Meet Cooper the Lab, Jazzy the Border Collie, and Aki Yamaguchi the Human. They’re from Texas, but they’re not your typical Texas trio.
Aki, Cooper, and Jazzy have dedicated their lives to helping other people and pups in multiple ways. From search and rescue to their new social media movement #greyisbeautiful— they do it all.
Many dog years ago, Aki, aka BorderNerd, wanted to find an activity that she could do with her beloved border collie, Jazzy. When Aki stumbled upon search and rescue, she decided it was a pawfect combination of volunteering and helping people in need. Since then, Aki, Jazzy, and her “Lab on speed” Cooper and have gone on lots of search and rescue trips during their 8 years in action– from Hurricane Katrina to Hurricane Ike.
Not only was search and rescue a great way to give back and bond with her highly-skilled and trained pups, it also helped Cooper chill out. “By channeling his energy into search and rescue, he has turned the corner and became an amazing dog,” Aki says. “He and Jazzy get along perfectly and I could not have asked for a better pair.”
Aki says the key to a good search and rescue pup is all about the Benja-, er, rewards. “You have to figure out what the dog loves and then use that as a reward to train. I don’t use punishment because I want my dogs to enjoy the job. Great search and rescue dogs are confident, healthy, and have the over-the-top toy drives,” Aki says.
“If a dog wants something you have badly, he’ll do pretty much anything – climb a ladder, go through a rubble pile, and run in the woods for hours. That’s reward training.” -Aki
Each search can range from hours to days, and the training can be fairly intense. The trio trained 5-6 days a week on obedience, socialization, obstacle training, and more. In addition, they got together with their search and rescue group 2-3 times a week when they did SAR. High paws, you guys!
Jazzy and Cooper were SAR all-stars, searching for and finding victims and giving lotsa love to the crew.
However, much like hoomans, they couldn’t do it furever. Eventually, Jazzy and Cooper started to slow down in their own ways. Cooper developed joint problems that made rubble navigation ruff and Jazzy went through multiple surgeries after an injury to her leg. Being the responsible mamz that she is, Aki could see that her pups’ hearts weren’t in it anymore. She decided that they would all retire.
“I cried when I made the decisions,” Aki says. “I lived and breathed search and rescue for years and I knew my dogs enjoyed training.”
And by retire, Aki meant do other awesome stuff that helps people and pups. “That’s when I started training for the Animal Assisted Therapy program. Being such a wild dog, people never thought Cooper could be a therapy dog,” Aki recalls. But the first day in the nursing home, he flashed his big ol’ brown eyes like the charmer he is and everyone swooned. He found his calling!
Jazzy had a different approach. Rather than bat her eyelashes and bask in adfurration, Jazzy liked to move-it move-it and show off her tricks and dance moves to the children at the hospital.
She also visited local libraries for their READ programs. At last, they were back in the community, spreading the ruv.
But that still wasn’t enough for Aki. (Surely, you aren’t surprised?) “Being in rescue, I see too many senior dogs in shelters,” Aki says. “Sadly, senior dogs in shelter have less chance of surviving since people prefer to adopt younger dogs. So I’d also like to bring awareness to appreciating seniors and commitment to them for life.” And how does she do that? Enter a camera, her blog, and a bit of grey fur.
Through her Instagram, Aki shares the ruv of her tried-and-true pups and their adorable grey faces. They’re the poster pups for her #greyisbeautiful campaign. “I used to post pictures of them with less grey because I had the hardest time accepting that they were getting old,” Aki says. Since her first #greyisbeautiful post of Jazzy there are now almost 1,500 pictures with the same hashtag. Most of the pups feature ruffable grey-haired pups like Instagram’s Sargent_the_great.
“Everyone loves puppies, but there are some amazing qualities you’ll find in senior dogs. They can be the best cuddle buddies and travel companions.” -Aki
“To me, the best part is that my senior dogs have gone through everything with me – good and bad.” -Aki
“They couldn’t choose us. We chose them,” Aki writes in her WordPress blog, addressing senior dogs and how they enrich their owners’ lives. Her blog is a powerful mobilizing tool for dog advocacy, from the power of fostering both adult and young pups to “embracing the beauty of life with senior dogs.”
“After 10 years of training and living with me, Jazzy learned so many words and routines– she often understands exactly what I am saying. We are like an old married couple… We get each other. That’s life with senior dogs.” -Aki
Her love of Jazzy and Cooper was key in her decision to foster, but not yet adopt, border collies in need. Aki said that she originally started fostering to find a new search and rescue dog, but that something just didn’t feel right. “Fostering can be a great way to find the perfect dog while saving other dogs,” Aki says, but that “after a while I realized it was not the right time to add another dog. It didn’t feel right to add a puppy or a young dog who would take away my time and attention, while my senior dogs slowed down.”
The challenges of adding a puppy to the mix is an interesting bit of wisdom for Mamz and Papz of senior dogs to consider. “I know many people successfully live and love several dogs. I’m just not good at it I guess,” Aki says.
Fostering pups can be ruff, like taking puppies out at 2am for potty breaks or when adoptive parents return their fosters, (sometimes in worse shape than when they got them). “But the best moments are when you get update pictures from adopters,” Aki says. Finn was a particularly ruff pup who would snap at you if you touched his body and would never lie on his back. Recently his new forever home sent Aki the below photo of him “on his back, being tickled on his belly by his dad. His tongue is out, eyes closed and he looks like he is really laughing. This was one of my favorite moments,” Aki says.
While Aki is a wonderful trainer to her fosters, she says Jazzy and Cooper put in their two-cents as well: “When I get home, Jazzy takes me to the foster’s crate, lies down in front of it until I open the crate. I never taught her this, but this is her way of saying ‘hurry up Mom, it’s time to let the dog out!’”
Aki says Cooper and Jazzy alternate in taking the lead with fosters, that it depends on the personality of the new dog on the block. “When he’s a shy and sensitive type,” she says, “Jazzy usually become his ‘mentor.’ When he is the wild and outgoing type, Cooper takes on the role. It’s nice to see two mature dogs helping young ones.”
But it’s not just the newbies that get all the perks. Jazzy and Cooper benefit as well. “When I don’t have a foster, my dogs are less excited. I never realized until last year, after my wild foster Finn left, that my fosters were actually returning a favor by giving my dogs’ youth back. All this time I thought my dogs were the ones helping fosters rehabilitate.”
Check out Aki’s post about Jazzy and Cooper “Gettin’ Old” to read her heartfelt account of what it’s like to be the mamz of older pups.
So what lies ahead for Aki the photo-hound, foster mom, and #greyisbeautiful leader? Not only is she hittin’ the road with Jazzy and Cooper this year, she wants to hone in on her craft by focusing on her photography and taking photos of shelter dogs. We’re looking forward to having more grey in our future!
Interested in fostering a senior pup? Check out BarkBuddy to find the senior of your dreams!
P.S. Aki uses a Nikon D7000 and her daily lens is 35mm f1.8, for all you photo nerds out there. 😉