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A Change of Heart

June 22, 1986|KATHLEEN BROWN

It was just before Labor Day in 1981 when Margo Collins took three abandoned kittens to the animal shelter and found herself face to face with a 3-year-old red Doberman. He was in poor shape, too thin from being on the streets, but, Collins recalls, "he had the sweetest look in his eyes." The woman and the dog had an instant rapport, and, experiencing a change of heart, she kept the kittens and went to visit the dog day after day: Three parties had laid prior claim to him; if none of them showed up within the prescribed times, he would be hers.

Collins got her dog, and named him Standing Room Only. She went to considerable lengths to secure a limited registration for him with the American Kennel Club; he was, officially, a stray, and not possessed of proper credentials. His only known history was that of "escape artist," and though he has never deigned to jump a fence--too easy--he has mastered every latch and barrier in record time. Collins nicknamed him Bravo, because she applauded his narrow escape from the animal shelter.

At first, he was relatively uncivilized, "trained only to chew furniture and screen doors," Collins says. "I used to ride my bike every morning before work for miles and miles to let him work off his energy so he'd sleep all day and not destroy anything."

Then she did what any sane, desperate person would: She got a professional trainer. After a brief four weeks, she took Bravo into competition--and they were glory bound.

Bravo, Collins says, "thinks I saved his life, so he's willing to do whatever I ask." That's how she explains his change of heart.

At his first three trials, Bravo won the necessary scores to earn the right to have the initials CD (for Companion Dog) after his name. Usually it takes much longer to earn that distinction. Bravo is now a CDX, or Companion Dog Excellent, the second level of three possible levels in obedience competition. The highest level is UD, Utility Dog.

In 1985, Bravo earned his grandest honor yet, at an annual Doberman event to which the top 20 highest-scoring obedience dogs in the country are invited to compete. There is no separation of levels--second- and third-level dogs are pitted against first-level dogs. Bravo was going for the pinnacle, the Utility Dog title. Out of the 20, he had entered ranked 11th. He had to work completely off lead, directed only by Collins' hand signals. He was sent over high and broad jumps, and had to fetch the one barbell from a heap of 10 that was scented by Collins' touch. He had to stand for five excruciating minutes without moving a single paw, with Collins gone from sight.

And he won, the only male to ever have achieved the honor at that event. Bravo, the dog with the dubious past, in finding Collins, had had the change of heart that ensured his future.

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