Ivy the Chihuahua may be tiny, but she is a survivor. Rescued from a dumpster as a puppy, the eight-and-a-half-year-old dog is a true Renaissance pup. Owned by Rockford, Illinois, resident Jennifer Walker, Ivy has earned over 40 titles as an AKC Therapy Dog and canine athlete.
Bringing Ivy Home
In 2014, Walker and her husband, Bill, already had two Chihuahuas at their Roscoe, Illinois home. They weren’t planning on bringing home another dog when they decided to visit a local animal rescue; in fact, they were simply there to check out the new arrivals.
While there, they “noticed three puppies that had been found in a box in a nearby dumpster,” Walker says. They were receiving their six-week veterinary checkup at the time. She adds, “We were smitten with them. They looked very similar to our boy Charlie, a Chihuahua.”
Walker connected with one puppy named Rose. The day Rose became available, Walker was first in line at the rescue. “It was love at first sight when I set eyes on her. She was friendly, curious, and that white stripe that comes down her nose to the right was perfectly imperfect,” Walker recalls.
The name Rose didn’t stick for long. Instead, she was renamed Ivy, after a character in the British drama series “Downton Abbey.” The Walkers’ other Chihuahuas, Charlie and Daisy, are also named after characters from the show.
Walker enrolled Ivy in the AKC Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) program. She submitted information including Ivy’s measurements, weight, and photos as part of identifying Ivy as a Chihuahua for the program.
Within weeks, Ivy was enrolled in a puppy Obedience class at Forest City Dog Training Club in Loves Park, Illinois. Soon after, the instructor, also a therapy dog handler, told Walker that they felt Ivy had all the qualities needed to participate in the AKC Therapy Dog program. “I took that to heart and continued with her training,” says Walker.
Ivy earned her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Advanced CGC/AKC Community Canine titles. Ivy’s friendly attitude, small size, and love of people made her an excellent choice to visit patients at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center. From 2016 to 2019, Ivy charmed both patients and staff at the hospital.
But in mid-2019, Walker noticed Ivy was no longer enjoying the visits. “Her body language, lack of engagement, and her heart just weren’t in it any longer,” Walker recalls, noting that her dog “just needed something new and more engaging.”
Ivy’s New Adventures
Through Ivy, Walker became involved in AKC dog sports. “Before she came along, I had never thought of showing dogs or becoming involved in dog sports,” Walker says. “I didn’t realize it was something I could do. Thanks to Ivy, we have traveled to a mix of areas to compete in Fast CAT and Agility. I never considered running Agility, but I enrolled her in a class to see if that was something she would like. And she did, in a heartbeat!”
Walker initially focused on AKC Trick Dog. To date, Ivy has mastered 50 tricks. Next up was Fast CAT. Ivy came out sprinting from those early days and hasn’t let up since. Her fastest run over the 100-yard dash is 18.5 mph. She is the first Chihuahua to earn an FCAT title (1,000 points) and currently ranks as the highest-titled Chihuahua in the sport, presently at FCAT12.
“I considered retiring her from Fast CAT after she earned her FCAT10 at the 2021 Fast CAT Invitational in Orlando,” Walker says. “But that ‘r’ word seemed to tick her off and she continued to run well. I will continue to let her run while she remains fit, jumping well and enjoying the sport.”
Ivy also took to Agility like a duck to water. “We breezed our way through the beginning classes,” Walker adds. “Our first Agility trial was in November 2019, and she began to earn titles quite quickly. Then there were [breaks for] COVID and other competition breaks before we were back in the groove again. We are not the fastest or the best, but she is steady and reliable.” Ivy earned her first Master Agility Champion (MACH) title in November 2022.
A Confident Competitor
Competing in Agility has given Ivy a lot of confidence. “She will voice her opinion to me while we are running,” Walker says, “and I know when she barks that she is totally focused and I better hang on because the turbos are about to become supercharged. She jumps eight inches, but she can clear twelve inches or more easily. I am beyond proud stepping up to the start line with her at my side.”
Ivy is a standard bearer for her breed, too. “We are typically the only Chihuahua team competing at most trials,” says Walker. “That draws plenty of positive comments from others about how much fun it is to watch her run. They add how smooth a runner she is and how much she seems to enjoy competing.”
Make no mistake: Ivy’s antennae are up upon reaching each Agility venue. “As soon as she recognizes the building, she will start talking from her kennel, squeaking and whining. Then she will happily walk inside on a mission. It’s like she’s on a business trip and she’s telling me, ‘Mom, let’s get to work!’”
With plenty of panache and character, Ivy is up for pretty much everything. “We bought an RV a few years ago in order to take the dogs with us,” Walker says. “I have taken her bike riding, secured in a backpack on my back. She enjoys riding through the woods with the wind in her face. We now have a small bike trailer to use behind our bikes for the dogs to be secured in.”
For conditioning, Walker and Ivy often walk three miles on a converted railroad bed near their home. In their backyard, Ivy also gets in her sprints by chasing rabbits. “She seldom catches one but she loves the chase,” Walker says with a laugh.