Friday, December 1, 2023

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People & Pets

Award-winning corgis


Shirley Harder with Kayla, Maisie and Trick. Photos by Jackie Wilson

Walking into Shirley Harder’s home, friendly corgis clamor for attention, almost saying, “Look at me! See how wonderful I am? Here’s my toy — when can we play?”

Meanwhile, two of Harder’s cats scatter to another room, while one cat, Phil, sits on his cat tower throne, oblivious to the spectacle.

Harder’s life is full with her three corgis, Maisie, Kayla and Trick, along with three cats, Phil, Alyse and Harry.

The walls of Harder’s home contain hundreds of championship ribbons, trophies and accomplishments representing the countless hours spent training both horses and her corgis.

As a veterinarian, she’s adept with animals. Growing up, her family couldn’t keep pets, due to her father’s allergies. As a child, Harder recalls watching a Sunday Wonderful World of Disney movie, “Little Dog Lost,” about corgis.

“I was fascinated with watching the Disney movies about horses and corgis. Someday, I would have a corgi,” she said.

Some of Harder’s many awards

Her first dog was an Australian Shepherd. But once she graduated from veterinarian school, it’s been corgis ever since. With an equine practice for 40 years, she loved working with horses and winning various competitions. Yet, after decades, the barn dust caused health issues, and she left the profession. Another veterinarian hired her, and she now offers rehab therapy for animals.

She began training her corgi, Cory (now passed), for various agility competitions through the Des Moines Obedience Training Club. And she’s got the ribbons to prove it. Her current dog, Kayla, is her “superstar,” qualifying for national tracking and rally awards five years in a row. Rally awards are numerous, and she’s been awarded a MACH bar (Master Agility Championship — a prestigious award) signed by participants at the trials. Kayla is well trained, easy going with a solid disposition who also does pet therapy visits.

Harder said she cherishes her friendships with other dog owners.

“There’s a sense of camaraderie with the dog owners, not a competitive nature. We laugh at the agility trial because dogs will be dogs. We see someone struggle and then the dog finally gets it. We’re all happy, regardless of who wins. The friendships are invaluable.”

Her cats “mostly” get along with the dogs. The corgis chase the cats one minute, and the next minute, Phil and the corgis are cuddling. Harder recalled how she obtained Phil.

“I was in a grooming room, and the cat just sat and watched me grooming dogs,” she said. “He’s a cool cat. He loves everybody and takes new cats under his wings.”

As Harder has spent countless hours training her dogs, the awards are important, but it’s not the only reason she does it. 

“It’s a relationship with the dogs. You’re spending time developing trust and doing something enjoyable. It’s all about a bond.” 

Harder realizes it takes more effort to raise dogs than cats. It’s kept her active, walking three animals daily.

“Dogs require a lot more work; cats are easier to take care of. It’s all about the companionship. They are my motivating factor to get out of the house.” ♦

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