An ‘imperfect perfect’ – I am not lame!
Gladys is a Working Cocker Spaniel who was born with a deformed back leg. However, she started agility and is doing very well. Her speed over the obstacles is phenomenal. She moved up from Beginners to Novice Steeplechase at Staverton last year. It was the first time at a show that no judge or spectator asked if she was injured. Gladys oozes character and now getting a cult following. She has granted us permission to use this interview by her handler Anne Higgins to encourage handlers with 'differently abled' dogs to try agility, if suitable for their dogs.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself Gladys.
A. I am a black working cocker spaniel bitch with a blue roan bib. I am quite small for a working cocker bitch. When I was born 2 years ago, I may have been crushed in my Mum’s womb. This means that my rear right leg did not form properly at the stifle and is too short (the ground does not meet it!). I stayed with my Dam for five months because no-one wanted to buy me from my breeder due to my wonky leg. Then a very nice lady came to look at my brother who was the only non-wonky puppy left. She fell in love with both of us and took us both home.
Q. How did you end up at the Spaniel Madhouse?
A. Well, the lovely lady who took me home from my breeder kept me and my brother for three months together. We were a bit of a nightmare for her as we bonded together and I was very bossy. She soon realised that I really needed a working home as my instinct to hunt was very strong and she no longer worked her dogs.
She asked the vet to help her try and find me a working home. They contacted the madhouse who do lots of work for spaniel re-homing. I was assessed by the police who desperately wanted me to be an explosives search dog but the police vet was not happy with my deformed leg. So the Madhouse hoomans took me back and agreed to look after me and work me as a gundog. The lady who was my first home was very happy as the madhouse hoomans had previous experience of looking after a spaniel with wonky legs and knew all about physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, proper exercise and diet. I got my new name of ‘Gladys’ because the Madhouse hoomans were /Glad it's' them I came to live with!
Q. So who do you live with now at the Madhouse?
A. I am the Madhouse baby. There are three Springers.
1) Ellie, the oldest at nearly 10. She is the Baroness. She is a retired police dog – a very cool lady whom I respect totally. She is awesome and is a better ball catcher than all of us put together!
2) Hilda, The Princess and the Mumma dog. She is the boss. They say she is pretty but I am cuter! She is probably a bit of a cross with a Setter or something but don’t tell her I said so! She tells us off if we misbehave, and she taught me the madhouse rules. We are very good playmates, I am her right hand girl and I am the Duchess!
3) Alfred (RIP) had a very poorly heart which the vets said should not be able to keep him alive. He took lots of medications and stayed strong and handsome, helping me dig for moles and voles until he went peacefully to sleep for the last time in November. He was about three. He has helped lots of other poorly heart dogs by donating his medications to them and we are having a memorial walk for him next week to raise money for rescue dogs. I miss him. He was the Prince.
4) Then there is the other wocker - the gobby one - they call Edgar. He is mostly white and a very good hunter and retriever but still has to calm down a bit and grow up. We are very distantly related! He is the Jester!
5) Then there is the cross of both types – some say ‘Sprocker.' We just say mutt! He is Stanley. He is very cool and the best at agility, although he does freak a bit a noises he does not know and mostly at quad bikes and motor bikes. He is the Duke.
We are all re-homes or rescues and have special needs of one sort or another.
We live there with Anne the ‘Lady Dog’ and Mike 'The Big Dog!'
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. My best hobby is hunting for anything – I will be working as a gundog again this year. I am still learning the ropes with my Lady dog Anne and Hilda who is a very good gundog. I will go this year and do one or two drives a shoot. I like to retrieve as well even though most of the birds are bigger than me!
I like agility when I am not working as a gundog. I have only learnt the agility game this year but think it is really fun. My other hobby is cuddles!
Q. Do you think the fact you are ‘differently abled’ affects your agility performance?
A. I don’t know any different! I just run as fast as I can and do the obstacles I am told to. Sometimes if I am not given the right message quick enough I go in the wrong order but that is not my fault!
I will always find the weave entry difficult as it is a tight turn into my shorter leg. I have to work very hard to get the balance right, especially when I am running fast from another obstacle. We are working on this at training, but I cannot do too many weaves because I have to protect my back as well.
Despite my shorter leg, my Lady dog thinks my contacts are good. I even try to get my shorter leg on the contact area, too! I do get a bit worried on the big dogwalk and seesaw as it is a very narrow and high area for a small dog with a wonky leg. But my Lady Dog helps me stay steady and is always there in case I wobble.
Q. How have you done this year?
A. I only started for fun in June. The first few runs I did I thought I had to go and see the judge on the way round, but I soon got the idea that she was not fussed about seeing me! I have only done nursery agility until I am ready for the weaves properly.
I have managed to progress to Novice in the UKA Steeplechase programme though and won a couple of games rounds. I also did a couple of KC shows with Stanley. I won a Grade 3-5 Helter Skelter against loads of other Small dogs and got a clear round in a Pairs run last week even with 6 weaves! I tried agility for the first time with the 'real' dogs and only got 5 faults for my weave entry and then did 12 weaves perfectly. I think once I can master my weaves I will do okay in the beginners agility and jumping as well.
Q. Do people notice you are ‘differently abled’?
A. When I started doing runs people shouted at my Lady dog and the judge that I was lame. I got stopped in the ring a few times. Once I was so indignant as I was on a good run that I had a pooh by the judge! Now my Lady Dog specifically tells the judge about my leg so that they know I am not lame. I have a letter from my vets to say I am fit and healthy and can partake in all aspects of agility.
I have seen other dogs with only three legs doing really well at agility and I have half a leg more! As long as it is safe and the dog enjoys working, a disability should not stop handlers giving agility a go!
Q. Do you have romantic interest?
A. My Lady dog has been approached many times about me becoming a ‘mum! But I am spayed as are all rescue dogs. There are so many rescue dogs needing homes that I would not want to add to the problem. In any case, I could not be a Mum. The birth process may be harmful to me as my body is misaligned because of my leg. I do have a bit of a following which includes a few tri-pawed boys and girls. One called Sweet William is my special friend!
Q. Would you like to be famous?
A. My first public engagement was in January 2010 when I presented the prize for the best dog friendly pub in Somerset. The event was held in the name of Max who was the first Madhouse Spaniel and a retired police dog who had very bad hips. He ended up with wheels and became a little famous. His memory has raised nearly £2500 for dog rescues to help dogs find homes that suit their needs. His wheels have already helped two other dogs have some freedom. I think this is really cool and I would like to become famous if I could help like this.
Q. What does the future hold for Miss Gladys?
A. Lots of fun, I hope. Gundog work and training most of the winter interspersed with a little agility training. Next season some work on weaves and improving my Lady dogs handling!
I am going to be assessed as a Pets as Therapy dog next Spring as well, and I hope to get an assignment with children with disabilities which the PAT assessor had already suggested would be my forte. I love children and, if I can use my 'differently-abled' status to help children gain confidence and support, that will be great. I already visit a lady informally. She has a thing the hoomans call ME and cuddling and stoking me is very therapeutic for her.
Whatever the future I am sure I will enjoy just being a dog!
Anne calls these dogs, the ‘imperfect perfects’. She is a great believer in ‘dogs being dogs’ and working their innate skills, in the field, as search dogs, PAT dogs or, of course, adapted to agility, flyball or obedience.
Anne’s interest in agility was sparked by Stanley, a reject police dog with no socialisation or experience of the world, whom she and Mike adopted aged 12 months to keep Max company. Stanley’s ‘learning light’ was eventually switched on by ‘earning’ his food rewards when Anne discovered agility and clicker training.
Both Anne and Stanley soon became hooked. Stanley is Anne’s continuing ‘book of dog knowledge’ and, although she doubts if any future member of her madhouse will be quite as difficult, she is forever grateful to him as he opened the door to her love for all things dog and has allowed her to be confident enough to care for the rest of the ‘Spaniel Madhouse’ pack including the delightful Miss Gladys!