Dogs quickly make their way into our hearts as our best friends, sports partners, and, sometimes, our greatest support system. At least that’s what Jennifer Lee found in Little Boo.
Boo is 5.5-year-old, 12-pound Norwich Terrier who spends just as much time at home on an Agility course as he is on the living-room sofa.
Falling for Terriers
Lee and her husband, Keith, were introduced to Boo and other Norwich puppies at breeder Blair Kelly’s Littleton, North Carolina, kennel in October 2017.
“We went to talk to Blair about a possible future puppy. He didn’t have any at the time but while we were there an athletic, bright-eyed 1-year-old kept seeking our attention and then wanted to get in the car with us,” she says. “Boo basically sold himself. The breeder was going out of town soon and we volunteered to puppy-sit Boo. Well, it goes without saying, he never left our home.”
So, what drew Lee to the small, spunky breed?
“First, ‘God loves a Terrier,’” she says. “Second, I enjoy having my dogs with me whenever and wherever possible. Norwich are liftable and they can travel on a plane. Third, the breed is super adorable, yet agile, strong, and sturdy.”
The robust Boo quickly won the hearts of Lee and her soon-to-be husband, Keith, and in return has supplied the psychological and physical encouragement Lee needed in her daily life.
Finding Support in a Small Package
Lee contracted an infection in middle school and has never been completely healthy since. Eventually, she was diagnosed with a new daily persistent headache (NDPH), which causes painful headaches for more than 24 hours. It forced her to drop sports and eventually ended her career in law.
According to The Journal of Headache and Pain, NDPH can be “highly disabling.”
“It is a severe, cruel disease and refractory to treatment,” she explains. “Seeking help from a variety of medical specialists, undergoing implant trials and cervical surgery, enduring multiple other procedures, infusions, and inpatient headache hospitalization care has not helped.”
For the first several months after Boo came home, Lee faced frequent doctor appointments and required some outpatient stays. Keith and Boo accompanied her on many of those.
On one occasion, devoted Boo waited in a stroller without a sound by Lee’s bedside until she was discharged six hours later. He rode quietly home in the car for another two hours.
Jumping Into Agility
Kelly competes in and recommended Agility to the pair. “I had too much unproductive time on my hands due to [my own] illness,” she says. “I did not have the stamina needed to compete in 2018. So, we turned to inside games that included a Hula Hoop, 2-by-6-foot beam, and baby tunnel.”
A sports fan and recognizing how his wife and Boo were reveling with the small original mix of equipment, Keith followed suit and built some weave poles, a teeter-totter, and jumps.
The three enjoyed the at-home games so much that Keith signed Lee and Boo up for Agility lessons. Since then, two more Norwich Terriers have joined the family.
Though Agility is proving highly challenging for Lee. “I experience severe pain every second of the day,” she reveals. “Sometimes I feel like I might not make it through an Agility run, yet some runs can be invigorating, uplifting, and exciting.”
But Agility has given Lee something she never thought she’d have again—the ability to compete in a sport. While trials can be challenging, it’s completely worth it for the duo.
“We practice, analyze our mistakes, plot our runs and learn from others,” Lee says. But, when your team’s hard work allows you to move through a course in sync with your agile canine family member, it’s exhilarating.”
Her guidepost through Agility has been Susan Kennedy, a retired attorney and Agility advocate. They met in Concord, North Carolina, in November 2018, where Boo earned his first Novice Jumpers title and began running Open.
Kennedy saw the potential Boo and Lee had and introduced herself, offering up a sort of mentorship.
“She began volunteering super helpful training advice and inspired us to treat Agility as a competition sport,” Lee says. “She even affords us access to practice. She has become a great friend and attended our wedding.”
The couple travels three hours each way to Kennedy’s home about once a month to sharpen their training skills over a full course and listen to Kennedy’s “friendly” advice. Because they only train monthly there, they videotape the workouts to determine what needs improvement before returning home with only the weave poles, jumps, and a teeter-totter to work with.
While they share a partnership with the smart, strong, and confident Boo on the Agility course, Keith handles the bulk of the behind-the-scenes preparatory chores. “He’s my rock and my caregiver,” Lee smiles.
Team Boo has been competing in Agility for about four years and is planning to enter approximately 10 trials this year. Last year they earned their first MACH title and in June they competed in the Masters Agility Championship held at the Westminister Kennel Club.
“Fortunately, Boo was born an agile, exceptional jumper, timing jumps perfectly and making our jobs easier,” Lee says. “And both the Agility and Norwich communities have afforded us great friendships and support on our journey.”
Lending a Helping Paw
Boo remains one of Lee’s biggest comforts while navigating her illness. Basically, he reminds her when it’s time to take her medications.
“Dogs have an instinctual rhythm, which makes them excellent time clocks and he is spot on,” she says. “His reminders are usually a lick or a gentle scratch to say, ‘It’s time.’”
Boo’s dynamics are best characterized by the motivation and inspiration he provides to Lee each day.
“He gives me a reason to get up and get moving,” she says. “I have a little soul relying on me. I want him to have a great life, and that requires me to get up and get moving.”
For Keith, the most rewarding aspect of Agility is seeing Jennifer run with Boo through a standard or jump with weaves course and the look of accomplishment they have.
“It touches my heart to see the bond between the two at the short moment after a run,” he says. “It makes all the early mornings, the time off from work, and any other sacrifice worth it to be witness to that special moment.”