Monday, November 14, 2011

Jonz'n For A Fix? Try A Dog Sport!

 Fran Seagren and Joy Donald 2001

My friend Fran Seagren recently came up with what I think is a brilliant observation about dogs.  A mutual friend of ours had sent us a moving photo essay of the surviving dogs from the 9/11 search and rescue effort.  Fran pointed out that no other animal--not cats, horses or primates--are ever used for search and rescue.  

Dogs have such patience and are so willing and eager to endure the challenging conditions required of search and rescue--and so many other "dog jobs".  They are so smart and so eager to please.  Their powers of observation are legendary.  Properly bred, socialized and trained, the abilities of dogs to learn complicated tasks and work with humans as a team is unparalleled in the animal world. On the flip side, as someone who helps people deal with problem dogs, one of the things I always point out to people is that dogs need jobs.  Without a purpose, a dog becomes bored.  And then problems often present themselves.

Learning to train and handle dogs is--for a lucky few of us--an addiction.  A passion bordering on sickness.  And once the dog training/handling addiction gets hold of a person, life is forever changed.  We wouldn't have it any other way!

Fran and I met Joy and Patty Donald in 2000 when they were camping out at Bob Pepper's farm.  They had traveled down from British Columbia to spend a few days training their Golden Retrievers for the field trials Joy loved to run.  They needed training partners and so did we.  We were all bitten by the crazy  need for the fix of dog training.  A deep friendship was soon forged.

Joy & Paddy Donald near Kamloops, BC 2001
Freddy & Kate Johansson with Joy Donald 2001
Joy had an incredible wit about her and always had a whole collection of jokes and one-liners that could make me laugh until I cried.   Even though she had been battling Leukemia  for nearly ten years, she had a determination, a never quit attitude that was a force to be reckoned with.  And don't even think about getting her mad!

The dogs and the "addiction" to dog training had kept Joy alive for over six years longer than the doctors had predicted her life span to be when she had been diagnosed in 1990.   It was her intense desire to accomplish goals with her dogs that kept her battling against all odds.  During a several weeks long stay in hospital when everyone thought she was done, she told me that her liver was failing and she had to eat protein in order to survive.  She did not want to eat.  But I watched her force herself to eat because she wanted to get back out there with her beloved dogs.

In July of 2001, Joy called me and told me that the doctors had just told her to get all her things in order.  She had only a few weeks to live--and this time there was no wiggle room.  She told me with that steel reserve she had, "Kate, I am not leaving this earth until I get my dogs both qualified for the Canadian National."  (That was the 2001 Canadian National Open Retriever Championship.)  I laughed, (What ELSE was I supposed to do?) and said that she was being kind of stupid!  Why set a goal to just get the dogs qualified, I asked.  Why not set your goal to take them to the National in September?  Come on, I told her, you can do this!

And guess what? 

Joy made it!

Everyone was amazed that she pulled it off.

Joy walks to line at 2001 Canadian National

She was so weak that she had to get special permission from the judges to have her friend and chairman of the trial blow her whistle for her to stop the dogs on blinds.  

Waiting her turn to run
But she accomplished what she had set out to do.

Joy and Friends Dine at 2001 Canadian National Dinner
And she lasted 5 series over 5 days before she went out with both dogs.  She was a fighter and played to win--even then.

On Thanksgiving weekend 2001, I drove across the border to train with Joy and Paddy.  Joy was so weak at that point that she had to be carried to her chair and she had to watch other people run her dogs.  But she was not done.  She and Paddy had a trip to Hawaii with their family planned the next week.  So she got a blood transfusion, felt better and they flew to Oahu.  She traveled around the island, visiting the beaches and the Zoo--even spent a day at the Polynesian Cultural Center, where she was photographed with a couple of stud dancers.  She drank strawberry daiquiris and pina coladas like a sailor, Paddy told me.  And at the very end of her trip, her body gave out.  She passed away in paradise with her family at her side.  

She was an addict.  And her addiction added years to her life.  And allowed me and Fran to get to know her.  We will never forget her.  And we miss her still.  

1 comment:

Beth said...

Thank you Kate for telling Mom's story so well....Lots of love Beth