Team M&M - Marti & Mary - was meant to be.
Marti, a border collie/sheltie mix, became available for adoption about three years ago through a California rescue group. The pup was determined early on to be the rare kind of dog that could be trained to perform professionally.
Colorado Springs dog trainer Mary Dougherty got word of the special pup through her connections, "since we specialize in performance sport dogs."
Performance ResQ Inc. placed Marti with Dougherty on Feb. 17, 2015.
"We've always had large dogs," she said, "but my car didn't fit any more large dogs."
Marti, now 31/2 years old and just 17 pounds, fit perfectly.
"We hadn't had a little dog for a long time," Dougherty said.
Team M&M is representing the U.S. this week at the International Federation of Cynological Sports' 2018 World Agility Championship in Milan, Italy. Also competing are teams from Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Japan, Great Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.
Marti and other canine members of Team USA were selected through a points system based on performance in U.S. Dog Agility Association events.
Dougherty had special packs of M&Ms candies made with the name "Team M&M" on them to trade with other teams in Italy. Trading pins, candies or other small keepsakes at competition is the norm.
Marty has a silky, long black coat and alert brown eyes, one ear folded askew, and is always on the lookout for the next squirrel - or the next obstacle. Dougherty describes her as "feisty, full of life and always ready to go."
She wears her nickname, "Maserati Marti," on her training vest. This dog is fast.
"Her speed rivals that of any dog in the trial," Dougherty said of the qualifier in Castle Rock in September.
She and Marti have been training for Italy "nonstop" since.
This is the first international trip for Marti, Dougherty and her husband, Kevin. Marti flew in the plane's cabin with her handler, as her crate fit under the seat. Dougherty had to apply for an International Health Certificate to fly with the dog.
The contest will feature dogs ages 3 to 8. Marti will run - at a near sprint - alongside her handler through a course with obstacles such as tubes and jumps. Marti is so well-trained that the other dogs and people at the course won't phase her at all, Dougherty said.
"Once you get her off the start, she's focused on me," she said.
"Every course is different," said Kevin Dougherty. "The handler has to figure out a strategy."
Dougherty predicts Marti will do well but says one more year of training will do her even more good.
"A year from now, I think we'll be a great team," she said. "It takes a while for us to learn each other."
Marti trains three times a week, no more than 30 minutes at a time, at the agility field that's part of Dougherty's home-based dog-training business, Plain Fun Agility. She started the business after retiring from a career as a middle school and high school counselor. She began working with Bouvier des Flandres dogs in the early 2000s while living in Alaska.
Competing at the international level is her dream come true.
"I'm very excited. I tried out with a border collie before and didn't make it. It's a big honor to be selected," she said. "It's nerve-wracking, but I've enjoyed the process."