24: From Foster to Agility Champ

24: From Foster to Agility Champ

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Dog Did What?

From Foster to Agility Champ

Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.

~Anatole France

I first met Keta at an adoption clinic being held by an animal rescue organization in my old neighbourhood. I went to say hello to all my friends from the dog park—people that I used to see a couple of times a day before I moved. My friends were all there—and so were Keta and her puppies.

Keta had been a breeding dog for a “backyard breeder”—really just a small-scale puppy mill. The rescue group picked up her and her puppies, cleaned them and vetted them, then put them up for adoption. Her puppies were the star attraction at the adoption clinic and were quickly adopted. When she saw her last puppy walk out the door, poor Keta went to pieces—howling, crying, and shaking.

Keta was only about a year and a half old at the time, in good health, and a good-looking German Shepherd-Lab mix. But no potential adopters came for Keta that day—no wonder, since she was such an emotional wreck at the time. At the end of the clinic, all of us still there were in tears. “She can’t go back to the shelter!” the rescue volunteers said. And then, looking at me, said, “Why don’t you take her home to foster?”

I already had a large German Shepherd mix at home. I didn’t really need another large dog. But I took Keta home with me that day, and she has been there ever since.

The next year, I decided to try agility with my dogs. Agility is a team sport for handler and dog. The handler directs the dog around a timed obstacle course that includes jumps, tunnels, an A-frame, weave poles, and a seesaw. If the dog takes the obstacles in the correct order, without knocking down any jump bars, and is under course time, it is called a qualifying run, or Q. Earning a Q entitles you to a ribbon or rosette. The goal is to collect Qs in order to earn titles at higher levels. With each title comes another rosette, usually a large one at that!

All that summer and the next, Keta and I practiced. We enjoyed it, but I never thought we would enter competitions—those were for professionals! But in our third summer of lessons, when Keta was five years old, I decided to enter an upcoming competition. Keta was amazing! We Q’d almost every event we entered. I was hooked. Once you start earning those rosettes, it’s hard to stop!

Over the next few years, we entered more and more competitions. Keta really loved running in the agility ring. People would often comment, saying, “I just love watching you two run. Keta looks like she is enjoying herself so much!” Personally, I think Keta always had her eye on the cookies she would get after the run. She always picked up speed on the last three or four obstacles!

Keta was never that fast—but she was fast enough to be under course time. And she was consistent, rarely going off course or dropping a jump bar. Keta qualified for the Agility Association of Canada National Championships in four consecutive regional competitions, and even placed second in her division in 2010—our first and only time on the podium!

From her rather inauspicious start, the doubts about her speed, her problems with hip dysplasia and arthritis—Keta overcame all of her own obstacles and earned a Lifetime Award of Excellence at the age of nine and a half. Earlier in Keta’s agility career I had met a couple of people who had reached the Lifetime level. At that time, I never dreamed that we would complete the 225 runs required for the award!

My journey into agility with Keta has truly been a wonderful experience. I have spent quite a large number of my weekends at agility trials, in beautiful and not so beautiful weather. I have learned a lot more about dog training. I have bought dog crates, dog warm-up coats, supplements, and agility practice equipment. I have met a whole group of wonderful people at the trials, people who truly care about their dogs, and about the sport—and who cheer you on through your difficult periods and celebrate with you when you succeed. And, by spending so much time practicing, travelling, and competing together, Keta and I became a true team, attuned to each other’s moods and energy, and enjoying every minute of our journey together.

I am so proud of my little girl. I knew when I brought her home I was changing her life, but I had no idea she would change mine! We achieved goals I never even thought possible. More importantly, running in the ring with Keta has shown me that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s running joyfully that counts. And maybe making sure there are plenty of treats thrown in along the way!

~Beverley Stevens

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