United States
Australian Shepherd Association

United States
Australian Shepherd Association

The Heart of an Aussie

By Grace Smith

Maybe Kip was just born to be an overachiever. He was, after all, one of twelve in the first litter whelped by a mother who was the first AKC Australian Shepherd Grand Champion/Dual Champion (herding). “Snap” did, in fact, introduce her puppies—still in utero—to performance sports at the 2015 USASA Nationals MVA competition, where the expectant mama placed fourth.

The puppies were born at a place called WonderDog Farms. I never quite knew, when I was first introduced to the place, exactly what a WonderDog was. I do now. 

Kip was born three days after I lost my 15 year-old Aussie, Zeke. At 57, I had recently moved to Louisiana from Pennsylvania; I was an empty nester and losing Zeke had left me feeling alone and sad. Someone suggested I reach out to Shelly Spotswood, a local dog trainer, handler and breeder of Australian Shepherds. After my initial introduction to Shelly and her WonderDog Farms, I began to consider the unimaginable: Buying another puppy so soon after such a big loss.

Upon meeting, Shelly asked me, in the event that she sold me a puppy, if I would promise to do “something” with him by way of activity. That “something” was left up to me, but her respect for the nature of the breed was evident from the beginning, and that resonated with me. This puppy would be my second Aussie, so I was aware of the breed’s unique needs and was prepared to be a responsible owner. Several weeks later, Kip came home with me.

Like most puppies, mine was a happy, amiable little guy. He was fearless, and before long he was excelling in puppy obedience and agility classes. And he was fast. When he competed against his classmates in a “fun day” timed race, my then-5 month-old outran every puppy there, including a German Shepherd Dog more than twice his age and three times his size. 

By this time, however, I had noticed that Kip’s back end didn’t look right. His hind legs looked as straight as popsicle sticks. He wobbled when he walked, like a child wearing its mother’s high heels. And it was getting more pronounced as he got older. I wasn’t sure what a puppy’s rear ought to look like, but I was pretty sure it shouldn’t look like this. Several veterinarian consultations later, Kip was diagnosed with something called hyperextended hocks, a condition rare in Aussies, which presents as loose and unstable hock joints.

Needless to say, Kip’s responsible breeder immediately offered to take him back. But by that time we had had him for weeks and he was ours. He didn’t seem fazed by his condition, and after all, he had to spend his life with someone, so it might as well be spent with my husband and me. If he wasn’t going to be fazed, then neither were we! But what could he do? And what couldn’t he do? What was his life going to look like?

It was already obvious that he loved agility. After more conversations with his veterinarians and his breeders, the consensus was that Kip the Aussie ought to be allowed to enjoy the activities that Australian Shepherds enjoy. To impose a sedentary lifestyle on a member of a herding breed would be to remove joy from his life, or worse, cause him stress. So, with everyone in agreement, we decided to let him live like we thought a happy Aussie would want to live, for as long as those little legs would let him.

Shelly, I must say, enjoys life with her Australian shepherds as much or more than anyone I’ve ever known in any breed. Her excitement over dog sports is contagious, and before long, her encouragement and support saw the whole litter, now scattered far and wide, involved in the venues of barn hunt, dock diving, FastCAT, rally, obedience, scent work, herding, disc dog, and of course, agility. And Kip was happily “all in,” no matter what he tried.

By the time they were just over a year old, Kip and his brother Blitz had tied at number 2 in the rankings for Australian Shepherds in the new sport of fastCat, running close to 26 mph. (Their sister, Tess, later ran an even faster time). Not long after, I received a letter from USASA, congratulating me on my dog’s 2017 year-end ranking of #1 Novice A 20” agility dog in the Jumpers with Weaves class. (A side note: my skepticism led me to call an Aussie friend to be certain that this was for real, and not junk mail!)>

My “companion home” pup was coming into his own, despite being handicapped and saddled with a Novice A handler! Moreover, a more willing and forgiving partner you would never meet. It was as if his grin was saying, “C’mon, if I can do this, you can do it!” I was more proud of him every day.

Kip just celebrated his 6th birthday, and he’s loving life! And although he still wobbles when he walks, the little puppy who couldn’t, knew better than anyone that he could. The dog who never knew that he had a handicap has lived up to his name:

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This happy, “all in” dog has shown me what it means to be a WonderDog. Most of all, he has taught me a valuable life lesson about perseverance and excelling in the face of adversity.

Never underestimate the heart of an Aussie!

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