For the thrill of it all...
Having not had a Scent Work Trial in nearly two months, Winnie and I were excited as the last week in July approached. We were entered in three Trials over the course of 5 days and we were ready to hit the road. Preparing for the challenge, Winnie and I practiced a lot of Buried searches, our weakness, and after good results felt somewhat confident. But the weather was nothing we could feel confident about. The forecast was calling for a heat wave with the expected highest numbers predicted on all three days of trials. I didn't want to let this put a damper on our plans. I began well in advance to research and gather the best ideas for keeping cool while parked in a shadeless, gravel parking lot in the Central California summer during a heat wave.
I found a portable swamp cooler; a 30qt ice chest with a fan built into the lid and two directional vents in the side. A small craft battery ran the 12V fan blowing air into the icy inside of the chest sending cold air directed right towards Winnie. I had a reflective, ventilated shade cloth to throw over the car and a Ryobi fan for more circulation.
Our cooling ideas got a test run on Wednesday, an evening AKC Trial hosted by San Joaquin Dog Training Club who offered three Elements at Excellent Level. By the time we arrived at 4:30pm at Dream Big Dog Training Center in Lodi, CA, we had driven across the Sacramento Delta area thru 100+ degrees. My policy is always to bail should Winnie be even slightly distressed be it too hot, too cold, or any other reason. I got the car set up, the cooler fan running and began to monitor while we waited for Winnie's turn to run. Everything went well, Winnie's temps inside the car were mid 80s while the outside was high 90s. And a cool pup made for successful runs as Winnie earned her third Qualifying scores in both Exterior and Containers for her Element Titles and got her first Q in Buried.
I left the Trial feeIing confident about Winnie's sniffing, but didn't get a false sense of confidence about the heat. After all, we hadn't been there all day, nor had we been under the direct baking sun.
Over the two day interval between Trials, I made some tweaks to the program. Cubed ice though it melts faster seems to give off better cooling surface than frozen bottles I used on Wednesday. Also, I chose to drive my Ranger pick-up, the smallest cabin space of any of our cars, giving the swamp cooler a fighting chance at keeping the inside of the cab temperature comfortable and I purchased an indoor/outdoor mini weather station placing the wired sensor on the inside, closing the door with the reader part outside.
This way I can monitor the inside temps without having to open the door thus letting out the cool air and also not having to disturb Winnie should she be resting. I also decided to pack the pop-up canopy as this would provide a shield from the sweltering sun and allow precious air flow underneath. Thinking about it all made my brain hurt, and I knew if things were to devolve to a negative point, it could all be for not and we'd have to abort. Still my spirits were not dampened. And speaking of damp, next I may get a fan with a mist-making attachment. Holding on to my positive outlook, and with the tiny cab of that pick-up bursting with our regular gear and all the added cooling paraphernalia, we hit the road for an exciting overnighter.
Saturday's Trial was hosted by NorCal Golden Retriever Club at Dream Big, Winnie was entered in all four Elements at Excellent Level. Tho we didn't complete the Buried search, we found only one hide, Winnie went on to have three successful searches in Interior (1st place and 3rd Q for the Title), Exterior (2nd place) and Containers. And all my brain-aching efforts paid off, too. Winnie was cool, calm and comfortable with cab temps in the high 80s by the end of the day even tho the outside temps were over 100 degrees.
Sunday's Trial was hosted by Irish Setter Club of the Pacific and felt like a repeat of Saturday in every way. We failed again in the Buried search, finding zero outta three hides but did quite well in Interior (2nd place), Exterior (3rd place) and Containers (7th place). And I successfully kept Winnie cool again tho it was hotter and I had to hose us both down a time or two before and after searches. I know it all seems crazy. Why risk our safety and health for a recreational sport?
I can't tell you how much fun we had cuz most folks wouldn't believe I'm being truthful. I can, however, tell you how much I appreciate having good AKC Clubs and the many volunteers it takes to host such events even tho it is mostly just a lot of work for them. And I can tell you how grateful I am to have a facility like Dream Big to go to where the owners, DeeDee and Bill Anderson are kind, compassionate caring and always accommodating above and beyond call and go to the utmost degree to see that the competitors have a good experience.
And no one except those who do this unbelievable sport can relate to the feeling we get when we get the search right. When Winnie and I start an Interior search at Excellent Level, we know there will be three hides total in two separate areas. The first area has an unknown number, either one or two, with the balance in the second area to equal three. After Winnie finds one hide in the first area, we have to together decide if there are any more hides. She has to "tell" me and I have to believe her and call it before we can move on to the other area. The unknown parameter is the thrill. If there's only one hide and we continue to search that area, Winnie could get frustrated with me and false alert. If there are more than one hide but I call it before Winnie's finished covering the area we also fail. Either way we don't get to move on.
There is only one right choice to get the "Yes" from the judge. With heart pounding and from the read I get off subtle signs from my dog, each time I make the call I hold my breath. I know it's not life and death, but in that moment it is as close as I care to be to that feeling. In tune with Winnie, I can say I feel so alive, so strong and invincible. I wanna do a happy dance when we get the "yes" to move on but we have to stay focused as we still need to complete the final area. Now, we know how many hides there are based on what we found in the first area and it's up to me. I just gotta do the math. Can I do the math?
“You need to let the little things that would ordinarily bore you suddenly thrill you.” ― Andy Warhol