It’s no secret that every owner thinks that their dog is special — especially those dogs that have qualified for the 2022 AKC National Agility Championship (NAC), which is being held in Ocala, Florida on April 1-3 this year.
But one of these dogs has earned a title that bears no acronym or ribbon: Hero.
In 2018, Rebecka Christensen’s agility-loving Miniature Schnauzer, Nyx, alerted Rebecka to what would later be diagnosed as a rare form of breast cancer.
Thanks to their teamwork, the two will be competing at the 2022 NAC three years cancer-free.
Falling for Miniature Schnauzers
Rebecka developed a love for Miniature Schnauzers through her family, who breeds them. “We’ve had Miniature Schnauzers forever. It’s the only kind of we’ve ever had,” she says.
When she was a baby, the family’s Miniature Schnauzer “C Note” died from a congenital heart condition when she was just five years old. Not wanting to go through that kind of heartbreak again, Rebecka decided to begin breeding her own Miniature Schnauzers for a higher-quality dog.
Rebecka’s first dog, Cassie, was initially supposed to be solely a Conformation dog, but she had a bite that wasn’t quite up to standard. Rather than giving up showing entirely, the pair decided to try their hand at Agility and loved it. For her next dog, Rebecka wanted a dog that could do both. That dog was Nyx.
“So, I got Nyx because she’s actually out of our breeding and I wanted a dog that…I wanted a double champion,” she says.
Nyx has since received her Versatility Award from the American Miniature Schnauzer Club with a Novice Barn Hunt title, a Preferred Agility Champion (PACH), and Champion of Record (CH) in Conformation.
“She’s not the fastest Schnauzer, but she’s ridiculously reliable,” Rebecka says. “Her and I, we go out on the course, and we lay down double Q after double Q. It’s just, she’s my partner out there, you know?”
Detecting Cancer—And Beating It
According to Rebecka, Nyx has always had a very spitfire personality and to this day will still rip down the vertical blinds so that she can stare at the gardener and bark at him. But in early 2018, she began acting “off” and “ridiculously clingy”.
When she went away for a weekend trip and left Nyx with her parents, Rebecka got a call from her mom asking what was wrong with her dog. Apparently, she had been crying the entire weekend and was glued to Rebecka’s side as soon as she picked her up.
One night, when she was sitting on the couch watching TV, Nyx jumped up on the armrest, took her little paw, and set it directly on Rebecka’s breast. After pushing her off, she rubbed the spot—only to feel a huge lump.
A couple of weeks later she was diagnosed with breast cancer and received the news while she was at an Agility trial. She decided to still run the course with Nyx, tears flowing.
“She’d been trying to signal to me that whole time with the crying, that there was something wrong and I wasn’t getting the concept, and so that’s when she, I mean, she put her foot right on the tumor,” Rebecka says.
Nyx was by her side through all the treatments, resting her head on Rebecka’s chest. The two still managed to compete through it all. The day after she had her chest port installed for chemotherapy, Rebecka and Nyx ran the 2018 National Agility Championships in Reno, Nevada. It hurt, but Nyx managed to run all three rounds clean. “I know after I was cleared by doctors to run at following surgeries, we ran.”
By the second round of chemotherapy, the tumors weren’t palpable anymore. Nyx stopped crying. Rebecka was cancer-free.
There have been a few other incidents, like a post-operation infection where Nyx started whining again, alerting Rebecka of another health issue. “Anytime Nyx cries, I hit the panic button and run to doctors,” she says.
Preparing for Their Runs
During the 2022 AKC National Agility Championship, Rebecka has one goal for her and Nyx: Run clean. Nyx will be among the 28 Miniature Schnauzers at NAC this year and will be competing in the 8” preferred class.
“I’m sure everyone thinks their dog is awesome and amazing, but you know, she’s my partner right now,” Rebecca says. “She’s my partner in almost every sense of the word. I would say one thing that post-cancer now, she’s very protective.”
Get Started in Agility
If you’re new to the sport, a great first step is working toward your ACT title. The Agility Course Test (ACT) is an entry-level agility event designed to introduce and welcome beginning dogs and their handlers to the AKC sport of agility. Any dog 15 months or older can participate and the title can even be earned virtually.
Watch full coverage of the 2022 AKC National Agility Championships on AKC.tv all day April 1-3. Tune in to ABC on April 10 at 3:30 ET for full coverage of finals and catch the show again on ESPN2 April 17 at noon ET.