A Dalmatian Inspiration

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Although I’ve owned well-trained dogs throughout my life, Emmy, a Dalmatian born deaf in her right ear, was my first performance dog. Over the years, we competed together in obedience, rally and agility practically every weekend. Because she was my company’s mascot, we were together virtually 24/7.

She and I acquired several awards and titles along the way, and in October 2005, Emmy earned her very first American Kennel Club agility championship title (MACH) with two more championship titles (NATCH and Versatility NATCH) in September 2006 from the North American Dog Agility Council.

And then it happened.

Noticing extreme redness in her right eye, I took Emmy to our veterinarian who diagnosed her with glaucoma. We went to an animal eye specialist immediately, and seven weeks later, Emmy’s right eye was removed. The prognosis for her left eye was grim. My beautiful girl was going blind.

I was devastated. How would she catch her Frisbee, fetch her ball, navigate our stairs, jump on and off the bed, climb in and out of the car, step up and down curbs – let alone continue in the sport she so loved?

I was inconsolable until my devoted agility friend, Kevin, called Emmy “Helen” one day. He assured me that because Helen Keller was such a remarkable woman when it came to conquering her own disabilities, that Emmy would be OK, too.

Armed with inspiration and a new perspective, Emmy and I began retraining for agility. All her life she had used her right eye to compensate for her deaf right ear, so she was able to sense me when I ran on her right. With her right eye now gone, she frequently turned left when I called her to turn right or we would collide occasionally as she went unexpectedly into my path.

Fortunately, a few months later, it all came together. Our teamwork and timing were back on track. On Sept. 9, 2007, to the roar of the agility crowd, Emmy earned a second AKC agility championship title (MACH 2) in grand style. Kevin reveled in our victory.

Over the following year, we continued to compete as Emmy’s left eye gradually declined, forcing her retirement from our beloved sport in September 2008. That December her world lost its light.

Can she catch her Frisbee? No, but she can still play tug with it. Can she fetch her ball? Yes, and off leash, too! Navigate the stairs, jump on and off the bed, climb in and out of the car, and step up and down curbs? You bet – and with such confidence, people we meet are shocked when they learn of her disabilities. Our teamwork has never been better and Emmy has earned a new title: Blind Dog Champion of my Heart (BDCH).

Written in loving memory of Kevin Gast (1963 to 2008).

What’s your story? Dog World would love to hear about you and your dog. If you believe you have a unique story about your working dog, show dog, performance dog or companion dog, please e-mail it (500-word maximum) to letters@dogworld.com
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P.O. Box 6050
Mission Viejo, CA 92690

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