Mikey: The Story of a Diamond in the Ruff
Debbie DeSantis, CPDT
is the story of my
rescue lhasa, Mikey, who won High-in Trial (HIT) at ALAC’s
2005 nationals in Frederick, Maryland. I have had and trained numerous
breeds for competition (a UD shih tzu, CDX and UDX shelties, CH Belgian
tervuren), but Mikey has as much willingness to work as any I purchased
from conscientious breeders. He was found on the streets of a
high-crime area in February 2002. He also had been attacked by larger
dogs and was very afraid of them when I got him. Because I teach
obedience and do behavior modification, a friend of mine who
volunteered at the animal shelter told me to go see him. She said that
he was slated for euthanasia because he was ill and fear aggressive.
With no intention of getting another dog, I stopped by to see if I
could help foster and re-home him.
When I met him, it was obvious that he had a hard life. He was severely matted, filthy, and ill. He had infected wounds and a cold. I immediately took him to a vet and groomers I knew. When he was clipped down and bathed, this adorable black-and-white lhasa emerged. The vet put Mikey on antibiotics and vaccinated him and later neutered him. When I took him home, he didn’t fear my well-socialized furry crew (a shih tzu and shelties), as he instinctively knew they would not harm him.
The first few nights were very distressing, as Mikey had nightmares and whined and thrashed about, reliving some horrible past events. He had one of the saddest faces, with blank, empty eyes—as if he had seen the worst that the world had to offer and had lost hope. From his later behavior, it was obvious that he had been abused and I would, understandably, have to prove to him that I could be trusted.
We named him Mikey after a child in a cereal commercial who was a picky eater. The canine Mikey was the opposite—he would have eaten cardboard if we let him. Living hungry on the streets can do that to you, I suppose. So food served as a very powerful motivator in his training. I began basic training when he healed physically. I train with positive reinforcement: a lot of praise and treats. He was obviously very intelligent and loved to learn. The training also gave him some structure in his life, helped me communicate with him, and established our bond.
We worked on desensitizing and counter-conditioning his reaction to strange dogs and on his trust issues. After learning to come (he moved like the speed of light), sit, lie down, and walk nicely on a lead, we started more advanced training. He learned to heel with his head up and hand signals for commands. As we bonded, he relished my praise as well as the treats. He became perky and his charismatic personality emerged.
Mikey learned complicated tricks, such as the following: “begging for his life” and, when I “shoot” him with my finger, he falls over dramatically on his back and screams (being a ham, he added the scream). He arises when I tell him that they were only blanks. He also tells me his name, nods his head up and down when I ask him if he’s telling the truth, and runs around me when I ask if he’s giving me the run around. He rings a bell and says his prayers, releasing with “Amen.” We call him “the little gentleman,” as he now kisses the hands of people who reach to pet him. He’s quite a character.
I could see that he was a special little guy who has the spirit and drive to work. He LOVES it. So I aimed at getting ready to show him after getting an ILP number from the AKC. I registered him as “Debbie’s Mighty Mike” The name fit him: though small in size, he is big in spirit. He’s a survivor. I saw that the lhasa nationals were about two hours away from my house, so I pursued getting him ready. I showed him one time in the novice class before the nationals at a large show and he took fourth place out of 17 dogs, scoring 193.5 out of 200. I entered him in the novice and pre-novice classes at the nationals. Little Mikey didn’t let me down: he scored 192 in both classes, received two first-place awards, earning him the high-in-trial award. It was really a thrilling event in our lives! The people at the nationals were so kind to us and made the event very memorable.
Mikey is one of the smartest, most fun dogs I’ve ever met. He’s an ambassador for both the lhasa apso breed and for rescue dogs. Seeing him makes people realize how intelligent lhasas are and that they can do as much—if not more than—the so-called “obedience breeds.” People ask for him wherever I go. I can’t imagine life without Mikey—nor would I want to. Our bond is unbreakable.