Imagine driving 883 miles in 15 hours to watch your dog run 100 yards in 6.346 seconds.
Well, that’s the commitment co-owners Krista Shreet and Ted Koch of Crownsville, Maryland, made in early December and Phelan didn’t disappoint!
Wailin’ Phelan The Bearded Lass, a 4-year-old All-American Dog (rescued and thought to be a Greyhound, Borzoi, and Scottish Deerhound mix) bested 116 others to win the title of Fastest Dog USA in the American Kennel Club’s inaugural Fast CAT Invitational in Orlando, Florida.
Each entry ran three times and its speeds were converted into miles per hour and averaged. Phelan’s was 32.3 mph, besting a runner-up Greyhound named Dagnabit, at 31.2 mph.
By comparison, 100-meter (note meters vs. yards) Jamaican world-record holder Usain Bolt’s fastest time has been clocked at almost 28 mph.
Becoming America’s Fastest Dog
While accepting the title of owning America’s fastest dog, Shreet says it’s far off Phelan’s best time of nearly 34 miles per hour. “The warmer Florida temps and a different type of grass than she’s accustomed may have impacted her speed.
“We knew competition would be fierce in Orlando. Phelan would be competing against the fastest dogs in the fastest breeds, namely Greyhounds, Salukis, and Whippets. We were honored to be there with our All-American Dog and had no designs on doing anything more than representing mixed-breed rescue dogs. But sometimes the wild card wins.”
And, oh, yes, how did that long ride go?
“Five minutes into the ride, she (Phelan) asked if we were there yet! Several times she offered to drive because she felt we were going way too slow to her standards. All joking aside, she did great,” Shreet smiles.
Phelan’s story is all about intersecting lives, emotional buoyance, and plenty of homework.
Joining the Pack
Several years ago, Shreet and Koch spotted Phelan’s photos on Sighthound Underground’s rescue Facebook page. She had already rescued a dog through the all-volunteer McLean, Virginia-based organization, and was very familiar with modus operandi.
“Ted and I were both interested in co-owning a dog. He was instantly captivated by her unique look after seeing photos of her. She looked like a bit of a cross between Bill the Cat and a Deerhound who had been out on a bender,” Shreet smiles. “He suggested we foster her to see how it would go. One day in she fit like a glove into the pack and we knew she was a keeper.”
Phelan was transported from Texas to Maryland by a group of dedicated Sighthound Underground volunteers, chiefly rescuers or foster-home caretakers.
“We think she was a bit over a year but part of the reason she was surrendered is that her age and breed had been misrepresented. Hence, we don’t know her exact age,” Shreet explains.
For years, the two had considered owning a Deerhound or Wolfhound. This led them to a greater appreciation for sighthounds, which has proven a robust adventure.
Finding the Right Sport
Koch enrolled Phelan in what seemed like glacially paced obedience training early on. “She seemed to get easily bored with it,” he recalls. “Too much sitting around, staying and standing. She’d much rather be running.” Next, the owners tried her in scent work pre-COVID but the “social butterfly” was more interested in visiting with other owners in the class than searching.”
So what to do with this energetic hybrid of speed and sensitivity?
Ironically, Koch is highly allergic to cats. “He avoids them like the plague,” adds Shreet, “but felt he couldn’t resist participating in an event that had F-Cat in its title.”
And it seemed like a natural fit for Phelan.
It gave her an opportunity to participate in a sport that spoke to her strengths. “We had no idea what to expect on Day 1 (late 2018),” says Shreet, “whether she would even take to the lure. There’s no guarantee, even with purebred sighthounds. We both stood in awe as she tore down the straightaway and managed to walk away with first-place ribbons in her first event.
“But bigger than the wins that day was her transformative stride after each run, which suggested she was telling us she had found her sport.”
All About Instinct
Shreet primarily handles Phelan in warm-ups and competitions. “The most important part is to get her moving a bit so she doesn’t go onto the course cold. We walk and do a light jog, which includes some turns in multiple directions. She also has a stuffed toy that she likes to toss around and pounce on.”
So what has been the wiry Phelan’s keys to success other than sheer speed?
“It is 100 percent instinct,” answers Shreet. “She is laser-focused. We’d love to take credit for the magic that happens, but it’s really all her. Diet and exercise are key. Ted takes her hiking and on regular runs in all kinds of weather. And we watch her diet closely. During warmer months, she goes swimming in a nearby river for alternate weight-bearing exercise.”
Living in Maryland, Phelan is confronted with weather extremes. Given her Russian and Scottish heritage, Shreet says, Phelan savors cool weather and is content with rain and mist except that it messes up her hair. Conversely, she even gets a bit grumpy in temps over 80, and her running times are noticeably slower in warmer weather.
And get this: Phelan is delighted to get involved in a snowball fight and showing off her frozen beard while playing queen-of-the-mountain in snow drifts.
What’s Next For America’s Fastest Dog?
The 53-pound, fawn-colored speedster’s competition schedule has gradually increased: 4 events in 2018, 36 in 2019 and 45 last year. Despite how COVID bred havoc on other AKC performance sports scheduling, Fast CAT wasn’t as impacted because of outdoor physical distancing.
As things hopefully open up this year, Shreet and Koch plan to enter Phelan in two to three days of Fast CAT events per month. The bulk of those will be in the Northeast, particularly Maryland and Virginia.
“Spending time with Phelan in a variety of environments has enabled me to read her cues and determine what she needs from me,” adds Shreet. Koch echoes that from their hiking outings.
Phelan isn’t a one-trick pooch. She owns a Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX) title and is training in Scent work but has not yet competed. Plans call for the sassy miss to give Dock Diving a try this summer. “I want to see if she is interested in jumping since I already know she loves the swimming part,” says Shreet.
Just in case you’re wondering, the peppery Phelan doesn’t have the house to herself. She has three mates: Bruce, 4, a sighthound mix; Rosa, 4, a Galgo Español; Teo, 2, another Galgo Español.
Want to get involved? Any dog — including mixed-breed dogs — can compete in AKC sports like Fast CAT by enrolling in AKC Canine Partners.