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Dragon the Saluki
Photo courtesy GreatDanePhotos
Dragon flies over the A-Frame at his first AKC Agility Invitational December 2016, in Orlando, Florida.

The Saluki breed is sometimes known for its shyness with strangers. But not Dragon. He was owner-handler Suzanne Roble’s “heart dog,” meaning he’d forever be part of her emotional existence.

But Roble says with a laugh, “Dragon never read that stuff about being aloof and standoffish with strangers. He loved everybody and would go up to everyone. If you had a cookie, great; if not then you had hands, didn’t you? Then he was all into being petted. You’re sitting down, you have a lap, and then he wanted on it.”

Unleash the Dragon

And Dragon’s memory lives on. There will be a big void at the 2022 AKC Agility Invitational because this sleek, 55-pound socialite will be missing. Dragon died at age 9 on August 1, 2022.

Roble and Dragon competed at the Invitational for six consecutive years. In honor of Dragon’s passing, Roble chose to enter him posthumously in mid-August. She chose to write a heart-warming exhibitor bio for Dragon, noting that he was the number-two lifetime Agility Saluki and “would have probably made it to #1 if heart disease and cancer had not cut his life short.”   

Dragon the Saluki
Photo courtesy GreatDanePhotos
Dragon at the AKC Agility Invitational in December 2016 in Orlando, Florida

Dragon was diagnosed with a heart murmur – very slight, but concerning – at age 2. Roble took him to a veterinary cardiologist, Dr. Renee Riepe of Oakland Veterinary Referral Services, in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Dr. Riepe diagnosed mitral valve dysplasia, a malformation of the valve from birth. That brought Dragon’s Conformation career to a quick halt. But once they got the cardiologist’s okay, that didn’t stop Team Dragon from pursuing Obedience, Agility, and even Lure Coursing.

Dragon enjoyed multiple dog sports, but one in particular was his favorite. “He liked Obedience, but loved Agility,” says Roble. In Obedience, he earned a CDX and had two of the three legs needed for his UD. He was the second Saluki, she says, to earn a MACH title in Agility. He added a MACH 2 later.

Starting Out With Salukis

Roble, a Belgian Sheepdog owner since the late 1980s, got her first Saluki in 2004. Michelle Ridenour of Grand Blanc, Michigan’s Nefer Ka Salukis bred Dragon and chose him for Roble. “I told her I was looking for a male that was submissive but not fearful,” Roble said. “Curious, but not bold. I did not want an overly dominant dog; I wanted one with good conformation. She also knew I wanted to do Obedience and Agility.”

Dragon the Saluki
Photo courtesy GreatDanePhotos
Dragon and his owner at the AKC Agility Invitational in December 2016 in Orlando, Florida

Due to work commitments and budget, Roble was forced to limit Dragon’s competition schedule to two local trials a month. And when they did trials, it was kept to two days: with the exception of the six Orlando trips, of course.

Competing in the 24-inch category at the Orlando Agility Invitational, he never won a top prize, but he always had a “great time,” says a misty-eyed Roble. “I think he felt that everyone came to see him. Didn’t matter that he had never been in a place that big before. Didn’t matter that he had never seen bleachers before. Didn’t matter that he had never been around crowds that big before. He loved every minute that he was there. He was in his glory every minute.”

Dragon the Saluki
Photo courtesy Cathi Winkles Photography
Dragon in May 2016 at the Companion Dog Training Club of Flint Trial at Highest Hope Dog Sports in Grand Blanc, Michigan.

She adds, “The second year we attended, he knew where he was as soon as we walked in the door. He was like, ‘Yeah, baby, I’m here!’”

Remembering Dragon

After his diagnosis of mitral valve dysplasia, it was suggested that Dragon undergo an echocardiogram every 18 months to 2 years. Continuing until COVID-19’s emergence, all of those tests reflected little to no change in his condition.

“When things started to open up again and we were able to train, we weren’t connecting like we used to,” says Roble. “He just wasn’t running the same. At first, I blamed it on the COVID break. He was missing cues and wasn’t as fast. But he was eight years old, after all.”

They returned to the cardiologist in February 2022 and received sad news. Roble explains, “His heart was very enlarged. The wall was so thin that it could tear at any point and if that happened, he would bleed out in seconds. He was in the end stage of congestive heart failure.”

Dragon the Saluki
Photo courtesy Cathi Winkles Photography.
“I think it’s this one, right here!” Dragon is saying as he moves through scent articles at an AKC Utility Trial in October 2018 at the Sportsmen’s Dog Training Club Trial in Warren, Michigan.

But Dragon hadn’t let his ailments stop him in the ring. Roble says, “The fact that he was still able and willing to run in as bad a shape as he was tells you a lot about what kind of dog he was – and how much he loved Agility.” Dragon was retired immediately and placed on medications. These helped for a short time before his condition worsened. A heart tumor was detected in late July, and Dragon passed away a week later.

But Dragon will always live on in Roble’s heart. After all, he was as much a goofball as he was a hard worker. She recalls, “He had a game he liked to play with me. He would play bow and bark, daring me to get out the squirt bottle and spray him. I use a squirt bottle to teach my dogs to be quiet, but Dragon turned it into a game. Almost like a doggy game of tag.”

As Roble remembers in her bio, “He loved doing both Obedience and Agility. And he would work for anyone, even if he had just met them, often better than he worked for me. He was such a happy guy, even right up to the end.”

The AKC National Championship is right around the corner, and you don’t want to miss the action! Tune in to ABC on December 31 at 2 p.m. ET to see who’s crowned Best in Show. 

Did you miss last year’s show? You can watch the 2022 AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin on demand on!

Related article: 15 1/2-Year-Old Agility Dog Competes in Memory of Littermate
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