Belgian Shepherd dog comforts community after Oxford high school shooting

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Linda Brady has been involved in dog training since 1978, but nothing really prepared her for what she faced in early December.

A resident of Oxford, Michigan (population 3,586), she was alerted shortly after the city’s high school shooting on November 30.

“You always think something like this will never happen in your small town,” she said. But it did, and she quickly emailed someone she thought could organize some Therapy Dog respondents.

After finding himself empty on that front, Brady hooked up with Michelle Palmer, who was looking for therapy dogs for a town rally at Legacy 925, a state-of-the-art 200,000 square foot family amusement park for everything from ultimate corporate parties. children’s attractions.

“Although Michelle is not a ‘dog person’, she volunteered to do it as a favor to the manager of the center,” says Brady. That’s when the real “canine person” stepped onto the plate and reached out with a storm of passion to his many students and friends at Therapy Dogs. Many other clubs and / or organizations have also offered their services.

Three days after the shooting, these dogs were at the center of what promises to be a long process of healing for all those affected by the tragedy that left four dead and seven injured. The Legacy 925 environment was optimal for fun and games, but was not suited to the quiet solitude and interaction that grieving students needed with therapy dogs.

“Put life in perspective”

More accustomed to the highly competitive stages of AKC’s conformation, agility, obedience and other performance sports, the 4-year-old Belgian Shepherd Dog Dibs suddenly found himself immersed in a new one-on-one environment with young people in mourning aspiring to love, touch and talk to him.

“It’s touching to see the children’s faces light up when Dibs leans in to be petted,” observes Brady. “He takes his job seriously and feels their needs and their grief. He is there not only for the children, but also for the parents, who are going through a horrible emotional time.

“It’s hard not to cry when you see a tall, strong 16 year old boy dig his head into the fluffy fur on your dog’s neck and come with tears he’s trying to hide. No one can say words to help them heal, but it’s amazing how dogs do it, it’s just that look in their eyes that says, “I’m here for you” and their big hearts open.

“Watching Dibs and the others make these kids smile definitely puts life in perspective. Yes, he is a performance dog, but I also saw a tender side of him here. This pasty side of marshmallow.

Brady’s emotions ran through the entire map. “I would smile one minute, happy and converse with the kids and adults, then the next minute I would look at them and feel like my heart was breaking for them. Trying so hard not to cry knowing what they’ve been through. Something that will be remembered for life. I will always remember those many smiling faces and others full of tears.

Dibs had – and continues to have – plenty of therapy dog ​​company, too – Goldens, Labs, Dachshunds, Samoyed, and more – cuddling smiles and tears at emotionally injured students. Dibs and Brady have made eight visits and will continue as needed.

Breed education

But seeing a Belgian Shepherd dog among them was a bit unusual due to their lack of popularity (117e of 195) on AKC 2020 recording stats and distance (more on that later).

Brady always takes the opportunity to do a little breed education with the audience when he introduces Dibs: “It’s Dibs. He’s a therapy dog ​​today and on weekends he does agility.

Then she asks the big question: “Do you know what race he is?”

Amidst puzzled looks and many riddles, the answers range from the Shepherd’s Cross, the Wolf’s Cross, the Collie’s Cross. But never a Belgian shepherd dog.

Born for comfort

Dibs has an on / off switch accentuated by stability and resilience. He’s a workaholic when asked to be, says Brady, displaying a calm and lazy demeanor around the house but ready to go on “power on demand.”

“He’s easy going. I was lucky to have had him from a breeder who did a good job socializing him early on with adults and children. He was also exposed to a lot of noise and farm animals. Neither small nor big things were a problem for him, ”she notes.

The longtime trainer / manager’s love affair with the stylish black sheepdog is based on confidence and his “love of learning and wanting to do things.” Everything I do with him makes me smile. I’m delighted when he does well in agility and people from other races come to me to tell me how much they love to watch him.

“However, Belgian Sheepdogs have a bad reputation for their reserve. Aloof calls it “don’t worry” whether you touch me or not, but a lot of BSDs are scary to strangers. It’s not distant, it’s fear!

The potential of Dibs’ therapy was evident from the age of 12 weeks, when Brady’s mother was in a nearby nursing home and later in an assisted living facility. “I knew he was meant for the job when he just lay down at our feet as we sat and played games. Residents in wheelchairs and others using walkers, canes and crutches did not bother him. If anyone would stop and reach out, they would calmly get up and lean on themselves for a pet, never trying to jump or get out of control. If they walked past him and ignored him, he did the same.

Life with dibs

A big heart and a lot of emotional buoyancy are the personality characteristics of the stylish 59-pound black dog. But add versatility to its Carry on.

Dibs love to swim, recover, jump in and never get out of the water. Although time and access are limited, Dock Diving is said to be one of her favorite things to do.

But the main focus of the Dibs team right now is agility, which is preparation for the AKC 2022 Agility Invitational in December in Orlando, Florida. The qualification period runs from July 1, 2021 to June 30. He’s working on his MACH2 while trying to stay in the top five of the breed for the Invitational; currently, it is n ° 2.

Conformation was their first competitive effort and provided a fun appetite. “He loves it,” Brady smiles. “Stay still, be pretty, eat cookies and when the judge is not looking, play with a ball!” How much fun is that? He finished his championship at 18 months with limited performance, but would have finished it much sooner, as the Belgian majors are hard to find. He returns to the race ring this year in search of a Grand Championship.

His obedience “comes and he loves it”. He started out with rallying and will earn his advanced obedience titles over time, adds Brady. The addition of other Advanced Scent Work titles is also in its future.

She concludes: “My training philosophy is to break it down into the smallest pieces, train the pieces and put everything together. Take it slow and easy, motivate yourself by having fun. If you are not having fun, the dog is not having fun. Work your dog to the best of your ability and potential!

“Reach for the moon. If you miss, the worst that will happen is that you will reach for a star!

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