I met my first Ridgeback in Germany (2001), while stationed at the American Consulate as a Marine Security Guard. The dog struck me as so unique, and powerful. He was so regal, well behaved, and well maintained. I spoke through the intercom to the owner to ask what breed he was, the response was, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. I researched about them for the next several years. I was sure when I returned to the US, that I wanted a Ridgeback. Once back on US soil, I was re-assigned to the Pentagon, working a shift type schedule. I knew it would not be appropriate to raise a puppy with such a crazy schedule. I continued to wait, and research as much as I could about the breed.
Another year passed before I received orders to Camp Lejeune, in North Carolina. Upon receiving orders, I immediately began looking for a house with a yard, and a breeder who would be having Ridgeback puppies. I contacted several breeders... some not so good, and some reputable. I didn't know what to look for, the right questions to ask and I did not have anyone to guide me. I also had one thing against me... I was an active duty Marine. Most reputable breeders are quite leery of placing a puppy in a home with any active duty military member. Their fear is that the owner will be deployed, and the puppy forgotten about, and returned to the breeder, or worse, dumped in a shelter. The breeder I ended up making contact with, was a backyard breeder. I did not know this, and they seemed nice, and cared for the puppies. I went to the breeder's in Virginia when Mika was 4 weeks old, to pick her out. They were little wrinkly bundles of fur that looked like over sized hamsters. They were unsteady on their feet, and were half asleep. I had no idea how to pick out a puppy. They were all so cute, I wanted them all. I chose one that had a white blaze on it's chest and white rear toes. She had a black face as well. I was to return in 4 weeks to pick her up. She was so cute I could hardly wait.
At 9 weeks, Mika was enrolled in a puppy kindergarten class. I attribute this class to her having very good canine language skills. Part of the class was supervised playtime and interacting with other puppies. For the next 8 weeks we went to class, and she played with the other puppies. At 5 months, Mika was finally housebroken. It was difficult because I worked all day, so I would come home during my lunch hour to let her out. She would go out to use the yard, and play, while I ate lunch. Then I had to go back to work.
I was spending every possible minute with her, teaching her the ways of the world while she taught me to slow down, be patient and wait for her. When Mika turned 6 months old, I got the news I had been dreading. I had to leave for 3 months to go to training in California. I could not take her with me. Fortunately, my dad was able to take care of her during this time, and when I returned, we picked up right where we left off.
Mika's adolescence was tough and trying, but I kept socializing her, and she went everywhere with me. By the time she was a year old, she was well behaved and trained. Exactly what I wanted in a dog. She reached the point where she was well behaved enough that she was able to accompany me to work. The Marines I worked with all loved her, and she was easily made into our officeMascot. She would go to visit everyone in their offices, and knew where Master Gunny kept the treats in his desk. She would trot into his office, and sit down next to him and he would laugh at her, shake her paw, and give her a treat. She had that rough, combat veteran of a Marine wrapped around her paw. If there was ever a day she didn't come, the office was a stark, quiet place without her.
Just before Mika's second birthday, we went on one of our many trips to the local pet store chain. We came out of the vet office, and low and behold... there was another Ridgeback. He was attending the training classes with his owner. While we were standing there chatting, another Ridgeback walked up. What a surprise! Since I had brought Mika home, I had not seen another Ridgeback, anywhere. We all exchanged numbers and emails and several years of doggy play dates on the beach, and in the woods of Camp Lejeune ensued. In the meantime, we were invited to a "Lure Coursing" event. I wasn't sure what it was all about, but when we arrived we let Mika try a practice run. She immediately knew what to do as her instincts kicked in, and chased the white plastic bags all over the course on the field. This is how we got started in the dog fancy, and in canine competition.
Mika continued coursing, and then Khoi came to live with us in 2007, from Tam Lyn Ridgebacks. At that point I knew how horrible Mika's puppyhood had really been, and how much difficulty I really had at that time. I acquired Khoi through the stud-dog owner who provided loads of information and advice. And Khoi knew that the potty was outside! What a difference!
When Khoi first came home, Mika was quite upset. She had been the "only dog" for three years, and who was this horribly behaved 20 pound puppy I had brought home? Now she had to share her treats, and beds, and attention..... Soon enough, Mika warmed up and decided that I had brought her a playmate. Before long, they were inseparable and lifelong friends.
As Khoi started in the show ring, I started taking Rally Obedience classes with Mika. I felt she needed something to do at the shows, besides sit in the RV. She did okay in Rally, but I wouldn't really consider her the greatest obedience dog. Sure she listens well at home, and does all of her tricks... but in a ring surrounded by strange people and dogs, her attitude changed. Unless there was food in front of her face... she was not interested in obedience at all. We managed to squeeze our way through and earn a Rally Novice title.
One thing Mika did excel at was hunting, both in trial and on her own. We attended a few Hunting Ridgeback Association qualifiers and trials. Mika has an excellent nose, and even works well with other dogs. She did very well in the few trials we were able to make it to, and she loved it.
Mika continued to course, earning a total of 23 ASFA points and 16 AKC points with one major. She earned her AKC Master Courser title (25 clean coursing runs), but never earned her Field Championship. As she got older she tried to outsmart the bunny, which is not the way to earn points. She ran at the AKC Lure Coursing National Championship in 2007 earning third place both days, and at the ASFA II in 2011. I retired Mika from lure coursing in Fall of 2011.
Mika has learned many tricks in her lifetime and she loves to show off... especially if there's food involved. She knows how to bow, roll over, play dead, give her paw, wave, give a kiss, high five, and a few others. She will wear costumes, coats, hats, harnesses, back-packs, sunglasses, and even shoes. She loves to swim, has been trained to drive on a cart, and will play fetch with a ball until your arm falls off. I swear she could even drive a 5-speed if I let her, as she watches my every move when we go for a ride in the car.
I can take Mika anywhere, in any situation, and I know that she will behave and I won't be stressed out or worried that she will act out. I attribute this to the amount of socialization she received as a puppy, and young dog. She loves to go bye-bye in the car, even if it's only down the street, and I can trust to leave her loose in the car.
She has gone on every vacation with me, and has proven time and time again how trustworthy she is and well behaved. She has spent time at my 90 year old grandparents house, and was happy just to lie on the floor and watch the goings on.
In November of 2013, a week before Thanksgiving, I noticed that Mika was struggling to poop. After a visit to the vet and a xray, it was determined that Mika had a rectal tumor the size of a lemon. Our regular vet would not do a biopsy due to the location of the tumor, and the high chance of infection. I received information for several oncologists in the area, and was told that the prognosis was unknown. There was no way to know how quicky the tumor was growing, nor how long it had been there. But, it was most certainly cancer. It was clear to me that it was very aggressive and fast growing since Mika had gone from completely normal to not normal in a few short days. I did some research of my own and discovered that the outcome after a rectal tumor removal was an average of 114 days of life. I decided that I did not want to put Mika through painful procedures and surgeries, only to have her quality of life severely diminished for a mere three months. It did not seem fair to me to put her through all of that. The vet sent us home with the advice to start her on Miralax to soften her bowel movements so she could continue to poop past the tumor. The Miralax began to work within 24 hours, and continued to work for three days.
The day before Thanksgiving, I received a call from my mother. My 89 year old grandmother was not doing well, and the prognosis was 24 hours or less. She had Alzheimer's for the last decade or more and her end of life was nearing. We jumped in the car with Mika and drove to Michigan. We arrived around 4am at the nursing home. My grandfather was there, and had been sitting up with grandma all night. He rushed us off to go get some sleep. We arrived at my Aunt's house at about 5am or so, and got settled in to get a few hours of sleep. Mika was whining so we took her out to pee at about six. She continuously tried to pee, but nothing was happening. At this point she had not pooped for four days, but had continued to eat and drink normally. We went to bed, and Mika woke us again around 8am whining. I took her out to pee again to no avail. She could neither poop or pee and her system was completely backed up. She was whining and uncomfortable and could not sit still. She tried and tried to pee. I couldn't watch her struggle anymore.
Thanksgiving morning, I contacted the Emergency Vet at Michigan State
University, and they told me to bring her in immediately. Mika paced and
whined in the truck the whole way to Lansing, quite unlike her. Upon
our arrival, there was really nothing more they could do. She was
already so backed up, and we already knew what had to be done. Mika's
system could no longer function with the tumor blocking the way. They
put us into a nice room with a sofa and large windows. It was carpeted
with nice furnishings, and made us feel more at ease; for the decision
we knew had to be made.
It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.
We allowed Mika onto the sofa to rest. She was so uncomfortable. She settled down after a few minutes, and let out a big breath. Soon they came and took her away so they could put a catheter into her front leg.
She was returned a few minutes later, and we put down her fuzzy bed on the sofa for her to lie on. We sat at her head and comforted her as they administered the sedative to make her sleepy. She became sedated very quickly, and the second drug followed soon after. We watched, held her, told her she was a good girl and cried as the life slipped from her. Her heart stopped beating and her soul left her body. She was gone.
She was my good, best, girl. My pretty girl, my puppy. My confidant, my protector.
I was fortunate
to have Mika in my life, as she truly was a once in a lifetime dog.
We went through so much together; she was my rock, and protector. Mika
had the best life any dog can have, living the life of four normal dogs
in her short nine and a half years.
She left this earth with dignity, never missing a meal, and being my protector until the very end. I will always feel like a very big piece of me has gone with her.