4th Annual Austin's Fittest Dogs

By AFM – March 1, 2013
Brian Fitzsimmons

Pumba, Cinco, and Callie
Rescues take to the track

Most border collie owners would agree that their hands are full managing the energy needs of one dog. Roger Duffee, on the other hand, owns three (ages 3 and under) and manages to not only keep them healthy and fit, but also to channel their energy into whipping the other animals on the farm into shape. Border collies are known for their seemingly endless need for exercise, and the Duffee pack—Pumba, Callie, and Cinco—certainly gets their share. Duffee takes Callie and Cinco running with him on the Williamson County Regional Park trail, where they cover eight miles, three times a week. The dogs are always up for trips to the lake and pick-up games of fetch. Additionally, all three are members of the Travis Agility Group, where they go to training classes and practice one to two times per week. What makes these animals unique, however, is their other hobby: exercising Duffee’s son’s show lambs. “They run the sheep around a track to keep them in top physical condition,” said Duffee. “Depending on the season, this can happen anywhere from once per week to four days per week.” The Duffees didn't attend any special class to teach their pack this skill. Instead, they relied on the dogs' instincts and some help from the Internet. “[Teaching the dogs to herd] was done by trial and error, with help from a few articles on the Web. We are basically using their herding instinct in a slightly different fashion,” Duffee explained.
As part of their specialized training, the dogs have learned the art of speed variation and how to keep an appropriate distance from the sheep. They have also learned how to stop quickly. The pack seems to understand the importance of their job and looks forward to it: “The dogs love to go to the barn where the sheep are kept, because they love to work the lambs,” said Duffee. “There are not many dogs that are used to keep other animals fit.” To maintain their caloric needs, the border collies chow down on 4Health dog food, which the Duffees purchase from Tractor Supply.member of their pack was a rescue. Pumba was adopted through Texas Humane Heroes; Callie was rescued from a family in Bertram, Texas; and Cinco became part of the Duffee pack after being abandoned by her former owner.“[T]he three dogs have completely different personalities,” said Duffee, “but they all have a strong desire to work and to please their owner. All three of them are amazing and we can't believe that we are [so] very fortunate to have them as a part of our lives.”

Volunteer, glamour girl and bundle of energy

The first thing you notice about Addison, a 3-year-old boxer, is just how expressive her face is. As she sat quietly on the floor near the mail boxes at the Clairmont Retirement Community, residents stopped by to speak with her. “Oh, you’re so pretty,” exclaimed one woman. Another got down on the floor to offer her some leftovers from dinner. Addison shook hands with a gentleman who traded her a treat for the trick. Another woman reminisced: “I had a boxer for seven years. The neighbor children used to come by and ask, ‘Can Penny come out to play?’” Addison cocked her head to one side, pitched her undocked ears forward, and wrinkled her forehead as though she were concentrating intensely on the conversation.

This sleek, small at 50 pounds, fawn-colored boxer belongs to University of Texas graduate student Marissa Garrison, who came across the friendly dog at a shelter in Dallas, the Second Chance SPCA. Addison was 1 year old, and Garrison immediately fell in love with her sweet temperament. “It was the volunteers at the shelter who told me Addison should be a therapy dog,” she explained. “It’s unusual to find a boxer who is so quiet, easy going, and (laughing) not drooly.” After moving to Austin, Garrison enrolled Addison in a six-week program with Austin Dog Alliance for therapy training. She’s since worked for a year as a therapy dog, not just at assisted living facilities but also at the Texas Baptists Children’s Home as well as the Bow Wow Reading Dogs program (also through Austin Dog Alliance).

Addison’s life is not all sitting quietly and doing volunteer work, however. She’s full of energy, and so she enjoys swimming once a week at Mansfield Dam during the summer, playing in the fenced dog park by Woof Gang Bakery and Grooming in Cedar Park, rock climbing with her family on the weekends, and running every Friday morning around Lady Bird Lake with the Texas Evening MBA students.

Since her human family is made up of huge UT fans, Addison can’t help but root for the Longhorns. Her image graces the “Pamper Your Pet” section on the UT Co-op website and she can actually participate in the “Texas/Fight” stadium chant (Garrison says “Texas” and Addison responds with a bark for “Fight”). Garrison and her husband had wedding photos taken on the lawn in front of the UT Tower with Addison arranged beside them.

The Garrisons bring Addison with them whenever they can, so she’s well known at a variety of dog-friendly venues in Austin, especially within her circle of doggie friends at Boxer Meetup and her many foster brothers and sisters through Austin Boxer Rescue. “We like to keep her active with playmates and she’s very patient with other dogs,” said Garrison.

Many of Garrison’s friends have wondered if there’s another boxer like Addison out there, and she directs them to Austin Boxer Rescue’s website which lists many dogs waiting to be adopted, just like Addison was more than two years ago. “She’s so loyal with such a loving personality,” murmured Garrison while scratching Addison’s head. “She’s just awesome at everything; I think she’s one of a kind.”

From pudgy pup to exercise inspiration 

Three years ago, a basket of puppies was brought to Emilie Duncan’s door. One puppy with a spotted coat and an endearing combination of one blue and one brown eye stood out from the pile of far within the basket; Duncan had found her future best friend, Marla the Dachshund.

For Marla, fitness came after a not so pleasant visit to a veterinarian. Her owner found out just over a year ago that her loving pet was overweight. “I decided that it was time for her to get in shape after learning about the increased health risks that dachshunds can face (especially when overweight),” Duncan explained. Over the past year, the two have begun a new diet plan and started exercising daily. While the routine took some getting used to, the better quality of life has been worth the extra effort from both owner and pet.

The drive to keep Marla healthy is a huge motivator in the pair’s exercise routine. “I know that it is up to me to make sure she stays fit,” Duncan said. “That’s why I make it a part of my every day to make sure she gets her exercise—whether it’s running around [Lady Bird] Lake, hiking the greenbelt, playing at a park, swimming, kayaking, or shopping at the Domain (our favorite rainy day activity).” Three years of training have paid off for Duncan, who says she never has to worry about whether or not Marla will cause trouble when they are out and about, a quality that is important for a dog that is lucky enough to make treks to the Domain.

While Marla and Duncan make frequent treks to more adventurous outdoor venues, the 3.5-inch-legged puppy sticks to her canine routes when choosing her favorite form of exercise. At the sight of a squirrel (or even the mention of the word), her full attention is captured. Despite her height disadvantage, Marla sets her sights and not much can stop her.

On top of being a fit, active, and playful dog, Duncan compared her canine companion to a “love sponge.” Her owner explained: “Although she reserves her love for those whom she is close to, I can think of nothing I’d rather come home to than her wagging tail and endless kisses. She is the cure for any bad day or foul mood.”

This fit canine’s silly squirrel habits and loving nature, however adorable they are, are not the reason why Marla was chosen. Marla’s trek from overweight to one of Austin’s Fittest Dogs is inspirational. Her owner took the steps to change her furry friend’s lifestyle, but now the benefits are extremely mutual. “Marla helps me stay in shape by counting on me to do the same for her,” Duncan said. “The enthusiasm and excitement shown by Marla towards any of the above is motivating to me.” Whether a four-legged or two-legged friend, inspiring fitness in someone else is always worth celebrating. Marla embodies this quality perfectly.

As if being a fitness champion weren’t enough, Duncan says there is something extra special about her best friend. “We have become so in sync, at times a mere glance is all it takes for me to communicate with her. Her willingness to kill bugs on command is any girl’s dream dog characteristic.”

Riding the waves for joy

The scene: You are stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) on Lady Bird Lake when a fit, clean-shaven young man brings his board alongside. At the front of his board is a silky-haired golden retriever mix, pointing her nose toward you and “smiling” from floppy ear to floppy ear. When they get close enough, she leaps from her board onto yours and, surprise: You’ve just been commandeered by the Pirate of Lady Bird Lake!

Marcus Brakewood was a serviceman in Hawaii when he came to love surfing. He moved to Texas and managed to put on a lot of weight. “I spent four years becoming overweight,” Brakewood quietly explained, “and then I rediscovered the water sports I’d loved in Hawaii.” Brakewood lost 80 pounds in one year through a healthy diet and exercise (“There’s really no other way”) and also found Austin Pets Alive! That’s when Eleanor, a golden retriever mix, and her sisters showed up; they’d been dumped in Bastrop and brought by APA to Austin for fostering. Brakewood fell in love with the PARVO-infested, weak pup. “I had to build her back up, just like a recruit in the Army,” he said.

Eleanor is an integral part of Brakewood’s fit lifestyle. Every Saturday, the two hit Texas Ski Ranch where Brakewood wakeboards and Eleanor hangs out with the other dogs. While she’ll readily SUP, she’s not comfortable with wakeboarding and will dive off the board to swim. Brakewood taught her to get on the SUP after watching online videos that demonstrated how to use rewards (aka treats) to gradually build up to riding on the board. Now, “Eleanor is more popular than any woman in a bikini when she’s on that SUP on the lake,” laughed Brakewood. The two also play Ultimate Frisbee on Sundays at Zilker Park as well as helping the Central Texas Surfriders, Keep Austin Beautiful, and the Texas General Land Office with a variety of cleanup events held all over the state.

Since Eleanor spends so much time in the water, she gets Nutro Natural Choice because of the nutrients in the food that help keep her skin from getting flaky. While golden retrievers often get ear infections from swimming, mixed breed Eleanor is able to lift her ears up, which allows them to air out and give her great expressions. In fact, she often looks like she is grinning, which Brakewood loves. “Her smile is absolute sunshine,” he said lovingly. “Every time I look at her and see that smile, I get that sunshine in my heart, that joy that I get when I’m on the water and surfing.”

Giving a new spin to riding herd

It's a dreary, gray day at Walnut Creek Park. The temperature is slowly dropping, and although the ground is dry for the moment, the promise of rain is thick in the air. A group of mountain bikers, comprising volunteers from the Austin Ridge Riders and children from the Mendez Boys' and Girls' Club, appear from around the corner and begin the descent from the top of the trail. In the lead is an Australian shepherd named Preacher, with his owner, Jim Rankin, riding closely behind. Park-goers stop to take note of this novel sight—a dog herding a pack of humans down the trail.

The cyclists slowly dismount their bikes and unclip their helmets; the kids in particular seem satisfied with their ride. For some, this was their first time on a bike. One child exclaimed, “This was the best day of my whole life!” while the others gulp water, munch on healthy snacks, and talk about their morning adventure. Rankin lights a portable stove and pours a gallon of milk along with a hearty splash of Hershey's syrup into a metal pot. It's not long before the smell of hot chocolate permeates the chilly, damp air.

In the meantime, Preacher is the star of the show: The children crowd around him, anxious to test out his tricks. Rankin steps away from his hot-chocolate-making duties to show them Preacher's talents and tells them what commands to use so they can try for themselves. The obedient Aussie barks on command, runs under their legs on cue, and sits politely for his “paycheck”—slices of deli meat that Rankin has pulled out of his cooler.

For Jim and Preacher, another successful Kid Trip with the Austin Ridge Riders is in the books. It is one of their favorite regular events with the mountain bike club: joining other adult volunteers to teach children in the community about mountain biking, teamwork, and protecting the environment. Although the biking excursions in and of themselves are special for the children who participate, having Preacher along for the ride is a bonus: “It's lagniappe,” said Rankin. “A little something extra.”

Rankin and his wife Susan adopted Preacher five years ago from Austin Aussie Rescue. Although they had owned an Aussie before, they weren't sure at first whether Preacher was the right fit for their family. Sensing their hesitation, Preacher's foster mother encouraged the Rankins to take him for the weekend, as a trial run. “She knew what she was doing,” laughed Jim. “It was Thanksgiving weekend, and we were going to my sister's beach house.” The couple was amazed at how easily Preacher assimilated into their active lifestyle, taking naturally to their Hobie sailboat and kayak, and running alongside Jim on his bike. “We clocked him [running] at 28 miles per hour,” he marveled. “He was doing all these activities with us at the beach…we were just sold. That's when we said, 'This is our dog.'”

Using a retractable leash, Rankin spent approximately one year training Preacher to run alongside his bike. Preacher now knows the trails well—so well that he can anticipate their twists and turns—and, excepting the occasional chase after squirrels or other critters he encounters, Preacher maintains the same distance from Rankin's bike that he was taught on-leash.
Rankin isn't the only family member that keeps Preacher active, however. Susan is the executive director of the Austin Trail Foundation and an avid trail runner who brings him along for her early-morning runs. “She calls him the number one trail dog for the Butler Hike and Bike trail,” he laughed.

Preacher gets at least three walks a day, unless it's a mountain bike or trail run day. The duo typically set out to Eastwoods Park after Rankin has his morning coffee, “and there Mr. P works on his sprints, lunges, and standing jumps while chasing squirrels up trees,” he joked. “He practically knows these squirrels by name—they certainly know him and give him an unending foul-mouthed chatter.”

When not running the trails, Preacher can be found on the water, either perched on the bow of Rankin's kayak (Rankin is a member of, and assistant trip organizer for, the Austin Kayak Paddlers Meetup Group, and volunteers as a water guardian for open-water swimming events) or maintaining perfect balance on their Hobie sailboat. Preacher has even experienced the thrill of chasing sleds downhill through the snow: During a recent trip to Rankin's home state of Iowa, the couple visited the site where Jim used to sled as a boy. “It was a killer time,” he asserted.

To ensure that Preacher has enough calories to maintain his active lifestyle, the Rankins feed him a grain-free kibble called Fromm Four-Star Nutritionals, which they chose on recommendation from the staff at their locally owned pet food store. “The game bird [formula] seems to be his favorite,” said Jim. “It does cost more than usual dog food. You make your food choice with the dog in mind, and cut back on the beer money.”

Even this exceptionally active Aussie needs a break from physical activity from time to time, however. Rankin likes to joke that, during his down time, Preacher conducts reconnaissance on the neighborhood cats while perched on the armchair in their living room. “The animosity is truly like what was shown in that 2001 movie Cats & Dogs,” he said. “We can’t leave him in the back yard while we are away because these neighborhood cats would prompt such barking outside.”

Rankin believes that living in the city of Austin makes it easy—and fun—to pursue an active lifestyle with one's dog. “Austin’s just a fun place to have a dog; it’s a dog-friendly city,” he said. At the same time, he encourages his fellow Austinites to help keep Austin dog friendly by cleaning up after their pets and by fostering for local animal rescue groups. The Rankins are, by nature and profession, stewards of what they preach. Above all, however, they serve as worthy ambassadors for the cause of keeping Austin's canines fit. —Courtenay Verret

Changing a life for the better

When Meghan Brindley's doctor suggested she get a dog as part of recovery from an illness, she considered a Goldendoodle because of its loyal temperament and non-shedding coat. After seeing Tyler (“He looked just like a teddy bear!”), Brindley was smitten.

But there was a surprise in store: Not only did Tyler get a non-shedding coat and sweet personality, he also got other classic poodle and retriever traits in that he’s a highly intelligent, extremely focused, and very active dog. Early on, Brindley took Tyler to a class at The Canine Center, where trainer Sheri Elkins advised her that to keep Tyler happy and well behaved, Brindley would need to give his mind—as well as his body—a workout. This was accomplished with food puzzles, obedience classes, and hours-long games of fetch, in addition to a lot of exercise: walks and runs around Lady Bird Lake, trips to Red Bud Island, and visits to Dane’s Body Shop. Of course, Tyler loves every minute of it. “Tyler challenges me every day,” said Brindley.

Tyler has an impressive ability to learn. He has about a 50-word vocabulary and knows all the basic commands plus more complex agility cues, such as “left” and “right.” Beyond that, he seems to have a special bond with Brindley, knowing her intentions in addition to the words. “It’s all in his eyes,” she explained. “I swear he looks into you like he really understands.”

That is, at least most of the time. At one point, Brindley decided to teach Tyler the “beer trick” (opening the refrigerator door and retrieving a beer). She tied a towel to the door handle and taught Tyler to pull the towel. “He was able to accomplish that step of the trick without any problems at all. However, he decided that, instead of bringing me a beer, it was a lot nicer to lay in front of the cool air,” she laughed. “It got to the point where he’d wander over, open the fridge, lay in front of it, and take a little snooze. Needless to say we’ve removed the towel.”

Another time, while trying to trace the source of mysterious water puddles that appeared in the night, Brindley discovered that Tyler had been pressing the ice dispenser, leaving the cubes to melt.

Although Tyler is now 5 years old, he still has puppy moments. To combat boredom, Brindley continues to work with his training and workouts, and takes him to the Triangle dog park almost every day. “He is my sidekick every chance I get,” she said.

Tyler did change her life in ways she didn’t expect—and for the better. “He got me out and active. We live in a great city with a lot of dog lovers and having the interaction of the dogs lets you meet new people,” she explained. But Brindley also advises new dog owners to be realistic: “Do tons of research, talk to experienced people, and be prepared to spend time and energy. If you want a pet that sits in a cage all day, get a parakeet,” said Brindley. “It takes effort.”

Looking back on her life with her challenging dog, would Brindley do it again? “He is the light of my life… as long as he’s with his human and in his favorite city, he’s the happiest dog in the world and I’m the happiest human.”

Bucking the boundaries of breed

For a bulldog, fitness does not come easily. Swimming is out of the question for most, and many develop obesity issues because of exercise-hindering breathing issues. For Marilyn the bulldog, her story is not much different.

When Jess Martin took Marilyn in, the pair lived in a fourteenth floor apartment. This meant the elevator for Marilyn and her owner. Unfortunately, the trips up the shaft made for a puppy who was a bit soft. “Once we moved, I promised to take her out and play more, and she took to it like a champ!” Martin said.

For the stout breed, endurance athleticism is not an area of expertise. Perhaps Marilyn could be compared to the linebacker of canines. While she loves to play fetch, her strength is, well, her strength. “We wrestle all the time and she is always game for some rough housing. When she gets worked up, she will wear me out with a constant onslaught of head on jumping attacks,” Martin said. His little “muscle head” is even a fan of chest bumps.

English bulldogs have an unfortunate association with laziness, but Marilyn seeks to prove those stereotypes wrong. Martin categorizes his canine friend as a goofball with a personality that made their transition to cohabitation an easy beginning. Those familiar with the breed may be surprised to know that Marilyn has been found on lake trips and trail hikes, among other outdoor activities.

Marilyn’s ability to overcome is what set her apart from the pack and earned her a spot as one of Austin’s Fittest Dogs. The bulldog has so much torque that a year ago she tore her ACL playing fetch, an injury that could leave some dogs functioning on only three legs. Since then, Martin has used exercise to help her rebuild her range of motion and recover: “She is a true champion. She has overcome obesity, injury, and moving every year with her nomad owner.”

Now in the process of recovering from the tear, Marilyn may never be as fast or as strong as some of the other breeds more typically associated with athleticism. However, this bulldog stands among Austin’s Fittest because she has never stopped trying to overcome.

Biking towards transformation

Prancy, an Australian cattle dog was found, cowering, in a ditch by some of Amy Rogers’ friends on their way back from a bike race. They rescued her, looked unsuccessfully for her owner, and wound up unable to keep her. That’s where Rogers stepped in. “I’d never had a dog before,” she explained, “but I took her in. I mean, look at that face! You’d do it, too.”

But there was another separation in Prancy’s future; Rogers and her boyfriend at the time split, and he wound up with custody of the dog. Unfortunately for Prancy, she got “really fat—up to 48 pounds,” during this time and was covered with fleas, so she came back to live with Rogers. This turned out to be a fortuitous move for Princess Prancy Paws; Rogers and her husband, Jed, put Prancy on a special diet of Castor and Polluck’s Adult Weight Management (organic, no wheat, no corn, no soy—one half cup, two times a day) and began to work to get her fit. Since Prancy is a “condo dog,” they worked hard to find things she enjoyed doing at various outside locations. They got her a Frisbee to get her moving but her enthusiastic jumping and catching injured her shoulder; the vet said bluntly, “She’s too heavy.” Her barrel shape loaded her weight up front, which made her disproportionately heavy as she jumped to catch the flying disc. As a result, the Rogers stopped playing Frisbee with Prancy for eight weeks, focusing on walks and fine-tuning her diet. As she lost weight (she’s now down to a svelte 33 pounds), they slowly reinstated the Frisbee. Since then, she’s been injury free and able to enjoy Frisbee, puzzle solving (she enjoys hunting for her toys when they’re hidden under sofa cushions), and the BMX park with her humans.

Prancy loves to chase after Jed Rogers when he gets on his bike, nipping his heels on the straight-aways (she’s a cattle dog, after all, and herding is in her blood). A graphic designer who works from the home, Rogers is able to take walking and biking breaks throughout the day. Both he and Amy are avid cyclists; he rides for 787 Racing while Amy enjoys long-distance biking treks—next up is an unsupported cycling trip this July that she’s planned to celebrate their two-year wedding anniversary, from San Francisco to Dana Point, California (580 miles over nine days). While Prancy won’t be going along on that trip, she does love a car ride—especially when she gets to go to any of the local bike shops, where she is “kind of a regular” and everyone knows her name.

Assistant coach and comic relief

Duke Guinness of Pierce was named for the man who brought his breed to America, for his father, and for his very clever owner. As if his stately name were not enough to indicate a classy dog worthy of recognition, Duke also claims Mr. Dogtober of Beaumont under his titles.

You may have seen this friendly face at CrossFit Central, where he is known to run with athletes and provide comic relief. “He is pretty much the unspoken mascot of CrossFit Central’s 1 p.m. Coach’s Training Workouts," said his owner, Karen Pierce. Pierce has used Duke as a training partner for half marathons and for last year’s CrossFit Games. The Weimaraner himself has run the 10K distance at the Sheltering Arms Turkey Trot in Houston for the past three years. His first appearance at this Thanksgiving Day race was in the 5Kdistance at just seven months old.
But Duke is not all work and no play. His canine face has been known to betray some eerily human emotions. He has also done a stint as a “Weim-martini," when a cornea scratch led to a cone around his head and a very memorable Halloween costume.

For the now 4-year-old puppy, Duke simply loves to “go." He can be found at Relentless Boot Camps and Auditorium Shores, as well as sticking his head out the window of his owner’s car on everything from errand runs to road trips.

His constant companionship has been a motivator for Pierce, who said his help in her last marathon was invaluable: “[Duke] never slowed, even when I wanted to."

Duke was born to run, and his athleticism and buoyant character have made him a pleasant fitness partner not only for his owner but also for the people who he sees often at CrossFit events and other boot camps. For this Duke of the dog parks, being one of Austin’s Fittest Dogs just comes naturally.

Dachshund on the move

Accumulating frequent flyer miles is usually a human activity, but Cella the Dachshund might qualify for platinum status. The busy companion of moms Tammy Walters and Dina Jackson, Cella is constantly on the move. With her petite profile, Cella fits perfectly under airplane seats, in a bicycle basket, and in her moms’ Smart Car.

But even when she’s not traveling on wheels, Cella covers a lot of ground. She runs two to three miles a day, loves to swim, and is a deluxe squirrel chaser.

Cella, a red miniature Dachshund, joined Walters and Jackson four and a half years ago after the loss of a beloved Doberman. The empty space was too difficult to bear and so in November 2008, Tammy and Dina visited Dream-A-Dream Dachshunds in Pflugerville. Dogs with unusual body shapes sometimes have health problems, so Walters and Jackson wanted to be sure that their new girl would be able to keep up with their active lifestyle. They chose their breeder with this in mind.

As it turns out, Cella has unusually long front legs, which minimize the risk to her spine. Plus, Walters and Jackson control her weight by providing a very strict raw food diet with fruit and veggies as treats. “If it were up to her she would be dead from over eating,” said Jackson.

Surprisingly for a low-slung dog, Cella is as agile as a cat. Her owners learned just how high she could jump when they found she had stolen a chicken breast off of a dining room table during a dinner party. She also completed basic agility with no problems.

Cella is named after Cella Blue, the lead vocalist of Austin’s White Ghost Shivers. And despite her travelling ways, she’s a true Austin dog. You may spot Cella around town at various marathons, triathalons, at Lady Bird Lake or Emma Long Park. She loves Pure Austin’s quarry because it has all the necessities: running, water, squirrels, and people. But her most favorite place is the Barton Creek greenbelt. Walters said, “We hike down the Hill of Life and to where the water where the boulders are. Cella runs like a crazy dog on the rocks and takes an occasional dive and swim.”

Cella always wins a few heats at the Buda Wiener Dog races. “She actually made it to the semi-finals in 2012,” said Walters, “but she is usually bored with the whole exercise by the time the finals come around.” It’s that playful and stubborn personality that appeals to her moms, along with her athleticism.

“We take her everywhere,” explained Walters. “People always smile at her and she loves to meet people.” Jackson elaborated: “She loves kids and babies. She gets so excited, her whole body wiggles.”

A couple of times a week Cella visits doggy day camp at Loving Frendz. There, she is happy to take charge of the playgroups. “If there is a more dominant dog, she will bow down,” said Walters, “but otherwise keeps the other dogs in line.” “She’s a lot like her mom,” added Jackson, “She likes things to be in order.” “That’s true,” says Tammy, laughing, “and that’s why we love her.”

Cadence and Leila
These dogs run!

One common element through all of these Austin’s Fittest Dogs stories is that it’s pretty hard to be sedentary if you have an active dog. The reverse is true; it’s pretty hard for dogs with active owners to get away with being coach potatoes.

Cadence and Leila don’t belong to the same family other than their people work together and run together. Cadence, a 5-year-old black Lab mix, belongs to Ruth England and Steve Sisson, owners of Rogue Running, and Leila, a 6-year-old border collie mix, belongs to Erik and Ashley Stanley; Erik coaches for Rogue, specifically the Off Rogue trail class. With these owners and their running prowess, it’s no wonder the two dogs are fit.

Cadence has several favorite run routes, which cover everything from the Barton Creek greenbelt (where he enjoys the water holes and climbing the boulders to dive-bomb his sisters) to a road run that takes him down 5th Street, where he’s learned he can indulge his fondness for pizza. England laughingly said, “He loves pizza and is practically obsessed. On one run, Cadence managed to find three pieces of pizza and one loaf of bread.” While she makes sure to feed Cadence a diet that is healthy (she spends a little more on food to avoid corn and wheat), she doesn’t hesitate to feed him more often. Since he logs an average of 60-75 miles a week running, England actually worries that he needs more food than he often gets (“I asked the guy at the pet store if they had any food specifically for ‘athletic dogs’ and he went, ‘Huh?’”). As a result, Cadence gets to enjoy snacks of carrots and cucumbers, which he loves.

Leila works to help the Rogue trail group stay on track; Stanley said that his runners often use her to make sure they’re on the right trail. Leila is a bit of sprinter, as she often runs ahead and then waits for him and the group to catch up before taking off again. That way, she makes sure the group stays together. While she doesn’t cover quite the mileage that Cadence does (Leila averages about 20-40 miles a week), she is quite the traveler. The Stanleys often drive to Colorado so that Leila can come along; “She’s part of our family,” he explained and then related how there was a time when Leila went missing; she’d been grazed by a car while out running on some ranch property and, in her fear, had taken off. The couple anxiously put out fliers and scanned the neighborhood, but no luck—Leila could not be found. Over a week later, they got a phone call and Leila turned up, fenced, in a backyard. “I’ve never heard a voice so happy as when Ashley called me to say Leila had been found,” remembered Stanley.


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