Un-Still Life With Cavaliers: Reflections on Retirement or What Is An “Elmo?”

Posted by on Jun 1, 2015 in Blog, General | 8 comments

We made May 23, 2015 a very special day for Elmo.  But what is an “Elmo?”  This is not a random question, but a memory lodged in my brain which makes me smile every time it surfaces.  In the early days of Elmo’s agility career our friend Diane went to look at the running order to see when her Sheltie was running in the 12″ class.  Right after Elmo.  “Elmo,” she said, “What’s an ‘Elmo??'”

In a court of law we could now easily dismiss that question on the grounds that it has been asked and answered.  Everybody knows what an “Elmo” is, don’t they?  It’s elementary.  But is it really?  May 23, 2015 was Elmo’s last agility run.  I have anticipated and dreaded writing this post for a while now.  There is nothing like knowing that you are going to make yourself smile and cry at the same time.  Elmo does that to me, although the tears are joy just as often as they are sorrow.

In case you really don’t know, “Elmo” is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, male, and his color is called “Blenheim” (pronounced “blennum.”)  That means he’s red and white, and in his case mostly white.  He does wear a red mask which he thinks will keep witnesses from identifying him during the commission of a felony.  He is just about 10 years and 7 months old, a nice old age for a Cavalier, and he has Mitral Valve Disease, a heart ailment that affects most Cavaliers.  And he’s my first agility dog, from way back in the day when I still had hair.

Elmo was born in our home on November 1, All Saints’ Day, and he and his three litter-mates were named accordingly.  He is Sanflorian Saint Elmo’s Fire.  Not a fluffy red muppet, but a weather phenomenon, similar to lightning, that to early sailors was a sign of hope and salvation.  Of course Elmo has a lot of letters now before and after his name, agility titles with bronze and silver and gold and even platinum, just another sign that he is a champion many times over.

.Elmo 5 WeeksElmo 6 month

Lifetime Achievement Award and Performance Dog Champion-Bronze

Elmo wasn’t really supposed to stay, but our son picked him and we all fell right in line to fall in love with Elmo, and the rest is history.  Elmo was the first to leave the whelping box and venture across our bedroom.  It took Mrs. Sanflorian the longest to fall in love with him, because he is really good at getting on desks and tables and counters, but eventually she did and became his biggest fan.  Elmo is the reason we started dog agility and probably the reason we know almost everyone who is reading this blog.  Elmo is a phenomenon, a lot like lightning, and at times he has been my hope and salvation.  With occasional clouds and showers of course.  Elmo even has an RV named after him, which from a distance looks remarkably like a beer truck and that’s probably not a coincidence either.RV

Elmo is an unlikely agility athlete, cute and fluffy.  He won his height class in many local events.  He competed at a couple of AKC National Agility Championships and a couple of USDAA Cynosport World Games.  He was a USDAA Top Ten Performance Dog in the 12″ class among all breeds many times.  There were a few dogs he was never going to beat but he always made people smile.  After all, he was an “Elmo.”

I can’t tell you everything about Elmo, he is complicated.  Like the time he stopped dead up to his shoulders in a puddle at an outdoor agility trial in the pouring rain and just looked at me until I picked him up and carried him to safety.  Or when he tried to lead a merry band of Cavaliers to freedom by digging a tunnel under our back porch.  Or how he knows when I’ve had a bad day and just puts his head in my lap and snores.  Or climbs up on the back of the couch to lick my bald head.  I’ll throw in a couple more photos just because they are “Elmo,” at work and at play.


Photo by Val Duff


Photo by Great Dane Photos

Photo by Grace (Smith) Bassette

Photo by Grace Bassette



As Elmo passed the age of 10 I could feel his heart getting worse.  He still seems to enjoy agility, but it is now hard work for him.  Agility is supposed to be fun.  But dogs can get hurt doing agility, and I can feel him running out of gas on the course.  I know the feeling sometimes, I grow weary too.  So I made the decision to retire him on May 23, 2015.  You know your dog better than anyone else, despite appearances, don’t ever let anyone convince you your gut feelings are wrong.

I’m not going to argue or defend my decision to let him retire.  Some think he still looks good and I should let him run.  I know what an “Elmo” is, and right now an “Elmo” is a lapdog.  And a legend.

ElmoRetiredThe best part about it was that we got to have a retirement run.  So this is not a post-mortem, it is a celebration of an amazing career.  Retirement runs should be more common, but unfortunately we don’t all know when our dogs’ last runs will be.  Too many dogs pass before their time and not only do we grieve their passing but we feel deprived that we didn’t get to celebrate that last run.

So on May 23, 2015 in North Smithfield, Rhode Island we had a party.  Elmo ran his last agility run, in USDAA Veteran’s Jumpers.  The two-ring trial stopped, everyone cheered, there was music (theme song from the movie named after Elmo) and cake.  I cried and then I smiled.  It was a beautiful run, I have to say he looked pretty good, but I could still see him slowing down near the end.  You can watch it yourself here if you want, and so can I:

Elmo’s Retirement Run on YouTube

So now I have laughed some more and cried some more and Elmo is sleeping on a dog bed behind me, probably dreaming about chasing rabbits, digging holes or getting meatballs for doing agility.  At times like this I am reminded of a quote that a local Police Chief uses every year at a law enforcement awards dinner I attend, and it is most fitting for an “Elmo:”

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  -Dr. Seuss


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  1. Such a beautiful story! I love that you had that retirement run, wish I was there to cheer you both on! Happy retirement Elmo!

  2. Best. Cavalier. Ever. THAT’S what an Elmo is! And, pretty darned fast, too! He took home all the blue ribbons that day, and many more after that! Well run, Elmo!

  3. This made me cry happy tears, of course. It reminded me of when I retired my last dog. She was a month shy of her 16th birthday. She had gone deaf, but still wanted dearly to play. This was at a UKC trial in Escanaba, MI. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=OihjBMatDjQ This run was more to honor her than anything else! She lived to be 17years old. I now run a cavalier. I’m so glad that you got to honor your dog too, while he was still very much alive!

  4. so nice, a beautiful relationship :)

  5. Wishing you and Elmo MANY days filled with fun, bliss, and adventure. Your blog is wonderful,inspired writing. Happy retirement, Elmo!

  6. Sweet blog about a wonderful partner. I wish I could have been there to cheer you both on during his retirement run. What a wonderful gift he gave you: the opportunity to celebrate his retirement from agility. Not an easy decision to make, but no one knows Elmo like you do. You are so right that sometimes we don’t get that gift, when a dog is taken too young. I wish I could have chosen a retirement celebration date for Belle, instead of being blindsided by a highly aggressive cancer that took her far too young. I hope you have many more days, weeks and months ahead with Elmo by your side.

  7. what a wonderful day it was. So glad we were able to share it with you.We feel blessed to have Elmo’s son Leroy who we hope in some small way at least will carry on for his Dad. And that means having him run with you ffrom time to time as well. Love to you all

  8. So beautiful….. Sniff, sniff, sob….. I know Tivy’s day is coming (she will be 9 in August), and I only hope I can do it as well as you have with Elmo. They are such a very special part of our lives….