Column: Local dogs run for “America’s Top Dog” title
Three seconds stopped La Mesa veterinary technician Aolanis Fonseca from winning $ 15,000 and bragging about owning one of the best dogs in the country.
In a televised obstacle course competition, a canine version of “Wipeout”, his Czech Shepherd, Saint, won his first round in the “outsider” category reserved for dogs belonging to non-professional trainers.
He and his owner had been selected to participate in the Season 2 premiere of A&E’s “America’s Top Dog” contest, which airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET.
The course included high walls to jump, boards with 15-inch gaps to cross, fire escape stairs to climb, oversized 100-pound dominoes to knock over, a pool to cross, a villain to attack, a forest of ropes. bungee cords, push buttons, and a variety of levers and tugs.
Saint’s weakness was the drugs – detecting them.
Fonseca had trained Saint at home using fake versions of various narcotics, but not the real stuff. One of the challenges was to find two drug caches hidden in a room full of furniture.
“He had been imbued with a pseudo perfume, so he was looking for something he had little or no knowledge of,” says his owner.
In the end, Saint still managed to surpass five of the six competitors (one was disqualified).
A trained K9 police dog won the prize of $ 10,000 plus an additional $ 5,000 for its owner’s favorite charity.
“It was such an honor to lose to a canine team that did these things every day… and to know that my dog was there with them,” says Fonseca.
“I was the youngest candidate with the least training experience,” she adds. Fonseca was 20 years old last September when the episode “America’s Top Dog” was filmed.
“Saint was the only one wagging his tail when going down the zipline,” she laughs. One of the unexpected challenges, she concedes, was for her, not her dog. The obstacle course is managed by the owner and the dog together. “I was completely out of breath,” she says.
Fonseca has been a fan of German Shepherds and similar breeds ever since a pet saved her life as a child on her family’s ranch in Oak Hills, northeast of San Bernardino.
Post holes had been dug for a new fence, and it had rained. She wandered the yard with the family shepherd, named Coyote, and tripped in a hole three to four feet deep.
“I remember the hole was filled with water up to the waist,” she said. She looked up and saw the face of her dog staring at her through the opening. “I grabbed his cheeks, and he grabbed my shirt and pulled me out,” she said.
Soon after, his family moved to Jamul. In 2018, she graduated from Steele Canyon High School.
“I always dreamed of having another shepherd of my own,” says Fonseca.
Fonseca was 16 when she bought Saint and trained him herself. She got it from a breeder with a huge litter of puppies.
“All of a sudden I saw this chubby potato trample all the other puppies. He came to the window and looked at me, and that’s it. At that point, she wasn’t even sure if the curious big puppy was a male or a female. The case was sealed.
“The day I got him, I knew he had come down from heaven for me and would be my protector and guardian,” says Fonseca, who quickly named him Saint. “Since he was a puppy, he has had a noble personality. He’s so calm everywhere he goes.
If she had won the contest, she would have donated $ 5,000 to Project Canine Hero, a non-profit organization that cares for retired and injured military and police dogs.
She still works as a veterinary technician, but since filming the episode, Fonseca has started her own dog training business, Schäferhund Kennels. She inherited land in Utah and plans to turn it into a boarding, training and rehabilitation center for dogs.
The “Top Dog” competition changed her life, even though Saint finished second. “When the show aired (June 29), people started following me on social media,” she says. They asked her how she had formed Saint. This led to private clients and a boost to his new second career.
“It’s gratifying that it’s a passion of mine and ultimately I’m pretty good at it,” she says. Its goal is to train patrol, drug detection and tracking dogs as well as service dogs to work with people struggling with PTSD and the management of diabetes and migraine. “It’s very rewarding,” she says.
Another talented dog: Chopper, the black-and-white Boston Terrier known for dressing in black, wearing goggles, and riding a motorcycle at various charity events, has been battling many ailments since early 2019, when he was diagnosed with the disease Cushing’s and anemia. About five months ago, the vet detected a tumor mass on his liver.
Motorcycle riding is now a thing of the past, says Chopper owner, San Diego real estate agent Mark Shaffer. Chopper, who turns 12 on August 3, is now getting plenty of rest but still makes occasional appearances. And he still posts on his Facebook page Chopper the Biker Dog.
On Saturday, Chopper attended the after-party for motorcyclists who rode 108 miles to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease in San Diego. On Sunday, he visited an assisted living facility in Otay Ranch.
“Everything is spontaneous, depending on how he’s feeling that day,” Shaffer notes.
During the pandemic, Shaffer sewed face masks with part of the sales proceeds going to Chopper’s medical bills. He also sells Chopper t-shirts on his dog’s website: chopperthebikerdog.com.
“Chopper was able to spread love and joy today,” Shaffer posted online Sunday. It’s good news.