by: Susan P. Mc Namara
As I began to think about and plan for retirement in my final years of teaching, I was certain that I would enroll in a Master Gardener program at Penn State or apprentice at a local garden shop, join a couple of book groups, and return to serious knitting and. . . add a puppy to join five-year-old Dawn’s Move’n Right Along (Kirby). I also considered that I might miss teaching enough to want, perhaps, to include some community college, adjunct assignments each winter. The last things I could have ever have imagined or expected retirement to bring were coat stripping, RATS, dreaded Weavies, Utility ‘futility, and most recently, the 2010 summer session of Gone To The Dogs Camp! But with that puppy who would became CH Dawn’s Born N’ the USA, VCD2, RE, TDX, ME and WHWTCA Master of Versatility 2 (Robbie Bruce), came all these and so much more: mentors and new friends, the joy of sport, teaching and learning in new venues, much laughter, a few swallowed disappointments, lots of humbling, but most of all, an enthusiasm for the world of Westies, and deep love of this boy.
Born on September 11, 2001, Robbie Bruce came to me from Dawn Martin, in March 2002, while I was still living and teaching full-time in New Jersey. Handled and shown in breed by Dawn and Jane Sajban, he learned the breed ring ropes and began to gain some much needed confidence. We remain grateful to both! He earned his first breed point on Flag Day and finished his championship on July 4, 2003. Were these only remarkable coincidences of dates for this 9/11 baby? Perhaps. We’ll never know, but that his littermate CH Dawn’s Maid in America (Girlfriend) also finished her championship on Memorial Day suggests otherwise for this Patriot Pair!
At the very least it has come to seem fitting that as a 9/11 baby, Robbie Bruce is best described as serious, sober, and steady—some are inclined to say, at times, ponderous. Never a provocateur, he stands his ground firmly when necessary. With the patience of his Scottish namesake, he bides his time for success. Less ‘merry’ than many others of his breed, more reflective than impulsive, and completely honest, he is a ready student and tail wiggler of the first order when it comes to the start flag of a track and “Big Away” of Utility’s directed jumping. In short, he has been for this totally green performance handler, an ideal student and teacher.
While my own love of teaching is deep within, I realized early on in retirement that I really didn’t want the semester-long commitment that adjuncting would require. Little did I know that training with Robbie Bruce would fill what would otherwise have been a large hole in my life. Immediately after Robbie finished Breed, Dawn asked what Robbie and I would like to do next! Having only trained previous dogs with reliable, good pet manners and not having a clue about anything more, I innocently agreed, at her encouragement, to register for an upcoming Earthdog Test at Lackawanna. A trip to a local appliance store provided a refrigerator box as above ground tunnel and a bird, suet holder holding a toy rat and tied to a long string began a two-year—yes, two years—training period before Robbie managed to overcome initial anxieties enough to let go and Get the Rat! What training did not prepare me for was the Junior tunnel experience of his backing up, refusing to leave and having the judge loudly decry the possibility of having to open up the tunnel to get him out! Of course, he was eventually coaxed out and we got back on the figurative horse the next day; a different judge this time who offered the simple and effective advice—“walk away as you call him!” An early lesson (called on many times to come): if one strategy doesn’t work, there is always another; keep trying! Keep trying in this case eventually meant that Robbie got his rat and a weekend later, his Junior Earthdog title. Never one to rush, he also waited for two summers after earning two Master legs before qualifying twice again for his title and, and only after this have a best ever performance on his next attempt. By this time (September 2009) I had come to absorb the most valuable of all performance lessons—the “Go figure” one: go figure, when they get it—whatever the it is; go figure when they don’t. More often than not, you will be surprised! So enjoy the training time together. As one of the latest Good Life tees tells it, “It’s the journey, not the destination” that counts!
Since I was not at all sure about that Rat thing after our first venture, when the chance to try tracking came along at about the same time, I thought that might be a better fit—if not for the dog, at least for me! So we signed up for a tracking class that Sue Ammerman was teaching at the nearby community college. Cutting up a pair of panty hose to provide a bait drag bag seemed a piece of cake compared to the struggle with that refrigerator box! Since tracking was all about ‘trust your dog,’ FOLLOWING ALONG behind a 40 foot lead, rather than standing ten feet away and praying my dog would not pee at the tunnel entrance, seemed possible. I had yet to learn about the patience thing—standing in a field, knee deep in soggy grasses, waiting, waiting, and waiting for Robbie Bruce to solve a problem!
A decent student in junior high and high school, I, nevertheless, caused my mother endless anxiety over whether I would ever graduate from high school: as a left-handed, slightly dyslexic, klutz, I, too, dreaded my quarterly report card grades for Physical Education! As an adult, I long continued to perceive myself as severely athletically challenged. Soon after starting started tracking classes, I realized, however, that this was something that Robbie Bruce did well and seemed very eager to do: nose down, he pulled and off we went and went and went. And before I knew what was to be, we earned our TD in November 2003, and I was in my mid- 60s pushing up and down hillsides in thigh-high grasses, navigating briar patches, scaling farm stone walls, fearlessly entering dense wooded areas, slogging through streams and, at the end of a forty-foot lead pulled by this surging dog. To this day, I still feel the hold-my-breath anxiety, excitement, joy as Robbie Bruce came out of the second woods into the open field, last leg of his TDX qualifying run in April 2006. Holding up the glove, whooping it up with Robbie Bruce and feeling the tears of this is a very special, moment in our life together, I had shared with him a hard to rival ‘trust your dog’ experience—and managed to be patient at the right moments and to remain upright besides!
But as if Earthdog and Tracking were not enough, while we waited for those tracks to age, our training group began practicing Novice Obedience Sits and Downs. Then we moved to heeling, recalls, figure eights and by this time, there was talk of Montgomery and Kimberton—huh? The answer was putting this all together so we would have an entry in Obedience! I would only much later come to understand that many—in fact, most--performance folks prefer almost any other performance venue to Obedience. But for Robbie Bruce and me, it was to be obedience that would become our over the really long haul thing. We left Kimberton with High score in Novice A, 1st placements and prizes in both All-Terrier Westie trials and two CD legs. Most rewarding, his heeling attention had earned praise at the trial from one of the most highly regarded Westie obedience exhibitors, Lynn Reagan-Hull. Next thing we knew we entered an all-breed Obedience trial, earned the CD and began traveling around to run out the 60 days allowed in Novice A trials after that. Unlike Earthdog, here we had immediate success and gratification! We were ready for more of this! There was, of course, the very next trial at which Robbie Bruce crawled up the back of my legs at the first “Halt” by one of Westie folks’ very favorite, most enthusiastic and vivacious judges—a bit too hearty for Robbie’s taste! But even with this glitch moment, how could we not continue on to Open. I had learned that I loved the training, and he continued to give all signs of the same whenever we got out the equipment and went to work. Robbie earned his CDX title quickly—in three out of three attempts, the first with a 1st Place at the Kimberton Westie trial in October 2005. Again, it seemed to make sense to continue on into Utility, where I am coming to understand what “over the really long haul’ truly means! At that time I learned of a really fine Obedience teacher giving lessons in our home area, signed up and began classes in Utility. And this time, I was the one who had to slow down; adjust my expectations; relearn, where possible, the basics of the foundation work that are essential to success in Utility and never hold what we didn’t know or couldn’t manage at this stage against either myself or Robbie Bruce. Progressing through the basics of each utility exercise, Robbie continues to show that, except for the heeling, obedience can be fun— especially with gloves, articles, go outs, and jumps; one Utility Q behind us, the journey has brought us a series of almosts—one exercise shy of the Q in any number of entered trials; complete washouts; and even a show in which we were joined in the ring by a Red Setter from two rings over intent on stealing an article!
Given my athletic history, I quickly scratched Agility off the Willing to Try list in Robbie Bruce’s early years. Even later with the confidence that he and I had both gained from all of our other activities, I was sure we’d never do that. No, I didn’t want to shatter a leg or hip; no, as a navigator in a car, I can’t even tell a driver ‘left’ or ‘right’ without reversing the two! I’m not 40 years young; I’m just too old! But… how could I finally resist when a Westie friend said, “I bet Robbie Bruce would like it! Take a class and find out!” And, once again how could I have guessed, as I approach my 70s, I would be sprinting around a course requiring not just an ability to keep “left” and “right” straight but also to master ‘front’ and ‘back’ crosses? Consistent as they come, Robbie Bruce almost always ran clean—no dropped bars or missed contacts for him and . . . almost always made time . . . just barely He gave me plenty of time to do whatever I needed—mostly to keep focused on the difference between left and right! And he gave me enough experience to learn that I liked it and could manage—so far—without broken bones! Since neither his body nor his temperament was as suited to agility as to his other ventures, however, he retired from trials after completing Open and turned over the honors to great-grandson, Archie, Ch Dawn’s Lead’N the Good Life, TD, RN with whom I run now! My mother would never have believed this!
While just playing in each of these performance venues has in itself been a huge unexpected in the turns of my life and while the list of Robbie Bruce’s titles makes me proud, ultimately, the intangibles that Robbie Bruce has brought into my life are the most remarkable parts of our journey together. It has oft been said that those of us who have one ‘soul mate’ dog in our lives are among the most fortunate; clearly, Robbie Bruce is mine! Friends have long heard me say that “I will never have another dog like him. Along with everything else I have learned about, and from Robbie Bruce, I know that without this dog with his steady temperament and giving spirit, I never would have the continuing joy of carrying all of his lessons to next generations, both four-year-old Archie and, most recently, granddaughter, Kelsey, four months old. I never would have had the nerve to take Archie round the ring to earn Best in Sweepstakes in October 2007 nor to start him in Tracking early enough to earn a TD at 15 months! I would not have enjoyed the fun of watching Robbie Bruce children perform in obedience, tracking, and agility at the Centennial. I would not have known the valued mentors nor met those players in each venue across the country whom I now count among friends. I could not have transferred my in-the-marrow-of-my-being love of teaching outside the classroom in any way so unexpectedly satisfying and rewarding as this. Most of all, I know that to have begun this journey with all of the fun and learning that Robbie Bruce and I have had together in my post-retirement years has been, and continues to be, a gift beyond measure.
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