INTRO: One of the recipients of the 14th annual AKC Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence (ACE) was featured in the spring issue of The New Barker dog magazine. His just-announced award is well-deserved. Only four months after his front leg was amputated and three weeks after completing chemotherapy, Bart earned his Senior Hunter title and continued to the Master Hunter level. Bart and Darcy, his human, were invited to visit with soldiers from the Wounded Warrior program. Bart, who ran fast and hard during a guided hunt, was an inspiration to the soldiers without limbs, and overcoming their own battle scars. Our story, A Case for the Power of Love, was written by Pam Stuart, a member of the Tampa Bay Vizsla Club. It may look like a long read, but if you’re in need of a smile and some inspiration, it’s well worth your time.
STORY: Life. It’s been said that life is what happens to you while you’re making plans. If you’re familiar with the sport of agility, life is like running an agility course: you have a start line at the beginning and a finish line at the end, with lots of obstacles in between. Sometimes there are challenges—wrong courses and dropped bars—but you and your dog run the course together and there is always praise and joy because you tried. You may not have a perfect run, you may not have earned a “Q”, but you and your best friend ran together, did as well as you could, and lived and loved in that moment.
Life. In times of strife, those challenges—those wrong courses and dropped bars—become the defining moments in which we find our strengths and our capabilities. Those moments test our mettle, our courage, our fortitude and our resolve. It is a great test for us when our beloved dog, our best friend and our heart on four legs, is diagnosed with a serious illness. Shock. Sadness. Denial. Reality. How did this happen and why? If we had the answers, oh, if we had the answers. It’s always been Darcy and Bart. For years. I can’t remember how or when we met, but it has always been Darcy and Bart. Darcy is a friend of immeasurable love, kindness, and strength. Strength that was tested when she and her Vizsla Bart, started on their journey.
It began with a limp early in 2008, during hunt and field season. It was just a sports-related injury. Bart was only three years old; a strong, young dog from a well-planned breeding who had already finished his show championship. He ran marathons with Darcy, his longest at 16 miles. He was on his way to great success in the field as nothing was slowing him down. Not even this limp. Dogs have their way of communicating with us. We know. We know our dogs and we just know. Is it a look? Is it intuition? Whatever It is—it is.
One June morning, Bart came out of his crate, looked up at Darcy and they went to the vet. The doctor found a lump on the top of the left shoulder and x-rays were ordered. They revealed that 80% of the scapula had been eaten away by cancer. Thankfully, Bart was young and in peak physical condition, which may have prevented further injury. After a biopsy confirmed osteosarcoma, Darcy, without hesitation, looked at the vet and asked how quickly Bart’s leg could be removed. Bart underwent a full scapulectomy. The surgery was a success as the doctor was able to get clean margins.
How could this happen to such a sweet, young dog? And why? Everything about Bart was not about cancer. Everything about osteosarcoma was bleak: the statistics, the poor prognoses, the dismal outcomes. Again, why? When word went out through the Vizsla grapevine of Darcy and Bart’s plight, I remember the sinking feeling of knowing osteosarcoma, and all that this diagnosis meant. I asked Darcy how she found the strength. She said: “Love. When he was first diagnosed, I kept asking myself why we were going through this and twice I saw the word LOVE, in bright, luminescent letters, inside my mind’s eye. When I saw it the second time, I gave in and took a leap of faith that this was going to be a journey of LOVE. Love of Bart, love from friends, love from strangers, love of this journey—and that has been my strength. It has been the best worst thing that has ever happened to me. Thankfully, there is an endless supply of love, so I feel we are prepared to keep on keepin’ on for as long as we need to.”
Friends came together in the name of love, as true friends do. Bart’s breeder became the Research and Development Department, attending vet appointments, taking notes, supporting her friend through this maze of science, medicine and spirituality. A TeamBarty Yahoo group sprang up so everyone could be kept up to date on the latest developments through photos and shared stories. Darcy put it best: “Friends became family, and strangers became friends.” TeamBarty gained traction and folks began to send items for the fund-raising yard sales, financial support, emotional support, prayers, toys and treats. Cards and letters from across the country started appearing in the mail box, often from strangers offering their sympathy, love and support.
When Bart came home from surgery, Darcy’s first priority was to try to get back to a sense of normalcy and Bart was all for that. They would take their morning walks, at first only to the end of the driveway. Then to the neighbor’s yard, then further down the street. Walks became runs. A milestone was reached when a run included an easy jump over a low retaining wall. Barty was back. A Vizsla is a hunting dog and hunting was deep in Bart’s genes. In October 2008, as a tri-paw, four months after an amputation and three weeks after completing his chemotherapy, Bart earned the fourth and final leg towards his Senior Hunter title for pointing breeds. For those not familiar with pointing breed hunt and field titles, to qualify for the SH title, the dog must run and hunt birds for 30 minutes, find, point and retrieve to the AKC’s exacting standards. Many dogs don’t get that far on four legs. Bart did it in grand style on three.
Darcy and Bart went even further and began competing for the Master Hunter title. There were times during their hunt tests when judges would have a sympathetic look for that poor girl and her three legged dog. Sympathy changed to awe as many grown men and women, often with tears in their eyes, were so moved by the courage and determination of the beautiful spirit in that beautiful dog. And Bart did earn that Master Hunter title, ten months after his amputation. Bart is the first Vizsla in history to have completed the Master Hunter title, start to finish—on three legs. Darcy and Bart have soldiered on, continuing their journey together in living life and performing in the field. They have also participated in the Vizsla Club of America All-Star review which honors Vizslas that have earned both their conformation championship along with one of the highest hunt or field titles.
The ribbons, the titles, the accolades—that’s all a bonus. Darcy and Bart have already won the real prize. They have lived, loved and grown through this journey that continues still. In the summer of 2010, Darcy and Bart were invited to visit with the military personnel in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, who are part of the Wounded Warrior Project. Later that fall, the Wounded Warriors came to Atlanta over Thanksgiving weekend and watched Bart compete in a field trial. Most recently, in January 2013, Bart, who will soon turn eight, ran fast and hard during a guided hunt with the Wounded Warriors, inspiring soldiers returning home who are overcoming their own battle scars.
Bart leads by example—thriving; never giving up and living life to the fullest thanks to love—in bright, luminescent letters.
We look forward to meeting Bart and the other ACE recipients this December in Orlando during a ceremony at the AKC Eukanuba Nationals.