Posted Date: October 25, 2013
Tommy looked like a little, lost dog to some strangers, but in reality he was a Cynosport champion who needed to go home. By Deborah Davidson Harpur and Brenna Fender
If you have been in USDAA agility and at the Cynosport World Games, you will recognize one spunky little dog when you arrive at this year's event or view the live stream. Tommy, the Jack Russell Terrier who runs with Megan Foster, is back to try to earn his spots in the finals and make it on the podium again. Last year, Tommy was the Performance Speed Jumping 8" Champion, but since then, he's had quite an adventure. To look at him, you'd never know he went through a big ordeal just this year.
On Christmas Eve, Tommy, who is owned by Cherie Whittenberg but lives part time with his agility handler, Megan Foster, was startled by some fireworks. He disappeared. Megan says, "I assumed he had escaped the fence and gone to the neighbor's to eat cat food, so I looked there first. When he didn't show up, I searched the entire subdivision, and an hour later, in full panic, called my parents and Cherie for back-up."
Cherie sprang into action. "I live about 50 minutes away from them and I immediately got dressed and drove up there that night to help look for Tommy on Christmas Eve. We searched everywhere we could and I spent the night at her house and looked again once daylight broke on Christmas morning. I had to be at work on Christmas day so I left the search in her family's hands. I immediately called AVID to make sure that my contact information for Tommy's microchip was correct and to report him missing and gave them Megan's contact information for an alternate contact.
I had five days scheduled off to attend the annual New Year s USDAA trial in Belton, Texas, that [Megan's family's] club hosted. So I stayed at their home and continued to search those five days while they were gone and put up signs everywhere.
Megan and I used a phone service that was like an Amber Alert for missing pets and the day she was leaving for the dog show she got a call from a woman that had seen Tommy get into a white SUV that went to a neighborhood just down the street from Megan. I spent my time there searching the neighborhood three times a day and knocked on any door that had a white SUV in the driveway and put up fliers all over that neighborhood and gave them to anyone I found out and about. I also visited the local animal shelters with fliers and talked to staff and animal control officers about Tommy and made sure they had flyers for their trucks."
Handler Megan's sister, Deva, also helped look for Tommy. She says, "We all drove back and rode around looking for him and walking the area as well. Beyond that first night we put up signs and drove through neighborhoods knocking on people's doors asking about him."
But all of that work was for naught. Tommy stayed missing.
Meanwhile, a man from out of town drove by a small, frightened-looking dog. When the man stepped out of his car, that dog came right over. The man kept the dog until he returned to his hometown, and then he left the pup with his brother and sister-in-law. They decided to keep him and call him "Bo."
Bo began suffering from flea allergies about four months later. When his new family brought him to North Pines Animal Hospital, they also asked if anyone recognized who Bo might actually be.
North Pines has a policy to scan all animals brought in for treatment. They discovered that Bo belonged to Cherie Whittenberg and made a fateful phone call. Cherie says, "I was at work on May 1st and was waiting for a call from the district attorney because I was in the middle of testifying in a cruelty case in downtown Houston. I was checking my cell phone frequently and saw that I had missed a call and a voicemail from a 936 area code which is the same area code as where Megan had lived. I listened to the voicemail and it was the vet clinic telling me about this dog that had been brought in to their facility and they didn't know if I still wanted the dog and to please call them. I couldn't quit crying enough to make sense when I got the vet clinic on the phone. I finally calmed down enough and found out that Tommy was back at the family's home and that they would have to contact them and figure out how we could get Tommy back. I was immediately calling Monica, Megan, and Deva, trying to reach someone that was closer to him than me and I could not leave work because of my testimony needed in the cruelty case. Monica was on her way to Dallas and she got hold of her stepson and he and Deva went to pick Tommy up for me."
Tommy was returned two days before his 10th birthday. Deva says, "He was several pounds overweight and he had grayed [during his absence] but he was happy and healthy and that's all that I cared about at that point!" Tommy went home with Cherie for a while, but then got right back into agility, heading out to a regional in Washington, where he qualified to compete at the 2013 Cynosport World Games.
Will Tommy top the podium again this year, against the odds? We'll have to watch and see!
Subscribers can log in to read a detailed account of Tommy's story as told by Cherie, Megan, Deva, Tommy's breeder Linda Knowles, and the North Pines Animal Hospital by clicking here.
Deborah Davidson Harpur has been competing in agility since 1999 and is known as a handler of a wide variety of breeds of all shapes and sizes. She offers agility training classes in the Port of Los Angeles area for both recreational and competitive agility students. You can find her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/deborah.davidsonharpur or read about her dogs at pm2dogagility.com.