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A dog’s world: Recovering by leaps and bounds

Stephen Kasica
Vail, CO Colorado
TMG air dogs 2 KA 6-1-12
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VAIL – When Julie and Mike Kittinger adopted Henry as skinny, potato-sized puppy, they never intended him to be one of the strongest dogs in the field at the Eukanuba DockDogs Big Air competition at the Teva Mountain Games this year.

Like many of the adopted dogs competing in this field, it is about overcoming a history of neglect, abuse or adversity.

When they brought Henry home to Prairie Village, Kan., he developed problems. Puppy urine stains appeared hourly in their home. He compulsively scratched and chomped at his irritated coat. The Kittingers feared he was suffering from a food allergy and changed his diet, but still Henry snacked on grass in between meals – throwing up shortly afterward. Being the runt in a litter of six probably meant it wasn’t getting milk from its mother setting him up for these problems, Julie speculated.



“I don’t think we even considered to bring him back. You get so attached to this little guy,” said Julie.

The Kittingers experimented with vaccines, antibiotics, herbs and tried four different kinds of dog food. When none of these other treatments worked they volunteered Henry in a research study studying canine acupuncture. He underwent 14 sessions. After a year of trial and error, they discovered Henry’s stomach churns when it is filled with processed dog food. Now, a healthy Henry is on a raw diet, eating only raw beef, raw chicken, and raw pork – never Kibbles ‘n Bits.

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However, neither being a rescue nor of mixed breeding keeps dogs out of contention for the top prizes.

Today, Henry doesn’t show the signs that he once sported the rib-cage definition of a greyhound. Two weeks ago, at the Chicagoland DockDogs competition in Belvidere, Ill., Henry won second place in the Iron Dog event. His personal best is 25 feet, 11 inches, putting him in contention for the DockDogs’ highest designation: super elite.

The strongest competitor in the field, Otis, who was adopted by Rocky Mountain DockDogs treasurer Erika Jones. She got him as a puppy through a Denver shelter service at nine weeks old. In the 2011 World Iron Dog competition, he took 15th and was one of the five mixed breeds placed in the top 50 of that event.



Her newest dog, Kirby, was found emaciated in rural Nebraska, tethered to a tree. Despite only jumping for a year, he soared to a 20-3 mark on his first jump.

“You can get a dog that’s a true athlete but you find shelter dogs made for this, it’s natural,” said Heather Ratynski, president of the Rocky Mountain club, who competes with two rescue dogs.

Ms. Molly, a Jack Russell terrier, was headed for a shelter before Jennifer Gensler adopted her after her first family would no longer tolerate her hyper-active energy levels. During the preliminary round of the competition, she was meditating in the grass adjacent to the dock, sitting with eyes half-closed gently, taking in the sun. Gensler, who comes from Kansas City, Mo., said the dog used to chew down the corners of the couch and jet out of the house, roaming the neighborhood.

What often forces pet owners to give their animals to a shelter is what makes them good jumpers. What is considered hyperactive by an irritated pet owner is what these competitors call “toy-crazy,” a maniacal obsession over a toy that will coax a dog to jump off a ledge after it.

Deb Spinato knew she had a found a “toy-crazy” dog when she saw Ranger kicking a tennis ball with his paw and retrieving it himself in the rescue home neighboring her home. Ranger, who is partially blind in one eye, jumps 7-10 feet, but has made huge leaps in trusting people again Spinato said.

Training and competing in this sport can be therapeutic for dogs with a history of neglect and abuse. The level of attention necessary to compete in this event helps to reinforce a bond between human and dog that was previously corrupted with an abusive owner. And training a dog to leap off of a 2-foot dock into a pool of water with fans cheering and ringing cowbells can boost a previously shattered confidence. Jones says about a quarter of dogs competing nationwide are rescues.


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