exercise is going to do Miss Jig a world of good.


In a few days I’m heading off to a Deb Conroy clinic. It’s mostly about Jig right now, but Dillon and Cian will be making the trip as well. I want to run Dillon at least once. It’s always good to get them off the farm and on different stock. It will also be nice to have the opinion of someone as talented as Deb. Who knows, maybe she’ll give me some more tools to add to my box, and that’s always a good thing.

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Spring Has Sprung! I Hope

Sunday was a gorgeous day – finally – and I had every intention of taking advantage of the beautiful afternoon by getting in some training. First, however, I had to feed the bottle lamb. Done with that, I decided a quick walk-about was in order to check the footing in the pens and arena. The day before they had been slick and soupy. On my walk-about I noticed the duck-proofing was off on part of the arena fence. I don’t have ducks this year, so could have just removed it. That would have taken more time than I wanted to spend, so I opted for a quick repair with baling twine instead. Before taking care of that, however, I needed to bring over several wheel barrow’s worth of wood chips to fill in a soft spot in the roundpen, which reminded me that Cian’s outside run needed a bit of TLC. More precisely, it needed a great deal of woodchips put back into it. Out of the four dogs, Cian is the only one that manages to have more woodchips out of the kennel than in it. Not only that, but he pushes them to the back in a huge mound, creating a nice wallow in the front of the run. This time of year, wallow equals mud pit. Finished with those tasks, I managed to find a few more little maintenance things that needed doing. I guess that’s what happens when the weather hasn’t been conducive to anything other than the necessities. Anyhow, by then it was time to do afternoon chores and feed the lamb again. Needless to say, no dogs were worked.

Monday was another nice day and, given that I’d taken care of all those little annoying things the day prior, I was determined not to waste the little bit of free time I had after work.

These two were up first.

I experimented with working Dillon and Jig together a few times earlier this year after a suggestion by a friend, but couldn’t get to it with any sort of regularity to really gauge the results. My hope is it helps Dillon understand what I want, or helps me understand him, I don’t really care which way it goes. To be totally honest, my first hope was that Jig didn’t kill him. Jig doesn’t share well, and only started tolerating Dillon once he became more than a mouthful. To my surprise she never fussed with him, except once when they collided. Even then, it was just a quick warning snap and she kept about her business.

We’re working on the very basics, which is old hat for Jig. One thing I’ve noticed on any gather, short or long, is that Dillon will veer off as Jig brings the sheep in, and position himself to block any potential draw. I wind up with Jig pushing from the rear, and Dillon holding the front.

They really do work nicely together and, surprisingly enough, make a pretty good team. I’m not certain the tandem work is really accomplishing what I want, but I’ll stick with it for a while now that it looks like I might get some consistent training in. I need to give it a chance and not succumb to my tendency to move on too quickly.

That’s something I’m going to really fight against doing with Cian. Those of you who know me, or are regular visitors here, know it’s one of my worst bad habits. Oooh, a little bit of success at Step A? Let’s just take ten giant leaps to Step Z!

Bad, Kathi.

Cian has been in the round pen a handful of times and is gearing up to start some more serious training this year.

He’s starting to get more confident, which manifests itself in him taking some cheap shots on the top side. I have to be very careful of my corrections at that point, as he can’t take quite that much pressure yet.

He squares up very nicely when I step into him, and he’ll down when I ask, and those are both some nice building blocks to start our foundation on. Slow and steady.

Yeah. Like that.

I finished up the day taking Jig out for some one-on-one. I want to make sure I’m completely in her head when we get to Iowa. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, and will need to find many off-the-farm places to go train this year because at home she’s a freaking rocket scientist.

I’m thrilled spring has finally made an appearance. Hopefully it sticks around and we can settle into a regular working schedule again.

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Photo Friday ~ Out for a Romp

It seems like ages since I dragged my camera out. Judging by the quality of the photos and the fact I forgot to check my settings, I’d guess it has been ages. In any case, Jig & Dillon RRREEALLLLYYYYY needed to get out and blow off some steam, and the weather was actually decent. I’m just glad they can play together now. For the most part. Until Jig can’t any more and pins Dillon and I have to break things up. Before and after, they have a grand ol’ time.

There was quite a bit of this.

There was quite a bit of this. (Don’t you just love those devil ears?)

 

A whole lot of this.

A whole lot of this.

 

A focused attack...

A focused attack…

 

...and the counterattack.

…and the counterattack. And, yes, that is Jig’s play face.

 

Then there was this. O_o Not their brightest looking moment.

Then there was this. O_o Not their brightest looking moment but, hey, they’re having fun.

 

Jig even took time to show off her levitation skills...

Jig even took time to show off her levitation skills…

 

...and stake her claim as Queen of the Hill...

…and stake her claim as Queen of the Hill…

 

...while her adoring subject looked on.

…while her adoring subject looked on.

 

This is a really crappy shot, but for some reason I really like it.

This is a really crappy shot, but for some reason I really like it.

 

A photo shoot just wouldn't be complete without a picture of the Hub's big wood. Um... big wood pile. Yeah. This is only the front side.

A photo shoot just wouldn’t be complete without a picture of the Hub’s big wood…  pile. Wood pile. Yeah. Get your mind out of the gutter. ;p He’s got some cutting and splitting to do.

stockdogsrule

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My Version of… He Was Just a Dog

It will hit you at the weirdest times, surrounded by friends and family, surrounded by laughter and good times, and you’ll catch yourself thinking, gods, what’s wrong with me, he was just a dog.

And he was.

He was just a dog.

And he taught you humility, and perseverance. He taught you to live in the moment. He taught you unconditional love. He taught you strength. He taught you how, sometimes, in the face of adversity, it’s not all about you. It’s about those who mean the most to you. It’s about what’s ahead, not what we leave behind.

He taught you how to be flexible. How to laugh. How not to take things so seriously. How to live life and then let it go because something… whatever your belief tells you… lies beyond. And if it doesn’t? What difference does it make?

The list of things he taught you is long. With it you could wax poetic. With it you could raise yourself up to something he was, yet never sought to be. Something that even in your wildest dreams you can never aspire to because… well… you’re just a human. And let’s face it, humans are a sad, sorry lot.

Yet, because of him, you can glimpse something else. You can see beyond the mundane. Beyond the daily grind. Beyond the pain endured with not even so much as a hint…

My god, there’s a squirrel in that tree!! There’s a rabbit running across the lawn. There’s the sun on the grass, rain on the leaves, snow we can roll in! We. Are. Fucking. Alive. There is life to be lived each and every day because…

Well…

Because…

He was just a dog. And that’s what they do.

And I wish I could be just a dog.

quinndance

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