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Blue Dog Photography Kim Langevin
FISH, owned by Michelle Delaney, of Naples, Florida, soars through the air at a North American Diving Dogs event in West Palm Beach, Florida.

From the time he was born three years ago, FISH’s life has been one irony after another.

He’s a dog that was born in the Texas desert that you can’t keep out of the water today. And, if that’s not enough, when he arrived at 3 weeks old along with four siblings and their mother at Big Cypress German Shepherd Rescue (BCGSR) in Naples, Florida, Michelle Delaney, president and founder of the rescue, thought she was getting a GSD.

Well, surprise. FISH turned out to be a mix of German Shepherd Dog, Australian Shepherd, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and who knows what else.

“He’s a super mix, according to the DNA results,” laughs Delaney. “But we didn’t dare tell him that is not a German Shepherd Dog because he thinks he is one.”

Caring for German Shepherd Dogs

Delaney initially began rescued when someone named Ron Comeau in Texas asked if she would take in a couple of bonded GSDs. They’ve rescued hundreds together since. While Delaney doesn’t typically name rescue dogs, this water-obsessed dog needed an acronym that fit the big splash he brought: FISH, or Freaking Insane Swimming Hound.

A year and a half earlier, Delaney had bred a German Shepherd Dog litter that produced “three fantastic puppies.” One became a standout named Dagger, who participated in Schutzhund, Tracking, Obedience, and Dock Diving. He even qualified for the Ultimate Air Dogs Nationals with his first competition jump.

“He was my new best buddy,” Delaney recalls. “He was everything I wanted for a companion and performance dog. During my recovery from back surgery, he would pick up the bowls and bring them to me.”

Blue Dog Photography Kim Langevin
Delaney and FISH take a break at the St. Petersburg Dog Fanciers Association Show in June 2020 with some of his winnings.

Dagger loved playing in the backyard kiddy pool with FISH and his siblings. “FISH was always the first one in and the last one out from the point of a few weeks old,” says Delaney. “FISH wanted the pool all to himself, acting like a small alligator. He would submerge his face in the water and blow bubbles, which drew laughs from everyone nearby.”

But laughter soon segued to heartbreak for Delaney when on June 1, 2019, Dagger suddenly didn’t look right. “I rushed him to a nearby emergency veterinary hospital and within hours he passed away,” she says. “The perfect dog I had waited years for was gone.”

Finding a New Comfort

This left Delaney spiraling into a whirlwind of depression. Sensing that she was highly troubled, FISH picked up the imaginary emotional baton left behind by Dagger and became her emotional support buddy. “Many days I walked around the property aimlessly with FISH hanging alongside,” Delaney says. “It was as if he was he was saying, ‘It’s OK. You’re OK.’ “

But FISH was struggling with his own anxiety, too. But as time progressed, FISH became more comfortable with Delaney’s emotions and sensed when the right time to quietly sit alongside Delaney was.

Throughout this tender bonding process, Delaney and FISH were not officially family. In fact, Big Cypress German Shepherd Rescue’s approaching Adoption Day included FISH among the puppies available.

Blue Dog Photography Kim Langevin
FISH extends himself on a long jump at the Florida West Coast Air Dogs competition in Bradenton, Florida, in October 2020.

“The staff tried getting me to adopt him,” Delaney says. “I hurt so bad from losing Dagger I didn’t want another dog in the pack. Besides, all the puppies had approved adoption applications. I couldn’t bear to be there to say goodbye to FISH. So, I told him, ‘I would see you later buddy, and have a happy life.’”

But after leaving for the weekend, Delaney was shocked that this “perfect, caring, kind soul was not adopted.” It was as if fate was keeping them together.

Adoption events and meet and greets came and went, but FISH would come home after each event. Delaney was mind-blown. “This was the coolest little dog and nobody wanted him. Multiple people had adoption applications in for him, but when they came by to look at him, he was nowhere to be found.”

Unknown to Delaney, BCGSR volunteers decided they were not going to adopt FISH to anyone after observing the invigorating bond and passion the two soulmates had already cemented. To do so, they hid him at every adoption event.

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” Delaney smiles. “Deep down I still needed to decide if I was ready for another dog.” But time has a tendency to heal emotional scars and loss. Gradually, FISH grew on Delaney and became her sanity.

FISH has a few barriers, too. “He hates car rides and drools so bad on each outing that his bed is soaking wet by the time we reach our destination,” she says. “He doesn’t like things over his head nor strangers touching him. So you might call him a work in progress.”

Photo courtesy Blue Dog Photography Kim Langevin
FISH hits the runway at the Bradenton Ultimate Air Dogs event in October 2020.

Jumping Headfirst Into Dock Diving

But he’s right at home in the water, whether it’s simply swimming or Dock Diving. Delaney took FISH to a Dock Diving event when he was several months old and now competes in the Master’s Division, which is 20 feet to 23 feet 11 inches. “He loved it from the get-go,” she says.

Dock Diving has helped cement the bond between the two, and Delaney ‘O-FISHLY’ adopted him on October 22, 2019.  “I know Dagger sent him to me to heal the pain of his loss,” she says. “I am able to help FISH with his anxiety and he is able to heal my broken heart.”

The versatile 50-pound wunderkind is also a FISH out of water. He loves Fast CAT and has a best clocking of 28.34 miles per hour. Plus, an AKC Farm Dog certification. FISH is entered in between 12-15 Dock Diving events each year, including the AKC Diving Dogs Premier Cup, which premiered on ESPN2 May 16, making it his television debut as well.

“We enjoy our time together,” Delaney says. “No expectations, just two lost souls finding comfort together.”



Related article: Can Dogs Have Panic Attacks?
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