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Before Baloo amassed an astonishing 648,000-plus followers on TikTok (and 196,000 followers and counting on Instagram), inspired countless people, and became a canine athlete, he was a rescue dog waiting for his perfect match. Bella Boone was the person he’d been looking for.

Bringing Home Baloo

Just a few months into Bella’s freshman year at Texas A&M University, Bella tagged along with a friend who was looking for a dog at a local animal rescue. Bella — who was living in a college dorm at the time and in no position to have a dog — was missing her pets at home and wanted time with four-legged friends. But as soon as she saw the young American Staffordshire Terrier mix, it was love at first sight.

Even as she visited the puppy over the course of a week, Bella kept telling herself no, you can’t have him. It’s college. The time you’re supposed to focus on yourself, on school, on grades, and clubs, and fun.

“And I knew that if I had a dog, I wanted to give him the best I possibly could,” says Bella. “But in the end, I was like, you know what, it’s fine. My social life can set this one aside.”

Puppy Love

The puppy’s name was Rider when they first met but it was “too badass for him” according to Bella. Wanting to introduce him to people with a goofy name so they would be less intimidated, Bella chose Baloo (inspired by Texas A&M University’s song of “Hullabaloo, caneck, caneck”).

The name Baloo is perfect for the absolute sweetheart of a dog. Baloo is not a naturally cuddly dog — he loves his personal space and doesn’t want to be squeezed or cuddled. But when Baloo senses that Bella’s upset, he will go out of his way to make her smile or laugh. When Bella is crying, Baloo will blow air in her ear, because he knows it makes her laugh every time. When Bella doesn’t want to get out of bed, Baloo refuses to let her stay in.

The first week Bella had Baloo, she had a panic attack in her car. They were near-strangers at this point, aside from a few visits at the shelter and just a short time together. Baloo jumped toward her without hesitation, stuffing his face in her face to make sure she was okay.

Bella deals with anxiety and her mental health has had a “serious turnaround” since adding Baloo to her life.

“He gave me a purpose,” she says.

When Bella got Baloo, she thought her social life would be on the backburner but the opposite has held true. Baloo has made Bella more social: meeting people at dog sporting events, making new friends, and even meeting her boyfriend and his dog Louie, who is now a part of the family. Baloo is now training to be a psychiatric service dog.

“As his handler, I’m a lot more confident than I was before I got him, because I do have to tell people like, Hey, my dog isn’t going to kill you. Or, my dog is actually well-rounded, he’s not aggressive. You don’t have to be scared of him. So I’ve learned to stand up for myself because of him.”

Breaker of Stereotypes

Baloo meets two types of people in public: they either gravitate toward him, or they cross the street to get away from him. Even at the dog park, people will ask what kind of breed Baloo is before packing up their pups and fleeing because they don’t want their dogs playing with him.

The hatred rooted in stereotypes that Bella sees play out in person increases online as people hide behind a screen. When Bella started Baloo’s Instagram, the goal was to have a digital place where she could post about him without annoying her friends on her personal account. But as Bella met other people with “bully breeds,” she started sharing more educational posts, always with the aim to advocate honestly. But even dog accounts aren’t safe from online hate.

The death threats. The hateful messages. All the people who say Baloo shouldn’t be around dogs or kids — even though they’ve never met him in person. The message that said: one day your dog is going to rip your face off.

“I do everything I can to make him seem sweet and happy and just like a well-rounded dog. But it doesn’t matter because just because of the way he looks, people are gonna treat him differently,” Bella says. “So that is definitely one of the hardest things about Instagram and probably one of the worst things about being Instagram famous.”

And yet, there’s a new photo or video of Baloo most days on the platform. Baloo with his best friend Louie. Baloo cuddled up. Baloo dressed up in a sweater, pajamas, or costume. Baloo chasing a lure or diving off a dock.

Because for as much hate as Baloo gets online, his photos and videos have made people change their minds about AmStaffs and AmStaff mixes.

“I love doing it because we get so many messages from people that are like, ‘I hated bully breeds before I found Baloo’s Instagram and now I look at your posts every day,'” says Bella. “It’s really great to see people change their minds just because they see him and what he does.”

Baloo Begins His Next Adventure: Dog Sports

Scrolling through Instagram, Bella noticed a Houston Siberian Husky and his handler doing sports together. Bella direct messaged her: “I would really love to get into that stuff, but I have no idea where to start.”

Give me a second, I’ll lay it all out for you, the Husky’s handler replied. She sent Bella information on registering Baloo with the Canine Partners program that allows mixed-breed dogs to compete. Bella registered him the same day.

Bella actually had Baloo certified as a Canine Good Citizen a year prior but had never considered getting Baloo involved in athletic activities.

In fact, she wasn’t sure how four-year-old Baloo would feel about Fast CAT, the first sport they tried together. She wasn’t sure if he’d run to a lure, since he didn’t care about them at home. But Baloo booked it to Bella in 9.3 seconds. That run led to another and another and Baloo now loves chasing lures.

Baloo has taken to every dog sport he’s tried so far, and Bella loves how training together has strengthened their bond. He has his Trick Dog Intermediate title. He immediately fell in love with dock diving and never wants to get out of the pool. And even though Baloo has only been dock diving for two months, he’s been invited to compete in his regional dock diving competition.

“Now I’m really obsessed with getting titled,” she says. Bella’s already bought a ribbon rack (even though they only have three ribbons) because she knows there’s more to come.

“He loves to have a purpose. And I don’t know why I never did this before, but after I got into Fast CAT with him and I realized how much he really does love to be in that mindset, I was like, okay, we need to start doing more sports.”

Now people are sliding into Bella’s direct messages to ask about dog sports saying things like how do you do this? and I’ve never seen this before.

“It was really cool to be able to get other people interested in that because dogs need an outlet,” she says. “A ton of people actually got their dogs registered because of what they saw with Baloo and it was super cool to be able to influence people to do that because that’s the kind of influencer we want to be.”

You Can Get Started in Dog Sports Too!

Like Bella, you can start learning about dog sports by following canine athletes on social media and reaching out with questions. “Dog people are very excited about what they do,” says Bella, and they’re very welcoming.

Begin your own athletic journey with a local trainer, club, or mentor. If you’re not sure where to start, try attending a local sporting event: you’ll learn a lot just by watching.

Join Baloo and Bella on Instagram and TikTok!

Follow Baloo’s adventures on Instagram and TikTok!

Any breed — including mixed and rescue breeds — can participate in dog sports like Trick Dog, FAST CAT, and Diving Dogs.

Think your dog has what it takes to be Dog Athlete of the Month? Use the hashtag #ThisIsAKC on Instagram.

Related article: AKC Titles & Programs You Can Do From Home
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