I love learning new things and doing new things, and six or seven years ago, on a whim, I came up with a plan that every year I’ll make sure I have at least six new experiences. Sort of like a bucket list, but starting early. Since then, I keep a list each year of all the things I do that I’d never done before.

That first year I went to Crufts for the first time, so being in England and going to that amazing dog show were new experiences for me. Later that year some friends and I went to a place in Southern California where you make and bottle your own wine. (Yes, really, we actually made our own red wine from fresh grape and other fruit juice, a special kind of filtered water and, if I remember correctly, a kind of yeast, then left it to rest for a few weeks and went back and bottled and labeled it!) The same year I took one of my Toy Poodles to obedience school, something I had never done, and at Christmas I made chocolate-covered cherries in my own kitchen, quite a unique and, as it turned out, rewarding experience. Since then I’ve continued to try to have at least six experiences each year that I’ve never had before, and because doing things with my dogs is one of my favorite things in life, I promise myself always to include them in at least one, if not more, of those experiences.

Crufts is unequivocally a unique and grand experience.

So in 2012, as you may remember, I went to my first Coursing Ability, or CAT trial with my Norwich, Punkin. I have several plans for new experiences in 2013 that involve my dogs. One is to try earthdog with Punkin. The other new thing I’m going to do this year involves Ruthie, my little black Toy Poodle girl who has PRA, or progressive retinal atrophy, an inherited eye disease in which, as its name indicates, the retina atrophies, or wastes away, over a period of time, causing blindness.

The experience of living with a dog that has PRA is another story, one I’ll share with readers sometime. But at age 9, in the daylight, Ruthie can still see things or people that make large movements and it seems that she can still generally see large objects during the day. When she’s on her own, she relies a lot on things being the same today as they were yesterday, or last month. At night she doesn’t seem to be able to see much of anything now, except in a very well-lit room. Ruthie DNA-tested positive for PRA when she was a puppy, so I knew this would come eventually. The veterinary ophthalmologist in Dallas said there was a chance I wouldn’t notice any signs of vision loss until she was a “senior” dog, but we weren’t that lucky. It was about five years ago that I first noticed that, at the two-story house where I lived in California, my other dogs would race down the stairs at night or in the wee hours of the morning like they were on their way to a fire, but Ruthie slowly and carefully crept down step by step if it was dark.

Ruthie is one of those dogs that makes every person she meets feel that she adores them above all other people she’s ever met. People are drawn to her, and she to them. She was sweet and appealing to strangers when she was younger, but her temperament has become even dearer as she ages. All of my dogs have always been friendly, but with Ruthie it’s something more. I’ve always said that I’m just her caretaker. Ruthie belongs to the world, not to me.

Although she lives with me, Ruthie is a special citizen of the world.

So this year I’m going to share Ruthie, one of my favorite creatures on the planet, with people who are in need. We are beginning therapy dog school this very weekend, and it runs for six weeks. With a disability of her own, and a heart twice the size of any other 8-pound dog I’ve ever known, I’m certain she’ll be good at whatever kind of therapy we try. I know that she will enjoy it as much as anyone she visits.

Maybe in 2013 you’ll think about doing something “new” with your dog. There are so many things to experience with our dogs these days! I’ll let you know how Punkin’s first earthdog experience goes, and I’ll also keep you informed about Ruthie becoming a therapy dog.