This post was originally written on May 17, 2015.  I transferred it from an old, retired blogging site for many reasons.  But these are the top three: One, she’s the dog who started me in performance sports.  Two, it’s funny.  Three, she was my Heart Dog and I can’t leave her (story) behind.  It’s been nearly 4 years since I had so say good-bye, and I miss her still.

Bess was my first attempt at fostering a dog.  Because I kept her, you could say I failed; but you would be wrong.  I won.  And I won BIG TIME.  I hit the jackpot with this girl.  But at the time, I didn’t realize it.  I didn’t truly know just how wonderful she was or how dear she would become to me. She slowly, quietly, and unobtrusively stole my heart.  When did realize it was happening?  At our first Barn Hunt.

Looking back, I had absolutely no business entering.  I hadn’t a clue as to what I was doing.  And the funny thing was that Bess didn’t know what she was doing either, but that didn’t matter to us.  What mattered was that we were doing it together.

Trial Day

First up is a optional test called “Instinct”.  Your dog has one minute to “tell” you which tube (out of three) contains the live rat.  The tubes are not hidden; they are laid out on the hay strewn floor in a line. One tube is completely empty. One tube contains litter from the cages where the rats hang out in between runs.  And one tube contains a real, live rat.  There are hay bales placed everywhere in the area as well as a tunnel or two made from hay bales. When it was our turn to go, Bess ran around, not through, the tunnel (which, although optional, not a promising start) to sniff at the three tubes.  She was interested in all three, but there was no blinding flash of recognition, no indication of any sort that I could see.  Just my dog sniffing quite noisily at the tubes.  She went back to the one in the middle.  Since that one seemed to be the most interesting to her I said, “Rat?”  The judge just said “no”.  And we were done.

One of nice things about the Instinct test is that if your dog doesn’t get it right, you are allowed to take her to the correct tube and tell her it’s the one with the rat.  At the judge’s urging, I did just that.  Bess became very excited when she realized something was in there and wagged all over.  The judge said, “Tell her she’s a good girl.”  So I did.  The second nice thing about the Instinct test is that you are still allowed to run in novice.  So, even though we didn’t pass Instinct, we were still able to participate in the two novice runs I had entered.

I was a bundle of nerves for our first run.  The judge, rather brusque, only added to my anxiety as she gruffly barked out commands: “Do NOT release your dog until I say so!”  “Do NOT touch your dog or the hay bales!”  We moved to the start box, while my insides began quivering and my hands fumbled to remove her leash and collar.  All dogs must run “naked” and the timer starts when your dog crosses one of the lines surrounding the start box after the judge tells you, “Hunt when ready.”

In retrospect, Bess was hilarious!  I was just too tense at the time to fully appreciate her unbridled joy for this new game.  She found the rat immediately and I called out “RAT!” Now all she was supposed to do was run through the tunnel and climb on a hay bale.  I cajoled her to tunnel.  Nope. Too busy running around the perimeter, working the spectators, ‘Hey, nice to see you all, glad you could make it’ she seemed to be saying as she ran along the fence, tail a blur.  They adored her–that wagging tail, that snuffling, snorkeling, sniffing nose!  “She sounds like a Harley!” someone called out and laughter ensued.  Bess jumped bales of hay, still sniffing, still wagging, having an absolute blast.  I ran around the other side of the tunnel, bent over, and called her name.   She came running through to me and I vaguely remember hearing someone call “Q!”

Bess at her first Barn Hunt, Tova, NHWhen all the dogs had run, the judge appeared with her clipboard to notify us of the results.  I was stunned when I heard Bess’s name called out. There was clapping, whistling, and hooting.  I was shaking like a leaf and grinning like an idiot as I came forward to claim our TWO ribbons.  Our very first Barn Hunt and Bess had not only qualified, she had come in second place with a time of 01:23:85.  Rather impressive when you take into account all the running about and schmoozing that she included as well.

On the way home, Bess slept soundly in her crate, snoring and twitching occasionally as she dreamed.  I drove on, manic grin still plastered across my face.  My heart full of love and gratitude for this remarkable little dog and how she’d changed me.