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Thursday, July 16, 2009


Well I thought it was time I talked about Jess, considering she isn't mentioned in this blog at all, despite being still a very important part of my life.
Jess's full name is Ag Och Jess UD ADM JDM PT and she's a 10 and a half year old black and white show bred border collie. She was our families 1st dog, a bribe to come to Perth. We moved to Perth after only living for a year in Melbourne (due to my Fathers' job we have lived all over the world) and on average spent 3-4 years in each country. 1 year was tough- we had all just settled in, made friends, adapted to Melbourne life and we had to move again. So, hence the bribe (not that there was any option anyway!)

The weekend of moving out of hotel accommodation and into our rented house saw me pointing out different options for puppies. My parents were very keen on getting a labradoodle from a petshop but I had (and still have) strong views about buying animals from petshops so that one was out. I was quite keen to get a border collie as our landlord, Sue, had been telling me stories about her last border collie, how smart he was, how she did obedience and agility with him and so on. There was one litter of border collies available that weekend, from Kentish Kennels, a registered breeder south of the river. We went and saw the pups, and there were only 2 left, the male who was the runt, and Jess. We went outside to 'discuss' it and came back in and bought Jess. She celebrated this by promptly throwing up all over the back seat on the way home.

Her first 6 months were fairly uneventful with a few exceptions- we initially tried to get her to sleep in the laundry but she cried all night so Mum put her outside at night where she was perfectly happy. She had this orange bucket that she used to run around with on her head, dragging it across the concrete and enjoying the racket that produced! One summer night, my parents had their balcony door open and my Dad awoke to her 'yip yip' and when he looked outside he saw Jess's head go under the water in the pool again, and not come up. He raced downstairs and grabbed her out, she had fallen into the pool and had not known how to use the steps to get out. The next day she started swimming lessons, with the result of loving the pool now and joining us whenever we went in for a swim. She learnt to ride a boogey-board and loved to jump in from the edge on 'ready set GO' and race you to the steps.
Round about 6 months she started obedience lessons at Joondalup dog club, a very causal club that did some basic exercises.
She was quite naughty as a puppy, if we went out and left her she would invariably pull all the clothes off the line, and Sofie still revels in telling the story where she took her to the park, let her off lead and couldn't catch her again, in the end she enlisted the help of some young guys who ended up rugby tackling her to the ground!

A few months later we moved to Karrinyup and we started obedience training at Northern Suburbs Dog Club, a large club run by volunteers, at this stage using correction collars as the main method of training. She started in class 1E where I learnt how to handle her and then moved fairly rapidly up the classes. She was taught to heel using the leash 'pop' method and in consequence had a very correct position but no great love for heeling. 6 months later, when she was 18months old she started agility classes, where food and toys were the methods used to train. She picked it up extremely quickly and apart from the odd run off to chase another dog (Bailey), really seemed to enjoy her classes.

Then we went into VetWest Carine for her yearly exam and vaccination and the vet(Dr Barry Oesnik) spent a very long time listening to her heart. At the end he told us she had a severe heart murmur and he thought we needed to get it checked out. He asked us if we had noticed any coughing (no) or exercise intolerance. Jess was always really tired on Mondays following the weekend when she was invariably out with us, not having had a dog before we didn't realise that was abnormal. She had a chest xray and an ultrasound and we discovered she had a Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA)- basically an extra blood vessel in her heart that caused the blood to be shunted away from the lungs and causing the left hand side of her heart to become enlarged. In most dogs it is a fatal condition if it isn't surgically corrected. Unfortunately in Jess's case it wasn't picked up when she was a puppy, which meant the vessel was quite wide and very fibrous. We elected to take her to into Murdoch University hospital where they performed a thoracotomy (opened her chest) and attempted to ligate the blood vessel. During the surgery her pulmonary artery (one of the arteries the vessel opens into) tore 2 times, so that the surgeon came out to ring us to advise to close her up, in his opinion the operation wasn't going to be successful and she was probably going to die on the table. He said she would probably have 6 months left to live. My Dad refused to do this and told them to carry on. 2 blood transfusions later they had managed to partially ligate the vessel and she awoke from the anaesthetic and came home to her very very relieved family.

After a reasonably long recovery she started doing obedience again- I entered her in her 1st trial (Perth training) and despite a large entry (30+ dogs) and a VERY late night, she won 1st place. She finished off her first obedience title in 3 trials, and the instructors at agility finally convinced me to enter my first agility trial. This was held at Midland (under Jill Houston) and she won both novice agility and jumping. We were both really enjoying ourselves, her heart seemed to be holding up well and we continued to gain our excellent agility and jumping titles. We had a slight problem in obedience, as she wouldn't retrieve. I couldn't seem to get through to her she was supposed to bring the object back, until one day at training we were both watching someone train for UD gloves, and Jess ran out and picked up the glove! After that she managed to sort the retrieving thing out and she quickly got her CDX title with many wins along the way. UD was a different kettle of fish- the exercises were a lot harder and we really struggled with Scent Discrimination until a tip from Anne Lacy-Herbert enabled us to break through and start trialling in UD. Her UD title took longer then the other 2, but we got there in 12 months and then it was on to the Obedience Champion title.

She gave us a scare at home one night, we were watching TV after eating pizza for dinner and we realised that no-one had seen her for quite a while. We went outside, looking and calling for her 'Jess, Jess!' but couldn't find her anywhere. We walked down the street, knocking on all the neighbours doors and asking them had they seen her- no-one had. We finally gave up that night and went to bed. The next morning before we started searching again Mum took the rubbish out to the big green bin out the back. When she opened the lid- lo and behold there were a pair of big brown eyes staring up at her! Yes Jess had managed to get into the bin, after the pizza boxes she wanted, and had got trapped in there all night. To add insult to injury she couldn't get at the pizza remains as she was sitting on the boxes! She got the name 'pizza dog' for quite a while afterwards, and the threat 'Jess, I'll put you in the bin!' if she was being bad..

In the meantime she was competing in Masters agility and jumping and really starting to speed up, particularly powering through her turns and becoming the 'dog to beat' in WA. She was one of a little group of dogs who vied for the top spots every trial, consisting of Rod's Toby, Karen's Soda and Jess. She went over the compete at the Canberra Nationals and did very well, managing a 2nd place in the finals of both Masters Jumping and Open Agility, as well as representing WA in the teams event.
She then went on to win lots of events back in WA, including Masters Agility at the Royal Show for 3 years in a row, State trials and WA Dog of the Year for 3 years in a row. In obedience we managed to get our Obedience Champion title just before the rules changed that DIDN'T require wins (and those wins were hard to get, with the standard of obedience in WA at that time being very high!).

In 2006 I decided to seek a second opinion about her heart, she had a very large residual murmer (approx grade 4/6) that I was told my her original surgeon would be incidental. At this stage I was in 4th year Vet Science and I asked one of the medicine clinicians, Fleur, for an opinion on her heart. She thought that she needed further intervention and it wasn't just an incidental murmer. She recommended Dr Brad Gaverghan who is a cardiologist who practices in Queensland and was able to place a coil via the femoral artery into the PDA. We flew to Sydney were we competed again in the nationals and had our best yet result, with a win in the qualifiers in masters agility and a 2nd place in the masters agility final. We then flew onto Brisbane and had a coil inserted in her PDA, a very nerve wracking experience as they were initially not able to get the coil to wedge due to the shape of the vessel. It was a long surgery, over 3 hours, and it was all caught on camera for the ABC's PetShow that aired later that year.As I was a vet student I was able to watch the surgery from behind the lead lined barrier. They eventually managed to get the coil to lodge in position and she woke up with me sitting beside her. A week later we took her home and she started her recuperation again.
A couple of days into it I was leash walking her at the park and she happened to urinate on a patch of brown grass. To my complete horror the urine was port wine coloured. I rushed her home and took her straight into the Murdoch emergency center where Dr Carolyn Mansfield was wonderful and took complete control. She rang Brad- who at first said it wasn't due to the coil but then when it was mentioned to him that the coil could have moved he agreed that it could be. We were told that because one of the loops of the coil had moved (unusual later on apparently) the blood going through the coil was being haemolysed and that was what we could see in the urine, also causing her to be anaemic. There were 2 possible outcomes of this- the first was that it would stop by itself and the 2nd was that it WOULDN'T stop and we would have to take the coil out- needless to say this was not an option I wanted to happen!
Luckily, just as Brad was making plans to fly out to Perth her urine lightened up and the haemolysis stopped. We took her home 2 nights later and she continued to recover at home.

After she recovered I took her home and several months later she started trialling again. By this stage she had won pretty much everything it was possible to win but there was one big milestone she hadn't reached, the newly introduced 'Agility Champion' title. This was going to be a really big ask for us as the rules stated she had to get all of her wins (10 in jumping and 10 in agility) AFTER the introduction of the new rules, and as she was now an 8 year old dog (with a heart condition!) that was going to be hard, considering the immense talent and SPEED in WA dogs. She managed her agility wins fairly quickly, having consistent contacts and very tight powerful turns but the jumping wins were much harder, requiring that extra bit of speed that she just didn't have any more. I was frustrated, she had all the required wins 10 times over but before the introduction of the new rules (which made things easier anyway, with lower jump heights and longer contact zones). Finally by the end of 2008 she was down to needing ONE masters jumping win and I didn't think she was going to do it. I was seriously thinking about retiring her as some trials she was jumping a little laboured, cat jumping instead of striding out smoothly. I wasn't going to keep trialling her just to prove a point, that she was worthy of an Agility Champion, when I already knew she was.I also wasnt going to take her interstate to get the last win, again just to prove a point. I decided I would keep running her until the end of the year and then that would be it. Then, at one of the last trials of the year, Perth training, she had a nice jumping run, tight and powerful. Terra, my young dog who was consistently beating her, knocked a bar and it turned out that all the faster dogs than her also made an error so she WON and got that final win needed for her Agility Champion!! To say I was pleased would be a massive understatement, I knew she was an agility champion already but now it would be officially recognised. With the combination of her titles, agility and obedience champion, she is one of only 3 dogs in the whole of Australia to have both, and there are only 2 handlers with both, myself and Danni in South Australia.

I unofficially retired Jess at the start of the year, she lives with my parents (after a big argument, both of us wanting her!) and is having a great time going for multiple walks a day, going on trips and out to dinner. She is really active and doesn't seem to be sore so I made the decision to get her out of semi-retirement and bring her back for the teams event at the royal show. This will be her last agility run, and it is a very fitting place for it as she was always so successful at the royal, winning masters agility 3 years in a row. I am already tearing up at the thought of having her last agility run, but would prefer to have it to remember and to celebrate her career!

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