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By Ardi C. Whalen

Three dogsTess, Dusty, and Bailey are three Shetland sheepdogs (more commonly known as “Shelties”), who share their Civano home with Nancy and Bob Daliege. Tess, 12 years old, likes people but is leery of strange dogs. She is a trained, registered therapy dog who came with Bob and Nancy when they moved here from Connecticut.

Dusty, a loving seven year old who gave my hand several kisses, came from a Sheltie breeder in New River, Arizona. He is a bit larger than usual for a Sheltie, but that just means there is more of him to love. He enjoys playing with other dogs and interacting with people. The Dalieges are thinking of having him trained as a therapy dog.

Bailey, four and one-half years old, is a rescue dog from Arizona Sheltie Rescue. He, too, was friendly and enjoyed being petted.

“Bailey,” said Bob, “was not comfortable around me at first. He had been verbally abused, probably by a man. I had to learn not to raise my voice around him.”

Arizona Sheltie Rescue in Tucson, a branch of the Phoenix organization, is very careful about making a good match between would-be pet owners and dogs. Someone from the Rescue will first come out and check out the home situation: Do they have children? Will the dog be alone a lot? Is it a quiet or a noisy home? These are just some of the things they would want to know before placing a dog. Once they have found a good match, the dog is placed, but that is not the end of it. A surprise visit will be paid to the home to see how well things are going. They want to be sure that the match is a good one.

All the Daliege dogs have had obedience training and know the standard commands: sit, down, and roll over. All of them can catch a ball, but only Tess can catch a Frisbee. Nancy and Bob have a dog obstacle course in the yard, and I was treated to demonstration, performed by Dusty.

The family owns a motor home and they and their dogs enjoy traveling and competing in agility competitions. Usually they compete in areas that are close to Tucson, but they have also competed in Colorado, California, North Carolina, and New Mexico.

It is in agility competitions that their individuality comes out. Tess tackles competition like a job she must do, and she does it well. Because she does it well, she likes it. Dusty, on the other hand, loves it because in competing, he can do his favorite thing: run. ”He’ll run ‘til he drops,” said Bob. Bailey definitely has his own style, which is to run through two or three obstacles, be praised, and then leave the course to mingle and socialize.

“They are good travelers,” said Nancy, when I asked her if it was difficult traveling with three dogs. I then asked if they’d ever had any emergencies or unusual adventures when traveling with their dogs, and Nancy told me of the scare they’d had when Dusty was only six months old.

Dusty ran away while they were attending a competition up at Pine Top in the White Mountains, not far from the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. They called, but no response. Frightened for Dusty because the forest contained bears and mountain lions, they started searching for their little dog. They searched for six hours, but no Dusty, and it was getting dark.

Then they saw a shadowy shape; could it be Dusty? They called, “Dusty!” And the shape ran in the opposite direction — away from them! Nancy remembers how angry they were at him, but she now thinks that he was playing a game. Dusty loved to be chased, and she figures that he was playing a hide-and-seek game, hoping they’d chase him as they often did at home.

This incident reminded Nancy of their stay at Yellowstone National Park. That too had a frightening aspect in the form of coyotes that would lure dogs away from a campsite and kill them. She warned against using leashes that pull out and retract because your dog may go into some thick shrubbery, where a coyote is lying in wait to break the dog’s leash and gobble him up.

Bailey, after being theirs for only two weeks, has also given them a scare. The gate was open, and perhaps a rabbit hopped by; anyway, like a shot, Bailey was out and running. “Bailey!” and he stopped short, did a U-turn and sped for home. He may have been a “newbie” in their home, but he remembered his obedience training.

Bob then started talking about his and Tess’ work with Gabriel’s Angels, the only program in Arizona that uses pet therapy to help abused, neglected, and at-risk children. The organization’s motto is Pets Helping Kids.

Through the children’s interaction with animals — petting them, grooming them, walking them, and even brushing their teeth! — it is hoped that the children will be happier and feel more secure. Perhaps, in the long term, the social skills they learn will break the cycle of violence that so often follows abused children when they become adults.

The first “Gabriel” was a therapy dog who worked for ten years, with his owner, giving to 10,000 abused and neglected children his unconditional healing love. He died last year, but his legacy lives on in the nearly 150 Gabriel’s Angels Pet Therapy Teams of registered volunteers.

Before a team can become registered with the Delta Society, a national, non-profit organization that incorporates therapy, service, and companion animals into people’s lives, the team is tested with each team member evaluated individually. The handler takes a written test. The dog is evaluated as to temperament, obedience, interaction with other dogs, and ability to ignore distractions. They are also evaluated as a working team. Bob said that there are four possible scores: 1) Suitable for complex areas; 2) Suitable for simple areas; 3) Not ready; and 4) Do not come back. A registered team has liability insurance and the team members’ names are listed with the Delta Society.

Before I left, I asked if there were any disadvantages to owning a Sheltie. Nancy thought of only one, the need for regular grooming. If not groomed, there will be a whole lot of shedding of the outer coat going on, and their inner coat will get matted. Grooming regularly prevents the matting and keeps your home relatively free of shed hair. Bob added, “Shelties are yappy.”