A special dog helps a young girl leap into life.
By Isabel Tagtow
Age 16, Houston, Texas
I was shy, introverted, and reticent. I was the kid that glared back or started crying when someone in public would try to make to me laugh, the kid that hid behind my mom when a terrifying predator, like a smiling stranger, showed itself. I was also the representative of the Cries-Every-Time-They’re-Dropped-Off-At-School-Until-Third-Grade Club. It was a very small club of one.
I undoubtedly hurt a few feelings with my cold behavior to outsiders, but someone who always knew my intentions was Derby. Derby the Doberman was my best friend. He happily listened to my gibberish as I pretended to read him books and willingly sucked up his sense of personal space to accept my tight hugs.
The most admirable thing about him, though, was his ability to understand what my flailing arms and clumsy body were telling him on the agility course.
The tradition started when my mom accidentally came across agility. In this high-speed competition, the person must lead the dog through a challenging obstacle course with no mistakes to have a qualifying run. The trial that my family most often went to was CPE (Canine Performance Events) in Santa Fe, Texas.
Packing the car with a bag of Goldfish crackers, way too many dog treats, and a bottle of hand sanitizer for the Port-a-Potty quickly became routine. Then, we would race to gather everyone in the car because what’s a Tagtow outing when you’re not running late? Once we were en route, I would keep my eyes peeled for the landmarks that would tell me exactly how far away we were. Then, we parked. This was the signal that set my heart racing and my smile widening.
“DERBY, YOU’RE UP.” And the show began.
“Dubby, here. … Here, Dubby, here.” The small crowd went silent and watched as Derby, as tall I was, gently followed me around the ring, going over jumps, through tunnels, across the A-Frame. When we finished, cheers erupted and even as a 5-year-old, I knew that they were just enthusiastic pity cheers, but I didn’t care. I was proud to be in the spotlight for the first time ever.
From that point on, as long as the topic was Derby, I would speak to people as they politely smiled and nodded as they tried to unscramble the stuttering mess coming out my mouth. Even though it took about nine years more to get to the slightly outspoken person I am today, this was a great starting point that I will forever cherish.
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