Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tristan's story

In early 1999, I decided to add to my canine family with a lab puppy - I had adopted Kaylie (yellow lab x) 2 years earlier and was looking forward to raising a puppy from "scratch". One of my online friends (Laura, at the time one of the moderators on the AcmePet bulletin board/chat room) referred me to her lab mentor, who had a 13 wo puppy waiting for an active home. I jumped at the chance, and met Laura and Betty in Sarnia for the "swap", Easter weekend 1999. I spent the drive home with a wee black cuddler on my lap, and instantly fell in love.

Puppyhood with Tristan was not exactly smooth sailing, however. He was smart as a whip and learned his manners quickly, and adored his big sister. However, he was an absolute houdini at getting out of his crate, and after one disastrous afternoon (disastrous for me - he had the time of his life!) when he did about $300 worth of damage trashing my kitchen, breaking several small appliances and eating a box of cheerios and a bag of corn chips, plus several paperback books and music cd's - I had to retrofit his crate with bungee cords and double-ended clips to keep him and my belongings safe. He was the most food-driven and dedicated problem-solver I'd ever encountered - he figured out how to open most cupboards, the fridge, and on one memorable occasion, he managed to  puzzle out how to open the microwave door to get at the meat thawing for that evening's dinner.

We had a brief foray into the conformation ring, entering two shows and winning one 2nd place - however, living with an intact male was too much for me, we decided to focus on brains instead. We started formal obedience (briefly at the labrador obedience club classes, and then at Who's Walking Who) and agility - sadly, around his first birthday he developed a chronic limp and was diagnosed with elbow dysplasia. This of course was the end of his agility career, and competitive obedience held no attraction for me, so Tristan became my full-time buddy instead. We even flew to Calgary one Christmas for some prairie and mountain adventures.

Both Kaylie and Tristan enjoyed spending part of the day with me during my petsitting duties, and Tristan was never far from my side, in or out of the house. We came to an understanding about food - I kept most of the really tempting stuff in the higher cupboards, and he didn't push his luck - by 18 months, he had graduated from his crate and was good as long as I didn't get careless. When I began boarding and fostering, he greeted each doggy-house guest with happy invitations to play - he never met a dog he didn't like.Cats, on the other hand...

Years passed, and I moved to my own house in East York with Kaylie and Tristan - both starting to show their age (11? and 7) - it was time to think of a new puppy, perhaps one to play dogsports with. Enter Sophie, and Tris welcomed her as he did all canines - playing and curling up together for naps. Later, Cassie joined our merry crew, and while Tris was no longer much for playing, he accepted her as well. OH! and it was in the East York house where the great fridge saga occured. The new house gave Tristan free access to the kitchen , which he did not have in the previous apartment, so we had some regression in the food stealing - he actually broke the seal on the fridge door, rendering it useless for keeping anything cool. So, when the new fridge arrived, I needed a solution. I couldn't crate him anymore - he would literally bash his way through both plastic and wire crates, and I was afraid he would injure himself.. baby gates, same thing.. lower his head and bull his way through. I tried blocking the kitchen entry with a large plexi card table, about 20 lbs - he simply pushed it aside and went through. Tried putting Sophie's crate (with Sophie in it) in front of the table - nope, that was no obstacle. Finally decided that a fridge lock would be my answer - I went to the hardware store and explained what I needed and why- when the clerk stopped laughing, he showed me the strongest epoxy glue. Armed with 2 metal latches and the rhino epoxy, I slapped new locks on the fridge door, top and bottom. After the prescribed week of curing, I emptied the fridge (didn't want to lose any more food!) and left for work. And.... I came home to find tooth marks on the handle (previously he used his nose or paw to nudge the door open - when that didn't work, he figured out he needed the handle) and both locks broken right off the door. I have NO idea how the fridge stayed upright - at that point, I gave up and began locking him in the bedroom . He never did figure out how to open that door, thankfully.

In the summer of 2010, Kaylie told me it was her time, and our little pack was one short. The two younger girls didn't seem too fazed by her departure, but Tristan clearly looked for his big sister a few times. However, he accepted the new normal and enjoyed several fosters, including Luki the terrified hound as well as a litter of shepherd mix puppies - he adored the little ones and tried to engage them in play, but the size difference made him a bit too daunting as a playmate.

In 2012, Tristan's arthritis and wonky joints caught up with him, limiting his walks to totters down the street and back - these became shorter and shorter until we simply hung out on the front lawn and watched the neighborhood squirrels and birds. In the fall, he had his film debut in the Project Jessie fundraising movie, "Saving Dinah". His role was to play a mother dog, dying of cancer - his two scenes involved laying quietly at the actress' feet as she said goodbye and the 'vet' gave him his final shot. As the vet crouched down, Tristan sniffed his hand with the syringe, looked up at the vet's face, audibly sighed,  laid his head on his paws and closed his eyes. The entire film crew was in tears - you couldn't have scripted a better performance. Gender bending and stellar improvisation - what an actor!

He celebrated his 14th birthday December 21, 2012 but there were signs that the end might be near - his appetite was sporadic, and he often went on one or two day fasts, despite my best attempts to pique his appetite. On Sunday April 7, 2013, he began to have extremely laboured breathing, clearly struggling - and he again refused to eat, even tripe, chicken giblets or his own hamburger. On Tuesday, he made one last trip to the vet, and I said goodbye to my constant shadow, my best boy,  after 14 of the most amazing, fun-filled years.

Till we meet again, Tris - you are always in my heart.


Jackie said...

Beautiful tribute Nancy. Thank you for sharing Tristan's story. He was a grand old man, and a perfect house guest whenever he stayed with me.

Maggi said...

That's a beautiful tribute to Tris, Nancy. I'm sure he and Kaylie are reunited at the bridge, keeping each other company.

andrea said...

lovely tribute for a lovely boy

the vareharri gang will miss him terribly