Bess was my first attempt at fostering a dog. You could say I failed. But you’d be wrong. I won- big time. I hit the jackpot with this girl. She slowly, quietly, and carefully stole my heart. She did it unobtrusively. But I know exactly when I realized what she had done. It was our first barn hunt together. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the sport, you should check it out here
I had no idea what I was doing. And I didn’t think she did either due to the fact that she failed the rat instinct test. That’s when your dog has 1 minute to tell you which tube contains a live rat. There are three and they aren’t even hidden. Yes, there’s a tunnel, but your dog is not required to execute the tunnel during the instinct test. Good thing, because Bess ran around the tunnel to the other side where three tubes were laying in the hay. One contained the live rat, one contained the litter from a rat cage, and one was completely empty. She sniffed all three and then went back to the middle one again. That one seemed to interest her the most, so I said, “Rat.” The judge said, “No”.
The nice thing about the instinct test is that if your dog doesn’t get it right, you’re allowed to show her the correct tube. Bess became very excited when she realized something was in there. The judge said, “Tell her she’s a good girl.” So I did.
I was a bundle of nerves for our novice run. The brusque judge only added to my anxiety as she barked out commands: “Do NOT release your dog until I say so! Do NOT touch your dog or the hay bales!” As we stood in the starting box, my insides were quivering, and my hands fumbled to remove her leash and collar. All dogs must run ‘naked’. The timer starts when your dog leaves the box, after the judge says, “Hunt when ready.” In retrospect, Bess was hilarious. I was just too tense at the time to appreciate her unbridled joy for this new game. She found the rat immediately. Now all she had to do was run through the tunnel and climb up on a bale of hay. I cajoled her to tunnel, nope- too busy running around, sniffing, working the spectators, ‘hey, how you doing, nice to see you, glad you could make it’, she seemed to be saying as she ran along the fence, tail a blur. They adored her- that wagging tail, that snuffling, snorkeling nose! “She sounds like a Harley!” someone called out. Bess jumped the bales of hay, still sniffing, still wagging, still having a blast. I ran around to the other side of the tunnel, bent over, and called her name. She came through it to me and I vaguely remember someone calling “Q!” I hadn’t a clue as to what that meant.
When all the dogs had run, the judge appeared with her clipboard to notify us of the results. I was stunned when I heard Bess’s name called. There was clapping, whistling, and hooting. I was shaking, but grinning like an idiot as the judge handed me the two ribbons. Our first Barn Hunt and not only did Bess qualify, she came in second place with a time of 1:23:85.
On the way home, Bess soundly slept in her crate, snoring softly and twitching occasionally as she dreamed. I drove on, manic grin plastered across my face still, heart full of love and gratitude for this dog and how she’s changed me.