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Three-legged dog could make American Kennel Club history

Lark Shlimbaum with Rascal, an agility dog who

Lark Shlimbaum with Rascal, an agility dog who lost a hind leg to cancer. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Rascal, a young Norwich terrier who lost a hind leg to cancer, in December could be the first "tripod" dog to compete in an American Kennel Club agility contest, now that his Long Island owner persuaded the club to advance its decision by as much as two years, a club spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

"As long as your dog is able, and we are sure your dog is able, we are happy to welcome the dog," AKC spokeswoman Brandi Hunter Munden told Newsday.

Rascal's owner, Lark Shlimbaum, 72, of Bay Shore, whose dogs have competed for about 15 years, said: "I am just thrilled."

Shlimbaum says she has spoken with hundreds of people about the AKC's now-lifted ban — and she also ran a Facebook campaign seen by thousands. This time at least, staying positive paid off.

"Lark did have quite a bit of input in a nice social media campaign," Munden said.

The AKC also relented after Newsday posed queries on Wednesday.

Rascal excels at the sport, first as a four-paw and now as a three-paw.

Before his right hind leg was amputated in June, he qualified as the country’s fastest Norwich terrier in the 100-yard dash after a lure in the 2020 AKC Fast Coursing Ability Test, his owners said.

In September, as a tripod, competing against four-legged dogs, he turned in a perfect performance on a Level 5 jumpers course — the toughest.

Rascal may well match his owners’ emotions when he returns to the AKC competitions. "He's just dying to do this," Shlimbaum said, adding later, "Now he's going to compete in December; I'm just so happy I'm crying."

Shlimbaum practiced law for decades with her husband, Don. And while he may not be racing around the ring with them, her husband is the one who brought that application for Rascal’s first AKC trial to the mailbox as soon the club reversed course.

With society increasingly recognizing the rights of disabled people, Carrie DeYoung, AKC director of agility, by email termed the decision "a natural growth." She added: "As safety is our primary concern, it took a good amount of deliberation and research to ensure that we are being inclusive of all dogs."

Famed for its annual Westminster midtown Manhattan show, the nonprofit AKC has come under increasing pressure from advocates for its emphasis on confirmation, for example, and allowing local clubs to decide whether to follow some of Europe's example by banning ear-cropping and tail-docking.

Rascal returns to the ring at Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 AKC competitions at the Bay Shore training center, Doggie U K9 Academy, where he has trained, just about every Monday evening, along with his 11-year-old fellow Norwich, Wiley, who tends to favor a slower pace.

The youngster is the one who can barely contain his enthusiasm; he often barks in the car on the way — and throughout the competition, his owner said. "It is truly a team sport between the handler and the dog," DeYoung said. "They communicate often quietly on their dance through the course."

To avoid overusing his sole back leg, Shlimbaum now enters Rascal in four-inch high jump class, half of the height he formerly scaled.

It was in December 2020 that a stage 2 soft tissue sarcoma sprouted on Rascal's leg. Surgery and radiation seemed to stop the cancer, but in June it recurred. Amputation became the only option for treatment — and tests show the cancer has not spread.

The AKC advisory committee that weighs changing policies was not due to meet until 2023; the club acted so swiftly, Munden explained, partly because the committee already had been mulling opening its trials to dogs that have shown they can handle the rigors, even as novices.

Tripods at first were rejected because dogs must be "functionally sound," she said. However, the AKC now is willing to defer to owners' judgment, she said, though judges will halt any dog's trial if it appears unwilling or ailing.

Again referring to Shlimbaum, Munden said: "Part of it is her and part of it is that we … in general have seen an incredible spirit in these tripods; if they are going to use the term functionally sound, and if the owner demonstrates the ability to compete, we have to make sure we are inclusive."

"This dog," said Donna Bielawski, a professional photographer who has captured Rascal’s winning jumps and whose miniature Australian shepherd also competes, "has been through so much, it’s freaking awesome."

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