Posted by: Shauna Farnell
GoPro Mountain Games DockDogs competitor has canine to thank for positivity through treatment
In February, Debra Bedia had just arrived home from her last chemotherapy session. As was the case throughout the several months of her breast cancer treatment, her dog was wedged at her side from the moment she walked in the door.
Before any of this – three summers ago – Bedia traveled from her home in Colorado Springs to Florida to pick up her eight-week-old puppy. After nearly 30 years of working with the Army and NORAD, Bedia was preparing for retirement and wanted to have a dog of her own, a dog to whom she could teach valuable skills.
She returned home with O’Winter, a purebred Belgian Malinois, with plans on training the fuzzy little pooch for search and rescue service. But then she realized how canine competitions carried a distinctive appeal as a fun new hobby to pursue during her impending retirement.
“I have a horse and used to compete in the hunter-jumper competitions. I said, OK, I can handle dogs,” Bedia said.
Training for dock diving and nose work began shortly after O’Winter’s puppy vaccinations. While the start was a little rocky, the talented pup hit her stride – and exceeded it – with one big splash after another.
“It took us like a month to get her to go off of the dock,” Bedia said. “We’d take her with River, my husband’s dog, and she’d start to go off after him. Then she started getting faster than River and they began fighting over the bumper. Then we said, nope, we can’t have them do this together anymore.”
O’Winter and his mother became regulars at Jasper’s Splash Zone, a canine aquatic facility in Colorado Springs.
“It was the second month that she jumped off this big jump. From there, she’s been learning really fast,” Bedia said. “She loves it. She goes crazy for it. If you were around her, you’d say, ‘what a friendly Malinois.’ When she’s on the dock, when she sees that bumper, all she wants to do is go for it. She gets so focused. When we’re driving and we make the turn, she knows we’re going to the training center.”
From puppy to professional
By this time last year, the duo had started to make its mark in competitions and was conducting a full training schedule involving two days per week of dock diving, two days of nose work and one day of bite work (“to get her confidence up,” Bedia explained).
Also, the lucky pooch took run of the house.
“She’s the only one that’s allowed on the bed,” Bedia said. “She’s the queen bee. My husband’s dog, my daughter’s dog, we call them ‘the deployables.’ Winter is the princess. I tell everybody … my dog is an athlete.”
Bedia did her best to maintain this busy, cheerful existence when she got the news last August that she has breast cancer and would have to begin several months of chemotherapy and radiation. O’Winter helped tremendously.
Companionship that cures
“Winter took my concentration away from the breast cancer diagnosis. She can’t speak back, so all of my energy and positive thoughts were coming through her. She was my distraction,” Bedia said.
Bedia persevered through three surgeries and a couple of hospitalizations. Being away from O’Winter was the toughest part of it.
“Since I started the treatment, she’s had a habit of following me all over the house,” Bedia said. “She’s made the treatment not as bad. Having to stay in the hospital a couple of times with sepsis and chemo side effects, all I could think was, ‘my dog is not here with me.’”
With a keener sense of smell than many canines, O’Winter was extra sensitive to Bedia when she was at her most vulnerable.
“She has a really, really good nose, It’s funny how she knows the days I come home from chemo, she could smell it. She’d lay on the bed with me and look at me with those eyes. She keeps me close to her. If I’m sitting down, she wants to sit on my lap … and she’s not a puppy. On days when I went to work, my husband would take her to doggie daycare and she’d come home and lay on top of me and starting kissing me. When your dog is so happy to see you and kissing you, it’s easy to forget that things are hard,” Bedia said. “She was also really good at letting me sleep a little longer. Her normal wake time, before I started treatment, was 4:30. She started letting me sleep until around 7 o’clock.”
The 2019 GoPro Mountain Games Dock Dog events will be especially rewarding. It will mark Bedia and O’Winter’s first post-cancer competition.
“By that time, I’m hoping all the treatment will be done. It will be an accomplishment. She’ll be back on track. I’ll be back on track. Yes, it’s going to be special.”
Bedia and O’Winter will join the DockDog competition beginning June 6 in Vail – spectating is free, and Bedia said she will welcome all the support and applause that the crowd can muster.
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