When it comes to canine architecture, The Creature doesn’t fit any mold.
But when you see Nessie (her call name, for the Loch Ness monster) in action at an American Kennel Club Agility trial you’re left grinning with a wow factor – and wondering what was that?
In other words, once you see her, you don’t forget her.
Owned by Alanna Lowry, a Jacksonville, Florida, veterinarian, Nessie is 9 inches tall, weighs 10½ pounds with a silver/tan coat that Lowry laughingly characterizes as the color of “old asphalt.”
Because of her busy schedule and working many Saturdays, Lowry and Nessie attend an average of two trials a month, mostly nearby.
But they did travel to the AKC National Agility Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in March. She had four clean runs and ended up 24th out of 108 8-inch dogs. “She ran her heart out and did the best she was physically capable of doing. I could not ask for more from my girl,” beams Lowry.
“The Creature” on the Highway
Nessie abruptly segued into Lowry’s life February 27, 2015.
She spotted her while driving home from work on a busy six-lane divided highway. “As I headed north, I saw a small dog on the sidewalk headed south at a brisk trot,” Lowry recalls. “Concerned for her safety given the traffic, I turned off the highway to turn around at a light while simultaneously calling a co-worker that I knew who was headed home the same way.”
Within minutes Lowry found herself in bit of a chaotic scene. Cars began dodging around the dog, and Lowry, once back on the main road, sped up, passed The Creature and then pulled off the road and ran back to try to apprehend her. A nearby stranger on foot approached the dog, too, helping Lowry corral her.
“I picked her up and carried her back to the car, where I had one of my other dogs. I put her in a crate and we headed home. “
She appeared to have suffered minor head trauma, was lactating (she had most likely had puppies recently) and was covered in fleas. She spent the night crated in Lowry’s bathroom and was taken to her veterinary clinic the next morning, where a chip check produced nothing, was treated for fleas and a bladder infection was detected.
An exhaustive check to find her owner the following days produced nothing. So, what to name her? Initially, she was dubbed The Creature, “because,” as Lowry smiles, “just look at her. We decided that could not be her only name, so we settled on Nessie.”
Breaking the Three-Dog Limit
On her Agility entry form, Nessie is an All-American Dog.
Admittedly not a “little dog person,” Lowry planned to find a home for Nessie after coming up empty in her quest to find the owner. At the time, she had a Border Collie, Flynn, and two Greyhounds, Fonda and Waters, all males.
“I had a three-dog limit on top of that,” Lowry laughs. “After a few days, her head trauma appeared to be resolving, and her personality started to blossom. She was sweet and perfectly happy lying beside me on the couch. She was ridiculous looking, which made me laugh every time I looked at her. And finally, I noticed she was food-motivated so I decided to see what happened if I trained her to do something.”
Lowry trains primarily by shaping and allowing the dog to offer behavior. Nessie wasted no time making an impression on her rescuer. “You could see a little lightbulb go on in her head . . . ‘wait, all I have to do is try new things and I get rewarded with food.’ “
Lowry has a video of her eight days after finding her, offering behaviors, playing crate games, and teaching her several basic commands. “We bonded quickly, which smoothed the way for training and later agility.”
At that point, Lowry decided The Creature didn’t count against her three-dog limit, “since she was the size of a cat.”
On the Agility Fast Track
Nessie found herself on an Agility fast track, being entered in her first trial only five months after being plucked from that busy Florida highway.
Her willingness to learn and food motivation, coupled with what seemed to be a pretty stable temperament in a trial environment (she tagged along with Lowry and Flynn) and sound structure were all factors in Lowry deciding to train her for Agility.
“She is an amazing combination of charm, sweet, smart, sassy and needy with an independent streak,” Lowry says.
Consistency has been a staple for this little campaigner, who competes at the 8-inch height. She thrives on distance and close-up challenges, Lowry explains. “The one skill I would do differently with her if I were sta—rting over would be her dog-walk contact. I didn’t train an end-of-contact behavior, as she is only 9 inches tall and ran down the board and off. As she gained more confidence and speed, she started jumping off the contact.”
Lowry, who began Agility trialing in 1994 says “I love Agility and the variety of handling and training challenges it presents in every course. I particularly enjoy the subtleties of figuring out the best choices I can make as a handler for each of my dogs.”
The pair train weekly and sometimes another time when the need arises to focus on a specific skill.
The Creature is a popular fixture at the veterinary hospital, where she sleeps on the desk in a bed next to a cat. This leaves her pretty well isolated from the clients and pets but allows her to interact with the staff.
At home, Lowry’s husband, Pete, is her breakfast buddy. “She does not always like Pete to pick her up, but in the morning, she knows that he will feed her so he takes this opportunity to carry her princess style into the kitchen and give her breakfast,” Lowry adds.
The spirited 7-year-old Nessie is highly versatile, holding titles in both Obedience and Rally along with a MACH title in Agility.
A whirling dervish when not ensconced on her Princess pillow at home, Nessie is highly food motivated. On the March Tulsa trip, she found herself in an airport for the first time. “She learned very quickly that airports are amazing,” Lowry muses, “because the ground is full of crumbs! So she scavenged her way through airports oblivious of the crowds and noises.”
And what kind of reaction does the public have upon setting eyes on The Creature for the first time? “People generally notice is her dreadlocks. They are so distinctive and prompt a lot of questions. Consequently, she’s always in demand for photo opps with human counterparts.
“When I found her, her coat was slightly curly but shorter. I had no idea it would evolve into today’s look. I’m not one to do much grooming so the dreads were a happy accident from the waist back. Periodically, she will shed one and we joke that if you find and keep it, it’s good luck!”