At one particularly bad class, when Dahlia struggled and I was frustrated, I remember my instructor saying “What if this were your last run ever? What would you think of it?” It was a sobering thought. I was tense and angry and upset and Dahlia was stressed out and unhappy. My instructor followed up with telling us to treat every single run like it was your last one. Because you honestly don’t know when the last one might come. Life can change in an instant and your last agility run might come sooner than you expect.
For Dahlia and I, that was November 9, 2015. I didn’t know it was going to be the last class we would take together. I always imagined the end of our time in agility classes would be something I knew was coming, a decision I made. This is it. This is the end. Then I could go to class and we could celebrate and I could cry when it was over and give her big rewards and tons of love and I would know. It wasn’t that I couldn’t see that the end was coming in the next year or two. Dahlia was nearly 10 and not structurally the best dog for agility in the first place. By 11 or 12, I knew she’d be done and so I had this whole idea in my mind of how it would go.
But things didn’t quite go the way I had intended.
I still remember that last class with Dahlia. It was a tough one. We did a 19-obstacle jumpers with weaves course with a lot of twists and turns and taking the backside of jumps. It wasn’t easy. It was the kind of course that would usually have left me feeling out of my element and left Dahlia shut down a bit. But right away that class, she seemed to be working with me, running faster and harder and with more enthusiasm than I’d seen in a long time. She stayed with me every bit of class.
At the end, after running the first half of the course and then the second half of the course, we did the entire thing as if it were a trial situation. Keep your rewards on you, but don’t reward until the end. I still remember the high of that run. Dahlia was amazing and beautiful to watch. I keep a sort of diary about my training this was what I said about that particular run: “Dahlia was damned near perfect. Really. We were working together so well as a team. She was attentive, excited, fast for her, and really just into it. We blew through the whole thing with hardly any hesitation. It felt so good to see her really rocking it and moving the way I always want her to move. She was just so into it and gave it her all. I just love this dog so much and I love working with her in agility. These last classes she and I seemed to be able to reconnect really well and we seem to be working together with amazing ease. Love my best girly!”
When the run was over and we all celebrated her amazing run, the instructor asked if we all wanted to run it again. We had the time. I declined. Dahlia had been so amazing the first time out that I didn’t want to blow it by taking her through it again.
Looking back, I don’t regret that decision at all. Yes, it would have been one more moment with my best girl, but that run, the one that turned out to be her final run, was so amazing that I can always look back on it and say Yes, we got it. In all honesty, my only regret was that I never videotaped that run.
And then Dahlia was struck down with vestibular disease a month later. Our agility career came to a screeching halt. It’s been a year now since I last went to a class with my best girl. And I miss it every single day. I leave for class with Ben and feel terrible about leaving Dahlia behind.
But at least I know that the very last run of her very last class was a beautiful one that we celebrated. And I have no regrets over that last time out. That’s how I wanted her agility career to end, ultimately, with joy and excitement. And that’s how we went out. I hope your last run is filled with joy.