Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Springs dog achieves American Kennel Club agility success despite age, illness

By Hannah Blick, hannah.blick@gazette.com - Published: March 31, 2014 0

Trapper turned 13 in February, and his owner, Kirsta Scherff-Norris, honored the dog on his big day with a custom canine cake.

"We celebrate all the milestones now," she said. "He has such a will to live."

But she's not just talking about the Australian Shepherd/Blue Heeler/Collie mix living to the ripe old age of 13; it is more about what he has lived through and accomplished, despite his age and health challenges.

Diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2012, Trapper went on to place sixth at the American Kennel Club's National Agility Championship in March 2013, while in remission from his cancer. Most healthy dogs are unable to even compete past age 10.

"It truly was incredible," Scherff-Norris, a wildlife biologist at Colorado Springs Utilities, said. "I loved going to agility trials; I'd overhear people say, 'Did you know that dog is 12?' It was pretty impressive."

But Trapper hasn't always been an agility champ. Scherff-Norris adopted him as a 3-month-old puppy from the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region in 2001. Before that, he had been picked up off the street, abandoned near the intersection of Union and Academy boulevards.

"We noticed he was fearful of men, feet, sticks; we don't know what happened to him before we got him, but I can assume something scared or hurt him," she said.

Scherff-Norris never intended to participate in agility competitions with Trapper. She had previously taken an eight-week agility course with a Border Collie she owned before Trapper. But since her dog was more interested in herding the other dogs than doing agility, Scherff-Norris gave it up. However, she still loved the sport, so began training Trapper in agility when he was 3 years old. Over time, and with the help of many trainers, especially beginning in 2008 at the Bow Wowz! Canine Performance Center, she realized Trapper had potential to achieve greatness in the sport.

"Agility has been awesome because of the trust a dog has to build with the trainer," she said. "Communication is so important, and I've seen it give him more confidence and connection to me. He has overcome a lot of his fears."

Courtney McDonald has been Trapper's veterinarian since 2007. Currently a doctor of veterinary medicine at the Banfield Pet Hospital, located at 571 N. Academy Boulevard, McDonald first met Trapper and Scherff-Norris when she was practicing in Pueblo, Colo. At that time, Trapper was in the midst of fighting an autoimmune disease, which required frequent monitoring of his blood work.

"He came through with flying colors," McDonald said. "I developed such a great relationship with (Trapper's family), they have my home number; I'm always available for them."

In 2009, Scherff-Norris and her family moved from Pueblo to Colorado Springs, and coincidentally, McDonald moved to the Springs just a short time later. She has been able to help Trapper through all his health problems, and said he continues to surprise her with his accomplishments, especially placing at both the 2011 and 2012 AKC Agility Championships.

"He is such a trooper and I was so excited," McDonald said. "But it's Trapper, so you expect him to succeed at all he does."

But even champions need down time. Trapper is content lounging on the couch with Scherff-Norris, pigging out on egg slices and peanut butter. And though lymphoma is not curable in dogs, Trapper is still in remission and healthy. He is still doing agility competitions, and Scherff-Norris jokes that he loves it so much he would run it three-legged.

"He has a new lease on life," she said. "His life experiences have been awesome since he was diagnosed; Trapper knows he's competing and he wants to do well at everything."

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