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From near death to Dog Scout

It's a long, unlikely road from death row in a Louisiana dog pound to being one of the founding members of the local branch of Dog Scouts of America.

Pawsom, a compact, blue Australian cattle dog with an alert face, traveled that road from imminent doom to an active, happy life with Nicole Schiro of Williamsville. But the trip wasn't free of twists and turns for either Pawsom or Schiro.

Schiro had an older German shepherd mix named Katie -- "the perfect dog," she says -- when she met and fell in love with a friend's intelligent, athletic and winsome Australian cattle dog.

Australian cattle dogs are more common in the South, where those with black, gray and white speckled coats are called "blue heelers"; "red heelers" have auburn speckled fur.

In February 2008, Schiro, her parents and Katie traveled to Meet the Pack Cattle Dog rescue in Lyndhurst, Ont., near Ogdensburg, where they met Strawberry. She was red, the color Schiro wanted, and she and Katie got along. At home, things changed. Strawberry and Katie quarreled and the clashes got more serious. Days later, Schiro drove back to return Strawberry.

"I was so upset, and I thought that this was possibly the worst idea I'd ever had," she says. But the rescue owner suggested Schiro take a look at the little female she had named Pawsom, which rhymes with "awesome."

"I was like, 'Eeew, Pawsom,' " says Schiro, wrinkling her nose. "She was blue, and I wanted red, she was smaller and she had no tail."

Pawsom had a sad story, too. She'd been turned over to a Louisiana dog pound because her owner said Pawsom was harassing her horses. "I'm guessing she got her as a puppy and clearly knew nothing about the breed," says Schiro. "The people at the shelter told the owner she was going to be euthanized, and the woman said 'fine.' So they put her in a crate in their euthanasia hallway."

Just as Pawsom's fate seemed to be sealed, a transport team arrived to pick up other cattle dogs to take to the Ontario rescue. "They asked if they could pull her, too, and the shelter said sure," says Schiro.

After Pawsom arrived at the rescue in August 2007 and was taken home by a family who returned her -- "probably because of her high energy level and her barking," says Schiro -- Pawsom went home with Schiro in April 2008. "The first year with her was rough. I had to do a lot of work with her. I started with basic training," she says.

Pawsom enjoyed the training, in which Schiro uses a clicker as well as treats to teach her dog what to do. "I wanted a nice, outdoorsy, active, intelligent dog, and clicker training was the way to communicate with her," she says. The two worked on basic manners, then expanded into agility, where Pawsom enjoys jumping, climbing and racing through tunnels.

As Schiro looked for other activities she and Pawsom could do, she read about Dog Scouts of America, a national organization that has local troops. "It focuses on positive reinforcement, humane pet care and being a responsible dog owner," says Schiro. The canines are the "scouts," although they must pass a test to win that status. Then they can start earning merit badges in 65 categories. Schiro and a friend are co-founders of the troop. Members must join the national organization at www.dogscouts.org.

Schiro says her goal in making Pawsom, once an unwanted dog on her way to death, one of the state's first Dog Scouts is "to educate the public and show them a good example of how their dogs can be -- social, friendly and safe."

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The local Dog Scouts group has a Web site, www.wnypositivepups.webs.com, and a Facebook page, Dog Scouts Troop 199. The first informational meeting of the troop, for humans only, is set for 3:30 p.m. April 18 in Purrfect Paws, 2925 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda.

e-mail: aneville@buffnews.com

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