By: Cathy Slusser
The best gift I ever received arrived on my 55th birthday in the form of an eight-week-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever. I named my gift Encore Performance. Her name signifies two things. She is the second Chesapeake Bay Retriever for our family, and we have a crazy tradition of naming our dogs after Buicks. Encore, or Cory as I came to call her, bonded with me from the first moment she climbed into my arms and looked me straight in the eye. She was mine. And I was hers.
It had been a long time since I had a dog of my own and an even longer time since I wasn’t too busy to train with that dog. We started in obedience classes, puppy, basic, and then, novice. She earned her AKC Canine Good Citizen title before she was six months old and her first two obedience titles by eighteen months. The showing and winning titles were fun, but the best part about Cory is that she doesn’t care what we do as long as we do it together.
Just before Cory’s second birthday, I received a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. It was quite a shock to a very active, usually healthy middle-aged woman. I would have liked to crawl into bed and disappear, but Cory would not let me. We had classes to attend and work to do! At one of those classes, a dog trainer suggested that I train Cory to be my service dog. Instead of a cane, Cory could help me balance! At last, a positive focus on my illness.
I found a service dog trainer and due to her obedience training, Cory passed with flying colors. We began a new journey together, and Cory could be with me every step of the way. She went with me to stores, work, restaurants and church. She learned to rest quietly under my seat no matter the circumstances, and I learned to protect her from uneducated people and children who wanted to pet her. Or worse. Once in the grocery store, a college-aged woman laid on the floor, grabbed Cory and started to wrestle with her! Really?
Our time as a service dog team came to an end when Cory was attacked by another dog while we were out in public one night. After that, Cory lost her confidence. I could no longer depend upon her, nor did I want to force her to go where she was afraid.
That is when I came to New Dawn. I knew Cory needed help and hoped that the New Dawn team would give me insight in how she could regain her confidence. Among several suggestions was a relatively new dog sport called K9 Nose Work. Allowing dogs to use their nose and naturally given talents has been proven to boost their confidence and alleviate anxiety. Cory and I advanced through the classes learning to search for the odors of birch, anise and clove. With each success, I saw her relaxing and getting stronger mentally. She loves solving puzzles and working independently. From her first day with me, our relationship was all about following my direction and lead. With Nose Work, I am just the “dope on the end of the rope”! Cory makes the decisions about where to look and when to tell me that she has made a “find”. And of course, in addition to holding the leash, my role is to bring the treats for reward! Cory loves her treats!
Thankfully, my leg and balance problems are better and now, Cory and I compete in Nose Work trials. She earned her Nose Work II title from the National Association of Canine Scent Work and three other titles from the American Kennel Club.
In the six years that Cory has been my best friend, I learned something important. We don’t compete for the titles and ribbons. We compete to spend time together. I love watching my girl charge into a room past a gathering of strangers with only one thing on her mind. She’s not worried about anyone hurting her. She’s just after odor, so you better get out of her way.