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Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I have always enjoyed transitions. The transition could be daily during dawn or dusk when both the night sky and rays of sunlight are both visible or that moment when a new concept goes from concept to understanding. I seek out transitions and have always been fascinated by them, the fuzzy gray between shadow and light. The time a leaf is showing a decline in chlorophyll and an increase in tannins making it go from green to red and then brown. Transition fascinates me, and over the last few months the transitions in my own life have fascinated me and given me pause. This last weekend the transitions I witnessed were almost overwhelming.

First was the transition of the landscape, with our first winter storm we moved from browns and yellows of decay and dormancy to layers of wet snow we have not seen here since 2011. Although it seemed like this storm did not want to end, I was still enveloped by our first ‘real’ snow of the season. The mud, dirt, dormant grass and leftover leaves were no longer visible. Gopher led Squirrel and Bert out into the fresh snow with such excitement, all three of them burying their noses, and coming up shaking ears and sneezing.

Next was the transition with Gopher. Unable to not make use of fresh snow and wanting to play with him it was time to head out to a place where he can run. We were off like a snail due to the poor road conditions and made it to the park some 20 minutes a way in a record one hour! In this period Gopher transitioned many times, from a regal, mature dog of 4 years, to an excited puppy ready to go play at the mention of park and chuck it. Then to the annoyed kid on the long drive, his huffs easily translating to, “Dad are we there yet?” Then lastly to a pup who seemed to have no idea of the extensive training he has had bouncing around the back of the car whimpering in anticipation at our arrival and then pulling on the leash and barking impatiently to have the ball thrown.

Although all of those transitions were fun it was the next one that never ceases to amaze me. The travel time and my inability to still handle Minnesota winter caused us to have a shorter time playing than anticipated. Gopher was still eager to have the ball thrown as we worked our way out of the park. When we arrived at the gate I leaned over and asked him if he was ready to go to work, immediately his disposition changed from that of overly excited needing more tennis ball puppy to the mature trained dog I knew was in there somewhere. He has a job, he loves doing it, and the mere mention of work and sliding the gentle leader into place, putting on the short leash and he had transitioned into an entirely different dog than what I had a few moments earlier.

We were off again, well sort of for the remainder of the journey to our patient’s home. Gopher was calm, and not frustrated with our travel but observant. As we neared the intersection of our final turn he whimpered with excitement again, but it is a different whimper from his about to play whimper. I was pleased when he did this as the snow had obscured the street sign so if he hadn’t let out the whimper I would have missed our turn.

We park and the pup that only a moment ago had forgotten his leash training was the perfect gentleman. He eagerly went to his patient and ‘assumed’ his position by sitting as close to her as possible allowing her to rub her face in his fur and to be stroked and touched everywhere. The transition from the pup in the park to the dog in front of me was rapid, he went from full throttle and hammer down, to calm, relaxed, confident and perfectly composed. As he took in the gentle love and pets of his patient, we visited the patient, partner, gopher and me. We discussed the weather, and the change in coaching at Wisconsin (this patient is a Badger, but we can’t all be perfect) and whatever comes to mind. Gopher leans into the patient more and the petting gets more intense as they are nose to nose.

Thinking of the transition with Gopher from the park dog to the working dog, made me think about where we were now and the transition I have seen. Our patient is in hospice care and has since we have been visiting to truly accept the inevitable future and was living the remaining time to its fullest. The partner I had noticed in conversation was not at the same place. However in the many months I had been visiting I had seen the coming to terms and acceptance come forward in his speech and discussions. From what I have seen the transition has gone well and better than I would be doing if I was in the same shoes. I have only been with my partner for a single decade and not many. It is amazing to think about these transitions, from hyper puppy to observant working dog, a person transitioning to acceptance to the inevitable loss of a partner, the browns to whites, and strangers to friends it appears we are all in transition. They both pet Gopher for some time, the conversation dwindles and here we are the four of us once strangers transitioned to friends, now sharing precious moments petting a dog, albeit a pretty amazing one.

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