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Turbo the All-American Dog clears a hurdle in an agility trial in North Kingston, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy Wild Coyote Studio.

If you ever find yourself seeking out the true meaning and personification of ‘underdog,’ the versatile Turbo should be right at the top of the list.

This former South Carolina shelter All-American puppy, under the guidance of owner-handler Pam McKinney, of Mont Vernon, New Hampshire (population 2,300), hasn’t found an American Kennel Club sport he doesn’t like, plus he’s pretty, darn adept at therapy work, too.

An AKC Canine Partner for five years, Turbo – his registered name is Turbo of CIW – lives with McKinney and her husband, Bill, on three acres in a cabin in the woods (hence CIW).

But Turbo’s route to the tiny New Hampshire town and into McKinney’s heart has been marked by a reflection of gusto and wit with plenty of question marks at the outset.

From Rags to Riches

A box of puppies, including Turbo, was dropped off at a shelter in South Carolina in 2013. Mary’s Dogs, Rescue & Adoption in Deerfield, New Hampshire, brought the litter north where the dogs were eventually sent to foster homes to prepare for their eventual families.

McKinney explains, “I had been fostering for Mary’s Dogs for about a year in hopes of finding one to fit in with our family permanently. I typically have a foster for two to three weeks before we find its permanent home.”

Following the South Carolina litter’s arrival in the Northeast, Mary’s Dogs founder Mary Doane called McKinney and exclaimed, “I found the one for you!”

McKinney recalls, “I showed up at her location to pick up the next foster dog. There were eight 12-week-old puppies of various colors and markings. Mary handed me ‘my puppy’ and I said, ‘we will see.’ He whined pathetically the entire 30-minute drive home. It was cute, but a bit annoying.

A proud Turbo shows off a ribbon wreath of his winnings. The wreath was fashioned by Leslie Ashcraft, a friend of owner-handler Pam McKinney. Photo courtesy Pam McKinney.

“He immediately fit in quite nicely and was the most behaved puppy I have ever had. He taught himself some manners on his own, such as sitting politely at the door prior to going out, without being asked. He would not enter a room without permission and he never pottied in the house.”

All this sounds wonderful, but McKinney sought a newcomer to interact with Caro, her current mixed breed dog.

He seldom acknowledged Caro’s presence while totally focusing on McKinney. “Very cute, but not what I was seeking,” she adds. After about a week, McKinney notified Mary’s Dogs to release him for rescue. “I took pictures and did the obligatory write-up of his temperament for the posting.”

Mary’s Dogs administrators held out hope McKinney would have a change of heart, holding off the listing for a few more days. About two weeks later, McKinney recognized the connection between her and Turbo was stronger than she initially imagined. So she signed the rescue forms and named him.

So Why Turbo?

“I like to have names that go well together,” she replies. “I went through a list of dog names and Turbo went well with Caro. As a puppy and young dog, he did go into what I called Turbo-mode every evening, zooming around like a wild, crazy guy. Hence, his nickname is Turboman.”

While the 6-year-old, 50-pounder has boundless energy, he has a “natural shut-off switch,” says McKinney, which bodes well for his wide gamut of activities from Agility, Dock Diving, Scent Work, and Rally to therapy visits with seniors to children. “He knows the difference and what his job is given the environment,” says McKinney, a client services specialist for a structural engineering firm in Bedford, New Hampshire, where Turbo serves yet another role – office dog.

During an AKC Rally trial at American K9 Country in Amherst, New Hampshire, Turbo attentively eyes McKinney, awaiting her command. Photo courtesy Ray Benoit.

Take his 2020 Master Agility Championship at Westminster. He knew he was there on a business trip, i.e. agility. It was all around him. “When spectators were walking around visiting dogs in the crating area, McKinney saw “total confusion” on his face. At that point, she ordered him to “go say hi,” which is his command for that type of work. “He looked at me questioningly with the quick switch,” she says. “It was hard for him, but he did his best.”

The most spectators would get was a quick greeting, then he would turn to McKinney, who felt his tight muscles, which is his sports, not therapy, mode.

This farm dog was not intimidated by his first visit to the Big Apple, running with no faults in both the Standard and Jumpers classes. He did not place in either but was the fourth-place All-American Dog overall in his jump height.

From Weave Poles to Therapy

Turbo’s favorite sport is Dock Diving. “He is usually a very quiet, polite dog but is completely different in the Dock Diving setting,” McKinney says. “What he finds the most fun at Dock Diving is that there is very little thinking involved. Sit, wait for his release, run to the end of the dock and launch. Simple, fun and very little chance of error.”

From the brisk-paced world of dog sports, Turbo shifts gears smoothly to the quiet-paced synergy of the therapy world. “He has an incredible ability of reading each environment he enters and knows what’s required of him,” adds McKinney.

For instance, Team Turbo makes monthly visits to Ledgewood Bay at Milford (New Hampshire), an independent, assisted-living and memory-care facility. Then he transitions to the PAWS to Read program at several area libraries. The pair also reach out to abused and neglected children in Southern New Hampshire via McKinney’s involvement with CASA of New Hampshire.

“Working with young children is a given since most of them love dogs. Turbo is most useful when I am working with teenagers. Abused and/or neglected teens are tough. They are angry with adults, scared and build a wall to protect themselves. And they certainly don’t want to talk with an adult about life. Turbo is a great ice-breaker. He knows nothing of their struggles and simply enjoys being friendly and silly with them.”

The Right Audience

While McKinney has numerous soothing memories of Turbo’s therapy ventures, two are at the top of her list.

While participating in the PAWS to Read program at Wadleigh Memorial Library in Milford, she noticed a father and his three small daughters playing at a table in the Children’s Room. During a lull in reading, she approached them to introduce Turbo. All three girls screamed at the top of their lungs and began frantically climbing up their Dad’s body to perch on his shoulders and head, as far away from Turbo as possible.

McKinney immediately put Turbo in a down position, hoping that would be more acceptable. It was not. She then backed him away five feet and placed him in a down again, but the trio refused to come down off Dad. McKinney finally gave up and left the room with Turbo.

Turbo loves AKC sports but he’s very adept at other things, like the PAWS to Read Program at Wadleigh Memorial Library in Milford, New Hampshire. Photo courtesy Pam McKinney.

On subsequent monthly visits, she noticed the four, not to participate in the reading program, simply to spend time together. Each time, she inched Turbo a little closer while paying no attention to the family. “I would sit quietly, pet and talk to him, then gradually increased our activity level with calm tricks (high five, sit pretty, nose touch, etc.). It took months but the girls’ comfort level increased with each visit. Fast forward to the present and now they fight over who gets to read to Turbo first and who gets to sit closest to him.”

Another resonating moment: While at the memory-care unit at Ledgewood Bay, Turbo was loving up on a resident who was silently petting him. Eventually, she began talking to him, telling him numerous stories about her dog from years past. A staff member was walking by and watched in amazement, saying this resident never speaks to anyone. “I guess she just needed the right audience,” McKinney smiles.
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