Neglected dog finds a home, a family and a calling, of sorts
By KATY BISHOP (Contact)
7:10 p.m., Thursday, August 7, 2008
Today, the dog is solid and strong. But just five years ago, the Staffordshire bull terrier was starving.
His short, sleek fur was all white then, like it is today. An inky black patch is splashed over his left eye and ear, a little like Petey in the “Little Rascals.” But this dog’s hipbones poked out of his spare frame and his ribs created peaks and deep gullies in the fur. And in just about every picture taken at the time, his pointy ears are folded against his head, defeated, as if he thinks he’s being punished.
His owners neglected him, said Ria Brown, spokeswoman for Lee County Animal Services. They kept him chained without enough food for so long that he nearly died. Lee County Animal Services rescued him when he was just about a year old. It took three months for the shelter to rehabilitate him. Then they put him up for adoption.
He was called “Outlaw” for that first year, but his new owners decided he needed a new name for his new life.
They called him Tugboat.
Today, Tugboat is a different dog. He has more titles after his name than most humans — for obedience and agility training — and this spring he won third place in an agility competition at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge.
“He’s a loving, well-behaved dog,” says Tugboat’s new owner, Bob Gale. “He is a laid-back couch potato at home, but when it comes to time to run, he’s all business. He loves it.”
Tugboat curls up on a plaid doggie pillow in the back of the Gale’s Fort Myers dentist office. It’s his weekday hangout spot. People course around him, working on dentures and mouth pieces with whining, grinding machines.
It doesn’t bother Tugboat. His brown eyes follow their activity and every once in a while he lifts his head to monitor a particular person or sound.
When Bob Gale walks toward his spot in the back of the room, Tugboat’s pointy ears perk up. Marie Gale is a dentist, and Gale manages the office. They bring Tugboat and Brooke, their black and brown Canaan dog, to work every day.
“Hey Tuggy, come on over here. Wanna go outside?” says Gale, squeezing a squeaky tennis ball. The ears lift higher, and Tugboat stands up quickly, his long and skinny straight tail bouncing.
“Wanna go outside T-Boat? Yes, of course you do. Let’s go outside.”
Tugboat follows Gale to the back door and, when it opens, he bounds out onto the grass.
But he doesn’t go far — in a few seconds, he circles back to Gale.
“Sit,” says Gale, 54, voice firm.
The dog sits. No hesitation. No half crouches. He just sits.
Gale pats him, eliciting a tail wag, and then walks about 10 feet away. Tugboat waits, eyes on his owner like a soldier standing at attention.
“Down,” Gale says and Tugboat lies down.
Next comes sit up and stay. Then, Gale says, “Heel.”
Tugboat bounds across the 10 feet separating them, circles behind Gale and sits at his left side, looking up expectantly. He looks happy, and, if a dog could, fulfilled.
“Good boy, Tuggy,” Gale says. “See his pointy ears? Normally, Staffordshire bull terriers’ ears are like this,” Gale reaches down and flips the points forward.
“But I like his the way they are.”
One day about five years ago, the Gales were at a pet store buying supplies for Brooke.
That’s when they saw Tugboat at an adoption event.
“He was really cute and he was real friendly,” Gale remembers. “He just was a special dog.”
They weren’t looking for another dog, but that day, they decided to take Tugboat home.
Tugboat’s training started with a simple obedience class, and when there was an agility demonstration one day, Gale thought it looked like fun. So they signed up for the first of many agility classes.
The terrier seemed to like the obedience classes, but when they started agility classes, Gale noticed that Tugboat really shined. He’s often the only dog of his breed at the competitions, Gale says, because they’re not that common in the U.S.
Staffordshire bull terriers were developed in England by crossing bulldogs and terriers, and they were originally bred for dogfighting. Now they’re known in England as “nanny dogs” because they are good with children, Gale says.
“He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body,” Gale says. “He loves people.”
Gale and Tugboat competed for the first time in 2004, and since then, have competed so many times that Gale has lost count.
They travel the country together, and Tugboat loves to compete, Gale says. He runs fast when they practice, but he runs even faster when it’s showtime. He doesn’t always win, but Gale doesn’t mind.
“It’s a team sport,” Gale explains. “You get on the course with the dog and you direct him. ...The dogs get really excited and, for the handlers, when you’re able to complete a difficult course, it’s a sense of accomplishment.”
In April, the pair travelled to Orlando to compete in the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge and Tugboat won third place in the small dog agility class.
Back at the dentist office, Gale pops a DVD into his computer. It’s a recording of an American Kennel Club agility competition held in Long Beach, Calif., in December 2007. It was one of Tugboat’s biggest competitions.
When Gale thinks about where Tugboat came from, it makes him even more proud of the terrier’s accomplishments.
The camera focuses on Tugboat as he waits for his run to start. His eyes are fixed on his first jump. Gale stands next to him, hand on the dog’s collar. They’re both poised to start.
The cavernous room is noisy with dogs barking and yipping and people talking. But Gale and Tugboat are in their own world. This is their moment on the floor.
Then, Gale lets go of Tugboat’s collar and they’re off. Gale jogs around the course, right arm extended and index finger pointed to the next obstacle to guide Tugboat. The dog leaps and bounds over jumps, through tunnels and across a teeter-totter, tail always bouncing.
After navigating the course in under a minute, it’s over. Tugboat leaps into the air, excited, and when he lands, Gale bends down to pet and praise him.
Watching that performance on the computer screen months later, Gale smiles.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he says. “For both of us.” http://www.naplesnews.com/news/2008/aug ... ing-sorts/
Bless the Bullys
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