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Dogged Pursuit: My Year of Competing Dusty, the World's Least Likely Agility Dog

July 1, 2009 11:57:24 AM PDT
What happens when an urban intellectual and a scruffy, disobedient Sheltie team up to conquer the Canine Agility pro-circuit? You can find out in a new book by Chicago author Robert Rodi. Dogged Pursuit: My Year of Competing Dusty, the World's Least Likely Agility Dog is Rodi's account of their quest for glory in the competitive dog world. A cousin to the popular best-in-breed show, agility competitions resemble doggie boot camp: dogs scamper across teeter-totters, jump tires, and scoot down tunnels?without leashed guidance from a human. Robert and Dusty discovered that taking home ribbons requires a focused handler and a cooperative dog. They did not fit the bill. Robert is an intellectual urbanite who favors fine wine and Italian literature to SUVs and suburban sprawl, and Dusty is a mangy rescue dog. They found themselves completely out of place at The Canine Agility Competitions, as they traveled between small Midwest towns in the quest for gold.

Unlike other dog shows, which get national media coverage, the Agility Competition is popular with a different crowd, one which Robert calls "the rural set." Robert admits he became obsessed by this competitive subculture. Suddenly, the city-dweller is driving around the Midwest, spending his free time training Dusty, and learning the lingo from pro-circuit "lifers." As if he wasn't enough of an odd-man out in this crowd, Robert was paired with the least likely canine competitor. Dusty was a high-strung, totally bug-eyed Sheltie. His dog's scrawny build and skittish personality make him an unnatural competitor. Not one to take direction, Dusty was easier to laugh at than to train, Robert says.

Despite the odds against them, Robert was utterly determined to tame his unlikely partner and take him all the way to the pros. Dogged Pursuit follows their year-long journey, their victories and failures and the many hilarious characters they met along the way. Rodi also describes the loving bond between one man and his bug-eyed dog. The book has been called "Best in Show meets Marley and Me in the hilarious (mis)adventures of an unlikely duo competing for glory on the pro dog circuit."

Dogged Pursuit can be purchased wherever books are sold, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and your local independent bookstore. For more information visit: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9781594630545,00.html?Dogged_Pursuit_Robert_Rodi or www.doggedpursuit.net

About the Author
Robert Rodi is the owner of three dogs and the author of seven novels. He's also written short stories, literary criticism, and works for the stage. He divides his time between Chicago and Siena, Italy. In dog years he is 350.

About Dusty
Dusty is a cryptic-blue Shetland sheepdog (a.k.a. Sheltie) who was plucked from a life of misery and obscurity by Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue. After his adoption he quickly became a canine agility competitor, a literary hero, and soon, no doubt, the idol of millions

COVER STORY BY ROBERT RODI

From www.us.penguingroup.com

Almost everyone who gets a look at Dogged Pursuit has the same initial reaction: "What a great cover!" Which is very heartening to me, because it was a long road to get there. The designers at Hudson Street Press came up with a number of different ideas, but most of them got shot down. (Okay, usually by me. What can I say; I tried to be nice about it. I probably didn't cause more than one or two grown men to dissolve into tears.)

Eventually they came up with the idea of using an action shot: Dusty sailing over a jump, as seen from below. The mock-up looked sensational. The only problem was: how the hell do you shoot a dog from underneath? The only way I could imagine involved digging a big hole (like a grave, only vertical) and having the photographer climb into it; then setting up the jump on top of him. This seemed to lack a certain professional polish. Also, it was December, and the ground was not only frozen solid, but covered with several inches of weighty Chicago snow. Anyway, I was glad it wasn't my problem. All I had to do was show up with my dog.

Accordingly Jeffrey and I arrived at the Steve Grubman photography studio on one of those sleety winter mornings where driving is more like hydroplaning. At Steve's request we'd not only brought Dusty but one of his jumps as well; I was looking forward to seeing where he was going to place it. Possibly over two step ladders, and Jeffrey and I would just hurl Dusty back and forth over the top. (Hey, dwarves get tossed, why not Shelties?)

But Steve was much more ingenious than that. He'd placed a sheet of plexiglass over the gap between two tables, and that's where we set up the jump. From underneath, it looked like it was suspended in midair; and when Dusty jumped over it, his underside would be perfectly visible. I was really very impressed. Very, very impressed.

I almost hated to tell Steve it wouldn't work.

"Dusty won't go on Plexiglass," I told him. "He'll look at that jump and see nothing beneath it, and even if we stand him right next to it to show him it's firm, it won't register; he operates on sheer instinct, which will be telling him BACK OFF JACK, AIN'T NOTHIN' UNDERNEATH YOU." And Steve just smiled and nodded-the benign acknowledgment of a seasoned pro whose portfolio is abrim with shots of dogs, cats, bears, apes, elephants, you name it (I think I saw a land shark in there but I might be wrong)-and produced a bag of dog treats so savory-smelling that I was tempted to reach over and help myself.

And Dusty was slooowly won over. To get to the treats, he actually, tentatively, and with great circumspection, placed one paw, then another, onto the Plexiglass and craned himself forward like an H.R. Giger creation. A few minutes later and he actually had all four feet planted on its surface, though his stance was anything but relaxed; in fact his back was arched like a croquet hoop. But as long as he was being fed a steady stream of treats, he endured it.

Ah, but Steve had underestimated Dusty's innate obstinacy. In a previous life, he must have been a Catholic recusant, or Mary Baker Eddy. He outlasted the bag of treats and retreated to the safety of the table, and just...wouldn't...budge. And he still hadn't jumped. We were at a loss for what to do, when by chance I looked over to where Jeffrey was nibbling on the coffee cake Steve's staff had brought in for us. I caught his eye and said, "Should we?"

He wrinkled his brow for a moment, then shrugged and said, "It is for Art." Somehow he managed to convey the capital A through intonation alone.

So where savory dog treats had failed, sweet pastry did the trick. Dusty was more than happy to fling himself over the bar jump into the utter jaws of emptiness if it meant a little chunk of cinnamon-pecan goodness. Back and forth he went, to and fro, hither and thither, until Steve was convinced he had enough good shots, and we called it a day.

That's when Jeffrey and I looked at the nearly empty plate and realized just how much cake we'd fed our nineteen-pound stick insect.

"Uh-oh," I said. "We're bad dads."

And we knew our punishment was coming, too. You don't gorge your animal with people food and not expect it to take a gastric toll. We didn't know what form it would take, so we made a deal: if it was from the front end, Jeffrey took clean-up; if from the back end, the job fell to me. As it happens, both ends had a productive evening, and we each ended up on our knees, wielding a scrub brush.

Next day all was back to normal. And we really couldn't complain. After all, it was all for Art.


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