By Joyce Whitis
Tiffany Dornan, a little anxious but confident, stood by the ring ready for the agility trial to begin. Beside her sat a little brown dog, ears alert, tongue out, heart beating fast. It was as if Ollie knew what mattered most today. He certainly knew the course that lay ahead. He and his human partner had been over it many times. He was especially alert this morning. When they inspected the ring, they saw that the running would be on dirt, his favorite ground cover. He sat up a little straighter and waited … impatiently.
Tiffany looked around at the other dogs and their partners gathered for the trial. Compared to the other dogs waiting, Ollie might have looked like the poor relative that had snuck in the back door to see the excitement. Many of the other contestants were AKC registered dogs with most being in the herding group. A Border collie, black and white coat shining like it had been polished, walked on a leash with its owner. It didn’t take much imagination to sense that beneath that beautiful coat there were powerful muscles ready to respond as the dog ran and jumped and crawled and leaped across the set course, finishing with a perfect weave pole performance.
Some twenty or thirty dogs in Fort Worth ready to run this agility course were similarly beautiful examples of the various breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club. In short, they were the aristocrats of the dog world; the top dogs; the winners; the dogs you want your dog to emulate if you are a breeder or just a dog owner.
Ollie looked up at his partner. It was plain that he saw no difference between himself and all the others meeting this morning to show what they had learned and were capable of. He was where he liked to be; beside his partner, and she was smiling.
Although some of the other handlers at the agility trial had smiled when they saw Tiffany walk in with the little brown mixed breed dog, others knew that she would not be there unless she felt confident. They had a “wait and see” attitude and they were about to see!
Where did this “mutt” come from? Who could trace his parentage? Was his dad a ‘traveling salesman’? Nobody knew, and for a while nobody cared. In fact nobody cared about this puppy until Tiffany Dornan was talking to a friend at the animal shelter in De Leon one day. The shelter was full and the administrator was going to have to find a place for this little pup soon. His time was running out. It was decided that Tiffany would become a “foster parent” until there was room for him or until a forever home was found. So began a relationship between a true animal lover and a little abandoned puppy.
Meanwhile, Tiffany, as a foster parent, was supposed to be looking for a forever home for Ollie. Several different prospective adoptive parents called and wrote out their qualifications, but none were a match. Tiffany always found a reason why the prospects were incompatible. Eventually, she decided that nobody outside of herself would be suitable to care for Ollie, so she adopted him and he became part of the family.
A bath, nail trim, and flea dip was necessary when she first saw the little brown dog, and Tiffany could take care of that immediately. She had learned dog grooming soon after graduating high school when living in Ohio. A family friend was a dog groomer by profession, and he was happy to teach Tiffany. It was also that family friend who first introduced her to agility and the equipment needed for training. Her first agility dog, Hoot, was an Australian cattle dog. He didn’t have much speed, but made up for it with personality. She competed in many agility trials in Ohio and in 2009, Tiffany moved to Stephenville, Texas. She now owns The Dog Salon, a small grooming and training business on Lingleville Road.
“Eva (Tiffany’s mother-in-law) is a handy ‘grandmother’ for our dogs,” Tiffany said. “Eko is one of my Australian Shepherds, and he was born deaf. He doesn’t go to agility trials. He would much rather stay with Grandmother.” Tiffany uses sign language to communicate with him, and ironically she says he is the best listener of the four. “He wears a bell so we can keep track of him in the pastures, since we can’t call out to him,” she joked.
Looking at Eko with the long beautiful white coat around his neck and chest with shades of grey and black on his back and upper legs, you would never suspect that when rescued by Tiffany, he was in danger of dying from neglect.
“When I first saw him, hanging around the family rodeo arena, my heart just stopped,” Tiffany said. “He was just a bag of bones, hair matted and fleas and ticks galore! I just couldn’t stand to see him like that, and when I found out that he was unwanted by his family … well, I picked him up and took him home with me.” Eko sat still, staring at his benefactor. It was easy to imagine that he was smiling.
Jeeter, also an Australian Shepherd, is a pure bred dog with papers. “He belonged to a former boyfriend,” Tiffany said. “I broke up with the boyfriend but kept his dog!” She laughed. “He is almost 12-years-old and still competing in agility.” This longevity can be attributed to Tiffany’s care, feeding and training programs, and overall love for her dogs. Jeeter went over to sit by Eko. “Who’s your best friend?” Tiffany asked. Jeeter put one front paw on Eko’s shoulder! Tiffany continued to talk to the dogs as they both watched her face and hands and followed her commands without missing anything.
Marvel, a mostly freckled or blue merle Border collie, is the youngest canine in the Dornan household. While most people think black and white when they think Border collie, these dogs can be a variety of white and another color such as red, blue merle or red merle. Marvel is typical of this extremely energetic breed, almost continually begging for somebody – anybody to throw a ball, a Frisbee, a toy, a ball cap…anything for her to retrieve and have thrown again.
All the dogs have their own beds inside the house with Tiffany and husband Blu. Except for Ollie, he doesn’t need a dog bed because he prefers sleeping on his dad’s pillow! They also have their own swimming pool, which they love especially in hot weather and where they can get good exercise.
Ollie ran the agility course that first day and finished with a qualified run. Since that time he has jumped through hoops, run over teeter-totters, run at warp speed through the weave poles and raced through vinyl tunnels. Tiffany credits part of Ollie’s enthusiasm for agility to their routine Starbucks stops on the way to trials. A white chocolate mocha for Tiffany and a “puppichino” for Ollie get them both in “the zone.”
His first run was in May 2013, and the little homeless mixed breed has been competing since that time earning points towards the Master Agility Championship (MACH). Ollie is also trying to earn enough points to qualify him for the AKC National Agility Trial, which will be held in Tulsa in March of 2016. Tiffany is planning to be there. The little stray brown “mutt” will be at her side.
Photos by Blu Dornan and Malinda Julien