This site and my company are named for a very special dog. I know every dog lover has a special dog. I’ve been blessed with several special dogs over the years, and all of them helped me in my work and all contributed to advancing my career. I also formed close bonds with all of them and appreciate what they did for my family and me. These dog’s drive and devotion make me look like a better dog trainer than I probably am. So, you may ask, reasonably, why not name my business Soldier, Ginger, Tatsa, Bashka, Marco or Midnight? There can only be one, first dog.
Kip enjoying a day at the beach
If you’ve had canine partners, you know that it’s not unusual for one of them to stand out, it’s also not unusual for that stand out to be your first one. Kip was the first arson dog and the first public service dog I trained and handled professionally. Kip and I investigated fires in homes, businesses, warehouses, chicken houses, horse barns, sports stadiums, cars, trucks, buses, boats and apartments among many other places. We rode on buses, in cars, trucks and on airplanes together. We traveled to a lot of places in the US and outside. We crawled through a lot of fire scenes together. I carried Kip on my shoulders up ladders so he could work attics and other hard to access places. I put him in spaces that were tight and dangerous. He never balked at anything I asked him to search and his work as an arson dog was outstanding as was his lab confirmation rate with fire debris samples.
Kip was more than a work dog, though he was a part of my family. Kip became a part of my life when my wife gave me a little fur ball of a Border Collie puppy for Christmas in 1994. I had no idea then what lay in store for he and I in the very near future and that he would become a top arson dog. It was obvious that Kip loved my family as much as I did, but there was never any doubt about whose partner he was.
When I started training Kip, I knew little to nothing about training detector dogs and even less about training arson dogs. Someone who barely knew more than I did, at that point in my dog training career, taught me their method and I tried to do things the way I was taught, but it didn’t work well at all and I soon realized I’d have to figure this out for myself. Kip, being the trooper that he was, showed me that there was a better way to train dogs. He never lost patience with me, no matter how badly I bungled the training. He struggled during training sessions to figure out what I wanted him to do and as soon as he figured it out he did it in spite of my early bumbling as a dog trainer.
There is no doubt that Kip is responsible for any success I’ve enjoyed as a dog trainer and a fire/explosion investigator. I created a successful dog training business that I’ve now passed on to my son, based on what Kip taught me about dog training. I have built on what Kip taught me, but he laid the groundwork for the business I developed. I’ve had other trainers ask me, “who taught you to train” or whose method do you follow”, expecting obviously, that I would name some old master somewhere, but there was no such person, there was Kip.
Kip also taught me what unconditional love is. Dogs may love differently to the way we do, but they do form strong bonds with and attachments to certain people and Kip and I did have a strong bond. People who saw us in public or at work together would often comment on what a great job I did training him. They had no idea that Kip taught me far more than I taught him. In addition to his outstanding work and how much people admired his obedience and his capability as an arson dog, Kip was my buddy.
In the Spring of 2009, after 15 years together, I had to let Kip go. When that time came, I wondered what life would be like without him by my side or waiting at home for me to return every day. Just a couple of years earlier, I had become Chief of Police and Director of Public safety, I was at the apex of my public service career and rarely got to work in the field any more. Kip had long been retired and his health had been declining for some time. I sadly watched him slowly age and become more and more decrepit as his body just wore out. He finally reached the point where he could no longer stand and walk unassisted. He was taking a lot of medications to help with pain. Eventually he just stopped eating, no matter what I offered. I realized that I was being incredibly selfish by keeping him around. I’d been picking him up and carrying him outside and steadying him while he relieved himself for some time. He would have accidents in his bed and this caused him a lot of consternation because Kip simply never, ever relieved himself inside.
My vet thought almost as much of Kip as I did. When the time for his final appointment came, she offered to come to my house because she knew how much Kip hated going to the vet’s office. As the time approached for her to arrive, I picked my buddy up and carried him out to the front yard for the last time. He could no longer chase a stick, but he still loved it and the attention that went with playing fetch. So, as we waited for the vet, I stood him in the yard and, though wobbly, he managed to stand on his own for a few minutes. I stood close by and easily tossed a stick to him a few times so he could catch it in his mouth and he seemed to enjoy it immensely.
The vet pulled into the yard and I had to steel myself for what was coming. The vet waited patiently as my family and I said our goodbyes. I sat down on the grass and pulled Kip into my lap. Kip looked up at me as if to say, it’s OK, bud, I’m ready for some relief. The vet put the IV in his leg and started administering the drugs that would finally ease his pain and suffering. As always, he never whimpered or made a sound when she inserted the needle. I held him close and watched as his life ebbed away and his eyes went blank. I kissed his check one last time and thanked him for all he had done for my family and I, and for being such a loyal partner for so many years. I stood up and carried his limp and lifeless body to my vet’s car. She had agreed to take care of having him cremated for me. As I watched her drive away, a piece of my soul went out the driveway with her. I keep his ashes with me, in an urn with his badge mounted on it. I’ll keep that with me until I’m gone, a reminder of what the words loyalty, commitment and friendship mean.
The most important thing I have though, are the memories we made together. Memories of the cases we worked and the things we went through together. Maybe now you can understand why I named my business after him. I never want to forget him or have his memory diminish. I think it’s an appropriate way for me to tell the world and remind myself what a gift I had in my first dog, a very special dog that can never be replaced. I hear people say that all dogs go to heaven. I don’t know, but if they do I hope God likes to throw sticks. R.I.P. buddy, we’ll take it from here.