Friday, January 8, 2010

Doranna Durgin & ConneryBeagle, Belle, Jean-Luc, and Kacey

Who is in the photo at right?

There we are a couple years ago, the holiday picture we missed last year. That's Doranna Durgin, one novel writer (SF/F, mystery, franchise, and paranormal romance), and the pack at the time:

CH MACH Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven CD RE EAC EJC CGC*, Beagle Q-Hunter (ConneryBeagle)
Cheysuli's Silver Belle CD RE MXP4 MJP3 PAX OFP EAC EJC CGC, Blue Cardigan Comeback Girl (Belle)
Cheysuli Jean-Luc Picardigan OJP NAP OJC NAC CGC, Brain-Injured but Game Tricolor Boy (Jean-Luc)
and the now dearly missed elder statesdog and spark genius, Xtacee Carbon Unit CGC (Kacey), mahogany brindle Cardi

*peek at the end for what all that means!

What's the occasion for Coffee with a Canine?

A confession: I don't do coffee or tea. But the dogs and I share Propel and Go-Dog (a doggy sports drink) often enough. We like to spend our together time in the morning with some sort of training-play (and in fact, if we don't, they get pretty demanding about it), or bike together.

What's brewing?

I prefer the grape Propel, myself. The dogs are pretty adamant about their Go-Dog and they think it is FINE.

Any goodies to go with the coffee?

The dogs are usually getting kibble training treats. Me, not so much. Kibble-spit fingers really discourages the urge to go for snack food.

How did you come to be united with your dogs?

Kacey was my first Cardigan. She was pure pet quality (badly put together in ways that shortened her life), but pure genius. She was a companion for my then Blue-Tick/Beagle WonderHound, Strider.

Jean-Luc arrived after Strider passed and Kacey needed a companion, and a breeder friend had a brain-injured young dog in need of rehab. Jean-Luc was a tremendous project with body, coordination, sensory, and obsessive issues, but he went on to earn agility titles no one ever expected of him. He's retired now, but sometimes he comes out to gambol around.

Belle is Jean-Luc's niece, and she showed such talent for agility from the very start that her breeder gifted her to me with that in mind, and since then she's gone on to earn the highest AKC agility title available to her running class, as well as obedience and rally titles. She is a princess who tries very, very hard to be perfect.

ConneryBeagle is a force of nature. He earned his breed championship with four high-pointed majors and, in spite of several brutal attacks by giant breed dogs, has recovered enough confidence to rediscover his glee in the performance ring -- he has obedience and rally titles, and has earned the highest AKC agility title, the MACH -- the 20th Beagle to do so. I get an endless kick out of him. On the agility course he's known for his Song of Self at the start and finish line (not to mention the tipping point of the teeter). On occasion we get a spontaneous human sing-along...

How did they get their names?

My twisted sense of humor. I mean, seriously. I wrote a Trek book, so I had to name a dog Jean-Luc Picardigan, right? And Connery's litter had seven puppies, so my author newsgroup friends and I brainstormed up Cedar Ridge DoubleOSeven. Belle was born on Christmas Eve, and Kacey...well, her call name is from a particularly sharp-witted character of mine, but her registered name, Carbon Unit, was just because it made me laugh.

Stick, ball, Frisbee...?


That's Connery's answer. The others like me to throw stuffed squeaky toys. Connery finds this acceptable, too. They all wander around the house going "SqueakasqueakaSQUEAKA!" especially in the silence of the evening.

Squirrel, cat, postman...?

Ravens. Holy cow, the ravens! How they tease the Beagle!

What's an ordinary day like for your dogs?

It starts pretty quietly -- out of bed, immediate breakfast, and then some yard time; maybe some "supervising the barn chores" time. Once I get my work day underway, I break for a little training--agility or obedience or tracking--or sometimes take them out for a bike ride. There's a path along the Rio Grande that they particularly like, but I find my choices are otherwise severely restricted by the presence of large loose dogs--we'd do more biking, otherwise, and hope to do more shortly when we move to a more rural area.

Do they have any impact on your writing?

Oh, they're everything to my writing. They inform it, for starters--they leave me open to places I otherwise wouldn't find in myself. They give me the necessary break-time, and the various shows/trials are the only times I take time off from work (although to and fro travel time is another matter altogether). Biking with them is when I do a lot of plotting. And of course when Connery of the Touchy-Tummy throws up on my feet as I'm working, that has a considerable impact on the moment, also...

Where is your dogs' favorite place to go for walk?

Along the Rio Grande, right now. I think within the month, my answer is going to be "the wild arroyo behind the house." But they're going to have to figure out the prickly pear cactus equation...

Who are your dogs' best pet-pals?

They tend to be more oriented toward me and to each other--and to the horse--than to other dogs. Connery has been attacked several times (giant breed dogs breaking free of their owners and mowing us down at full speed from a distance), and we've both been significantly hurt; he doesn't let his guard down enough to play with non-Durgin dogs. Belle would rather sit on my feet or lick Connery's face. And Jean-Luc, due to his brain-injury, doesn't have normal doggy body language or behavior; other dogs understandably struggle to interact with him. To them, he is broadcasting inappropriate messages. So we don't have play-dates, but hey, you never know...things could change, one of these days.

If your dogs could change one thing about you, what would it be?

I suspect they would make me healthy so I could play harder with them.

What's each dog's best quality?

Belle tries so very hard to be perfect, and in fact she pretty nearly always is. Jean-Luc is a profoundly sweet dog. Connery has an amazing capacity for joy and silliness.

What's each dog's proudest moment so far? Their most embarrassing?

Belle: Has no embarrassing moments. Well, maybe she came close at the obedience trial where she did her novice recall (come straight to the handler, sit directly in front of the handler, wait for cue, and finish into heel position) and gleefully ran up to me and sat up on her haunches with her stumpy little front Corgi legs dangling. And then *waved* to me. (Something she does in the office when she thinks I've been working too long.) We, um, did the finish-to-heel position from there [photo, above left]. But you know, I don't think she was embarrassed by that at all, because she would never do something unless she thought it was *right,* and I never tell her she's done something wrong in training and competition. (Showing her what's right is different from telling her she's been wrong.)

For pride, any number of her rally or agility competition runs. When she's feeling confident, her tail wags all the way around the course. She's not known as "propeller butt" for nothing!

I myself am most proud of her for her incredible consistency in performance in spite of chronic physical issues that knock her out of the game as often as she's in. She's earned the highest agility title she can, qualified for Nationals this year, and has consistently been in the blue ribbons for every activity she's tried, generally going almost straight through the necessary qualifying legs to earn her various titles. She's an amazing dog who is so very quietly efficient and who works with such good heart that we're usually done with our runs before anyone even knows the day has started (we often start off the agility trial day).

Jean-Luc: Has no embarrassing moments. Has no clue what embarrassment is. Spends a lot of time going, "WUH--?"

He does have moments of special pride in particular toys, when he prances around to show them off making little snuffling noises. Then he can't stand it any longer and he drops them so he can roll on them.

Me, I was really proud of him the day he got his NADAC novice standard agility trial. He used great heart and courage in a particular situation and he made me cry!

Connery: Not easily embarrassed. He does a lot of silly things and he revels in them. I suspect he knows we do, too.

Being proud of himself is the cornerstone of Connery's life. If he's not proud of himself, he can't learn and he's not happy around the house. So he spends a lot of time asking for training so he can get that particular fix. Generally he's excessively pleased with himself at the end of an agility trial run and he has a specific little routine of baying his Song of Self as I leash him up.

This is Connery [photo, right] earning his CD, just waiting to be released from his sit-stay so he can burst into self-congratulatory song.

For my part, I'm often proud enough of him to burst, but I think most often when I see him "get" a training concept he's been struggling with, and can see how very pleased and self-aware he is of what he's done, and we celebrate together.

And I'm as proud as can be that both Connery and Belle qualified for the AKC National Agility Championships this year, although I'm not likely to make the trip. Still, it's one of those things where it's nice to say we could have!

We're hoping to acquire another Beagle next year...what do you think? Should we start brainstorming names?

*The letters: breed, agility, rally, and obedience titles, AKC unless otherwise stated...
CH: Conformation Champion. Officially Handsome.
MACH: Master Agility Champion
CD: Companion Dog (novice agility)
RE: Rally Excellent
CGC: Canine Good Citizen
EAC & EJC: NADAC Agility Excellent titles
MJP & MXP: Masters Preferred titles
PAX: Preferred Agility Excellent
OFP: Open FAST, Preferred

Dun Lady's Jess
, Doranna Durgin's first published fantasy novel, received the 1995 Compton Crook/Stephen Tall award for the best first book in the fantasy, science fiction, and horror genres. She now has over twenty novels on the shelves and more on the way.

Doranna Durgin's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue