Sunday, January 19, 2020

Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd on How Her Dog Rio Saved Her Life

In this interview, Joni darc Shepherd talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life.

“Dogs are little angels with fur.” ~Joni darc Shepherd

Joni has liked dogs ever since she was a little girl, as there had always been one dog in their family’s house at all times. Much as she wanted to have a dog of her own, it wasn’t until she lived on her own that she got a dog for herself, as her mother prohibited any other dog but her sister’s to live in the family home. Her first dog, Marley, was a rescued black Labrador mix, whom she really bonded with.

Joni remarks that the right dog comes along to a person at the right moment. To those who would own a dog, Joni recommends that they do their homework, creating a list of things that will and won’t work for one, such as the dog’s energy level and the dog’s age, a puppy will be very demanding. Once the criteria are set, one should check out dogs, such as during a dog exhibit set by a local dog club, so one can see how the dog behaves. That said, dogs also have their own personalities, and she encourages rescue dog adoption. “You need to take it [dog guardianship] seriously,” Joni remarks, “because it is for your life and the dog’s total life.” Where giving dogs as presents is concerned, Joni notes that the person receiving the dog might not be ready for one at that point in his or her life, and while the dog might be a nice one for the giver, it might not be the right one for the recipient.

Rio, according to Joni, is a “real person,” and has done things for her that humans haven’t, helping her go on the journey she is presently on. Joni’s sister, aunt and Marley died in quick succession. The stress didn’t stop there, as Joni needed to look after her 91-year-old mother and both her sister and the latter’s dog, when both contracted lymphoma. Joni then fell into depression, feeling lost and that her whole world had fallen apart, with her waking up some days not wanting to do anything but hide. It was shortly after Marley’s death that she looked for a dog and found Rio, and the dog’s cheerful, endearing, friendly nature pulled her out of that depression and got her living life once again, as well as opened up doors and commit to doing bigger goals than she was used to.

Rio is a Belgian Tervuren, and Joni notes that, in the United States, there are four recognized Belgian breeds (Malinois, Tervuren, Groenendael, Laekenois) that are very similar to each other, but that, in Belgium and the rest of Europe, those four breeds are treated as a single breed. Where Belgian dog breeds are concerned, Joni notes that these can “do it all,” whereas other breeds might specialize in sniffing, while others would specialize in herding, and still others in obedience.

Joni remarks that Rio is an exception to the breed, as he is sweet, friendly and endearing. Joni cites examples of Rio going up to animals such as camels, rabbits and supposedly ornery horses, and getting friendly greetings from these. Rio is also a flirt, as he manages to find at least girlfriend at each meet he goes to, with the girls occasionally fighting over him. Joni remarks that Rio’s energy is infectious, particularly when her alarm rings at 3 a.m. and, while she’s wondering whether to get up or not, Rio gets her attention and asks: “Where are we going today, Mom?”

When Joni got Rio, the breeder told her to show him in the confirmation ring, which was something she had not done before. Joni committed to doing that, with Rio winning championships at such shows. (Confirmations are shows where dogs are shown to judges who are familiar with such breeds confirmed, and the dog with the traits that best meet the standards met by clubs - and the standards can be numerous and specific - wins awards.) Joni mentions that an award-winning dog becomes most in demand for breeding, which has an impact on future generations of the breed.

For his part, Rio doesn’t want to keep doing the same thing over and over, which was why he has participated in several canine sports. Joni shared some incidents with Rio, such as with her losing her shoes during a sheep herding competition, and remarks that Rio has also participated in obedience trials as well as agility, where he was stopped by the dark, curved tunnel until one of his girlfriends was placed on the other end - after which he had no difficulty negotiating that obstacle. That said, Rio is also afraid of heights, which was why he stopped doing agility work. Rio has also done dog trick competitions, with one of his best tricks being mimicry, and has also done barn hunting competitions, where he has bested an Airedale, which have been bred specifically to find rats on riverbanks, to win first place in that particular competition. Rio has also done farm dog competitions, where the dog has to do twelve different things which simulate different tasks done around a farm, and doggie dancing. Rio is also a certified therapy dog, and the tricks he knows helps entertain and draw out nursing home hospice residents. Joni intends to have Rio do duck herding when he gets older, as ducks don’t run fast.

Where the book is concerned, Joni notes that the book is inspirational, motivational and upbeat, as well as touches on every emotion possible. “Through my journey,” Joni remarks, “one of the main things that I’ve learned is that the most important thing is love.”

Purchase from Amazon: Rio - A Love Story: How My Dog Saved My Life by Joan "Joni" darc Shepherd

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