There are those in the animal welfare world who work tirelessly on behalf of our four-legged friends, often with little means and even less recognition. Still they press on, devoted to their cause, fueled by their passion. It is this diligence and dedication that has garnered the attention of the Purina ProPlan Showdogs of the Year awards, which recognize the outstanding players in the dog world. Among those honored this year was a trainer and shelter dedicated to bettering the lives of animals and owners everywhere.
Comfort Zone with D.A.P. Trainer of the Year
Barbara De Groodt
There was never a time when dogs weren’t part of Barbara De Groodt’s life. With a father who showed German Shorthaired Pointers, De Groodt was always surrounded by canines on the family’s California ranch — and always offering a helping hand.
“I did a lot of field work,” she says. “At 7 or 8, I was already doing obedience.” De Groodt was practically destined to become a trainer, honing her skills at an early age. Her talent was soon recognized by others.
“I made my very first money around 9 or 10, when one of my dad’s friends paid me $10 to teach his dog to do something.”
Although De Groodt had a natural knack for training dogs in her youth, her success came from a lesson she learned early on: Animals respond much better to positive reinforcement. “The dogs were bigger than I was. It was easier to get them to sit by holding a treat over their head than by trying to push and pull on them,” she says.
She maintains that philosophy to this day and has made it the foundation of her more than 30-year career. She runs her business, From the Heart Animal Behavior Counseling and Dog Training in Salinas, Calif., with the motto “Respect your pet: Train without the pain!” and works tirelessly to help teach owners something while training their animals.
“I always tell my clients, if I could give them one tool, it would be patience,” says De Groodt, who has also worked with cats, horses, llamas, a grizzly bear, and an ocelot. “It takes time to teach an animal.”
One of the original founders of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, De Groodt spends much of her time not only teaching animals, but also educating owners and the larger community about positive training and respect for all living beings. She has lectured around the world to many groups, including veterinary organizations and law enforcement agencies, but she is particularly passionate about animal rescue.
Having rescued one of her two Rottweilers and a terrier mix, she can personally attest to the resilient nature of all dogs — and the success that can come from positive training.
“Just because an animal is a rescue doesn’t mean it’s garbage,” she says. In fact, De Groodt is continually inspired by dogs’ loyalty. “We can do really horrific things, and they still come back and want to please us. They seem to be very forgiving. I think we should honor that.”
It is just that philosophy that has earned De Groodt the respect or her peers and the honor of being named Trainer of the Year.
Lost Pet USA Shelter of the Year
Stray Rescue of St. Louis
Stray Rescue of St. Louis made headlines in July 2010 when the organization took over operations for the city pound after the mayor declared it inhumane. One of the first nonprofit rescues in the country to do so, the shelter was proud to prove its commitment to the local community and the city’s vulnerable animal population.
“It was the most rewarding day of my life,” says founder Randy Grim. “When the mayor was standing there along with the audience and media, and the first dog walked through the doors, I just started sobbing.”
What began as Grim’s humble mission has grown from a one-man operation into the successful Stray Rescue of St. Louis, which he began in 1998. Today Stray Rescue has three no-kill shelters, 800 volunteers, 300 foster homes, and runs its operations with a $2 million budget funded entirely through donations and grants.
“It’s a lot of work because we live in a city with a huge problem,” Grim says. “There’s no shortage of strays and no shortage of abuse.”
Despite the challenge of working in a “tough city,” the rescue placed nearly 2,000 animals in the last year, continuing its mission to rescue sick animals, restore them to health, and place them in loving homes.
Much of the organization’s success is attributed to its 12 unique programs that encourage adoption and educate and support the community.
Ideas like the Abandoned, Not Forgotten program, which provides a hotline number for any banker, real estate agent, police officer, or firefighter to call when they find a dog or cat left behind in a home for any reason such as foreclosure, was much needed in the current economic climate.
To encourage adoption, the rescue’s Rent-a-Pet program gives potential adoptees a weekend trial, while the Senior for Senior program matches older owners with older dogs, waiving the adoption fee, and providing food and medical care for the dog’s life. The Post Adoption program also provides ongoing behavioral training for owners of adopted dogs.
The organization’s services also extend beyond the shelter. Public education is a top priority: Grim hosts a weekly radio show and travels around the country to educate the public about animal rescue and offer assistance to other animal welfare organizations.
Still, Stray Rescue’s ambitious work is never done. Their newest center, while operational, is still awaiting completion, and the shelter must begin to work on the root of the city’s problem: animal overpopulation.
“I could pick up strays for the rest of my life,” he says. “But you have to tackle the entire problem by being more involved in the community and culture.”
In the meantime, Grim and his dedicated volunteers will continue the rescue’s mission, bolstered by the Shelter of the Year award.
“To me it’s an award for the city of St. Louis,” Grim says. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”
56th Annual Show Dogs of the Year Awards
Each year, the best of the best in the dog world meet to honor the top dogs and people in the industry. On Feb. 12 in New York, the two-legged legends and four-legged champions of dogdom convened to make the 56th Annual Show Dogs of the Year Awards a success.
The Show Dog Awards are presented annually to the seven dogs who win the most Variety Group Firsts at American Kennel Club conformation dog shows during a calendar year, and to the single dog who wins the most Best in Show awards. The top obedience dog is also honored.
Top dog winners:
- Best in Show/Terrier: Smooth Fox Terrier Ch. J’Cobe Kemosabe Vigilante Justice
- Toy: Pekingese GCh. Palacegarden Malachy
- Hound: Whippet Ch. Starline’s Chanel
- Herding: Bearded Collie Ch. Tolkien Raintree Mister Baggins
- Working: Boxer GCh. Winfall Brookwood Styled Dream
- Non-Sporting: Standard Poodle GCh. Dawin Spitfire
- Sporting: Irish Setter GCh. Shadagee Caught Red Handed
- Obedience: Border Collie OTCH Wildfire Pilot’s License To Fly UDX24 OGM
Honoring those who embody the best of the sport, the 2010 Anne Rogers Clark Hall of Fame recognized its newest inductee, Charles “Corky” Vroom. The Laube Groomer of the Year award went to Penny Dugan of Washington.
Also honored during the evening were the winners of the coveted Winkie Awards, sponsored by CareCredit. Each year these winners are selected by votes from their peers. The winners of the coveted Winkies were: Robin Remondi, Best Owner-Handler; Bruce F. Schultz, Best Professional Handler; Debbie Butt, Outstanding Breeder; Dorothy Macdonald, Judge of the Year; and the Montgomery County Kennel Club, Show of the Year.
Katy French is the associate editor of DOG FANCY.