Canine show stoppersPublished 8:27pm Tuesday, August 14, 2012
BERRIEN SPRINGS — Bugsy, an energetic Jack Russell terrier, was excited when he entered the show floor for the dog agility competition.
It wasn’t a surprise to her 10-year-old trainer Grace Kirkdorfer.
“He is hyper if he sees me,” said the Niles resident and Brandywine student. “He likes to give me kisses if I ask for them.”
Kirkdorfer was one of 11 youths competing in the judging of dogs by disabled exhibitors event Tuesday afternoon at the Berrien County Youth Fair.
She guided Bugsy over bridges, through hoops and up and down a teeter-totter before receiving loud applause from spectators under the dog tent.
“I love showing off my dog,” Kirkdorfer said.
The competition is part of Best Friends 4-H Club’s canine therapy program, which is designed for disabled Berrien County youths who want to learn about dog training and competition.
Patti Dynes and her son, David, formed it in 1988 when Patti could not find a dog-training club that could accommodate a student with Down’s syndrome.
Best Friends 4-H Club co-coordinator Linda Shannon-Chaillet said it’s the only program of its kind in the country she knows of.
The club takes in children with mental, physical and behavioral disabilities.
A team instructor works with the children and their dogs one day a week for eight weeks to prepare for the show.
“They don’t overcome their disabilities, they learn to live with them — there’s a difference,” Shannon-Chaillet said. “They learn to adapt. If I’m blind in the left eye, I learn with the right eye.”
The competition culminated in a dog costume show. Kirkdorfer dressed Bugsy in a tuxedo and led him around the tent wearing a dress.
“They’re ready for the prom,” said the emcee.
Kirkdorfer’s mother, Jackie, said the program has been wonderful for her and her daughter.
“She looks forward to it every week,” Jackie said. “It gives us good mother-daughter time.”
For more information of Best Friends 4-H Club, visit the club’s website at bf4hclub.com.