In February of 2008 Kelly heard that her local SPCA had a male Sheltie that was in pretty rough shape. Kelly wanted a female but went to see him anyway. When she got there she learned that the Sheltie was rescued from a puppy mill along with 130 other dogs. It took her ten minutes to catch him, but when she did, it took only a few seconds for him to fall asleep in her arms. Kelly took him home and named him Bailey.
About two years later, I set up an agility field in Dogtown, AL and started giving lessons. Kelly brought her Border Collie, Emma. After class I was talking to the group about the work I was doing teaching agility to reactive and fearful dogs. Agility gave the owners’ and their dogs the confidence to go for walks and socialize. Kelly told me Bailey's story and how he was still of fearful new people and situations. I said, "let's give it a try".
The following week Kelly and Bailey had a private lesson. He was afraid of everything. Just walking through the gate to get onto the field was a challenge. Bailey quickly found a safe spot in the tunnel. Each time he got scared, he would go in and not come out.
Bailey's most difficult obstacle was the dog walk. We started slowly by putting him on the contact zone of the descending plank and let him run down. Each week we moved him further back, closer to the top of the ascending plank.
When he did not progress as quickly as Emma, I reminded Kelly that the work we were doing was not about agility, it was about building confidence. Once Bailey gained confidence on the agility field he would be more confident in other situations. Then one week he surprised Kelly by jumping into the car to come to agility class. Soon Bailey was running all the way through the tunnel and over the dog walk. Then he started greeting people and letting friends and family pet him and hold him.
Kelly's self-esteem grew, she was ready to rescue another puppy mill Sheltie.Kelly searched PetFinder and found a 5-year-oldfemale in a Sheltie rescue just three hours from home. After a four long weeks of filling out applications, phone interviews and waiting, Molly was hers. Kelly said, "I had no idea what bad shape a dog can be in until I met Molly". She set up a kennel in the front yard under a shade tree for her. Molly spent her first weeks there; she escaped 3 times. Kelly started her in agility.
As soon as Kelly put Molly down on the agility field she ran away. Before we could teacher her anything, Molly needed to feel safe, she didn’t trust anyone yet so we taught her to come to a spot, the table. Kelly put food on the table and we waited. Molly came and went. Kelly put more food on the table and we waited. Molly came and went. After each repetition the time between recalls got shorter and Kelly's patience grew longer.
When Kelly got home, she put a dog bed just outside the patio door. Then she used the same technique and taught Molly to come to that spot. Soon Kelly felt safe enough to let Molly out of her kennel. Molly now spends most of her time in her spot by the door watching for squirrels to chase away.
Bailey and Molly will never compete at an agility trial. Their trial happens everyday. They struggle to conquer their fears and to love and trust people. Although Kelly admits she had no idea what she was getting into when she adopted a puppy mill rescue, she says she is more confident and more patient than she ever was before. She is now designing jewelry based on the collar Molly was wearing when she got her.