Lisa Spector, 56, a concert pianist from Half Moon Bay, Calif., has competed in many international piano competitions and performed for thousands of people in concert settings—but she has never felt more nervous than she was before her first agility trial. “I only slept for four hours the night before,” she remembered.
Now a seasoned competitor, this year will be Lisa’s third trip to Cynosport®. Her beginner’s nerves have long since been replaced with the pure excitement of going to the start line with her 9-year-old Labrador Retriever, Gina, a career-change puppy she adopted from Guide Dogs for the Blind.
“Gina was a bit unusual for a Guide Dog pup, as she was (and still is) quite high drive. She came with a very strong work ethic, which is fabulous,” Lisa said. For Guide Dog work, Gina’s exuberance was a bit much, and her friendly enthusiasm for other dogs was a challenge Lisa had to work through early in their agility career, too. “Before I started competing with her, we went to so many fun matches, and she just wanted to play with every dog she saw. Agility has been so helpful in building our bond and working through her dog distraction.”
What started out as a struggle, soon became one of Gina’s strengths. “To this day, she runs her fastest in relay and pairs, especially when she goes last. She just gets so revved up (and focused) when she sees a dog that she recognizes running in the ring before her,” Lisa said.
Agility has been therapeutic for Lisa, too. “I had a major hand accident 15 months ago that required three surgeries,” she said. “It’s been very healing for me returning to the sport. Agility is the one time I never think about my hand, as the sport requires me to be completely present.”
Lisa’s road to recovery has, in a way, mirrored the work that she did with Gina to help her adapt her Guide Dog skills for agility. Reinventing her own repertoire, Lisa has continued to play with her left (non-dominant) hand, performing concerts and challenging herself as an artist as she heals. Lisa credits Gina, and their mutual love of agility, for keeping her motivated along the way. “It’s a major part of my hand healing and recovery,” she said.
In addition to her concert work, Lisa is the pianist for iCalmPet products, music clinically shown to relieve canine anxiety. She said Gina will be listening to her iCalmDog in her crate at Cynosport®.