Posted Date: October 19, 2016
Our next profile of a shelter dog competing in USDAA agility is of Ash and his owner, Kristen Wheeler.
Ash's owner and handler, Kristen Wheeler, relates the story of how she came to adopt him and their life together:
"Ash is a nine-year-old Chow mix that I adopted from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona back in 2008. I had planned to adopt a dog soon after college, and I had done some research on a few different herding breeds. I went down to the shelter to check out a few dogs I had seen online. While I was there, I didn't really click with any of the dogs I had gone there to check out, and was heading to leave, when a volunteer was coming back in the door from a walk with Ash. He immediately pushed up against me asking for petting. He climbed in my lap and gave me kisses, and that's all she wrote. I had to take him home with me.
Ash's favorite activity his entire life has been to run around in circles as fast as possible. When he was young, I would take him to the dog park, and he would run and run and run. Just running laps at top speed around the perimeter of the dog park. He didn't need anyone to play with him, he just wanted to run. People would come up and tell me, "He's so fast! You should do agility, you'd definitely win!" I had seen agility on TV, and had always been interested.
We signed up for a class, and for a while, Ash was definitely the best dog in his class. He loved working for treats, and did everything at top speed. But then, once we moved onto to running full courses, Ash got way too excited and started incorporating his love of running around in circles into his agility runs. He was proud to be called the "king of zoomies" or the "comic relief" at a trial. At some point, the star of the class turned into an independent, stubborn Chow who wanted to have fun his way, not mine. It became a HUGE challenge to try to train him. Unfortunately, little did I know when I started, his love of speed, the thing that made people think he would be awesome at agility was actually the thing that made him hardest to train. All he wanted to do was RUN. Ash's antics became quite frustrating, but I loved my dog, and loved seeing him have fun, so we kept trying.
Eventually, through a lot of hard work, I saw a lot of improvement in focus, and we started having a lot more good runs than bad. We got a lot of Qs in titling classes and tournaments, got a lot of titles, and moved up to the Masters level in several venues. Then, two years ago, he started slowing down a lot. People would tell me, "Ash has really matured, that's great he doesn't run all crazy anymore," but I knew something was wrong. It turned out that he had hip dysplasia caused by an injury to his left hip. This led to arthritis which was severe for a seven-year-old dog.
The vet told me to keep doing agility to try to keep his muscles strong, but he couldn't do more than two runs a day without becoming very sore. A few months later, he had hip surgery to remove the arthritic hip and had to sit on the sidelines and watch me run my other dog, Indie, at trials for about six to seven months while he recovered.
A year ago, we were allowed to start doing agility again. We trained for a month or so, and then I entered him in a USDAA trial in just one run to see how he'd do. Ash was SO excited to get to trial again. It was the most zoomy disaster we'd had in years. It was a TERRIBLE run, but I left the ring so excited that Ash was acting like himself again after a year of being in pain. We had a lot of work to do again, but I was just elated that I could continue to run agility with him.
Ash has been a huge challenge to train over the seven years he's been doing agility. At heart, he is a stubborn, independent Chow mix who just wants to have fun. We have ongoing challenges and struggles, but we have an amazing bond and we love to have fun together in agility. Ash will always be Ash, but I love him dearly and have accepted that while there will still occasionally be off days and NQs, we always have fun together! We are both very excited to have qualified to compete at Cynosport this year!"
Kristen Wheeler lives in Tucson, AZ and has been competing in agility for about six years with two mixed breeds: Ash (nine-years-old) and Indie (five-years-old). This year will be her first time at Cynosport. Ash will be competing in 12" PSJ and Performance MC Biathlon, and Indie in 16" PGP and PSJ.