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The Perfect Pair

An interview with Lis' Kristof, who, with her Chinese Crested, earned the ADCH despite incredible adversity.  By Brenna Fender

Sometimes in life, a dog and human form the perfect partnership.  Well matched in personality and enthusiasm, this kind of dog and owner relationship is as rare as it is wonderful. It's almost as if two creatures of different species seem to share the same thoughts, and the two come to an understanding that the rest of the "dog world" envies.

Lis' Kristof and her four-year-old Chinese Crested, Diva, are that kind of pair.  These days, Diva leaves Lis' only out of necessity, bravely trying to protect her from terminal illness.  Her presence is a comfort like no other during bed-bound days.  But there was a time when these roles were reversed.  Lis' just as single-mindedly nursed Diva back to health after a knee surgery that veterinarians inaccurately predicted would end her agility career.

It was only weeks ago that these two triumphed in the agility ring.  On April 12, 2008, at the Dallas Agility Working Group trial under judge Joe Sare, Diva became only the second of her breed to earn the coveted ADCH.  On the weekend that Lis' knew would be her final chance in the agility ring, the two earned the last Q they would ever need. 

Lis', who was born in New Zealand but lives in Dallas, Texas, and Diva had many impressive accomplishments in the agility game.  For example, Diva won High in Trial in agility at the American Chinese Crested Club's first National Specialty in the company of several MACH dogs.  She took HIT at a "toy group only" trial held on the third day of those Nationals. Lis' also handled Alicia Ward's Crested, Snowbird, regularly, and took HIT on the second day of that trial with her. Lis' was very pleased at that "clean sweep."

Photo by Vern Steinman

Before Diva had to take up her bedside vigil, I was able to talk to Lis' about the experience of earning the ADCH, and about the challenges she faced as her little naked dog tackled the sport's biggest obstacles.  Here are her answers.

BF: How did you get involved in agility? 

LK: I did Rottie Rescue and took my rescues to obedience at the Dog Training Club of Tampa.  I saw agility and put my own Rottie [Kumba, who is now at the Rainbow Bridge] into agility.  I then had my rescue BC, Wicket, who did obedience and then agility with DTCT.

BF:  How did you go from Rotties to Chinese Cresteds? 

LK: I met and fell in love with Snowbird, a wonderful, fun dog who I have handled in agility for the past six years.  Bird had a couple of legs in Novice when I got her, and we have had an absolute ball together.  I knew in 2000 that I had breast cancer, so I had decided I needed to downsize any future dogs to make it easier for me.

Snowbird's breeder had a litter on the ground and I just fell in love with Diva. If you had seen her baby pics you would have seen that she was just a little pink and white naked puppy with old-soul eyes and a little devil of a smile.  I believe Diva was chosen for me to help me through my journey in life. 

BF: How did Diva get her name? 

LK: [Laughs] Just look at her, she is such a diva.  She loves all the good things in life, especially citrus fruit, roasted chicken, and of course a wardrobe that I love to spend time on making!

BF: Describe your first experiences in agility with Diva. 

LK: Diva started classes with Laura Yarbrough of Chuting Stars Dog Agility in Carrollton, Texas.  Diva is a little shy and does not like loud barking dogs or big dark dogs rushing her, so it's taken a lot of time and patience to work through these issues.  She was attacked when she was younger and that fear has stuck with her, but she never breaks a start line stay, and even when scared, will never stop working for me.

Photo by Vern Steinman

BF: What's your training philosophy?                          

LK: Be consistent.  Whether you are at home, on a walk, or on the field, don't confuse your dog.

BF: Do you use a particular handling system? 

LK: Greg Derrett and Susan Garrett, along with Laura Yarbrough, have been the biggest influences on how I work with my dogs.   I teach my own type of running contacts, and have for a long time; it was left over from my days in the show jumping world of horses.  I love using stride regulators and double targeting to teach the dogs to move and drive on.

BF: Have you found there to be challenges to competing in agility with a hairless dog?

LK: Temperature!  I recall one day in south Texas in the winter Diva was first dog on the line in standard.  It was freezing cold.  Diva hit the table, downed, and when she went to get up you could see her skin was sticking to the table.  She just pulled it off and continued, and didn't worry about the table after that. 

The teeter has been tough. Diva had a knee replacement before her third birthday, and the jar of the teeter does affect her. she doesn't go all the way down, and then when it hits she prefers to come off the side.  Before her surgery she had a perfect teeter, but one day the teeter bounced up and scratched her bottom up pretty badly.

BF: You've competed in agility with breeds of varying sizes.  What challenges did Diva have as a small dog

LK: Diva jumps 12" in USDAA Championship height and 8" in all other venues.  She will now be jumping 8" in all venues.  The teeter is probably where I find it the most different; it is so hard on the little dogs' knees and shoulders.  As a breed, Cresteds are not bar knockers, and that was wonderful compared to the Rottie and my BC.  It's hard to keep [small dogs] in your peripheral vision being they are that much smaller.  Diva actually works at a distance better than any of the other dogs I have ever trained, but then I think she has a bigger heart than anything I have ever trained!


BF: Tell us about Diva's knee problem.

LK: Diva was born with a loose knee and I always knew it would need surgery.  I had surgeon after surgeon tell me she would never return to agility after she had her surgery at the age of three (one week after her 2006 USDAA Nationals appearance). I found a surgeon who believed in her as much as I did, and she had the surgery November 13, 2006.  We won the American Chinese Crested Club Agility Specialty in May 2007!  Two weeks later my wonderful surgeon, Dr. Larry Putnam in Dallas, went back in just to make a couple of tightening tweaks and she has been perfect ever since. 

BF: What was the post-surgery recovery period like?

LK: The nice thing about little dogs is that Diva's rehab was pretty easy, first swimming against the jets in the hot tub (without the bubbles), then graduating to the swimming pool along with treadmill work, and then finally work on grass.  I have a dear friend, Terry Dyck from CM Streek Agility Training Center in Frankston, Texas, and we did lots of hill walking and walking in sand and it all helped build Diva up to where she is today.


BF: How did you know when it was time to return to agility? 

LK: I was on pins and needles for months afterwards, but once I saw her running through the woods, and jumping over logs and running up and down the creek bed, I knew she was feeling good enough to slowly start training.  I do not train a full height A-Frame - never have and never will.  She knows how to "charge" - she is perfect at it - so I go out of my way not to include it often (maybe one a month) in my training schedule.

BF: What was the most difficult part of completing your ADCH?

LK: The Super Qs.  We have some awesome little 12" dogs in North Texas and some very accomplished handlers.  It wasn't Diva that made it difficult, it was me.  My cancer was slowing me down and I just couldn't get to where I needed to be to get either the extra speed or points.  I think she has around 18 Snooker Qs.  Her first Super Q was when the 12" class was combined with 16", so I knew it would come, it just had to be the right course for me.

BF: What parts of the path to the ADCH did you and Diva just sail through?

LK: She is a great little jumper, and didn't miss a relay run.  The tournaments just piled up in 2006.  Her first Masters title was Tournament and Bronze quickly followed.


BF: Tell us about the day you finished the ADCH.

LK: There was only one Snooker class and it was on Saturday, April 12, 2008.  I had just been informed on the 8th that I had Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) and less than three weeks on this planet.  It had been a very, very emotional week for Diva (who is also a Certified Service Animal and had been up to the hospital daily with me from Tuesday until Friday), my friends, and myself.  We went in [to the trial] needing one Snooker Super Q leg.

Considering that I had gotten out of hospital late Friday afternoon, and had been in bed receiving so many blood products for four days, I was tired.  My friends rallied around and I truly believe it was all the support and prayers that got Diva and I around the course.  

BF: How did you celebrate?

LK: It was so surreal.  After such an emotional week for my friends and myself, it was like Diva gave us one more little "guardian" gift, and finally there were happy tears and dances.  That was the best celebration for me, seeing my friends smile happy tears and the joy that Diva had on her face.  She knew she did well.  I was so exhausted that I didn't celebrate like I would have liked, but Diva got some yummy goat roll and was a happy little camper.

Photo by Edie Atwell

We are back to hospital this week, and even though agility is a big part of my life, nothing beats having that little girl look over me when I'm hurting, or down and just laying in bed with no energy.  She lifts me up, protects me, lets the doctors and nurses know before test results even show if my blood is out of whack.  Diva is not an agility dog, she is my best friend, my guardian, and my princess - we just happen to play in the sport of agility.

I just wish people would forget about the mighty win, and have more joy in running their dogs.  Today I see many great dogs being pushed too hard and too fast.  I see too many dogs that have subtle injuries and are still be pushed.  Knocked bars, slow weaves, and regular wide turns are not normal for a dog in balance.  Don't blame your dog for these actions, instead see a chiropractor or a vet and help your dog.

I thank the entire agility community for everything over the past ten years.  I have met the best people in the world and have some of the most supportive and loving friends one could ever ask for.

Run fast, run happy!

Sadly, Lis' passed away on May 6th at about 8PM.  Our condolences go out to her family and friends. 

Diva. Photo by Lis' Kristof


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