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A Wild Pup Becomes a Mentor

Lucy (left) and JD.

I've never understood how some dog boarding professionals can care for dogs in a sort of transactional way without bonding deeply. I can't help forming strong attachments with each. I have my favorites, of course, but love them all.

And speaking of my favorites, here is JD, my all-time favorite dog I trained and boarded. Here she and her sister, Lucy, are lying on their favorite couch in our doggie playroom.

When young, J.D. was hell on wheels. She drove her people crazy. Sometimes she drove me, nuts, too, even before Lucy was born and added exponentially to the energy in the house.

J.D. completed several courses through our doggie college, and she boarded with us often. One stay lasted several months while her owners were relocating. I spent hundreds of hours with her. She and Lucy went everywhere with me. She accompanied me when I trained other dogs, when I hiked hundreds of trail miles, ran along when I rode my horse into the backcountry, and slept in my room. She favorite place to rest was on my living room couch with her face on my lap. I began thinking of myself as an uncle of sorts.

When her muzzle began to show the white highlights indicating a dog of some age, she began to calm. That's when I first began noticing her gift. I was still in mourning after losing my lifetime dog, Woof, who had been a mentor and example to many dogs including JD. Without Woof's help my effectiveness had decreased. I felt as though I was working with one arm.

I started noticing that J.D. was, instead of playing with the pack, remaining with me when I trained dogs, particularly those with behavior problems. She did nothing, just hung out, but sometimes when I switched to working with another dog, she would go over and lie next to the previous dog, which would relax in her presence and sort of let go of any anxiety it might have felt. This is hard to explain, but I sensed that JD was somehow working with these dogs. When she boarded at my place, my training sessions were more effective. I still have no idea what she was doing, but I know it worked. I began to rely on JDs influence, and I told her people how she had begun to help me. (I'm not sure they believed me.)

After twenty years living and working in J.D.'s town, I decided to move back to Missoula. Somehow JD knew I was leaving, and during her last few stays with me, she would not leave my side. I spent much time stroking and talking to her as if she could understand my words. I held her head in my hands, stroked her face with my fingers, and told her how much I loved her and appreciated her help. I told her she was a good dog and that I was proud of her. I said I would always remember her.

When I drove out of town I felt sad thinking about the likelihood I'd never see JD again. I have never found a dog assistant to replace her. Nowadays I continue my work alone, but I think about her often, about the softness of her muzzle, her devotion, her wisdom, and the connection I felt with her. I think about Lucy, too, about the good times the three of us shared, and I can't help but smile.


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