BOOKS: Dogged Pursuit

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2009:

Dogged Pursuit: My year of competing Dusty,
the world’s least likely agility dog by Robert Rodi
Hudson Street Press (c/o Penguin, 375 Hudson St., New York, NY
10014), 2009.
288 pages, hardcover. $24.95.

Dusty the Sheltie spent his early life tied outside a
trailer. He endured savage Midwestern winters, blistering hot
summers, and crippling isolation. Demented teens pelted him with
stones. Food and water were probably scarce. He probably never saw
a veterinarian. Somehow he found refuge with Central Illinois Sheltie
Chicago resident Robert Rodi and his dog Carmen, also a
Sheltie, were newcomers on the agility circuit. Carmen won a few
novice awards, encouraging Rodi to pursue more challenging courses.
He enrolled in weekly classes to hone their skills, but hip
dysplasia abruptly ended Carmen’s short but potentially successful
agility career.

Rodi missed weekends on the agility circuit. He was still
welcome to attend, watch, and visit, but he needed a competitive
dog to be a full participant. He found dusty on the Central Illinois
Sheltie Rescue web site.
“Dusty broke the mold,” says Rodi. “He looked, well, funny.”
As an outside dog, Dusty lacked socialization. He hid when
Rodi came to adopt him, lunged at other dogs on walks in their
Chicago neighborhood, and sometimes aimed for people.
Behavior training proved essential before Dusty could be
introduced to agility work, but agility training gave him something
constructive to do with his energy. Rodi took him to the same
agility classes he had attended with Carmen. Rodi and Carmen had
worked up to the advanced level. He and Dusty started as novices.
“Well, he did jump,” Rodi shrugged after their first session.
Rodi persisted even though Dusty resisted learning agility
routines. “He responded to no incentive known to man,” Rodi says.
Dusty adjusted somewhat at home, but in class he would completely
shut down. Still, Rodi refused to give up. He entered Dusty in a
trial, and was proud of Dusty’s performance as he dashed through
weave poles, teeters, tires and broad jumps. His times were too
slow to qualify for the finals, but his showing was respectable.
At subsequent competitions Dusty sometimes performed
adequately, but oher times was distracted and refused to follow
Rodi’s commands. Yet he improved enough to earn a blue ribbon.
Calling Dusty his little hero, Rodi entered him in more
competitions. Dusty won a few more awards. Yet his performances
remained inconsistent. At key moments he balked, losing points.
Still, Rodi was pleased by Dusty’s hard work. He didn’t scold or
berate his dog. “We not only enjoyed ourselves but strengthened our
rapport,” Rodi says.
Star status as an agility dog eluded Dusty. But even though
he spent his earliest years chained outside with no training, he
enjoyed some success. He made friends. And Rodi loves and adores him.
Dogged Pursuit is a delightful book about the inner world of
the highly competitive agility circuit, the hours of training
involved, and the companionship that evolves among training clubs.
This book should interest anyone involved or considering agility. It
requires hard work, dedication and commitment. Of course Dogged
Pursuit is also a good “rescued dog” story. Dusty’s rise from trailer
park dog to the agility circuit is inspirational, even if he doesn’t
nab the top awards.
Rodi eventually retired Dusty. but remained involved in
agility by adopting a collie. –Debra J. White

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