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On Sunday, October 11th, Zara turns seven. Seven years old. When Zara was a puppy, I remember hearing stories about dogs that got cancer at age seven and died unexpectedly. Well, seven is not that young, I remember reasoning. I had no concept of what it was like to pour everything you have into a dog and lose them too soon. But now that Zara is seven, I can tell you that seven IS young. Way too young.

Seven is young when you’re talking about your heart dog, the one that changed your life. Seven is young when you can’t clearly remember life before her. You know what seven feels like? Seven feels like we’re just getting started. Seven feels like all the training has finally paid off, and now I get to enjoy the benefits. Seven feels like I can’t possibly imagine living without her. Seven also feels like a reality check.

Until she was six, Zara was regularly mistaken for a puppy. This probably partially had to do with the fact that she looks tiny in comparison to 100 pound Colombo. But it would happen even without him around. In the past year however, more and more white hairs have crept onto her face and I haven’t had many people ask if she’s a puppy anymore. She has some age spots on her nose and belly, and a fatty lump on her leg that is persistently growing larger. After a toe injury earlier this year, she seems to have a permanently enlarged, perhaps arthritic, toe joint on her front left paw.

But I will take all that, because Zara still has her energy and zest for life. I can’t say she’s really slowed down much. Yes, she’s less of a whirling tornado than she was at a year and a half, but she still needs a startling amount of exercise and attention. All I can hope is that she will continue to stay healthy and be able to go on adventures for many more years.

Zara at her first birthday party with her sister Lily

Zara’s sire and dam are both alive and doing well. Her sire, Bull, who is a field trial champion many times over, is 13 years old. Her dam, Caiya, who is also a field trial dog, is 11. Caiya’s dam, Zara’s grandmother Blaze, lived to be 16. As far as I know, all of her six of Zara’s siblings are also healthy. So that is something.

But I am also realistic. I know that she will not live forever. I know that her hunting career will not last forever. That’s one of the reasons why I was so upset when she earned a Prize 2 in the NAVHDA Utility Test last week. Earning a Prize 1 means that you can go the yearly NAVHDA Invitational, the highest level of NAVHDA testing. Earning a Prize 2 means you cannot.

If she had gotten a Prize 1, we could have gone to the 2021 Invitational, which will be held next September. By then, Zara will be nearly eight years old. But since she didn’t get a Prize 1, I’d have to try again next year and try to qualify for the 2022 Invitational. She’d be almost nine in 2022. I’d like to think she’d be fine at nine. But she might not. Would she have the stamina to run an hour long field brace in hot weather? I don’t know.

I haven’t decided whether I will test her in Utility again. I was leaning toward no before this test, but I will leave the door open. I will see how this fall and winter go. I’m going to enter her in some field trials and try to earn her AKC Master Hunter title. And hopefully do some wild bird hunting.

Regardless, I know we still have a lot of things to accomplish together.

Happy seventh birthday, baby girl.

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