Sunday, September 18, 2016

Remembering Stretch: A Great Life! A Great Dog!

Remembering Stretch: A Great Life! A Great Dog!
January 10, 2005—September 24, 2016
Puppy Love
I wanted a companion dog, so I chose Stretch—a beautiful, smiling, Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy—as the perfect dog for me. I brought him home on a sunny spring day! He was a pudgy ball of fur who completely stole my heart. I had no idea he would touch so many lives over the years and become a real Super Dog!
Stretch was my first dog, and I didn’t know a lot about raising a puppy. Corgis are smart, friendly, stubborn, highly independent, and friendly. Throughout history, they were used to herd cattle in Europe, so they have BIG attitudes and HUGE egos.  If they can move a herd of cattle, they have no problem with big dogs. They’re essentially big dogs in a medium-size package. 
Stretch had all those traits. When I first got him settled at home, I didn’t know I had to set such firm rules so he would know that I’m the mom, and he had to do what I say—and so early in his life! He thought it was the other way around. Too late to set any rules for me, Mom! I’m the boss, and I’m in charge! “He’s got you trained very well,” my cousin Bev said.  He’s a royalty dog, after all; the same breed chosen by the Queen of England  Maybe, Bev suggested, he needs to be knocked off his big throne once in a while.

Getting Out and About
I exposed Stretch to many activities as a young dog. We went to several dog-friendly resorts in Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware,with my friend, Gwen, and her dogs, and we always had a great time!  At one place, he jumped off the dock into muddy water. Then, he just looked at me as if to say,Get me out! I’m stuck!!! He was a stinky, dirty, muddy mess, but he was happy! It took a lot of work to hose him down and get him clean, but Gwen and I had to good laugh. Gwen’s dogs—a Cairn terrier and a Golden Retriever–Great Pyrenees mix—walked on the dock but had absolutely no interest in jumping off. But Stretch had to be a fun-loving Little Monkey (one of his several nicknames). 
Another time at a cabin,Stretch got stuck between the bed and the wall. Stretchie Stretch just wouldn’t budge! I thought we were going to have to call for help! But who would we call? The fire department? I finally managed to pull him out—after many tries—and he didn’t jump on the bed anymore.
We went to many yappy hours and doggie cruises, and we stayed at a beach house in Nags Head, North Carolina, with five other dogs. We loved doing demos at hospitals, schools, and nursing homes with Greenbelt Dog Training. Stretch marched in many parades with the doggie drill team in Washington, DC, and Maryland  Sometimes he did solos, showing off some of his tricks. He enjoyed being a Read to Rover dog at the local library.He also loved children, and they loved him. He was like a rock star! And his awards for obedience and his therapy work are a testament to his popularity.
Dog Park Days
Stretch was known as The General at the dog park; he was small, but he kept order. He protected shy dogs and wouldn’t let other dogs bully them. Stretch was well known at the area dog parks, where he played in the park for big dogs; not surprising, since he was a BIG DOG in his mind. Bigger dogs knew not to mess with him because Stretch was one of them. Plus, he was so short and fast, they couldn’t catch him anyway. People were always surprised at how fast he ran on those little short legs. He even played tug of war with a Mastiff. I forgot who won,but I’m sure it was Stretch!

Playing with Children
The neighborhood children loved playing with Stretch. When I got home from work, they would run to the car and ask if Stretch could come out and play. Sometimes the kids had to discuss who played with him first. He enjoyed playing with them in a nearby field and on the playground.  As the children got older, they didn’t play with Stretch as much.But they always stopped what they were doing to come over and say hi to him.  Everyone in the neighborhood knew Stretch and that Miss Angie was his mom. They would honk their horns when they saw me walking him, yelling “Hi, Stretch!” (Funny that “Hi, Angie” was mostly an afterthought.)

Visiting Grandpa
Stretch always looked forward to visiting my dad and taking long walks with him. Dad would ask for the leash, and off they went! Those walks were their special time together while I relaxed in the house. Dad would say they would be back within 30 minutes, but 30 minutes would come and go, and then 45 minutes, and then an hour. When I asked what would take them so long, Dad would say Stretch wasn’t ready to come back; he wanted to walk to certain places and explore. Stretch took the lead; wherever he wanted to go was where they went. Sometimes they would come across children who wanted to pet Stretch and play with him. Many adults wondered what kind of dog he was since he had an unusual look: big ears and bunny butt with no tail. Some of the kids called him a fox dog.
My dad often treated Stretch to baked sweet potatoes. Dad usually packed two for Stretch and one for me. Why did Stretch get more than me? Because he was Stretch, that’s why! I would mix some of the potatoes in his food, and he would be so happy that he flopped down on the floor and did his happy roll. Other times he would body slam against the wall and scoot and growl in pleasure. He loved his sweet potatoes!

Stretch and I loved going hiking with my friend, Lakshme, and her dogs on Saturday mornings. We would meet other people and dogs at area hiking trails. Most of the dogs were big Rotties, Great Danes, and Pit mixes. He kept all the dogs and people together. And when a dog strayed, it was Stretch to the rescue—barking and bringing them back! Since he was a herding breed, Stretch was in his element. And he took his herding job seriously. None of the dogs ever resisted when Stretch was bringing them back. He would look back to make sure all his herd were together.  

Favorite Things
Stretch had a long list of favorite things! He enjoyed his therapy work cheering up people; herding sheep, ducks, dogs, and even people, and eating—he was my little Piggy from the start and never lost his big appetite! He also won over people who were scared of dogs. That was nice to see.
Stretch loved performing during his therapy visits. Sometimes he would make an entrance riding his skateboard. Other times, he would jump through a hula hoop or play fetch. He also loved doing tricks and dance moves. He loved entertaining people and being the center of attention. Making people smile made him happy and proud of himself. When I put on his therapy dog bandana, he was ready to go to work and that made him very happy. Throughout his therapy work, we visited hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and a group home on a regular basis. The children and young adults in the group home were all in wheelchairs, and some had other special needs. Who knew that years later Stretch would be in a kind of wheelchair of his own, his special cart? 
From the first day I brought him home from the breeder, Stretch was crazy about food. But he never learned proper food etiquette. On one occasion, we went to my friend’s house to meet her new dog.  Stretch wasn’t there a minute before he went to the kitchen and ate the food in the doggie bowl. Not a good first impression, and very embarrassing! But Stretch thought the food was there for him. 
Another time, we went to see my neighbor. Stretch ran in the kitchen and ate the cat food from the feeder while Tyler the cat just watched. Tyler and Stretch were buddies, and they would nose kiss, which was cute.  Tyler was his only feline friend and the only cat he didn’t want to chase.
Dog Dancing
Stretch and I got into dog dancing after Gwen invited us to a dog recital. I thought it was cute and would be fun to try. I also thought it would be a nice thing to do on our therapy visits. He did well in dance class, so I entered him into competition. He did well in the beginner level,but then we struggled. I later learned he was sensitive to sound, which explained a lot of our mishaps in the ring. I was surprised at how friendly and supportive the freestylers were at the competitions—very different from other dog sports. Many of them—and the people from dance and obedience class—have become like family to me. They are always there for me.
We had more funny dance moments than I can count. Stretch and I were doing a pairs routine with my cousin, Bev, and her Whippet, Whisper. But after the music started, Stretch decided at the last minute to be an observer of our routine instead of a willing participant. He watched the whole routine from the gate until it was time for the ending pose. Then, like clockwork he pranced out and did the ending pose— perfectly, of course. At first, I was upset and frustrated. But after looking at that funny clown face, how could I stay mad at my little Gremlin. I just had to laugh,
At another show in Pennsylvania, a ring steward proudly announced that no dogs get past him. Watch me! Stretch said. And after we started our routine away from the gate, Stretch flew by him at lightning speed and left the ring, ending up under the food table! That resulted in an instant disqualification! That’s my Stretchie Pooh! You gotta love him!
Bass Pro
Stretch made regular rounds at the mall to visit the staff at Bass Pro Shop. It was a good place to walk when the weather was too bad for us to walk outside. He loved walking around the store getting exercise and meeting people. He also attended some of the store’s dog-friendly events.
Degenerative Myelopathy Diagnosis
Stretch’s first nine years were great, and he was in perfect health! He was loving life and living large.  But, in 2014—after a dog-friendly trip—I noticed he was limping. Maybe it was just a sprain, I thought, but his vet told me it was likely a neurological disease called degenerative myelopathy. It has no cure and would eventually take his life. I was devastated and cried for a week! Then I had to get myself together and give Stretch the best care I could and make his life as comfortable as possible.
There is no pain with this disease. It progresses slowly as you watch your dog slowly lose the ability to walk. I found a new vet who practices holistic and traditional medicine. After doing some research, I found the Wheel Corgis support group on Yahoo. Chatting with Bobbie the founder helped so much!  She was a great resource. Then I found a new friend from the group, Heather, who lives in Illinois and was going through the exact thing with her Corgi, Cady. It helped to talk to someone going through the same thing. We have been checking on each other over two years. I decided Stretch would still be as active as he could be and enjoy life to the fullest,despite the diagnosis.  
His vet, Healing Paws, took great care of him.. His treatment consisted of water therapy, laser, and acupuncture. He got excellent physical therapy at Veterinary Orthopedic Sports Medicine and Paradise Animal Hospital.
I was amazed that Stretch would earn many more awards in this stage of his life than he had earlier. He was a senior dog with a debilitating disease! But never underestimate the Gremlin. He wanted no pity; just to be treated the same. I’m happy that people in class did just that. The neighborhood children were a little sad, but they didn’t pity him.They thought he was cool in his cart. I wasn’t sure about him dancing in the cart, but Stretch said,  I still do amazing things!  So we tried, and he did well once I learned to give him more room. We did Innovation (an exhibition performance) in Pennsylvania when he was new to the cart, and he did well.  We had signs that read, I CAN DO IT!  Deb, who is in charge of the competition, told me to keep dancing and to bring my boy back next year. 
Our team routine to Ease On Down the Road was planned before his diagnosis, so he was performing with some knuckling.  I thought it would be nice to work with Bev, Darlene, and Pam—some of my favorite people. They weren’t sure he could do it, but Stretch said as long as he gets a treatment from his vet before the show, he would be fine.  And fine he was! He was overly excited and hard to keep up with. I played Dorothy, and he was Toto. It was nice to earn the team title with our friends.
We later entered the Handi Dandi division, and to my surprise,he did really well. He earned his Beginner, Novice, and Intermediate titles pretty easily. He got weaker by the time we were in the Advanced division, but he managed to earn two qualifying legs—just one short of his Advanced title.  I’m so proud of him for accomplishing that. He also passed the Novice Skills test for the new sport Rally Free, even though he was in the last stage of his disease.  Don’t tell Stretch he can’t do something because he will do it!
Since Stretch loved herding, I asked if he could participate in his cart and was told he could. So I registered him in the Corgi Herding Weekend.  He had a ball herding ducks in his cart! His instincts were still so strong for a senior dog; he almost ran some of the ducks over!  In his earlier stage in the disease, he earned his Trick Dog Championship. Susan, a trainer and dog dancing judge who has also become a friend, encouraged me that he could go all the way, and he did! We also entered The Challenge with Dogs Can Dance and danced in the Honor division, where Stretch earned his Entertainment title and received two certificates in the Musical Interpretation division—just one short of his title.
I’ve also had a great support system, which I’m so thankful for. The people at Greenbelt Dog Training and Canine Training Association have been great. There are so many others who have helped me.  I’ve also established new friendships with some people I’ve never met; Hetal from and Gloria from—yes, Stretch has a web page there. They have become good friends and emailed me to check on their buddy and gave me good advice and support.
In the last few months, Stretch started to get frustrated and a bit sad because he couldn’t move much anymore. He loved being on the move, so the spark in him began to dim. After fighting for more than two and a half years, Stretch was getting tired and weaker and began thinking about crossing over where he could run free and have his perfect body back. So he told me he was ready to go on his own terms with his dignity. He loved me and was proud of his wonderful life.  Although gone in his body, he will always be in my heart. He wants people to remember the good, funny times.

Even though Stretch was my first dog, I think I did pretty well with him. We were meant to be together! He was such a happy dog; a clown much of the time. He was very pleased with everything he accomplished. He was my friend, protector, alarm system at home, and my hero. His playful personality inspired others to give him loving nicknames: Bev called him Punkin Pie and also Shark because you could get your finger nicked when he grabbed for food. He had such a great heart and spirit! He was my Super Dog!