When Anjie Crow couldn’t find Fox Sports on the TV in her Dobbs Ferry, New York, hotel room, she and Zoey popped down to the hotel bar and took up purchase there.
The bar wasn’t open yet, but that TV did have the channel she sought. So she settled on one bar stool with 9-year-old Zoey on another. Together they watched.
Crow never expected that eight years to the day after adopting Zoey the two of them would be competing on one of the biggest stages — the Westminster Masters Agility competition.
Now, they were watching a rerun of the finals.
Had the bar been open, Crow might have ordered the finest water available, to be poured into Zoey’s dog bowl.
From shelter pup to champion
Crow was perusing Pet Finder in June 2014 when she came across Zoey, a small black and white speckled Australian Cattle Dog and Jack Russel Terrier mix. She’d been plucked from the shelter by the Middle Tennessee German Shepherd Rescue and something clicked for Crow.
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Zoey could be the dog she was looking for. She’d become interested in agility training but the dog she had at the time had no interest in the sport. Zoey, she’d come to learn, was perfect for it.
“She’s very food driven so it was easy to train her,” Crow said with a laugh. “She eats everything. Had to call the vet’s office a couple of times because of it.”
Shelter dogs are just built different. They’re resilient, tough when they need to be, but can carry with them traumatic pasts.
Being a shelter dog started Zoey at a disadvantage for agility competitions. Most dogs that compete are branded for that purpose.
“A lot of the handlers get dogs when they’re 8 weeks old,” Crow explained. “They get so much training, exposure therapy that puts them a step ahead. Dogs that start as adults are at a disadvantage. Dogs adopted at shelters really don’t have an advantage.”
But Zoey was eager to learn and fearless.
The pair spent Crow’s free time over the next two years training. She bought weave polls, a tunnel, teeter totter, jump bars and a hoop and set them up on the most level land in her backyard.
Once Crow was happy with Zoey’s development, they began working the local competition circuits and gradually expanded outside Tennessee. Then Zoey began winning.
Admittedly, Zoey is not the fastest dog, a key component of the competition, but that hasn’t stopped her progress. She won her first Masters Agility Championship title, the ticket to Westminster, in May 2019. She now has five of those.
The big day
The Westminster competition takes the first 350 dogs with a qualifying title for the event each year. Crow overnighted their application.
The two were all set to go in January before it was postponed because COVID-19 cases were once again on the rise in New York.
Then weeks before they were to travel to the Lyndhurst Mansion for the rescheduled event, Zoey began having shoulder problems.
“I took her to the vet, a chiropractor, a massage therapist,” Crow listed. “We almost didn’t go, but then I thought ‘if we don’t do it now, we’ll never do it.'”
So they loaded up the car and made the drive, stopping to compete in Pennsylvania before settling in at their Dobbs Ferry hotel room.
Zoey competed in the Masters Standard event, which runs dogs through a series of obstacles, and the Masters Jumpers with Weave, a course that only requires dogs to jump and weave through poles. In her height class, she competed against 74 other dogs.
She had flawless runs in both events, earning her three ribbons: one for each event and a third for double qualifying.
The competition takes the top 10 dogs from each height class to move forward, and they always select an All American, which is a mixed breed dog. Zoey was their girl and that was her ticket to the finals.
“I was not expecting her to make it,” Crow said. “I had to triple check the finals list, asked friends if they were seeing what I was seeing.”
In the finals run, Zoey zipped through the obstacles, taking direction like a pro. She was nearly to the end, when she hopped over a jump from the wrong direction after taking a miscue from Crow.
“I knew immediately. I thought ‘well, this is over,’” Crow said. “I was disappointed, but not in her. I’m so proud of her.”
On Wednesday, Zoey darted across Crow’s backyard hunting squirrels in the tall trees of their Hermitage home. She flopped over onto her back and wriggled on the cement driveway.
They’re taking a break from competition.
“She deserves it,” Crow said.
Crow has dedicated a room in her house to her dog’s accomplishments. One wall in that room, from floor to ceiling, is lined with hundreds of ribbons. Her Masters titles are hung on another wall along with the jumping poles she crossed over to win those awards. A quilted banner, gifted by a friend of Crow, hangs on the pole from Zoey’s first title win.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of room,” she laughed. “I guess I’ll get a bigger house.”
Soon they’ll be back on the circuit and traveling past Tennessee to compete again, but Zoey’s age is starting to show. Her snout is showing more gray and the fur around her eyes is turning too. Her energy though remains unmatched.
Zoey’s got a little sister named Bindi, a part Australian Cattle Dog and part American Eskimo dog, who has been training to compete. Crow isn’t sure how long she’ll continue to compete with Zoey.
“I just want her to be a dog while she has enough life left to be one,” Crow said as Zoey lounged on the grass in the shade.
Contact Tennessean reporter Kirsten Fiscus at 615-259-8229 or KFiscus@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KDFiscus.