Thursday, December 15, 2011

Road to AKC/Eukanuba: Agility Handler Stephanie Pickerill and Oreo battle back after injury

Stephanie and Oreo
This week we're highlighting several competitors who have overcome all sorts of obstacles to make it to the biggest dog show in the country -- the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship. Today's focus is on Stephanie Pickerill and her Cocker Spaniel Oreo who will be competing in the AKC Agility Invitational, held in conjunction with the AENC in Orlando this weekend.

At 10 ½ years old, Oreo will be attending his third AKC Agility Invitational.  But what makes this trip even more special for owner Stephanie Pickerill is that Oreo had a collapsed L6/L7 vertebrae injury the first week of August and was paralyzed and unable to walk.  With x-rays, doctor visits, lots of rehab and patience, he has regained feeling in his rear legs.  On only his third time on agility equipment after the incident, he won the high-scoring Cocker Spaniel award at the Capital City Cocker Club agility trial on November 13th. Oreo has his MACH 3 title, which means he's achieved the requirements needed for his master agility championship title three times. Stephanie and Oreo, from Springfield, Va.,  appreciate every minute of their time in the ring together and are looking forward to competing!
Photo by J.J. Hanlon
Stephanie and Oreo earlier this year

TDWL: Is Oreo your first agility dog?
Stephanie: Yes, I got him before my junior year of college, first dog and first agility dog.  He now has three cocker spaniel sisters!

TDWL: How did Oreo get his injury?
Stephanie: I noticed he wasn't quite right the last couple months and was requiring more and more chiropractor and massage visits.  The weekend prior to the "official" injury he ran five first-place finishes.  The following Thursday I got home from work and he wasn't upstairs in the front window waiting for me like usual.  That night he had trouble jumping on the couch, but it wasn't a huge red flag until he didn't jump on the bed to go to sleep like he usually does.

The next day (Friday) I went to work and came home to my worse nightmare. Oreo was at the front door (again not at the front window upstairs), shaking and with an arched back in a statue position.  I rushed him to my vet.  My vet couldn't extend his rear legs at all without him screaming in pain, and he is a very tough dog so we couldn't get x-rays.  He gave Oreo an injection of pain meds and I took him home that night, slept on the floor with him and carried him everywhere. The next morning (Saturday) my vet met me to sedate him to do x-rays, which showed the collapsed L6/L7 vertebrae.  He had a very grim prognosis, and as you can imagine, I was devastated.  The one thing we love to do more than agility was hiking in the woods and like agility, that was out of question. 

TDWL: So scary! What did you do next?
Stephanie:  At first I was devastated cried for many days and nights.  But then I became empowered that I was going to do everything I could to fight this... and Oreo was the best teammate. He has the fight-and-never-give-up-despite-the-odds spunk about him!  At first there were a lot of meds, vet visits, and strict crate rest. Then we slowly built up his endurance to make sure his body could hold up.  A huge thing I had to learn was patience.  At first I was so devastated and emotional, but then I did my best to make every effort to help Oreo recover.
Photo by Barry Rosen
Oreo worked hard to regain his strength so he could do all the things he loves best!
TDLW: Do you find his age has slowed him down or affected him in anyway?
Stephanie: His age has not slowed him down in the least and he still keeps me on my toes.  Even after the injury, the first time he saw equipment he was rearing to go.  However how quickly his body recovered has changed, which is why even before the injury we took it a little easy. And since his injury he's run just two trials -- one day and then a two-day show a month later --  to see if his body would hold up to run two days at the Invitational.

Photo by Mary Susan Billingsley
Proud doggie! 
TDWL: What does it mean to you to be coming to the AKC Agility Invitational this year?  

Stephanie: Not only is it a huge accomplishment to be invited, it is even more bitter sweet as I have the privilege and confidence (with vet approval and my conditioning) that we are able to step in the agility ring and compete together. A couple months ago I thought that would never happen.  However I'm also a little emotional -- running once monthly is my dream now as long as he stays healthy -- and this will be our last invitational. :( 

TDWL: Is there anything else you'd like to share about Oreo?

Stephanie: He's taught me so much about not only the game of agility but about determination, patience and beating the odds. When you put your heart to something you rise to the occasion. And about what being a team is... you take turns being the stronger link  He's a forgiving teammate that holds no grudges.  I couldn't ask for a better teammate in or out of the agility ring.

TDWL: Thank you Stephanie and best of luck to you and Oreo this weekend!


  1. I see Stephanie and Oreo run at almost every trial I attend. We run in the same class, 12 inches, and Oreo always kicks my speedy corgi's butt! They are one heck of a team and I wish them lots of success at the Invitational!

  2. Stephanie and Oreo are a spectacular team...they define what is meant by agility partnership! I am so happy for both of them that all that hard work paid off and they will run this weekend...but even more important than that is that Oreo worked so hard and now will enjoy a great quality of life beyond agility as well! GO STEPH AND OREO!!!

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