A Friend For Life: Nurturing The Human-Animal Bond

A Friend for Life: Nurturing the Human-Animal Bond

A symbolic, sentimental comeback fared well for Katie Shepard Bernardin of Chaplin, Connecticut, and her beloved sidekick, the Giant Schnauzer “Ty,” at the 2019 AKC National Championship. Uncertainty whether the dog would show again was linked to whether he would heal properly following months of rehabilitation after surgery in 2018. An accident incurred while he was running in the yard caused severe injuries to the supportive ligaments of his left front leg.

The miraculous return to the ring, taking Working Group First at the largest dog show in the U.S., was befitting for the charismatic 6 ½-year-old male. The No. 1 all-breed show dog in the country in 2017, Ty charmed his handler while on what she describes as “the ride of a lifetime.”

MBIS/MBISS GCHG Ingebar’s Tynan Dances With Wildflowers started out as a special in 2016 handled by Katie’s husband, Adam Bernardin, an experienced handler of the powerful working breed. The switch in handlers came in late July 2016 at the Steel Valley Cluster in Canfield, Ohio. The unbearable summer heat with 100-degree temperatures shut down the black-coated dog, his ears droopy and his enthusiasm withered — until Katie took the lead at Adam’s suggestion.

With a background in handling sporting dogs and sighthounds, Katie began to transform into a handler of a working dog. Along the way, she and Ty formed a close bond. “I needed to learn how to show him,” she says. “He taught me how to get serious. He also taught me to be a stronger person. I found myself with Ty.” 

“The human-animal bond is about having a close relationship with an animal,” says Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, DACVECC, DACVSMR, professor of working dog sciences and sports medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “A true team works in a partnership that evolves with trust and compassion and translates into a special connection that feeds the soul.”

Teamwork is the essence of retriever field trials. At the 2014 National Amateur Retriever Championship in Roseburg, Oregon, Martha Russell of Gainesville, Texas, and her 5-year-old black male Labrador Retriever “Tubb” calmly came to the line in the 10th series exuding level-headed confidence. One of 20 Finalists out of more than 100 starters, Tubb locked in as Martha sent him on the first of four difficult retrieves.

“It was a very hard test,” she says. “The first mark was in a unique spot. Other dogs had gone to the left or the right of the mark. I pointed, off he went and came back. It was as though he said, ‘OK, I can do this. I got it.’”

The sole trainer of NAFC-FC-AFC Texas Troubador, Martha says, “We have a dog-person relationship I never had before. Before Tubb, I was more demanding. I learned to be more patient and give him a chance to figure things out.”

Meanwhile, for Ty, the prognosis after his injury was grave, with specialists predicting a 50-percent chance that regenerative medicine using his own platelet rich plasma would repair the damaged tissues. In September 2019, he was considered healed.   

 “It was important to show him again and let everyone see him healthy and strong — that’s why we showed at the AKC National last December,” Katie says.

She adds, “Ty is my best friend. He loved to show because of our relationship.”

For Russell and Tubb, they went on to win the 2015 Purina Outstanding Amateur Retriever Award, amassing the most points of any retriever in the country in the yearlong competition.

About three years ago, Martha developed a condition that causes weakness in her legs. “I have found Tubb has an idea of what I can and can’t do,” she says. “He has taught me that if I walk up carefully and don’t rush, we can do it. It’s like he’s saying, ‘OK, we got this.’”