The Routine, Part Two

by Betty Zubritsky

Having re-read my Part One, I have to clarify one thing. When the dogs are out, EVERYTHING is a judgement call. The only thing that matters is the safety of the dogs, and I’ll do beds all by myself if Craig needs to be out with them. He knows that everything gets done quicker if he can come help with the beds, but he also knows that everything stops when there is a fight. It all evens out.

Ok, the dogs are fed and there is the option now of a turnout. Some want to go out right after eating. Some would rather snuggle down in their big soft paper beds and take a nap. I play it any way they want.

Since we have a matinee card, I do insist that the racers go out. Anybody else that wants to, can. This is a turnout that one person can do alone, so Craig goes out for breakfast. He’ll be picking up the card, so he needs to eat. If I’m starving, I have bananas. There is a very good reason to have real food in the kennel.

By the time he gets back, my dogs are in bed and we have time to go over anything we missed. Please pick up the entries. Smile and nod. He knows the drill. I go over our lines and struggle with decisions. Take off so-and-so. Put whobegobby across to 3/8. Pull papers on adoption dogs. Put these 5 in for official school.

Tick tick tick, the morning marches on and the phone hasn’t stopped ringing and it’s time to snack my racers. They’ve already gotten a partial feed, but this is a special little treat before the race. Little tiny bit of beef, a wee bit of mushed up sardine, a splash of pineapple juice, a cup of warm water. Sounds right nasty, doesn’t it? But they love it. Time to weigh in.

Because the kennel compound is not on trackside, we have to truck dogs to the track. I start early, so we can make 2 trips. Call me crazy, but I hate to double dogs on the way to or from the race. I’m sure I could find a way to justify this, and it would make sense. The whole truth is, it’s just me being fussy.

With our first load of very excited racers, we pull in at the track. Getting our very wiggly happy dogs out of the truck is a challenge. Myself, I use my hip against the compartment door to keep it from flying open. Reach in with one hand and grab the lead. Release the door, bring my dog down, transfer the lead to the other hand. Repeat until all my dogs are on the ground beside me. Untangle leads, count dogs. This is important. If I don’t have the right number of dogs in my hand, somebody done got away from me somehow and she’s scampering around the paddock lot. Laughing.

Each post position is identified with a numbered tag. Now that we have our dogs there, we have to tag them with the appropriate little dangles that correspond to race and box. Tag number 1-7 means that my dog is in the first race, in the 7 hole. The tags hang on a large board, some of which are too tall for me to reach. I’ve had to ask for help. People chuckle and get my tags for me. It’s pure hell being little. We clip our tags to our collars, and we proceed to the scale.

Ooo-eeee, the moment of truth. This is where everything I’ve done this morning gets evaluated, because the judges are there and the vet is there and the racing secretary is there, and I’m handing my dogs into the care of the state. I pretend to be confident. I’m quaking in my flip flops.

Everybody goes across, we go back for the second load and do it all again. Unload, tag, weigh and quake. Craig rolls his eyes at me. “You worry too much”. No, I worry just right. Go get me a candy bar.

I tend to the paperwork while Craig goes on chocolate safari for me. I have 3 phone calls to return, and I want to ignore all of them. At least until I get my candy bar. I’m much more congenial with chocolate.

I’m still talking to owners when we get back to the kennel. Craig promises to stack the bales of paper (where did they come from!!!) before he goes back to pick up the card. I walk my kennel and kiss my fingers and go home for 2 hours. I’m turning out the afternoon.

Time sure flies. Here I am again. Craig has returned our first 2 races, and tipped the muzzles up to let me know they’re there. I turn out everybody but them. The afternoon is probably my favorite turnout. It’s when I have the time to play, and they’re fed and happy and they play nicely. And I time it so that I have my yards empty when Craig gets back with the next few racers. He doesn’t have time to dawdle. I help him unload. If anybody is hurt, he tells me. Other than that, I leave him alone. I’ll see the results or the replays later. Of course, if he’s just busting to tell me that somebody was spectacular, I don’t do anything to stop him. We DO love to win races.

I check on my first 2 racers. They are properly cooled out, and I get their feeds ready. About a pound and a half each, with enough hot water to take the chill off. And a cookie. We like cookies here. When they have eaten, they go back outside. I prefer to let each one out alone, without muzzles. I feel this is the time for them to relax and not have to cope with another dog in their space. Some of us get cranky when we’re tired.

When everybody is safely in bed, and I’ve walked my kennel to be sure that’s true, I go on home again. Craig will finish up the card, and tend to the feeds and outs. Then HE gets to go home for the rest of the night. We don’t have an evening card and I have the last turnout.

I like to switch it up so that neither of us has to do a Late-Night-Early-Morning combination all the time. That’ll wear a body out in a hurry. And we have a little part-time girl who fills in on Craigs mornings off, and picks up the occasional evening card for me. I’m there every morning.

Along about 6:30 PM, I go back to the kennel for the evening turnout. The girls were a little rangy this morning, but they seem much more subdued tonight and I choose to put the whole kennel out, as opposed to doing it in isolated groups. We always have that option and we play it according to our gut feeling. It’s ok to take longer. Beats the hell out of a dog fight.

So the girls go out and then the boys go out and then there I am out there with my rake and scoop, picking up the plops and visiting with my dogs. I can go inside briefly to check the racers beds. If any of them are wet, I change them out, ever aware of the mood outside. You can NEVER be complacent. A scuffle can erupt without warning, and escalate to an all-out brawl in no time at all. And I don’t care how muzzled they all are. Those silly little plastic things go flying when these guys mean business. So I might be back out there 5 times while I’m checking and swapping beds, just to keep the peace. “You’re alright, honey. No need to be like that. I’m still here and you don’t get to act the fool.”

It really doesn’t matter what you say. The words themselves are meaningless, which is why there’s no good reason to swear at them. They don’t know what a muther-fucker is, and yelling it at them just describes you as ignorant. I am not opposed to yelling when it is appropriate . “KNOCK IT OFF NOW!!!!” But I don’t cuss my dogs. They give me their best, and they deserve the very best of me. So while they also don’t know what please and thank you mean, that’s what they get.

Whole truth, I get as much compliance with a gutteral “HUP HUP”, as I’ve ever gotten with actual words. They know they’re being naughty anyway. All they need is a reminder that I don’t permit it. I give the food. What I want matters.

And in the event that nothing else works, there is the mighty fine garden hose with the power sprayer, right there by the door. Its name is Agnes, and she has never failed me.

I do not use buggy whips. There isn’t one in my kennel.

So my beds are tidy and we’ve been out for about 45 minutes. I bring my girls in, and put them to bed. Craig didn’t leave me a note, so I’m not expecting to see anything alarming in my afternoon racers…. but I’m looking anyway. Some things don’t show up immediately. Widget looks a little light on her right front, so I tip up her muzzle and I’ll poke at her when I’m done.

Switch the boys over and go out to pick up the plops. And keep the peace. Boys all a-twitter can be squabbly about girl pee sometimes, and it always seems to be at night. “You’re alright, son. It’s just girl gossip. Walk away please and be my good boy.”

Boys in. “Careful honey, don’t hurt each other.” Same thing. Dogs to bed, look for anything that might be amiss. There is nothing on the boys, so I go out to finish up the yards and turn off the outside lights. Pull out supplies and glove up.

Go over Widget and apply a liniment to her right shoulder.

Anytime I go over dogs, they get a cookie. I want the interaction to be as enjoyable as it can possibly be, and when I’m flexing and poking and hunting for what might be wrong, I know I’m causing a bit of distress. “Ouch!” I’m sorry, honey, but I had to find that because you don’t make words to tell me. Would you like a cookie?

Well, yes. Cookies fix all things.

Now, time to rub out my racers for tomorrow. A night rub is generally just a light all-over affair. Shoulders and neck, roll skin. Whips and hips. Inner thighs especially on the girls. Not sure why they seem to need that more than the boys, but they do. Special attention to specifics. Bird wants his ankles done. Sweetie, you get what you want.

Cookies, kisses, off to bed.

I forgot to mention, early on, that the kennel is swept after every turnout. Patios too. Once a day, I sweep under the crates, usually in the morning because that’s when all the debris from the beds gets shaken out. At the end of the day, we mop.

Craig usually leaves me fresh mop water. Damn, this guy is a treasure. I sweep up the floor and sway to the radio while I mop the entire expanse of the kennel. All of it. The day has been long and it really is time to go. I change out the mop water, walk my kennel, and turn out the lights. I love you, babies.

Once a month, we pull crates and scrub walls and clean up whatever is under there that we may have missed. Clean is important. Clean is the very best weapon in illness control, and it goes leaps and bounds in the war on bugs. (Heehee, war on bugs.)

I worm in rotation, meaning that I don’t worm the whole kennel on a down day. I believe that there is a recovery time that needs to be allowed, and I won’t race my dogs on this medication. So every three weeks, Craig watches my feeds that little bit more carefully. Have I mentioned that he’s a treasure?

We have a white board for medications, just in case we don’t remember them. Generally, we’re right on top of it. When you work this intimately with the dogs, you really REALLY don’t forget this kind of thing. Meds and injuries are foremost in your head. Sure, right along with everything else.

Sometimes, I wonder why it all feels so natural and automatic. There are plenty of people who shouldn’t own a pet rock, and we all know at least one. For us… for me, the care of these dogs is the only thing in my life. My OWN life is second to theirs.

When they leave me, when the races are all run and they go on to adoption, I fall utterly apart. I might be all business and work and clean and races all day long. But I have known these dogs. They have been in my care and in my hands and I have loved every moment of them. Every wiggle, every prance. Every ear twitch. And I have celebrated them from the very moment of their birth. I Know Who They Are. And I kiss their sweet heads, promise them love better than mine, and hand them to you.

Do not hurt me with lies. I’m hurt enough. Do not declare that my dogs are abused. They aren’t. They are the light in my sky, and harming them is simply not possible. I rely on you to continue them, and I need you to be true to them. As true as I have been.

I kiss my fingers, and turn out the light.