Before a run, Taco the Dalmatian is six feet in the air, bouncing with excitement to sprint the 600-yard course in under two minutes for an American Kennel Club ability test.
Taco’s owner, Laurel resident Linda Davis, said the five-year-old bundle of energy completed five successful runs last weekend in Littlestown, Pa., bringing his title-winning career to 350 runs. According to Dean Wright, the AKC’s former lure coursing director, Taco is the first dog of any breed in the nonprofit organization’s history to achieve this record.
The celebration continued as Davis collected donations from Taco’s supporters and presented $714 to the Laurel Police Department’s breast cancer awareness campaign, the Pink Patch Project, for METAvivor research and support. Davis, 56, said she donated the money in honor of her husband, Harry, 72, who is battling lung cancer.
“Cancer is cancer when you think about it,” she said. “It gave us some way to give back to all the stuff that’s been going on with cancer.”
The Davis’ have raised eight Dalmatians since moving to Laurel in 1991, including Taco and his littermate, Jack, who were born in 2012. They’re currently raising Taco, Jack and their mother, Cali.
“Taco has a little pink bucket and people donate,” Davis said. “This dog is hard to live with if he’s not running; he’s got so much pent up energy. He waits for weekends and is like, ‘OK, time to go!’”
Taco and Jack participate in lure coursing, which uses mechanical lures and pulleys and a white plastic bag to simulate a dog’s chase for live prey, Davis said. These runs are mainly for sighthounds, like greyhounds and whippets, who use their sight rather than scent to hunt.
Wright said the courses test a dog’s ability to follow, speed, agility, endurance and ability as they chase a lure that zigzags in an open field.
In 2012, the AKC started coursing ability tests, known as CATs, to race non-sighthound breeds, such as Dalmatians, English cocker spaniels and cairn terriers. Wright said CATs use similar luring techniques to test a dog’s coursing instinct and ability to hunt by sight.
The non-competitive tests are pass-or-fail and must be completed within a given time. Dogs run individually in each event and must complete the course without stopping.
At the start of a CAT run, the dog is held at the starting line until the announcer shouts, “tally-ho!” and the dog is released to chase the plastic bag. Dogs under 12 inches in height must run a 300-yard course in less than a minute and 30 seconds, while those over 12 inches, like Taco, must run 600 yards in under two minutes.
Most courses are shaped like a figure 8, Davis said.
“Taco normally finishes in 31 seconds,” she said. “That tells you how quick he’s running.”
Judges determine winners based on point totals, and money, ribbons and additional awards are sometimes given to winners.
When Davis heard about CATs, she said she wanted Taco to give it a try and signed him up for his first race in June 2013. Dogs must be at least a year old to participate.
“It was in New Jersey and as soon as he saw the bag, he just took off,” Davis said. “I was scared because I didn’t think he was going to run. Why would any dog in their right mind just chase a plastic bag around? Then, he just became obsessed with it.”
Forget driving by a grocery store with Taco since grocery bags set him off running, she added. His brother, Jack, also enjoys lure coursing, but isn’t as focused as Taco.
On Dec. 1 through 3, Davis and Taco participated in five CAT runs hosted by the Tortoise and Hare Lure Coursing Club at Hanover Shoe Farms in Littlestown. The Tortoise and Hare Lure Club is one of three lure coursing clubs in the Pennsylvania area in addition to the Upper Chesapeake Bay Saluki Club and Mason Dixon Ibizan Hound Club.
Davis said she and Taco belong to all three clubs.
“If you ever watch him run, he’s really beautiful to watch stretched out,” Davis said. “My concern is, ‘How am I going to catch him at the end?’ He’s the kind of dog who is like, ‘Six hundred yards is not enough, Mom.’ If we can’t catch him at the end, he’ll turn around and without the bag, follow the whole course backwards.”
Wright, now president of the Hanover Lure Coursing Clubs, said owners can’t typically train their dogs for these events. Instead, dogs have a natural tendency to chase something that moves and love trying to get the bag throughout a course’s turns.
Wright said Taco has a double-suspension gallop – common among sighthounds – meaning each leg hits the ground at a different time, beginning with the front legs and ending with the back legs.
“He’s very, very good, flattens out and runs nicely,” Wright said. “I don’t know that he’s ever not passed a CAT test [and] he has the most titles.”
Not your ordinary Dalmatian
Although Dalmatians are commonly known as firehouse dogs, attributed to their work in fire departments dating back to the 18th century, Taco became a friend of the Laurel Police Department in 2016 when Davis donated funds from his supporters to the department’s breast cancer awareness campaign.
The Dalmatian sports the department’s signature pink patch on his vest during the runs, she said.
Cpl. Aaron Waddell said he initiated a local Pink Patch Project at the Laurel Police Department in 2015 after his wife was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer the year before. Using his own money, Waddell purchases pink versions of the department’s patches and sells them for $10.
The Pink Patch Project originated with law enforcement and public safety agencies in Irwindale, Calif., to raise money for breast cancer awareness. Waddell said the Laurel Police Department is the only agency in Maryland to participate in the project.
Laurel police recently completed another fundraiser, the No Shave November campaign, to support prostate cancer research.
Waddell said the Pink Patch Project funds were donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure the past two years, but the department chose to donate to the Annapolis-based METAvivor nonprofit this year to keep money local.
“All of their money goes to Stage 4 breast cancer research and treatment,” Waddell said. “It doesn’t go to any kind of administrative stuff or big annual conferences.”
Laurel police raised $1,109, including Davis’ $714 donation. Waddell said he “couldn’t believe it.”
“From somebody who has had their significant other go through cancer treatments, I occupied all of my time, money, energy, effort and being to that,” he said. “I didn’t have any time or energy to devote myself to another cause, but Linda is out there, in the midst of her husband going through this battle, to raise money for a completely different thing. We are just so grateful.”
Davis said Taco usually runs in events throughout October, since it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but ran through November this year. Her husband continues to fight his battle against lung cancer, following his diagnosis nearly two years ago.
Police Chief Richard McLaughlin said the project and Davis’ support “speak volumes” about those who are spreading awareness of different cancers.
“I find it amazing that this woman is displaying our pink patch while her dog is running,” McLaughlin said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
For information on how to participate in the Laurel Police Department’s Pink Patch Project, contact Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org.