Meet Golden Nick

Frisky Golden (Nick) Works as a K-9
By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 13, 2006

Labs rule, at least in the world of purebred dogs. For the 16th consecutive year, Labrador retrievers are the top dog on the American Kennel Club's list of registrations. An astounding 137,867 Labs were registered in 2005.

To show how popular Labrador retrievers are, look at the statistics for the No. 2 golden retriever, which had 48,509 AKC registrations in 2005. It doesn't take guesswork to figure out why those bred-to-hunt dogs are popular pets. They are smart, sweet and loving with people and other dogs. People see beautiful Labs and goldens "everywhere," so they buy one.

Both breeds are victims of their own popularity. They're really not for everyone. They are big and boisterous and they generally don't calm down until they are 3 or 4 years old. In the hands of inexperienced owners who can't train and socialize the dogs, they can be unpleasant pets. They are notorious for pulling on leashes when walked. In their glee at greeting people, they jump on thema nightmare for the small and young, old and frail, or those afraid of dogs.

Shelters and rescue groups are swamped with Labrador and golden retrievers, especially males 12 to 18 months old. Shelters and rescues are inundated with retrievers turned in by owners who said the dogs "got too big" and became "impossible" to handle.

That's what happened in September with a 1-year-old golden retriever named Snoopy. He was turned in to Keystone Golden Retriever Rescue Inc. in DuBois, Clearfield County. "Snoopy was so exuberant he was bouncing off the walls," Chris Kougher said. He had no manners, no training and he wasn't housebroken.

The group, founded in 1997, rescues 40 to 80 golden retrievers a year. About 20 volunteers open their hearts and homes to dogs whose owners are unwilling or unable to care for them. Volunteers, including Mrs. Kougher, provide foster homes until permanent homes can be found.

But Snoopy was a special case. "Snoopy was nuts. No one could handle him for more than a day or two. He quickly went through three foster homes. Everyone's pets were afraid of him, though he wasn't aggressive. He was just too friendly," Mrs. Kougher said. Though she has fostered 70 or 80 goldens in the last eight years, she couldn't take this dog. The problem wasn't her husband, her college-aged children or the family's four goldens. The problem was Snoopy required full-time supervision, and the Koughers both have full-time jobs.

The rescue group raised $500 to send Snoopy to a professional trainer for two weeks. He came back a changed dog. But after two days, the foster family said Snoopy was out of control again. Keystone volunteers were at the end of their rope. And then out of the blue came a most unexpected phone call.

The K-9 trainers for the West Virginia Division of Corrections had seen Snoopy on the Keystone Web site, and they were interested in him. One might wonder why anyone would be interested in an overly frisky dog that only a professional trainer could handle. Professional trainers, people who compete successfully in obedience and agility competitions and police and corrections department K-9 trainers are generally looking for high-energy dogs. They've found that high-energy dogs often enjoy training and full-time work.

A team of trainers traveled to DuBois to see Snoopy in action. For four hours they worked with him, and they took him to a football stadium where they watched the dog endlessly run up and down the bleachers. They loved what they saw. "They said they would try him, but they couldn't make any promises. I gave that lovable dog kisses, said goodbye and told him to make us proud," Mrs. Kougher said.

The corrections people renamed him Nick and put him through a rigorous 13-week training program. On Feb. 15, he graduated with flying colors. Mrs. Kougher and several Keystone volunteers attended the ceremony, proud as any parent.

Nick and Cpl. Erin Renzelli work at the Pruntytown Correctional Center in Grafton, W.Va. Nick is a drug detection dog, and he's very good at it. He does regular drug sweeps at the prison, and Nick and Erin have been called to do school searches, too. You can see Nick's picture on the rescue group Web site -- -- by clicking on "happy endings." The site always has pictures of golden retrievers in need of what rescue people call "forever homes."

Though DuBois is about a two-hour drive from Pittsburgh, the Keystone volunteers have taken in many dogs from the Pittsburgh area, and they've found a lot of forever homes, here, too.


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