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Ken Catron
Stella Rowlett and her 11-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Cherry Pie, compete at an Obedience trial in July 2021. Photo by Ken Catron

If you saw Cherry Pie today, you’d have no idea the athletic, 12-year-old Cocker Spaniel was once a broken-boned puppy, hit by a car and on the verge of euthanasia.

Now in her golden years, the senior dog is healthier than ever, and she has a lifetime of accomplishments to show for it. But before she could make history in the sport of AKC Obedience, she had to overcome many hardships.

Cherry Pie’s challenges started at just 12 weeks old when she was hit by a car in a supermarket parking lot. She suffered a broken femur, but instead of paying for surgery to fix her leg, her owner at the time decided to have her euthanized.

Luckily, before the dog could be euthanized, Dr. Susan Min and Terrolynn Guiles stepped in to get Cherry Pie the surgery she needed.

At the time, Stella Rowlett already owned two Cocker Spaniels and wasn’t looking for a third. But she and her husband fell in love with Cherry Pie, who joined their home after having a successful surgery.

By seven months old, Cherry Pie was already demonstrating her grit. She debuted in AKC sports with a Qualifying Score in AKC Rally the same week she graduated from puppy classes.

That’s when Stella knew she had a special dog on their hands. Surviving a broken femur as a puppy was just one of many challenges Cherry Pie would overcome before making AKC obedience history.

Sweet as Cherry Pie

In 2008, when Stella and her husband were looking for their first dog, they found the American Cocker Spaniel Rescue of Washington to be a perfect fit. That’s where they got their first two Cocker Spaniels — Heidi and Louie.

In a pet obedience class with Louie, Stella met a woman who competed in AKC Obedience with her Leonberger, and Stella was intrigued. So she entered Louie in an obedience trial. “While Louie was eager to please me, he was not into obedience competition,” Stella says.

When Cherry Pie joined the family in 2010, Stella realized this hard-working Cocker Spaniel might be the perfect dog to excel in obedience.

Stella with Heidi (left) and Cherry Pie (right). Heidi was Stella’s first-ever dog and survived cancer three times. Photo by Jon Rowlett.

Before turning two, Cherry Pie finished her Companion Dog title and shortly after earned her High in Trial win at the Rose City Cocker Specialty. After a brief break to recover from two knee surgeries, Cherry Pie finished her Companion Dog Excellent title in 2013.

“While we have never thought about training a dog for Utility Obedience, Cherry Pie mastered the exercises despite her green handler,” Stella said. “We finished her Utility Dog title right before her 5th birthday.”

A stem cell surgery after her 5th birthday enabled Stella and Cherry Pie to quest for her Utility Dog Excellent title. “Despite her extended time off, Cherry Pie finished her UDX in January 2017,” Stella says.

Beating the Odds — Again

In 2016, Stella and Cherry Pie qualified for the 2017 AKC National Obedience Championship (NOC) as the No. 1 Cocker Spaniel in the country. But untimely injuries to both Stella and Cherry Pie in March prevented them from attending.

Multiple vets determined that Cherry Pie’s injury was career-ending. But Stella knew Cherry Pie was a fighter.

“Knowing that Cherry Pie has a history of beating the odds, we attempted another series of stem cell treatments to provide her a good quality of life,” Stella says. “Despite the lack of practice and another semi-retirement, we attempted a comeback in late 2017 and ended the year as the No. 1 Cocker Spaniel once again.”

Cherry Pie was inducted into the American Spaniel Club Obedience Hall of Distinction in July 2018.

In the second half of 2018 and into 2019, Stella found herself caught up in her work and life and the duo took another brief break. But in 2020 at nearly 10 years old, Cherry Pie once again came out of retirement.

“We ended up with a UDX leg and a few OM points our first weekend out after resuming our practice for five weeks!” Stella says. “She became the cover girl of the coveted Front and Finish magazine on her 10th birthday.”

But by mid-2020, their obedience journey was once again interrupted by both COVID-19 and the terminal illness of Stella’s other Cocker Spaniel, Heidi.

Photo by Ken Catron

Oldest Dog at the 2021 AKC Obedience Classic

In 2021, the team got back on track and Cherry Pie earned her UDX leg #12 after just two-and-a-half weeks of practice. “With the encouragement from Judge Bonnie Lee, Cherry Pie and I resumed regular practice and started trialing again in April 2021,” Stella says. “Cherry Pie has since gotten the elusive Open win, multiple Utility wins, multiple all-breed HITs and HCs, finished her UDX2, OM1 and UDX3 titles.”

Stella and Cherry Pie will compete in the 2022 AKC Obedience Classic on December 17 and 18 in Orlando, Florida. Even more special: Cherry Pie will be the oldest dog at the event for the second year in a row.

Of the 247 dogs competing, the average age is 5.2 years old. Cherry Pie is more than twice that.

Many people underestimate the abilities of senior dogs, according to Stella. But if a dog is happy and healthy, there’s no reason for old age to be a setback. “A lot of people have told me to retire Cherry Pie after she finished her UDX title at six and to get a puppy,” Stella says. “They think that older Cockers cannot do well in obedience.”

But of all of Cherry Pie’s challenges, age has never been a problem. Cherry Pie and Stella achieved their personal best-combined scores twice in November 2021. She also finished her UDX2, OM1, and UDX3 titles, with 19 UDX legs in 2021. “And above all, she is smiling while she is performing,” Stella says. “A healthy senior dog is a joy to work with in obedience.”

Stella says that despite Cherry Pie being 11, she still acts like a puppy and isn’t ready to retire and is fully ready to compete in the Obedience Classic again, which is part of the 2022 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.

Photo by Ken Catron

Age is Just a Number

A spectator today may be surprised to learn that Cherry Pie was once a puppy with a broken femur on the verge of being euthanized. Thanks to the care of others and the love of Stella, that small puppy grew up to be the No. 1 Obedience Cocker Spaniel, be the cover girl of the coveted Front and Finish magazine, be inducted into the American Spaniel Club Obedience Hall of Distinction, and compete as the oldest dog at the 2022 AKC Obedience Classic.

“Despite her unfortunate past and the pain that she had to suffer through, she has always faced her life with courage and happiness,” Stella says. “She truly is a merry Cocker and knows no strangers. She has transcended the fate of a rescued pup with a broken leg and flourished.”

Watch Cherry Pie in Action

The 2022 AKC Obedience Classic takes place December 17-18 in Orlando, Florida as part of the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin.

You can stream the weekend’s events for free on AKC.tv on any browser or device. Download the AKC tv app today.

Watch all of the competition of the 2022 AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin on AKC.tv. Stream all of the action for free on any browser or device, or the AKCtv app! The 2022 AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin will air on television January 1 at 2 p.m. ET on ABC.

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