Pets come in all shapes, sizes, abilities

Posted: Friday, March 30, 2001

The dictionary defines a pet as any domesticated animal kept as a companion.

Wanda Nichols of Nikiski has two pet turtles named Toby and Tobius.

"I'm not exactly quite sure what kind of turtle Tobius is, but we call her an 'Arky' turtle, because she's from Arkansas," says Nichols.

Tobius was given to Nichols by a preschool student five years ago. The student found the turtle in Arkansas and brought it back to Alaska.

Her other turtle, Toby, is a full grown box turtle and was a gift from her daughter eight years ago. Even though Nichols is unsure of the age of the turtles, she is sure they both love to eat fruits and vegetables, aside from their usual meal, grubworms. The turtles favorite food are kiwis and bananas.

Feeding the turtles is fun for the kids at Nichols' preschool, where she keeps them most of the time. The kids love to feed, hold and pet Toby and Tobius.

"The best thing about having turtles is seeing them with my preschool kids. First I make the kids wash their hands, then I let them hold them or feed the turtles the grubworms or fruit," Nichols said.

Of course, not all animals eat grubworms.

Mary Bixby's three pure-bred Labrador retrievers usually eat a 40-pound bag of dog food in a month.

Luke is 11 years old, Brandy is almost 7 years old, and Yada is a little over 2 years old.

Luke and Yada are black Labs, and Brandy is a chocolate Lab.

Bixby bought Luke in 1989, from the "guru on retrievers," Harold Zimmerman.

Brandy is Luke's daughter, and Yada was given to Bixby a couple years ago by her husband, Bill Bixby.

Mrs. Bixby makes sure the dogs all have their shots and are fed well. She also keeps them in competition by being a member of a local retriever club. Different retrievers in the club are Chesapeake Bay, Labrador, Irish water spaniel and golden retrievers. The club is affiliated with the North American Hunting Retrie-ver Association, on the East Coast.

The association has one or two field tests during the summer that are pass or fail. People from Anchorage and Fairbanks come to the peninsula to judge the field tests.

A high honor in the competition is a "Master Hunting Retriever Title."

To earn the title, the dogs must perform a trailing test, a triple retrieve on land, a triple retrieve on water, a blind retrieve on land, and a blind retrieve on water.

A trailing test is performed by the dog finding a dead bird that was dragged on land by following the scent.

Other tests that include using scent are triple retrieves on land and water. In these cases, three birds are tossed out randomly and the dogs must find all three birds.

The tests that rely completely on hand motions and whistles are the blind retrieves for land and water. The dogs must find a hidden bird by having total obedience to their owner. They must watch the hand movements and listen to the whistles guiding them to the bird.

After the five tasks are approved to be passed, the dogs are then awarded the Master Hunting Retriever Title.

Luke received his title in 1994, and Brandy received her title in 1997.

Brandy also won second place in the open stake competition for the American Kennel Club. A series of regular field trials were held with 30 other dogs, both professional and amateur.

Aside from winning titles, the dogs often go hunting with Mr. Bixby.

He remembers a time when he took Luke hunting with him along the Kenai River. He shot a duck, and it was so foggy he couldn't see where it landed. Luke ran off searching for the bird. When Mr. Bixby decided he couldn't find the bird, he looked for Luke.

After searching down the river for two miles, he saw a man who was fishing and asked the man if he had seen his Lab. In astonishment, the man told Mr. Bixby the dog swam to the other side of the river and held the dead duck in his mouth and ran back where he came from. Mr. Bixby went back to the place he shot the the duck from, and half way there he saw Luke with the duck.

Besides their retrieving skills, the Bixbys say their dogs have other endearing qualities.

"One of the things I love most about my Labs is they're good eaters. I love animals that are good eaters. You can tell when they're not feeling well, because they don't eat as much," Mrs. Bixby said.

"They really love people! They get a little over anxious when they see people, because they like people so much!"

Annique Smith said the same thing about her dogs. Smith has three Great Danes.

Stevey is 9 years old, Timber is 4 years old, and Holly is almost 5 months.

Smith got Stevey from a girl in California. Timber is Stevey's daughter, and Holly is Stevey's granddaughter.

The dogs all do the same activities, such as agility classes.

Smith takes her dogs to agility classes sponsored by the Peninsula Dog Obedience Group. As a result of the classes, the dogs have become champions.

Stevey is a 1994 champion, and Timber is a 1999 champion, according to the American Kennel Club.

For the dogs to become champions, they must have 15 dog show points. In order to get points, the Danes are entered into the shows, and each contest gives the dog as many points as it earns according to the standards given. At each show, most dogs earn around four or five points.

Some of the requirements for points include stance, health and good agility.

With or without contest points, Smith loves her Great Danes.

"They are very mellow. Big, but very mellow, and aware of their bodies.

"Most people say to clear off the coffee table, but they just need lots of love and attention," said Smith.

Despite their large size, Smith says that Great Danes are popular in Paris and New York as apartment dogs.

Kasi Morse is a student at Nikiski High School. She spent her spring break as an intern at the Peninsula Clarion.

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