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Upbeat attitude makes life better for woman and her best friend

Gay Halpenny with Judy - Alan R. Capon photo

by Margaret Haylock Capon
When Gay Halpenny adopted an unsocialized two-year-old named Judy, her family and friends were annoyed with her.

“They asked me what I was doing, but I felt I could do this,” says the Picton resident who has successfully proven that a woman with multiple sclerosis and a German Shepherd who spent her early life in a kennel can become a winning team.

Today, Gay and Judy are members of the Winstead Synchronized Walking Team and regular students in obedience and agility classes at Winstead Dogs. Their success story is an inspiration to fellow team members, for Gay, who enjoys a close bond with her dog, pilots her from her motorized scooter.

Gay recalls that Judy was two years old when she bought her from a breeder in Orangeville. She had spent the first year of her life in a kennel and was not well socialized.

“When I got her, she was not too used to people. I had to take her to school. She attached herself to me very quickly and became over-protective of me. She didn’t like visitors and barked when they came to the door. I had to do something or I couldn’t keep her.”

For a time, Gay worked with Judy under the guidance of her breeder in Orangeville but the distance involved eventually made this impractical.

“I found Ken Campbell at Winstead Dogs (near Bloomfield) and started in basic obedience. Ken felt that Judy had so much potential and I just needed to work with her.”

Gay, who used a cane in class, sometimes felt that she could not do the work required to train her dog.

“I have MS and it was taking too much energy,” she says.

Although she sometimes found it difficult, she persevered and progressed to agility classes with Judy, when Campbell suggested that basic obedience work was no longer needed. “She walked with me and my walker. Ken felt I needed a connection with her and agility work would help with this. Judy would learn to have fun. It really does give you a better connection. You pay attention to each other.”

Initially, Gay used her cane when taking her dog over the agility course, but soon developed discomfort in her leg and neck. She realized that she was trying to move faster than usual and throwing her body out of line, in an effort to keep up with her dog.

“I switched to using my walker and relaxed more,” she says.

“Ken’s guidance kept me going. He told me my dog had to adjust to my gait. I relaxed more and my problems resolved. Judy has changed quite a bit. She does pay attention now and slows down.”

“The walking team was another challenge,” says Gay, referring to her participation in the Winstead Dogs Synchronized Walking Team.

When Gay found that she could not keep pace with other team members while using her walker, she decided to ride her scooter instead. Judy readily accepted this change and obediently walked beside her owner, during practice sessions.

Unfortunately, Gay’s scooter malfunctioned, just before the start of last weekend’s Picton Santa Claus Parade and she and Judy were unable to take their position at the head of the walking team. Campbell and Janice Hanthorn of Winstead Dogs, swiftly improvised. Gay rode on the tailgate of their Jeep with Judy walking behind it.

Gay and Judy’s fellow team members regard them as an inspiration. “I hope we are an inspiration,” says Gay, “for others who have gone before have inspired me. You see young people (with disabilities) out there trying to make a good life and it’s inspiring.”

“It (participation in dog school classes) helps me physically. I would not be doing any of this on my own. Judy can run like the wind and I try to take her for a run, once or twice a week. She won’t run, unless I walk and I can walk for up to an hour,” says Gay, observing that Judy’s runs are good exercise for her, too.

“I can’t imagine my life without a dog,” says Gay, who has owned German Shepherds for more than 40 years.

“I don’t know if I was stubborn or what, but I said I could do this,” she adds, referring to her decision to train Judy.

She admits there were times when she wanted to give up, but Campbell guided her through them and today, she and Judy have a strong partnership. They have become a team.

Campbell says,”Gay first came to Winstead Dogs for guidance in managing Judy’s territorial issues. Gay and Judy’s education included basic obedience followed up with some agility classes. Both courses taught Judy that Gay was her partner and leader. Gay’s determination to overcome her physical challenges and build a strong partnership with Judy is an inspiration to all”.

“It was extremely disappointing that Gay’s electric scooter failed on parade day, so she was unable to demonstrate the teamwork that they have achieved, however, they still didn’t quit. Judy walked the parade route, while Gay rode in a vehicle, encouraging Judy along the way! Winstead Dogs is very proud of all the dogs and their handlers who joined in the fun of the Picton Santa Claus Parade”.

Filed Under: Local NewsMargaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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  1. Davia says:

    I have known Gay for about 20 years now, and can state without a doubt that she is strong-willed, a fighter, relentless no matter what the challenge, patient and loving with with her pets, and all beings. She is a wonderful human being, with an amazing outlook on life, no matter what comes her way! I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Gay, and who she is that I would not be the lover of dogs that I am today. Here’s to you, Gay, and thank you for being you!!!!

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