Laya came to us by proxy in 2008. In October 2007, our other female dog, Mousy, took a turn for the worse and her crippling hip dysplasia forced us to make the decision to have her leave us, and this world. We were devastated, and so was our other dog, a pit bull named Capone. He looked for Mousy a lot. He was not eating regularly. He just seemed sad. We started the search for another dog in January of 2008.
We found Big Dogs Huge Paws Rescue, and fell in love with a photo of a female Cane Corso named Raven. We filled out an application right away. The rescue called us and said that Raven had been adopted, but they would like us to meet another dog they had in foster care.
At first, Rich was reluctant; in the way that someone who had their mind and heart set on something different, might be. But I convinced him that we should at least meet this other dog; We don’t want to miss out on an opportunity. The rescue brought Laya to our house, and both Rich and I waited on the front porch, excited and expectantly. As soon as she stepped out of the car, the sun hit her yellow-hazel eyes. I looked at Rich, and the expression on his face was, “That’s our dog.”
Laya was stunning. She had a shiny silver and gold coat, and those eyes; those ghostly eyes that you can’t quite ascertain if they’re looking at you, or through you, were shining there in the sun. And, she was a muscular 90 lbs. She was a very impressive-looking dog. The features that softened her, almost comically, were her poor little ears. Someone had inappropriately cut them off, and the bad crop job made it look like she was wearing two perfect buns on the sides of her head, just like Princess Leia. And so the name stuck. We had intended to change it, but Laya fit her perfectly.
There was still the hurdle of introducing Laya to Capone. He was dog aggressive, REALLY dog aggressive. And the only dog he ever tolerated, let alone loved, was Mousy. We had a plan to take it slow. The rescue wanted us to walk them together, holding each leash on either side of us, ready to intervene if necessary. And we would crate them next to each other. That went well, so in a few days we decided to try them out loose in the house together. Laya was young, around 2 (but who knows for sure), and was still a little puppyish. She bounded and flopped up to Capone, and Rich and I held our breaths, ready to jump in. All of a sudden she raised her giant bear claw, and THWAP! She laid it right across Capone’s face in a gesture to get him to play. Capone was shocked and a bit bewildered, but he wasn’t mad. And then, they started the wiggle-butt game, and Rich and I knew they were going to be fine.
Later, the rescue changed Laya’s status to ADOPTED, and wrote this blurb which is still up on page 72 of their ‘Successful Placements’ page on their website: “Laya was very excited to have found her forever home with Lisa and Rich in Denver, Colorado. Laya will have Capone a Boxer/Lab mix, Lola a Caique bird, Hawaii a Eclectus bird, and Spike a Cockatiel bird to keep her company, Capone and her hit it off right away and fast became friends. Laya will be in good hands with Rich and Lisa as they have lots of good knowledge and are well-prepared for their new family member and are excited to have her. THANKS TO KATHIE FOR FOSTERING THIS SWEET GIRL!!!”
Laya was coming out of her shell in our house, but outside of our house was a different story. She was a quivering mass of Jello. She was terrified of anything new – people, dogs, noises. She was scared but she was always kind. Her first reaction was always to cower, hidding her head in our laps for reassurance, when she was frightened. Rich and I decided we should take her to training to build her confidence, and the rescue provided us with a reference. We started dog training classes within a month of adopting Laya.
The first 6 weeks of dog training did not go very well. The class was held at a pet food store downtown, and Laya had a hard time dealing with that kind of environment. She was scared of the people, the cars, and the other dogs, and she would often shut down, pancake on the floor refuse to move, and refuse treats. The trainer would ask us to go into the corner of the store, away from the other class members where things were less chaotic. But that just felt like isolation, to us.
This wasn’t our first stab at training. We had a lot of blood, sweat and tears (literally!) into Capone for his dog aggression issues, and I was determined to not make the same mistakes. With so much bad and misinformation out there, most of which we tried with Capone, finding Leerburg.com is probably what saved his life. That’s another story, but as it relates to Laya, Leerburg had introduced a new trainer that was knowledgeable and inspiring. Michael Ellis started producing training material with Leerburg and I was hooked. I wanted in the trenches. I wanted hands on experience. I started looking for a mentor, someone who could teach me everything dog, and the art of dog training.
I cast my net wide. I sent emails and made phone calls to a lot of dog trainers in the Denver area. I waited. Capone was a very active dog and needed a lot of exercise, even at 10 years old. So during the ‘wait’ we went for a jog around Sloan’s lake. He was amazing. He was happy. He was engaged. He passed by other dogs without issue. I hoped I would get the chance to show off his training and rehabilitation. I played with him and we went home.
Early the next morning, I woke up to a dog in distress. Laya whined in her crate, but it wasn’t Laya in trouble. The dog next to her, Capone, could hardly breathe. We rushed him to the Emergency Vet. In the car I was already crying. I knew it was bad. I was telling him, “Please don’t do this to me, buddy. I’m not ready. I’m not ready…..” It was April, and Mousy had gone only 6 months ago.
A tumor, probably existing for some time, had burst in his lung. Capone’s lungs were filling with blood. He was slowly drowning. Blood tests revealed he was riddled with cancer. We decided to let him go. This was a hard death. How can a perfectly healthy, happy dog, go running in the park one day, and be gone the next? But he was gone. And we had other obligations; responsibilities. We had Laya and the parrots to take care of.
Having others that need you help in death. You have to pick yourself up and keep going because they depend on it. I pulled myself up and poured my heart and time, the extra that I now had, into Laya. And I finally got a phone call, a fish in my net.
I interviewed with Jennifer Hime for an apprentice position at Front Range K9 Academy. She later confessed that when I pulled my ‘demo dog’ out of my car, her first thoughts were, “Dear God, don’t let it eat me.” I’m sure the sun hit those yellow eyes, in the same way they had when I met her. And Jen was won over in the same way that we were. This impressive-looking dog was a big, friendly, scaredy cat. We, Laya and I, started our apprenticeship in April 2009.
For the next year, I spent every spare moment with Laya. I took her everywhere. I trained her every day. God, was she smart. She picked up training easily, once we got started with Jennifer. Using the tools we learned from Jen and Michael Ellis, Laya grew. She blossomed into an outgoing, social creature. Laya became a confident and proud dog. We had such a powerful bond. What do you call that relationship? I don’t think it has a name. It’s not parent-child, and it’s more than friend. It’s bigger than ‘pet dog,’ too. I loved her. I loved her so much.
Laya was my first competition dog. We competed in AKC Obedience and AKC Rally Obedience. Laya loved it. She would wag her tail in a big circle, counterclockwise every time she trained. She was showy, prancey and flashy. She was fast and crisp, for a Presa. At an Open trial in Colorado Springs, the crowd actually cheered (which is very un-AKC-like) for Laya’s ‘down on recall,’ after she lept into action on my “HERE!” Command, barreling towards me, then coming to a sliding halt on my ‘down’ signal. She would put her chin all the way on the ground during that exercise, her whole body still, except for that helicopter tail. Laya is the most decorated Perro de Presa Canario in the country for Obedience, according to the AKC.
What is a title, Really? By Sandra Mowery
Not just a brag, not just a stepping stone to a higher title, not just an adjunct to competitive scores; a title is a tribute to the dog that bears it, a way to honor the dog, an ultimate memorial. It will remain in the record and in the memory, for about as long as anything in the world can remain. And though the dog herself doesn’t know or care that her achievements have been noted, a title says many things in the world of humans, where such things count. A title says your dog was intelligent, adaptable, and good-natured. It says that your dog loved you enough to do the things that please you, however crazy they may have sometimes seemed.
In addition, a title says that you love your dog. That you loved to spend time with her because she was a good dog and that you believed in her enough to give her yet another chance when she (or you!) failed and in the end your faith was justified. A title proves that your dog inspired you to that special relationship enjoyed by so few. That in a world of disposable creatures, this dog with a title was greatly loved, and loved greatly in return.
And when that dear short life is over, the title remains as a memorial of the finest kind, the best you can give to a deserving friend. Volumes of praise in one small set of initials after a name. An obedience title is nothing less than the true love and respect, given and received and recorded permanently. – Sandra Mowery
Laya’s first Obedience Trial
Laya had a long obedience career. She assisted in training aggressive dogs and socializing puppies. She was THE BEST puppy raiser. When we brought Eagle Vom Linmarc into our lives, a boisterous German Shepherd puppy, she was ecstatic. She was eager to show the young Jedi the ways of the world, like how to find scraps in the trash can.
Laya was not without her faults. She was never, even up until yesterday, to be left alone in the house without some serious dog proofing. There was the time she chewed all four corners off of the dining table. She ate rotten chili rellenos out of the garbage, pooping them back out in the guest room. When it was too cold outside, she would opt to pee on a carpeted area of the house if you didn’t watch her carefully. And last year, I was unloading frozen tripe in the garage, and got distracted. I left several boxes on a dolly butted up against the freezer. She peeled open the cardboard, slid a 10lb roll out, carefully unwrapped it out of the plastic, and ate the entire thing. Now, of course, her faults are really my faults, as she is a dog, and dogs are opportunists. But it doesn’t stop the humanity and frustration in me. Now I just miss the naughty dog.
Laya, also know as ‘Sheriff Laya,’ the ‘Queen B,’ and the ‘Boss Applesauce’ could be a loving, welcoming friend, or a fierce protector. Like a good Presa, she loved to patrol the property, and did prevent people from entering said property from time to time. She did not put up with a lot of high energy shenanigans, and we had to watch her excitement level during high octane moments as Sheriff Laya was likely to lay down the law. Two people have received a good pinch from the big jaws. She never drew blood. Not to minimize a dog bite, but Laya did teach me the valuable lesson that any dog, even one as (normally) good natured as Laya, will bite under the right circumstances.
The years passed, and oh the adventures we had. Laya was there when Richard proposed. She went camping, boating, fishing, swimming and hiking. She played with my nephew and his dog, and spent Christmas Eve at my Mom’s house. Laya enjoyed freedom, and warmth, and treats, and bones, and toys. She played with other dogs, and raised 3 puppies in our home: Eagle, then Haiku, and now Hero. She slept in our bed on occasion. She spent a lot of time just ‘doing Laya.’ In the last month she’s been to rally class, went snowshoeing twice, and spent a good amount of time running (yes, actually running at 11 years-or-so old) around the yard, in addition to her CEO duties.
Laya was there, right there, when we opened Dog Dynamix. She is the reason Dog Dynamix exists; because of all that she taught me. She impressed and touched a lot of people. And a lot of those people became clients. As a co-founder, she got to decide if she wanted to go to work with me, or stay home and bask in the sun and guard the chickens, because that is a privilege of a CEO.
Yesterday, we had a normal day. After already feeding her breakfast, I gave Laya a treat of two fresh eggs from the chickens. And I thought to myself, “I’m probably over-doing it, she’s getting chubby.” Now I wish I had given her six. She spent the morning investigating the yard, snuffling and shuffling through the snow and reading the story of the night as dogs do. The sun was shining and she was basking in the sun on the patio where the snow had melted. She heard me loading the car, getting ready for work, and made the executive decision to load herself in the back like she does when she wants to come with me. She napped in the van while I did some office work. After training a couple of other dogs, I put Laya and Eagle in the back run to potty, and I thought to myself “I’ll play with Laya after class.”
I didn’t get that opportunity. Last night, just before Agility, Laya’s big, loving, giving heart, so strong and overcoming so much, gave up. Although we tried to rush her to the Emergency Vet, Laya died in our arms. Her last moment was with me and Rich.
It is absolutely awesome, how a different species can have such a profound impact on our human lives. A dog can know EVERYTHING about you, and love you anyway. What person can do that? There are no two dogs alike, and there will certainly never be another Laya. The worst part about having a dog is that you can’t keep them forever. Be sure to cherish the moments with them, because another is not guaranteed. I am so proud that I was able to share and offer a great life with , and to, a great dog. My only regret is that I put off one more chance to have a moment, to share a connection, with the dog I loved so much. I will miss you, so, so much Laya. I love you.
And here I am, so sad; So, so heartbroken. It is a hard loss, a hard death. But I have obligations. I have responsibilities. Eagle, and Haiku, and Hero need me. Thank God, they need me. Because today, I wouldn’t easily carry on, otherwise.