Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Leaps and Bounds and Europe

We set off for Europe in a state of excitement and dusty brains hoping we packed everything we would need over the next two weeks. First stop Truro, then to Halifax, then EUROPE. The first day of travel was a whirlwind, and quite literally nothing went well for us. One thing after another turned into mayhem, but we made it in somewhat of an over-tired - too excited to care - they tried to get us to pay again - been lost for two hours in Belgium - lets sing and dance to Macklemore - hey, we finally found our practice site - nope, just kidding this isn't it - a wasp just stung my foot - haven't slept in over 24 hours manner.

We settled into bed after much confusion over a whose room is whose debate, and wandering around the tiny town looking for food. We found the only corner store that was open and had beer, still water (Yes, you have to ask for still water; everything in Europe is carbonated! There is no ice, either), popcorn, chocolate, and then a vending machine with loaves of bread. That was pretty neat.

In the morning, we took the dogs for a walk around the neighbourhood (I saw a real life junkyard dog), through the woods, the creek, but only to step out of the covered trail and be pelted by the biggest raindrops I've ever seen. And let me tell you, there was a lot of them coming down all at once, and fast. It was a torrential downpour to say in the least, and we got wet. When the bikers stopped to sit in a shelter, we should have followed them. They obviously knew what kind of rain was coming. We found refuge in a grocery store for a moment, but it was no use. We were downhill, and there was a lot of rain which led there to be a street to river transformation, and somehow it ended up being a sewer river that we had to walk through. The smell was exactly what you're thinking.

We set off for the trial site just down the road for a team meeting, vet check, practice, and opening ceremonies. It was awesome meeting everyone from all over the country, some I've known, but most for the first time. Vet check was a breeze, which was surprising for me with Mr. Don't Touch Me. Practice was extremely fun, intense, and quick, but so long, and SO HOT. Mach was running well in the high intensity environment and didn't smash his head on the tire once! Opening ceremonies were a rush. I had a smile spread across my face the entire time, and couldn't stop even after my face started hurting. It was amazing to me how many people there could be, from all over the world with the same goals in mind - to compete at big events, do well, and have a hell of a time doing it.

We went back to the hotel to drop the dogs off, and headed to the Schlostich Brasserie Eyck (that's almost definitely not how you spell it, but it's fun to say, right Mom??) for supper with the entire team. Thankfully we were travelling with a born and raised German, so we could desipher the menu. I ordered the most amazing, most beautiful, most delicious pineapple, chicken, pasta, coleslaw, salad "thing" ever. I ate every last bite, and it wasn't a small feat, let me tell you. I meant to take a picture of it, but it was in my belly before I could do that.

This is where my heart jumps to my throat, and quite possibly the worst experience of my life happens. We were paying for our meal at the restaurant when Jessica runs in and says "Mach is okay, but...we think he jumped out the window." I totally didn't believe her because we were about two and half stories up, but she continued to say he had a bloody nose, but wasn't which point I storm out of the restaurant in a fit of utter terror and begin to bawl in the parking lot.

This is apparently the story, but there are many details we don't know, and most are only vague....
Mach was clearly distressed over something, as there was scratch marks on the back of our door. He's not the type of dog to "freak out", but rather put himself in a hole of somekind and wait it out. There are a slew of possibilities that could have happened, where he either actively tried to launch himself out the window, or saw that the window sill was wide enough he could sit up and watch out (which he does at home all the time), and jumped up and hit the screen and fell out, or a combination of the two. The screen frame didn't have a dent or even a scratch on it, which is odd. He obviously took the impact on his chin. The scrap (yes, just a scrap, no open wounds) healed in two days. No broken teeth, no limping, nothing. At some point, he apparently ran down the street to a party and tried to jump in their pool, which is kind of hilarious. When the people tried to grab him, he ran off. Not sure how long he was out running around, or what the story is there, but some people somehow got him and called the dog catcher. The dog catcher came and scanned him, only to find out he's from Canada and didn't know what to do with him, so he left him with the people. I don't know how long these people sat there waiting until Jessica, Justine, and Julie got back to the hotel, but Julie recognized a dog that looked like Mach in this vehicle when they drove by, and thankfully they turned around. Who knows where he would have ended up if they hadn't left the restaurant early, or if Julie wasn't looking out the window, or if those kind people didn't catch him (and that is incredible that they even caught him...). I'm just so lucky that everything was timed the way it was, because I could have lost him forever, and that's terrifying.

In the restaurant parking lot, we checked him over. His cap refills were good, his gait was normal, nothing out of place, just some blood on his chin, and clearly mentally unwell. We took him to Carol Smorch to have her check him out. The drive to their hotel felt like hours. I was hyperventilating, my face was numb, I was shivering, mom was crying, Sissi was talking a mile a minute, and Andre was trying not to get lost. In the end, the drive wasn't actually as long as we thought, but it felt like an eternity had passed, and I had aged a hundred years.

He was very reluctant to any kind of treatment, which I suspected, until we brought out the food. He calmed down a bit, and was doing some of his tricks. He seemed physically fine, but was mentally exhausted. The drive back to our hotel was quite, but thankful that he was okay.

Friday. Team events. At this point, I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to run, or even walk. But we got up, put the BOT jacket on, grabbed some croissants and cheese, and headed out. Mom took him for a walk (by the way, when Mom goes in the woods in Belgium, it rains. A lot.) while I walked my courses. He wasn't stiff, and I learned the courses quickly. A great start to the day! One thing at a time...

I was kind of, understandably, distracted, and exhausted (I dreamt that he had died the night before), all morning. I didn't soak in as much of the beginning of the event as I would have liked to. I watched the large dogs run Agility all morning. We took Mach out frequently to make sure he was still okay. We took him to the vet to have him checked, but they rushed him, so it was over before it even began. She did manage to poke him a bit, and said he seemed fine. We took him out after to see if he would play. He did, and happily. He chased the squirrel, tugged on it, play growled, and offered tricks. All good things. We watched more standard runs, and then watched some more standard runs. The last thing we could do to see if he was in running shape was to do some practice jumps, so off we went. I let him watch the other dogs first, which is the best, and easiest way to get him excited, and then he jumped perfectly, happily, and quickly.

We got ready for our run, and as I stepped on the line, I didn't feel nervous, but excited and grateful. I was ready to accept anything and everything he was about to give me, whether he did one jump and decided "Nope, can't do it", if he ran, but bombarded everything, or if he ran and went clean. The run started and this is the quick fire dialogue I was having with myself as the run went on... "Cool, he didn't hit the tire!", "Yes, he didn't hit the wall!", "omg, he got the weave entry!", "Oh what the heck, go for the blind!", "He didn't knock that bar! He always knocks *that* bar!", "Two jumps left, one more" "OMG."

Smiling at him because I love him. I also enjoy that I'm standing right in front of the Canadian flag.

Yep, nailed the blind cross, so glad I went for it. Also my favourite photo ever.

 I pride myself on Mach's tight turns. :)

This is where I start thinking "Two jumps, one jump, omg omg omg". Also, his ears.

YES. Mach and I ran our first ever international agility run CLEAN. We weren't as quick as we normally are, but we still placed 30th AND THAT IS SO COOL. Then, we ran our jumpers clean as well, but because of two handler bobbles, we lost quite a bit of time, but still placed 99th! What a fantastic, wonderful, happy, grateful, amazing day!

Someone asked me if that clean run felt different than other clean runs we've had. The truth is, no, not really. It's exciting that we were able to run that kind of course, in that kind of environment clean. But nothing changed between him and I. I was extra excited about the clean run for different reasons than others (the my dog is alive after jumping out of a window thing.), but at the end of the day it's just Mach and I running together no matter where we are in the world.

We went back to Schlostich Brasserie Eyck for supper, but this time Mach came with us and dined on the deck. The food at that restaurant was incredible. We also got the same waitress and she brought out water for the dogs. They are really dog friendly in Europe and I wish Canada was just like that, and the waitress was a good sport with all of our shenanigans. I wanted waffles, darn it!

Saturday. Individual events. I was feeling much more confident about this day than the day before. I knew Mach was in running shape, and that we were capable of doing well. We were back in our normal happy spirits. The jumping course was more technical than the day before, but nothing we couldn't handle. A little loosey goosey in the opening, and then I pressured him to get that pesky onside weave entry, and he ended up spinning away from me, only to come back from that tunnel and miss the entry. Even though I've trained him to finish weaving no matter where I am or what direction I'm running in, I've never really had to use it much in a trial around home, so I'm pleased that he stuck through all twelve poles while I ran to the broad jump. Too bad he hasn't seen more of those, as he just ran over the panels instead of jumping them. 10 faults in the run, but beautiful turns, especially impressive coming from a big fast line.

Mach *can* fly, guys. 
The, I love it. 

Oh, clearing the bars makes my heart happy. And a send to the backside.

The last run. Ah. My absolute favourite, ever. Individual Agility was a rush. I'm still smiling about it. It was a fast course, for sure. It was getting faster times than jumpers! The energy in that arena, to me, felt electric. I was buzzing. He ran so beautifully. Great contacts, amazing, incredible turns, got that weave entry with ease. I lost the placement of the jump for a second when he was in the weaves, so I completely sent him to the front side. As he was taking off, I actually tried to stop him, but he's too fast. But we whipped around and finished the course like we owned it.

This could rival for my favourite photo ever, especially since it's during my favourite run ever, ever.

I don't mean to toot my own horn, but how incredible is it that Mach and I had such a scary thing happen to us, and then have us bounce back with such power! Just by being the kind of dog he is, he could have been aboslutely done with agility for a while, or even forever (when he was a puppy, a dog lunged at him from 100 feet away and wouldn't do any training for a month...), and I could have been continually over dramatic over the situation and unable to memorize a course, or to handle throughout a course. But, none of those things happened. We were strong, we were brave, and I am so proud of us.

My dad is hilarious. (Yes, I found the humor in it...finally.)

I  may or may not have teared up a bit after finishing our last run. It's been a long, long time since I've wanted to do something like this, and there I was doing it. It sunk in at that moment that I was in Belgium doing agility with my dog, and doing well at it. Doing amazing at it. The reason I chose the Imagine Dragon song "On Top of the World" for my [video] was no accident. The chorus

"I’m on top of the world, hey
Waiting on this for a while now
Paying my dues to the dirt
I’ve been waiting to smile, hey
Been holding it in for a while, hey
Take you with me if I can
Been dreaming of this since a child
I’m on top of the world."
is pretty much spot on for everything that I feel about this experience, and hey, it's just a fun song. I'm so proud of how far my scared-of-his-own-shadow dog has come in this amount of time. He flew all the way to Europe in the big, noisy, scary plane, recovered from jumping out of a window, and ran agility with so much commotion going on around him, two of the runs clean, two more done so wonderfully, and he did it happily! What more could I possibly ask for? We did it, and I am on top of the world.

(We went back to the same restaurant for the third time on Saturday, and got the same waitress again. I really wanted waffles. I never got them, but my, j'adore les frites!)

What a learning experience, too! Here are twenty things I learned during my 6 days in Europe.

1. Never change airlines when flying with a dog - always fly direct and drive the rest of the way. Everything is close in Europe.
2. Germans have great taste in their style of eye glasses.
3. There is hardly any fast food, so the healthy people out number the unhealthy and you are not squished when sitting in airplane seats. Travel to Europe.
4. Get to the airport at least 3 hours early when flying with dogs. If not, you will not get seats with the people you are flying with. You will get the middle seat, in the middle row, in four different rows.
5. If you look scared enough, people will let your mom sit with you because you are a "minor who doesn't want to fly alone." ;)
6. Individuals who work at airports do not share the same opinions on airport protocols and you will most likely have to run around the airport to get a reasonable answer for your dilemma. Wear comfortable shoes, or just sit on the floor and let the others deal with it.
7. Germans love meat, but their salads are delicious.
8. Bike paths are okay to drive on if you're from Canada.
9. You will get lost everytime you get into your vehicle to go somewhere. Plan to leave at least 30 minutes earlier than normal, but the direction is always "a little bit right, a little bit left, and a little straight.".
10. The tire is lower, and your dog will probably smash his head on it, and then start refusing to take it all together. Patience is important.
11. Never leave your non-airconditioned second story bedroom window open all the way. Crazy things happen.
12. Travel with medication for your dog. All of it. You never know what will happen.
13. Buy all the agility photos you can, because the few that you didn't order....well, you'll want them really badly in a couple of days.
14. Get really good at learning courses without course maps. A fun mental challenge to start your morning!
15. European handlers are more intense than North American handlers. Sometimes it is impressive, others just entertaining. Applaud them no matter what.
16. Agility is more fun when you are fun. Relax, dude. Run really fast, too.
17. It's okay to stalk to "famous" agility handlers. Try to speak to them when you meet them, though. Wipe the drool off your chin, and introduce yourself as their future wife. (Don't actually do that.)
18. It's fantastic to know multiple languages. You make more friends that way. (The twelve years of French immersion finally seems worth it, ha)
19. Europe is very friendly towards dogs, and you can take them everywhere. Everyone has water bowls for them, too (including the scary looking rock/metal music bar guys).
20. Buy all the chocolate! When you think you have enough, buy more. It will be gone too quickly.
BONUS 21. Crocs are a huge, very "in" thing. With the agility community, at least.
EXTRA BONUS 22. Alcohol may or may not create a cartwheel tournment in the court yard of a hotel you are not staying at while you wait for people you know to come back, but they don't so you end up staying outside all night. You will laugh a lot.


It was so cool to finally see all of those handlers I watch over the internet run their dogs in real life, and to even meet some of them! Agility is a big thing, just as big as any other sport and I'm glad that there is at least somewhere in the world that views is as more than dog tricks.

 That's Jenny Damm, guys.

Sunday was a fun, relaxed day for me. We cheered on the Canadians that made the finals. We decked out in tattoos that read Canada backwards, and waved our flag proudly. Go Adanac!! They all had fantastic runs, some heartbreakers for sure. I'm so glad to have been on the team with so many excellent handlers, and great dogs. I was so happy to see so many young dogs on the team, who showed true potential for future teams. Everyone was so kind, and helpful to us during the Super Mach Adventures, too. That experience could have been a lot worse if I hadn't been surrounded by so many genuine people.

Tori Self and I traded shirts, but unfortunately no picture of Rev and Mach. Sissi and I forced Andre to go trade shirts with Anthony Clark. We cheered when he came around the corner with it. I know he's glad he did, no matter how embarrassing it was for him. ;)

Closing ceremonies wrapped up, and now I've forgotten what mom said to me, but I had to run away because I almost started crying, hah! Most definitely happy tears. It was an emotional experience for me, for sure. It was weird saying goodbye to everyone after our last team dinner, even though I knew I'd see almost all of them in two days at nationals. It was a great team!

Our crew stayed in Belgium for the morning and walked some trails before heading back to Germany.

 This photo is one of my favourites from the trip. Sissi definitely ties the whole photo together.

When we arrived in Dusseldorf again, we walked along the river, and through the town and into the shops. It's an adorable city. Mach went shopping, and went out for dinner, too! After supper, we held another kind of cartwheel tournament, but this time we were the entertainment for the guests eating outside. The fountain reminded us of our earlier adventures at the hotel, so we thought it would be hilarious to take a photo of it. It proved to be a little more difficult than we initially thought. We laughed a lot, and so did our audience. 

We later bought chocolate, and shoes, and got some rest before another full day of travel back to Canada. Bring on Nationals!! [To Be Continued.]

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