Remembering Zam

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Sunset’s Chocolate Zamboni “Zam”


August 13, 2002 - June 6, 2017

Oh, my nose!

I’d be lying if I said you were an “easy” dog. As an agility partner, you were just this side of impossible. You designed your own courses, used the table as a launching pad, visited judges and ring stewards, and jumped over the ring gates to visit your friends. You once dock-dove off the top of the A-frame—prompting audible gasps from the audience and scaring me half to death—only to land solidly on your feet and keep on running into the tunnel ahead. And those were your good days!

As an adolescent, you were a punk. When we were at the park one day, I leashed you up quickly to prevent you from chasing after some sort of wildlife. You pulled suddenly and mightily with your full heft, caught me off-balance, and dragged me face-first through pricker bushes in your quest to go play with said wildlife. Playfully, you preyed on small, stick-wielding children in the park, sometimes snatching the sticks out of their tiny hands and running off with them before I could catch you. You caught on quickly that the small ones were easy targets.

You were so obsessed with chasing toys in water that you once broke my nose with the force of your thick cranium, slamming into me when I bent over to pick up a ball and throw it into the lake for you. When I slumped to the ground, doubled over in pain, bleeding heavily, and nearly unconscious, your only response was an indignant, “Get up! Why have you stopped throwing my ball for me?” You were not impressed that your ball-fetching time was cut short by a trip to the emergency room.

Photo by Marshall Wolff.
When we tried to take you canoeing, you rocked the canoe so hard you nearly capsized it at least five times, leaping into the water over and over again, until we finally gave up and paddled back to shore. The strength of two adults was not nearly enough to hoist a soaking wet, life-jacketed Labrador into a canoe any longer than that. It might have worked better if we’d tied the canoe to your life jacket and had you pull us instead!

Any time a bystander would comment on what a good, well-behaved dog you were and how lucky I was to have such a good dog, I would just smile. With memories of pricker bushes and a broken nose never far from the front of my mind, I’d think to myself, “Yup. I’m the lucky one.”

My companion and teacher

Honestly, I was very lucky to have you in my life for almost 15 years. In all our pursuits—from agility, nose work, and training demos to hikes, vacations, and car trips—I am grateful to have had you as a companion.

During a hands-on training workshop at a ClickerExpo conference, you convinced me to trust you, a social-butterfly Labrador in a room packed with people and dogs, to lead my completely blindfolded self halfway across the room to a specific chair. And you did it swiftly and accurately, leading those around us to applaud.

As my Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) training partner, you made me look good: you were happy and comfortable in the workshops, totally focused on the training tasks at hand, and always ready to spring into action and get to work. You were a fun dog to work with on shaping new behaviors. You were unflappable. You never got frustrated during a training session and were ALWAYS willing to try new things. Every time the clicker and treat bag came out, you wagged your tail with so much vigor and enthusiasm that I became convinced it might one day detach from your backside.

Zam and little brother Blink.
You were fearless, confident, loved 100% of the people you met, and had a special affinity for all kids and puppies. You helped me raise a Lab puppy and then a border collie puppy, accepting your little sister and brother into the family immediately and without complaint. You helped make a house feel like home to them by providing companionship and allowing them to cuddle up with you, share your humans and your space, and play with your toys any time they wanted.

I could take you anywhere with me—outings, vacations, agility and nose work trials, weekend training seminars, hotels, other peoples’ houses, and even a gigantic veterinary conference. I could trust that you would be well behaved and completely comfortable in any environment. You greeted every visitor as if they were your best friend, whether you’d met them before or not. That exuberant, tail-wagging Labradorian greeting was part of your trademark sociability.

You taught me patience, creativity, and how to work with the dog I’ve got.
Although you were far from perfect as an agility dog, you somehow managed to earn championship titles in two USDAA classes and 9 out of 10 championship legs in a third class. Snooker, Jumpers, and Gamblers were your forte, and you were kind enough to pull it together and reward me with a wall full of ribbons. Run after run, trial after trial, you taught me patience, creativity, and how to work with the dog I’ve got.

You loved going to the vet. I mean LOVED it. You wagged and bounced your way up to each vet and technician, with your desire to greet a friendly stranger always overriding any previous procedure that might have caused you discomfort. This irrepressible joy at greeting veterinarians carried through from puppyhood right up until your very last visit.

When you were diagnosed with kidney disease and your blood values looked pretty ominous, I pressed your vet to give me a best guess as to how long you had left. Hesitatingly, she said, “It’s hard to guess, and I hope I’m wrong ... but based on these numbers, maybe three to six months.” That was 19 months ago.

You were never one to go with the flow and do things the way they were “supposed” to be done. In the end, it wasn't even the kidney disease that got you. And, on your very last day with us, you managed to make the vet and I crack up with laughter at your antics. In death, just as in life, you did things on your own time and in your own way.

I am grateful for everything you taught me...
Zam, I am grateful for everything you taught me and for having you as a companion for almost 15 years. You broke my nose, and now you have broken my heart, but I’ve loved having you in my life. I know there will never be another dog quite like you.

About the author
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Lori Chamberland is a Karen Pryor Academy (KPA) Certified Training Partner (CTP). She also provides limited in-home dog training in the Hudson, MA, area. A canine sports enthusiast, Lori and her dogs have competed in agility, K9 Nose Work, and Treibball.