Nashville rescue dog defies the odds to advance to Westminster agility final

When Anjie Crow couldn’t find Fox Sports on TV in her hotel room in Dobbs Ferry, New York, she and Zoey went down to the hotel bar and shopped there.

The bar wasn’t open yet, but this TV had the channel she was looking for. So she settled on a bar stool with 9-year-old Zoey on another. Together they watched.

Crow didn’t expect that eight years to the day after adopting Zoey, they would both be competing on one of the biggest stages – the Westminster Masters Agility competition.

Now they were watching a replay of the final.

If the bar had been open, Crow might have ordered the best water available, to pour into Zoey’s bowl.

From shelter pup to champion

Crow was browsing Pet Finder in June 2014 when she came across Zoey, a small speckled black and white mix of Australian Cattle Dog and Jack Russel Terrier. She had been pulled from the shelter by the Middle Tennessee German Shepherd Rescue and something clicked for Crow.

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Zoey could be the dog she was looking for. She had been interested in agility training, but the dog she had at the time had no interest in the sport. Zoey, she had come to learn, was perfect for that.

“She’s very food-oriented, so it was easy to train her,” Crow said with a laugh. “She eats everything. I had to call the vet’s office several times because of this.

Anjie Crow sits with her dog, Zoey, for a portrait in front of her ribbon wall, showcasing all of Zoey's wins at previous dog shows, at Anjie Crow's home in Hermitage, Tennessee, Wednesday, June 29, 2022. Crow adopted Zoey from a shelter and began training her to compete in agility competitions.  Over the past five years Zoey has won countless ribbons and has also competed at the Westminster Dog Show.

Shelter dogs are just built differently. They are resilient, tough when needed, but can take traumatic pasts with them.

Being a shelter dog put Zoey at a disadvantage in agility competitions. Most dogs that compete are bred for this purpose.

“A lot of handlers get dogs at 8 weeks old,” Crow explained. “They get so much training, exposure therapy that gives them a head start. Dogs that start as adults are at a disadvantage. Dogs adopted from shelters really don’t have any benefits.

But Zoey was eager to learn and fearless.

Zoey sits on her platform after taking an agility class at Anjie Crow's home in Hermitage, Tennessee, Wednesday, June 29, 2022.

The couple spent Crow’s free time over the next two years working out. She bought woven polls, a tunnel, seesaw, jump bars and a hoop and set them up on the flattest spot in her backyard.

Once Crow was happy with Zoey’s development, they began working on local competition circuits and gradually expanded outside of Tennessee. Then Zoey started winning.

Admittedly, Zoey is not the fastest female dog, a key element of the competition, but that has not stopped her progress. She won her first Masters Agility Championship title, The Ticket to Westminster, in May 2019. She now has five.

The big day

The Westminster competition takes the top 350 dogs with a qualifying title for the event each year. Crow put up his candidacy overnight.

Zoey performs a training drill with Anjie Crow at Anjie Crow's home in Hermitage, Tennessee on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. For the past five years Zoey has competed in agility competitions including the Westminster Dog Show.

The two were all due to leave in January before it was postponed as COVID-19 cases were on the rise again in New York.

A few weeks before heading to the Lyndhurst mansion for the rescheduled event, Zoey started having shoulder problems.

“I took her to the vet, a chiropractor, a massage therapist,” Crow said. “We almost didn’t go, but then I thought ‘if we don’t do it now, we never will.'”

So they loaded up the car and drove, stopping to compete in Pennsylvania before checking into their hotel room in Dobbs Ferry.

Zoey has competed in the Masters Standard event, which takes dogs through a series of obstacles, and the Masters Jumpers with Weave, a course that only requires dogs to jump and weave through poles. In her size class, she competed against 74 other dogs.

She rode faultless races in both events, earning her three ribbons: one for each event and a third for dual qualifying.

The competition takes the top 10 dogs from each size class to advance, and they always select an All American, which is a mixed breed dog. Zoey was their girlfriend and this was her ticket to the finals.

“I didn’t expect her to be successful,” Crow said. “I had to check the list of finals three times, ask friends if they saw what I saw.”

On the final race, Zoey overcame the obstacles, taking the lead like a pro. She was almost at the end, when she jumped over a jump in the wrong direction after taking a mistake from Crow.

“I knew immediately. I thought ‘well, it’s over’,” Crow said. “I was disappointed, but not in her. I’m so proud of her.

well deserved break

On Wednesday, Zoey walked through Crow’s backyard to hunt squirrels in the tall trees at their Hermitage home. She dropped onto her back and squirmed on the cement driveway.

They take a break from the competition.

“She deserves it,” Crow said.

Crow has dedicated a room in his home to his dog’s accomplishments. One wall in this room, from floor to ceiling, is lined with hundreds of ribbons. Her master’s titles hang on another wall along with the jump bars she cleared to win those awards. A padded banner, donated by a friend of Crow, hangs from the post of Zoey’s first victory.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do when I run out of room,” she laughed. “I guess I’ll buy a bigger house.”

Soon they will be back on the circuit and crossing Tennessee to compete again, but Zoey’s age is starting to show. His muzzle shows more gray, and the fur around his eyes also turns. His energy, however, remains unmatched.

Zoey has a younger sister named Bindi, who is both Australian Cattle Dog and American Eskimo, who has trained for competition. Crow doesn’t know how long she will continue to compete with Zoey.

“I just want her to be a dog as long as she has enough life left to be one,” Crow said as Zoey lay on the grass in the shade.

Contact Tennessean reporter Kirsten Fiscus at 615-259-8229 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KDFiscus.