Somehow, it’s difficult to equate the endearing, low-key Basset Hound with speed. But Angelique, a 4-year-old, 34-pounder has defied expectations and has been on a fast pace since December 2020 at the American Kennel Club’s inaugural Fastest Dogs USA in Orlando, Florida.
The Fast CAT competition, where dogs chase a lure in a 100-yard dash, was something extra special to owners Dan and Laure Niles, of Columbus, Ohio, whose energetic hound provided plenty of hope and inspiration in their lives.
Dan Niles was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer a few weeks before the inaugural competition, and Angelique’s participation in the Orlando sprints meant everything to him, says Laure Niles.
The couple had been to the AKC Agility Invitational in Orlando with their other Basset, Ally, four times, so there was no question they would travel a thousand miles again so Angelique could spend 50 seconds over four days chasing a lure.
While consulting with his oncology team regarding treatment, Dan’s biggest concern was whether he would be able to make the trip the next month. His surgeon’s chief concern was the possibility of Niles contracting COVID before he began chemotherapy, but he gave his OK for the trip if Niles remained careful and wore a mask at all times while interacting with others.
“Angelique ran better than Dan expected and made it to the finals in the Speed of the Breed category,” Laure Niles recalls. “She finished twelfth out of over 100 dogs and was shown during the ESPN broadcast of the finals. Dan was beside himself with happiness and pride.”
A Basset with a Burst of Energy
Laure Niles knew Angelique had a high-prey drive that was suited for sports like Fast CAT when they watched her stalk and chase birds, squirrels, and rabbits as a puppy.
Her joy in chasing things was confirmed in March 2019 at the Columbus Pet Expo at the Ohio State Fairgrounds and Expo Center. One of the vendors had a short lure coursing booth set up and for a small fee, your dog could chase a lure around the course.
“Angelique just about lost her mind when she saw that. Plastic bags have not been safe in the house since,” Laure Niles says. “Being longer-legged than most Conformation Bassets and having a very muscular hind end along with watching her tear around the back yard, there was little doubt about her speed potential.”
For conditioning, Angelique embarks on regular long walks with Laure along with chasing Niles’ two German Shepherd Dogs around the backyard. Laure also has a small toy attached to a pole and line for her to play chase a laser light.
Angelique hasn’t put the brakes on since late 2020 and was in the mix at Fastest Dogs USA 2022 on September 16, 2022, at the Atrium Health Ballpark in Kannapolis, North Carolina, which is airing on ABC at 3 p.m. ET on September 25, 2022.
Fourteen of the fastest dog breeds, as well as last year’s winner Reas, a Whippet, were selected to compete, alongside three “cute” breeds – Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Golden Retrievers, and, yes, Basset Hounds. All competitors ran 100 yards three times, with the cumulative speed determining the fastest and overall winner.
Falling For Bassets
Bassets grow on you, says Laure Niles. “Dan got his first one in 1982 when we were dating and there’s been at least one in the house since,” she says.
Angelique’s breeder, Geri Wessel, was aware the couple was looking for a Basset in 2018 and selected Angelique from a litter of five.
“She knew I wanted a puppy no sane owner would want,” Laure says. “Most pet dog owners seek a puppy that is calm, easy to housebreak, and get along with. Rather, I want one that is active, inquisitive, persistent, not easily deterred or discouraged, shows problem-solving abilities, becomes bored with a lot of down time and who will most likely get into trouble because of these traits.”
Laure Niles finds that with the right proper amount of patience and some creative training, a puppy with this type of personality – while aggravating at times – can be easier to train in the long run. They want to learn new skills and thrive on figuring out the puzzle of performing the skills correctly.
“The extra time spent working through what others might consider problem behaviors helps build a stronger bond between trainer/handler and the dog,” she says.
And that has transitioned smoothly in Angelique’s case. The brisk Basset’s competition schedule has her on the run in Fast CAT one to two days a month during the spring, summer, and fall within 65 miles of home.
She does not train for Fast CAT, since it is purely instinctual, fun, and typically stress-free. Laure Niles does, however, spend at least 30 minutes a week polishing the dog’s Agility skills and another 30 minutes reinforcing her Obedience and Rally abilities. Generally, Bassets don’t like a lot of repetition or drills training, she emphasizes. “Keeping it fresh and not overdoing it works best for them,” Laure Niles says.
Despite all the training, people are still surprised to see a short Basset speed off on the course. With her ears flapping in the wind, it looks like she could take off like a plane, which is why she’s been given the nickname “the sleek Angelique.”
“Those who haven’t seen her before give me polite smiles until they watch her in action,” Laure Niles says. “That’s usually followed by ‘I’ve never seen a Basset run like that before!’’
Though Angelique can be a mouthful to say on a fast-paced Agility or Rally course, she was named by Dan Niles after Angelique Bouchard in the daytime soap “Dark Shadows.” For a shortcut, it’s “Ang” or “Angie,” but in Fast CAT, the lone command from the Niles upon release is “Get it!” as Angelique goes running after the lure.
A Beacon of Hope
During his various hospital stays in the following months since the first Fastest Dog USA trial a video of Angelique’s performance, which Dan Niles shared with his doctors, nurses, and caregivers, would brighten up his treatments.
His face would light up and his mood would brighten when someone would walk into his room and say, “I remember you, you have the Basset Hound that was on TV.”
“Dan used the goal of Angelique going back to the Fast CAT Invitational, or some other big stage, as added incentive to recover from surgery and get through his chemo sessions to continue to act as her catcher on the Fast CAT track.”
Unfortunately, Dan Niles passed away in September 2021.
“Each time I compete with one of our dogs in any of the dog sports in which we are involved, I remember just how proud he was of her and how proud he would be of us now. He still travels with us in spirit to every event,” Laure Niles says.