Monday, December 21, 2015

Esther Lou O'Brien CD RA OAP AJP, 6/1/2004 - 12/21/2015

Goodbye, sweet Esther, my heart dog

My heart is heavy with grief as I write this post, which I will launch live once Esther passes on from this life in to the next. She is laboring awfully hard for each breath as she sits next to me on the couch. I'm trying not to watch the clock as the vet will come to our home in 3 hours and end her suffering. She's gone downhill very quickly in the past 2 weeks and our efforts to save her have failed. These valiant shepherds seem not to let on that something is wrong until it's too late. She was already full of cancer when we realized she wasn't well.

Esther had a rough start. She was taken at a few weeks old with her litter mates and many other German Shepherds from an irresponsible breeder who kept the winning show dogs in the house and let the others live in squalor. Her mother was such a mess, they had to put her down. Esther and her litter mates went to a GSD rescue and we spotted her on PetFinder. I loved her right away. We had to wait a couple weeks to go back and get her until she was 8 weeks old.

This was the day we picked her up to bring her home

Her puppy shot taken at Petsmart

Esther was the salve to our grief at the time after losing Maria's precious Idgie, a lab shepherd mix. Idgie and Ruth, a beagle, were Maria's dogs that I became step-mom to when we got together and were the first dogs I had ever lived with. So Esther was our first baby together as a couple and my first dog from a puppy ever in my life.

I set about being a dog owner much like I do everything else - all in and over the top! I read all kinds of books and took Esther to puppy class at Petsmart. That first trainer said, "You'll never get that dog to get over being shy and she won't amount to much." We changed trainers and found a great one up at Fields Ertel. We took every class she offered there and then joined "The Yappy Hour" there, which was an hour every Saturday morning where a group of us dog owners got together to let the dogs play and to reinforce the tricks and training we had already done. We would off leash heel all around the store with all sorts of distractions, we taught the dogs "go around" until they would go all the way down an aisle and back up the next one to come back to us. We clicker trained and learned tricks. We did sit stays and down stays in the middle of the store and went out of sight. We cherished these Saturday mornings together. We lived down in Northside at the time so it was a 30 minute drive. Esther would lie down in the back quietly until we got there. One day I was on the phone and accidentally missed the exit. Just as I passed the exit, Esther sat bolt upright and gave me a huge Yowl! I didn't realize until then that she knew the way so well.

Esther, left, and her friend, Lucy, after an exciting romp in the mud. They had so much fun that day until bath time!

Evelyn attended the Yappy Hour, too, and told me about agility and Queen City Dog Training Club, where she was a member. I decided to try it with Esther and signed up for classes. Little did I know how that would alter the trajectory of my life. I'm so grateful for Jim and Linda who were our first agility teachers. We kept training and learning agility until we were ready to compete in AKC agility competitions.

That first agility trial was in Dayton in the barn and I remember so well. We had Queen City Dog Training Club shirts and I didn't wear mine that first competition because I was worried that we'd be an embarrassment to the club. I was so ecstatic when we pulled off our first "Q" - that's a qualifying score. We kept Q-ing our way through trials, spending 2-4 weekends a month at Agility Trials and spending 1-3 weeknights at the club training and practicing. We met so many lovely people and their wonderful companions along this journey. I can't imagine life without having been a member at QCDTC and getting to know all our friends who have become like family.

Esther wasn't fast at agility and we had a very tough time making the time limits. She was a hard worker and seemed to say, "Don't rush me - I'm getting this right." The OAP and AJP after her name are agility titles - Open Agility Preferred and Excellent Agility Jumpers with Weaves "A" Preferred. At some point during practice sessions, Esther would do a jump or 2 and then would pull me over to the door to leave the club. Some vet visits and imaging later, we realized she had osteophites on her elbows and that the jumping was causing her pain. We did some therapy, kept pain meds on hand, and upped the supplements in her food to support her joints and she's mostly done well since stopping agility.

Once we couldn't do agility anymore, we dabbled around in all sorts of other stuff. She has titles in Obedience - CD = Companion Dog; and Rally - RA = Rally Advanced. We also did some herding and tracking. She was happy to just get out and be with me for anything.

Maria put the CD title on her

In 2007 when I started working from home, Esther was our only dog who would come and sit faithfully by me all during my workday. And she's always been such a good girl Even having work phone call after phone call, not many people ever knew I had a dog in the room. I remember one day I had gone downstairs to make a hot sandwich and I set down this steaming meat and cheese filled creation on the edge of my desk to go use the restroom. As I was in the restroom, I thought, "Oh boy, that sandwich is not going to be there when I get back!" But it was and I shared some with her just for being such a good girl.

When Esther was maybe 8 or 9 mos old, I attended a therapy dog certification class at Clermont County Dog Training Club. We got halfway through the test when the administrator realized Esther was not yet 1 yr old, which I hadn't realized was a requirement. They told me they couldn't believe how mature and well behaved Esther was and that we should certainly not be deterred and they'd love to see us again after she turns a year old. We did return and get her therapy dog certification and joined TPGC - Therapy Pets of Greater Cincinnati. Most of her therapy work was done at the Veterans nursing home down in Northern Kentucky. Those guys just loved to see her. She was happy to go and get pets and share love and then about an hour in to things, she would take me to the elevator and let me know she was all done. She was always very tired after visits.

Maria's health has required numerous hospital stays over the years and I would be allowed to take Esther in to Maria at the hospital, too. Back before we had Gus, Esther and I would stay the night with Maria. Esther would lay on the couch in the hospital room and it was pretty comical the workers' reactions when they'd realize there was a dog in the room. People could knock on the door and come in and Esther wouldn't bark in the hospital. She somehow knew she wasn't supposed to bark there. The hospital workers would often get all the way to Maria's bedside before Esther would lift her head up and look at them. Some of them were rather startled but everyone agreed she was so well behaved!

Esther was also my great protector when we lived in Northside and I'd walk to pick up pizza on Friday nights. There was a possum that would come through our yard at dusk every night and Esther would go crazy barking like mad at the back door while we said, "Possum". So, if I was walking at night in Northside and didn't like the looks of someone who was nearby, I'd whisper in her ear, "Possum" and she'd act all ferocious. People would cross the street or just turn around and go the other direction.

Our other shepherd is our worry now. She and Esther were so close. I hope she doesn't mourn herself to death. 

I think Ruth, our beagle, and so many of our other pets will have been there to welcome Esther home. Can't believe half the dogs in this picture are now gone. 

For all the joy, comfort, and connections she has brought to us and others during her life, I just hate this final part where she no longer finds joy or comfort in anything despite our best efforts and where she leaves this life alone. We once had a pet psychic come to the house and she said that Esther likes her name but that she really loves the special name I have for her. She's always been my "punkin". Her sweet, expressive eyes are deep pumpkin colored and she has some pumpkin or reddish tint to the tan parts of her coat, especially up around her head. And before this past week where she's taken on a sort of "I'm sick" smell, her head at the base between her ears always smelled to me like maple syrup.

I don't know how I'll go on without my most faithful dog by my side and you'll always be my "first", sweet punkin, my heart dog forever.

If you knew Esther and have a memory to share, I'd be most grateful for you to leave it here in comments.