GENESEO — Competitively showing dogs is harder than it looks, especially from a wheelchair.
But that didn’t stop Sonja Benavidez, of Geneseo, and her Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Amber, from rising to the national ranks of dog-owner duos.
The pair will receive the American Kennel Club’s Exemplary Companion Dog award this weekend at the AKC National Championship in Orlando. The award is presented annually to only one dog in each of five categories.
After a bout of encephalitis early in her life caused a coma and lower body paralysis, Ms. Benavidez struggled with walking for years. She spent many years showing horses but eventually had to give it up due to her declining health. This led her to find a home in dog shows.
Just before turning 50, after almost two decades of showing dogs, Ms. Benavidez lost the use of her right foot, placing her permanently in a wheelchair. Months spent bedridden caused her to hit a depressive low that was only solved by the promise of a new show dog.
Using 20-year-old frozen sperm from a previous champion, a litter of corgis were born. Amber was among them. Since the two paired up, they have continued to rise in show standings.
“She intuitively does what I need her to do,” Ms. Benavidez said.
The hardest aspect of showing dogs from a wheelchair, Ms. Benavidez said, is making sure you don’t run over your dog. Because Amber has only known Ms. Benavidez with the chair, the dog has never been afraid of it and knows how to stay far enough away.
Ms. Benavidez said Amber also surprised her in how fast she could learn. While most dogs must spend months learning for agility performances, she said, Amber went to class for two days and earned a title in a weekend.
She added that she and her husband are expecting to raise a new litter of puppies in 2018.