The barking of young puppies greeted us as we pulled through the gates of Bullinger Shepherds Kennel in Aldergrove, BC to pick up Cora, our 8-week-old German Shepherd. She was the cutest puppy we had ever seen – and the breeder promised that she had lots of drive and energy. Her training began from day one and by the age of 6 months she helped found Obedience Unleashed Dog Training, working as my training partner and demo dog.
Born and raised in Europe, I grew up around dogs and other animals on the family farm. At a young age I showed a great interest in dog training and obedience. Throughout the years, I had many friends and even strangers comment on my dog training skills being highly effective. I have always had entrepreneurial aspirations and I really enjoy working with people and dogs, however, I had never thought of dog training as a career option. I simply thought, I just have a special way with dogs. Our prized puppy Cora started the ball rolling and the turning point was a camping trip with my family, when I had a very inspirational conversation with my wife and the “Obedience Unleashed” idea was born.
Cora loved to work and spend time with the family, growing up united very closely with our two young daughters. She especially enjoyed cuddling with us on the couch at the end of a long day! She had a very active lifestyle with daily exercise, ball throwing, agility, obedience and walks, not to mention accompanying me as my partner to my dog training classes. Everywhere we went, we would receive comments about how well behaved she was. After extensive, specialized training (by the age of 1-year-old) she had been accepted onto the Federal Heavy Urban Search and Rescue Training team and received her title as a Rescue Service Dog with the City of Vancouver.
Our family was not prepared for the devastating blow that we received when Cora was about 18 months old. After running up and down a hill after a ball, we noticed that she started to limp. The limping persisted and we took her in to be x-rayed and were crushed to find out that she had hip dysplasia. Our vet went so far as to recommend that she be ‘put down’ immediately because it would just get worse and be harder for the kids to deal with later on. We decided to take the natural route, keep her on a careful diet and retire her from working. So she began a “new life” at home as a family pet. We could tell that she missed going out and doing her daily agility work, but we wanted to keep her healthy and out of pain. To our joy, within a few weeks of toning down her daily exercise to one moderate walk per day, she stopped limping.
Cora embraced her role as a family pet and we noticed that she had a very special connection with the kids. One night around 3 a.m. she began to bark incessantly, we went downstairs to see what was wrong and she repeatedly indicated that she wanted to go upstairs. We let her go upstairs and she stopped in front of our daughters’ closed door and kept on whimpering. Upon opening the door, she jumped into bed with our youngest daughter and began licking her head, feet and hands. We felt our daughter and found that she was burning with a very high fever. Cora had somehow sensed it from downstairs and she alerted us and then was licking her to try to bring the temperature down. Several instances like this happened when Cora alerted us to a sickness in the kids before we even realized it. She even alerted us to the fact that my wife was pregnant before she even took the test – but that’s a whole other story! All in all, she was a very beloved family pet.
Fast-forward ahead three years. Cora turned four and we had just moved, not long after her birthday, to an acreage to accommodate our needs for the growing dog training business.
A few weeks later, I was out at the park at what I thought would be a “regular” initial dog training consultation, was I ever wrong – it was a life-changing event! I met with Joanne, her autistic son Kai and their lab puppy Hunter. I was blown away when I learned of all the benefits that a dog could provide to an autistic child. I left them with the promise of formulating a training plan so that Hunter could learn how to be an Autism Service Dog, it would be a long road as Hunter was a very young puppy, but I was willing to commit. It was just that, after hearing how much this family needed a dog, I wished that I could provide one right away instead of having to wait over a year for the puppy to be ready.
A major twist in life happened that weekend, while working in the woods on my property, I was stung by something (wasp, spider, moth?). Within minutes I realized that I was having an allergic reaction (although I have never had allergies!). My wife was driving home from town and I urged her to hurry as I felt something was very wrong. She made it home, took one look at me and got me into the car and then drove at break-neck speed to the hospital. By the time we pulled up to the Emergency Room, my airways were so swollen I could barely breathe. A team of doctors and nurses started working on me immediately, injecting all kinds of meds as I was drifting in and out of consciousness.
When I woke up after the near death experience, for some reason, the first thought that occurred to me was: What about Cora? What about Cora as an Autism Service Dog for Kai? As much as we loved her, I knew she would be very happy having a “special job” and she would be perfect in this role.
After returning home and recovering, I gave Joanne a call, apologized for my delay in getting back in touch and invited her to come to our place with Kai and Hunter because I had a few ideas I wanted to run by her, and I wanted her to meet “someone special”.