Stray dog turns into a champ with training and a little TLC

Prior to meeting Michelle Gibbs at her dry cleaning business located just behind the Brady Post Office, Jessi was a stray dog, running the streets of Brady. Michelle had never owned a dog, nor did she wish to. Having come across strays several times before, she knew that strays were the last thing she was looking for. But there was something in this dog’s eyes that just wouldn’t let Michelle say no. A phone call to her husband, Mike, and a thorough checkup at the vet and Jessi had found a home. The day Jessi arrived at Michelle’s doorstep, was one that Michelle will never forget. The timid little American Staffordshire Terrier, also known as a pit bull, was covered with ticks, was malnourished and seemed to be hiding from an abusive previous owner. Since that first meeting in July 1999, the cowering stray dog has transformed into a obedient, award-winning dog while at the same time, Michelle has evolved into a dog-loving trainer who works day in and day out to train her dog. After the first few days at home, Michelle sought the help of a dog trainer to assist her in working on obedience training. Dick and Kay Guetzloff, owners of Heelalong Kennels in San Angelo, were just what Michelle was looking for. She and Jessi enrolled in the weekly obedience class and began making the trips to San Angelo for their sessions. As successful competitors and trainers in the international dog obedience venue, the Guetzloffs relocated to San Angelo in 1999 to be centrally located to nationwide dog shows. After only a few sessions working with Michelle and Jessi, Mrs. Guetzloff noticed something special about the abilities and demeanor of the dog. She suggested Michelle train her and consider entering her in agility trials. One obstacle Jessi needed to overcome before she could even enter a competition, was to become eligible for American Kennel Club (AKC) and North American Dog Agility Club (NADAC) trials. AKC sanctioned competitions are open only to registered dogs with official papers. Being a stray, Michelle did not have the necessary papers. So, through an application and review process and with the help of Mrs. Guetzloff, Jessi received an indefinite listing privilege number (ILP) which would allow her to compete in AKC sanctioned events as a non-pedigreed participant. A competition sport that usually is dominated by fleet-footed border collies, agility competitions test a dog and trainer’s communication and agility skills. Agility courses are made up of obstacles the dog must perform correctly. The judge predetermines the pattern that each obstacle must be taken and the handler directs the dog, off leash, through this obstacle course. Handlers may cheer, clap, and call the dog through each obstacle as it best serves them. There are jumps of various makes, climbing obstacles, hurdles, see-saws, weave poles, tunnels, and a pause table. Each course is timed and the dog that finishes with the fewest course faults and the fastest time wins. This rule varies according to the sanctioning organization of the trial attended. Beginning in January 2000, Jessi took to agility training with great ease and soon was attending trials. They competed in their first trial in October 2000 and placed first and second in two categories. She and Michelle have since become members of the HEAT (Heelalong Excellent Agility Training), a small group of trainers who meet monthly in San Angelo at Heelalong Kennels to work with their dogs. The once stray dog has excelled in agility competition. This past weekend in College Station, she scored high in trial which means that she scored the most points of any breed entered in the competition. “Jessi is unique because of the type breed she is, most people don’t expect her to perform as well as she does. When she gets out on the course, she may not be as fast as the border collies, but she is very methodical in her runs,” said Gibbs. During the competitions, dogs are scored on overall time less point deductions for faults. The dogs are classified by breed and by height and race against the clock. Jessi, an American Staffordshire Terrier, is scoring high marks and winning competitions racing against dogs that are naturally faster and potentially more agile than she. Having only competed in seven trials, Jessi recently completed all of the “legs” in the novice class and is now qualified to compete in the open class. A third level called the elite class is filled with professional trainers and top dogs from around the world competing for top honors. “Ever since I brought her home, she has been a wonderful dog,” said Gibbs. “She is the typical rescue story. She has never met a dog or a person that she didn’t love, and she is forever grateful.’ “Now, all Mike and I do is train and go to trials. Since we don’t have any babies of our own, Jessi is our baby.”

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