Judging by the look on her face, Gracie, a 6-year-old golden retriever, is proud of herself. Judging by the ribbons and trophies arranged around her, she deserves to be. Gracie recently earned fourth-place in the 20-inch preferred agility category in the National Agility Championship in Tulsa, Ok.
“She has numerous titles in agility, including her two American Kennel Club Preferred Agility Championships — PACH (Preferred Agility Championship) and PAX (Preferred Agility Excellent), which are different from Nationals,” said Jill Blackwell of Homer, with whom the Kodiak-born canine has lived since she was seven-weeks old.
By the time Gracie joined Blackwell’s household, Blackwell was involved in training another golden retriever, Ellie. She immediately began training Gracie with Debora Donahue, Homer Dog Trainers, the Kenai Kennel Club, Dog Works in Sterling and in Blackwell’s yard.
“And we have trained at the Homer Dog Trainers’ puppy class, obedience classes and agility,” said Blackwell.
What you can’t see by looking at Gracie’s photo is the bumpy road her health has taken.
“Gracie was diagnosed on Sept. 2 with soft tissue sarcoma-grade 3,” said Blackwell.
Radiation was needed, but not available in Alaska for dogs, so Blackwell and Gracie headed to the Colorado State University of Veterinary Cancer Research Center on Sept. 11.
“We spent four and a half months undergoing another small surgery for more biopsies, 18 radiation treatments over a period of one month, and after a two-week break, she began five chemo treatments over a period of 15 weeks,” said Blackwell. “Gracie is cancer free.”
While in Colorado, Gracie continued to take agility classes, entered two competitions in Utah and competed in the AKC nationals.
“You would never know what she went through except for loss of hair and her bald spot from radiation,” said Blackwell.
All that makes Gracie the perfect poster dog for training and for April being National Pet First Aid Awareness Month.
“About nine years ago we were getting calls from people needing help with their dogs,” said Pat Moss, one of the founders of Homer Dog Trainers. “We went to Homer Animal Friends and asked if we could work under their umbrella and they said absolutely.”
With more dogs relinquished to shelters as a result of behavior problems than ever die from parvo or distemper, Moss said lowering the number of dogs turned into shelters has become HDT’s mission as well as the reason she emphasizes the importance of puppy socialization.
“The first six weeks of your life with your puppy can determine whether you’ll spend the next 10 to 16 years living with a dog who is a reliable member of the family or living with a dog with ‘issues.’ Great dogs are not born that way; they are created by thoughtful, dedicated owners,” said Moss.
That doesn’t mean old dogs can’t be taught new tricks, however. In addition to puppy kindergarten, HDT also offers “family dog” classes.
“It’s just basically teaching dog manners and basic obedience, to sit, come, how to walk on a leash,” said Moss.
Other classes include “nose work,” focusing on what dogs love to do: use their noses. Dogs are given opportunities to follow the scents of food and sweet birch oil, with trials and tests included.
When it comes to training, humans are just as important as canines.
“The dog is 100 percent dog. As people we need to give them our rules, and so we work together,” said Moss. “The dogs will do what they will do. We can guide them.”
Blackwell and Gracie illustrate that human-canine teamwork.
“(Blackwell) and her dedication to her dogs is an inspiration to us all,” said Moss.
Homer Dog Trainers
A nonprofit organization under the umbrella of Homer Animal Friends. All instructors are volunteer.
Email: homerdog firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: Pat Moss, 235-8053; Tracie Fellows, 399-0630;
Pat Boone, 235-3779
Agility: Classes are determined by level of interest. Fee is a sliding scale, beginning with six classes for $100.
Family Dog: Five classes with 10 hours of instruction, $125.
Puppy Kindergarten: An opportunity for puppies to explore new things, meet new people and begin learning basic obedience. Meets every Thursday throughout the year except for holidays; four classes for $65.
Tuesday Tune-ups: Held elvery first and third Tuesday,
$15 a night.
Nose Work: Introduction class April 20, new classes beginning in May; six classes for $60.
New: The “Buster Program,” working at the Homer Animal Shelter to help identify dogs’ individual qualities as a guide for potential new homes, provide walks and some training for shelter dogs, training individuals interested in spending time with shelter dogs. Call HDT for information.