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Cowpoke clears a hurdle in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metro Golden Retriever Club Agility Trial in McKinney, Texas, in February. Photo courtesy Mark Fletcher Photography.

From the day she came into Sylvia Kidd’s life nine years ago, Cowpoke stole her heart and blossomed into her soulmate.

With a seamless blend, the Blanchard, Oklahoma, teammates and recent participants in the AKC National Agility Championship in nearby Tulsa, serve up a feel-good back story of love and commitment.

So, first things first.

This was the prelude to Kidd saving the Weimaraner puppy’s heart — and life.

A Puppy With a Bad Heart

The 8-week-old puppy, originally named Bailey, was purchased as a Christmas gift by a Missouri family but weeks later was left at a veterinary hospital in the Kansas City, Missouri, area after being diagnosed with Patent Ductus Arteriosus (PDA). This followed continued bouts of heavy breathing and coughing, leaving $6,000-plus surgery as the only life-saving option, which the family found unaffordable.

PDA is a birth defect in the heart caused by incomplete changes in the organ’s circulation when a dog is born. The Ductus Arteriosus is an important blood vessel that ensures that blood does not go to the lungs unnecessarily as the fetus is developing in the uterus.

The owners planned to have her euthanized, but a hospital staffer informed them of Heartland Weimaraner Rescue (HWR), which rehomes castoffs in Kansas, Oklahoma and Western Missouri with new owners nationwide. Upon hearing this, the family signed release papers to HWR.

HWR placed Bailey in a foster home in Liberty, Missouri, then issued a Facebook post about a little puppy with a bad heart who wasn’t supposed to live past her first year. “They just wanted to find a quality home for her to enjoy her remaining days,” recalls Kidd. “When I spotted the posting I knew I had to have this puppy and I immediately filled out the paperwork and began researching her condition.

“Within a short time, I was approved. I also was committed to doing more than just give her a good home. I was going to do everything to assure she would have long, healthy life.”

Poke and owner Sylvia Kidd enjoy a relaxing moment in the yard of Kidd’s two-acre Blanchard, Oklahoma, home earlier this month. Blanchard is 29 miles south of Oklahoma City.

Life-Saving Surgery

Upon the approval of Bailey’s rescue, Kidd contacted her veterinarian, who, in turned recommended two area veterinary cardiologists. Within days, she arranged an appointment with a cardiologist at the Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Stillwater, who recommended surgery as soon as possible.

Two weeks later 3-month-old Bailey underwent the corrective heart procedure and remained under care in the hospital for about two weeks. After coming home, she remained on kennel rest for almost two months, which Kidd acknowledges was a huge challenge. Suddenly this once ailing puppy was transformed into a robust counterpart.

“All she wanted to do was run, jump and play. She would sit in her kennel and cry as if she was being tortured. Andy (her now ex-husband) and I carried her around a lot so we wouldn’t have to hear those deafening cries. It turned out to be a big win-win for the spoiled Poke.”

And now it was time for a name change, too.

After Oklahoma State veterinarians foresaw a “near normal” lifespan for Bailey, Kidd renamed her Cowpoke in honor of the school’s mascot (also called Cowboys and Cowgirls).

Cowpoke lives to hunt. Here she gets in some quail hunting in January. Photo courtesy Nelou Zikas of NelouGrace Photography.

New Horizons

It wasn’t long before Poke prompted Kidd to widen her dog sport horizons. Pre-Poke, she only did AKC Field Trial and Hunt Trial and put Canine Good Citizen titles on a couple other Weims.

“Poke couldn’t do Field Trial because she was a rescue,” says Kidd, “so I explored other options.” {AKC rules read: Dogs recorded in the purebred alternative listing program (PAL) are not eligible to enter Pointing Breed Field Trials.} This has led to these AKC titles: Agility Bronze Jumper, Master Agility, Canine Good Citizen, Intermediate Trick Dog, Rally Novice, and Junior Hunter.

Agility wasn’t the go-to, first option for Team Cowpoke. “She has always been a timid dog,” Kidd says, “not while hunting but around other people and in new situations. I have always tried to keep her in some type of group training class for socialization and confidence building. After she earned her CGC title, I felt she would make an awesome Therapy dog. But she failed the test because of her apprehensive nature.”

Next, Kidd and Poke moved on to Trick and Advanced CGC classes for the emotional heft of giving Therapy Dog testing another try, for which she failed again.

At that point (Poke was 4 years old), the advanced CGC instructor recommended Agility, feeling that would boost the dog’s self-confidence. She became a fast learner and blossomed.

A totally focused Poke moves across the beam in the McKinney, Texas, event. Photo courtesy Mark Fletcher Photography.

But here’s where their pairing was hit with a psychological hand grenade.

Kidd lost her job about 6 months into Poke’s Agility training and was forced to accept a position in Dallas, where she lived in a small apartment during the week and traveled three hours back to Oklahoma every weekend.

Cowpoke remained in her Oklahoma home with Andy and their other Weimaraners. But her Agility training promptly ended.

About a year later, a friend, Tina Poarch, who spotted Poke’s Agility prowess inquired if she could continue with the 48-pound dog’s training. “I was thrilled and agreed,” Kidd adds, “and they developed into a terrific team while I remained in Dallas another year.” Poarch, incidentally, is the director of HWR.

Defying All Expectations

Two years after relocating in Dallas, Kidd returned to Oklahoma to a new job but Poarch and Poke were on a roll, so why break up the pairing. The two earned AKC Novice and Open titles. But with an Excellent title within reach and Poarch’s inability to get many competition weekends off, Kidd jumped back into the saddle with Poke.

“There were plenty of growing pains,” she smiles, “but it’s been an incredible ride.”

Weave poles have been Poke’s chief challenge. “She never properly learned the footwork needed to maneuver through them flawlessly. Prior to COVID, Susan Williams, a trainer from Wichita {Kansas} started us on Weaveamatic, which helped, but Poke is still working on her confidence.”

Cowpoke is pretty darn proud of herself for getting that qualifying run in Premier Standard at the AKC National Agility Championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in March.

So what’s Poke’s favorite sport – or activity?

“Early fall 2012, several months after Poke was released to full duty following heart surgery, Andy took her and our other Weims hunting. Cowpoke absolutely loved it! Since then, her first love is swimming,” replies Kidd, “and her favorite sport is hunting, with agility a close second. Because she loves to swim, I thought Dock Diving would suit her. We gave it a try, but she prefers to dive and swim in a pond or lake, not a pool.”

Will she try for the Therapy designation again?

“When she retires from Agility, we will probably give it another go. If she doesn’t like it, that’s OK with me. At that point in her life, it’s really just about doing what she loves to do.”

Since those emotional early days, Kidd has connected with Bailey’s original owners and been given the gut-wrenching details which led to their decision to relinquish her, yet never forget her, either.

The family drove to Wichita in early April for an Agility trial to cheer her on and bring gifts. “Anyone who loves Poke enough to travel two to three hours just to support, hug and kiss her are good people in my book,” Kidd concludes. “And to top that off, Poke performed fabulously. It was the perfect storm with laughs, love, and tears. And plenty of mutual respect thrown in for good measure.”

Related article: Tips for Getting Started in Dog Agility
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