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Melanie Kramer
At age 9, Amber Fiona is one of the competition's oldest athletes.
TODAY contributor
updated 10/3/2011 2:13:50 PM ET 2011-10-03T18:13:50

It’s not only the dogs that are incredible at the Purina Incredible Dogs Challenge, which took place Saturday at Purina Farms just outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Many of the owners have some amazing stories to tell as well. From heartbreaking tales of bonding with a late parent to inspiring accounts of raising awareness about breeds with a bad name, this event had them all. Here are a few of our favorites.

Lynn Reece Broderick and Amber Fiona
How does a homeless puppy wandering the snowy streets of New York end up competing in one of the nation’s most popular dog agility competitions? Luck and love, both in large quantities. Broderick, who was at the Incredible Dog Challenge for the first time this year, adopted Amber Fiona (who goes by “Amber” or “Fi”) as a 3-month-old puppy. “When I saw her at the shelter, I kind of did a double take. She was just trying to make everybody her friend.” As a professional dog trainer, it was only natural that Broderick began agility training with Amber by the pup’s second birthday. She had already been involved in the sport with her first dog, Riley, and saw Amber’s potential. But, what she couldn’t have imagined was that Amber would continue improving at agility into her senior years.

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At 9 years old, Amber was the oldest canine in Saturday’s competition, and also the only “All American Mixed Breed.” She did not place, but it didn’t matter one bit to Broderick, who’d lost 15-year-old Riley, also a mixed breed, earlier that week, and was just happy to spend time playing with her dog. And the lack of podium time clearly didn’t matter to Amber (who gleefully cooled off in the Diving Dog pool as soon as she finished her second run of the course); in addition to swimming, eating, and snuggling, “She just loves playing to the crowd!” Broderick said.

Kristen Seymour
Jonathan Offi gets a spray from his pit bull, Brooklyn.

Jonathan Offi and Aztec, Ruby and Brooklyn
Offi began doing disc training with his pit bull, Aztec, after attending a competition and realizing that the oft-misunderstood breed wasn’t represented at all. He’s doing his part to make sure pit bulls have a positive presence at the Incredible Dog Challenge, though. He competed Saturday with two different dogs — Brooklyn, who participated in Diving Dog and Speed and Catch, and Ruby, who was actually subbed in for an injured (but recovering) Aztec in the Freestyle Flying Disc and ended up placing third.

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Showing the public that pit bulls don’t deserve the bad rap they’ve gotten is something Offi has long been passionate about. In fact, he’s been rescuing and training pit bulls for more than 10 years, visiting juvenile halls, doing school presentations and shows with them. And he’s not about to stop now.
Competitions and travel take up a lot of Offi’s time — he’s currently on a 7-week national tour with his 8 dogs, a pack that consists of 6 pit bulls, a Jack Russell terrier and a cattle dog. During the tour, his dogs will participate in events ranging from competitions like this one to skateboarding and high jumps. But when he’s home in Big Sur, Calif., he helps his community — 3 of his dogs are trained to do therapy, and he jumps in wherever there’s a need.

Doggone good! The Purina Incredible Dog Challenge

Teresa Rodney and Sprint
Rodney’s decision to start agility training is unusual — it had very little to do with the dog or the sport itself. Rather, it was a way for her to honor her late father.

Rodney’s dad had been involved in obedience training, conformation and field work with his Flat-Coated Retriever, Devon, and had just gotten into agility training in 1994. “I didn't know anything about the sport and was really more involved in ‘college-type’ things at the time,” Rodney recalled. “However, I distinctly remember him coming home every Monday night from agility class beaming about what they had learned that night. ‘Tonight we learned to do a teeter-totter.’”

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Sadly, he passed away before ever competing with Devon. At age 47, he suffered a fatal heart attack during an agility class. “I decided to take my dad's dog, Devon, and put an agility title on him in honor of my dad,” Rodney said. “I figured, how hard can this agility thing be? I called the trainers he was training with and let them know I wanted to do this. They welcomed me with open arms.”

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Rodney earned that title and many more with Devon. She’s since won countless titles with numerous dogs — all flat-coated retrievers, like Devon. She competed in Large Dog Agility with Sprint on Saturday and took home a third place trophy, and said, “This sport has become an integral part of my life and it's all because I wanted to honor my dad. I had no idea it would be so life-changing!”

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