This Standard Poodle is one of five, loyal companion dogs who won the 19th annual AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). The winners will be honored at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Florida, December 15-16, 2018.
Some relationships resonate more deeply with time. In the case of 13-year-old Spencer Pardee and Teddy, a 6-year-old Standard Poodle, it has been a storybook packed with the spirit of challenge and mutual growth.
In 2005, Spencer, of Concord, Michigan, was adopted at 8 months of age by Bill and Terri Pardee. He was highly intelligent with extreme anxieties and fears, later diagnosed as “high-functioning autism.”
But, when puppy Teddy (Jed’s Theodore Roosevelt) came into his life in May 2012, things began to change, albeit it slowly, recalls Terri Pardee, “Teddy opened up new horizons and instilled a confidence in Spencer that are gifts of a lifetime.”
The incredible transformation earned Teddy, and Spencer the AKC Humane Fund Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE) 2018 Exemplary Companion Dog honor, bestowed at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando, Florida, in December.
A dog only seemed like a natural fit for Spencer, says Pardee, a professor of psychology at Spring Arbor University, in Spring Arbor, Michigan, and previous owner of Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs.
“I grew up with German Shepherds. When I was in middle school, my Mom would take me to Detroit weekly for handling training class. So I have had a longtime interest in dogs and their relationship to man. Later, while enrolled in a Masters program at Michigan State I began researching literature on pet-assisted therapy, and I found there was very little information available. But that’s not the case today.”
In the 1990s, Pardee served as a high-school counselor and utilized her Golden Retriever to interact with students. “There was some skepticism at first,” she recalls, “but this dog quickly made believers out of everyone.”
She volunteered with an area 4-H Club in 2010 to instruct dog training, often with Spencer in tow, hoping it would spark an interest. But while all the youngsters refined their skills, Spencer sat under a nearby tree alone watching.
Dejected but yet determined, Pardee remained hopeful Spencer would eventually embrace a dog. After her Golden died, she figured to get another. But plans changed quickly when the couple adopted a second child, Eli, who had allergies. That meant finding a nonallergenic breed.
She admits Poodles were not on her radar, considering them aloof and “overly elegant.” But after connecting with a Poodle puppy at a tracking test, who was Teddy’s brother Estlin, she became a bit more open to considering the breed. And, fortunately, there was a respected breeder, Barbara Tucker, just miles away in Grass Lake, Michigan.
The family made a get-acquainted trip to Grass Lake where everyone was introduced to two 4-months-old puppies. Spencer, however, was both scared and disinterested, choosing not to touch either of them while maintaining no eye contact with Tucker.
Bill and Terri were impressed with what they saw and purchased Teddy hoping that 7-year-old Spencer would eventually embrace him. “I had no preconceived notions,” she admits. “It was a nonallergenic dog that hopefully, he would grow to like.”
That pairing gradually grew into a full-fledged love affair and the precursor to fun with obedience, tracking, rally, hunt tests and agility. Spencer and Tucker’s bedroom looks like a championship showcase today with rosettes spread out everywhere. And when people at school ask if he is involved in sports, he replies, “I do dog showing.”
But his introduction to the show world produced its share of anxiety. At one of their first obedience shows Spencer was quite nervous, and he and Teddy failed miserably, Terri Pardee recalls. “Spencer left the ring and told me, ‘Teddy was terrible. I quit!’ After a few minutes of cuddling Teddy, he returned and smiled, ‘I am not going to quit. I am going back in the ring this afternoon. Teddy gave me his best, and I need to give him my best.’”
In addition to being Spencer’s best friend and confidante, Teddy has been a teaching source for her son, adds Pardee. Teddy helped him to learn to read nonverbal behavior, have empathy and take the perspective of others — all of which can be challenging for someone on the autism spectrum. Spencer sought to understand dogs’ body language to understand what Teddy was thinking and feeling. Once he grasped those things, it enabled him to be closer to Teddy. That allowed Pardee to show him it works the same way with people, too. Consequently, his comfort zone around fellow students and adults grew.
Here’s a rundown of the pair’s highest titles earned in four endeavors: hunt test, Spencer earned a Junior Hunter title and helped Mom train Teddy to his Senior Hunter title; obedience, Companion Dog; rally, Rally Excellent; tracking, Tracking Dog and Tracking Dog Urban. Obedience and rally are his favorites, with tracking ranking close behind.
Spencer, 10, and Teddy took second place Beginner Novice at the 2014 AKC National Championship in Orlando, and followed that up with a third-place Preferred Novice in Orlando two years later.
Those successes on a national stage instilled a spirited, emotional power and confidence in Spencer prompting catchphrases such as: “I can do this!” Consequently, he can now stand up in front of crowds at schools, nursing homes, and church outings to present obedience demonstrations with Teddy and cite the value of a relationship with a dog, encouraging others to become an owner a dog can trust.
While the pair is bonded like Velcro morning and night, the 55-pound Standard Poodle does not accompany Spencer to school. “I think about him a lot while I’m in class, but I know he will always be there waiting for me when I get home every day,” he smiles.
Team Teddy also includes four other vital members: Tucker, the breeder, who Spencer lovingly calls “Grandma Barb;” Fountain Inn, South Carolina, trainer Connie Cleveland, also known as “Aunt Connie; Ed Presnall, of Albion, Michigan, who taught Spencer tracking; and fellow Poodle enthusiast Shirley Robertson, of East Lansing, Michigan. “Shirley,” says Terri Pardee, “was the first to break through with Spencer when it came to teaching him how to work with Teddy. She took him to dog shows, paid his entry fees and has been a special friend and tutor.”
When asked what makes Teddy a great dog, Spencer replies, “I can’t pick just one thing. It is all the little things. It’s everything! That’s why he is my best friend.”
Learn more about our other ACE winners:
The AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will take place Saturday to Sunday, December 15 to 16, 2018, in Orlando, Florida. Tune in to AKC.TV, or download the AKC.TV app on Roku, Apple TV, orAmazonFireTV to catch the live stream starting on Saturday, December 15 at 12 p.m. ET. Watch the TV premiere on New Year’s Day on Animal Planet at 6 p.m. ET. Encore performance airs at 12 a.m. ET.