Kitchen spatula comes between pit bull and Frisbee event
By Karen Deer
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Only one small thing is standing between Wallace the pit bull and a second gold medal in the freestyle Frisbee event at the 11th Purina Incredible Dog Challenge this weekend in Gray Summit: the rubber tip of a kitchen spatula.
Wallace ate it Tuesday morning, with typical pit bull gusto. He was after some cheese proffered on the end of the spatula to lure him into a pool for a workout on an underwater treadmill. Instead, he chomped off the end of spatula and swallowed it whole.
"It’s classic Wallace," said Andrew Yori, the dog's 31-year-old owner from Rochester, Minnesota. "It was like, "Ummm cheese," then woops! down the hatch."
Wallace spent several hours at the vet Tuesday, where they tried to extract the spatula tip endoscopically. No soap. About 9 p.m., Wallace underwent surgery. The spatula is out of Wallace and Wallace is out of competition. He’ll need rest and TLC for at least a couple of weeks.
SEPT 29 2007: Wallace, a pit bull, jumps to catch a disc thrown by his trainer, Andrew Yori, in the freestyle flying disc competition of the 10th annual Purina Incredible Dog Challenge Finals Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007, at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, Mo. Yori and Wallace, of Rochester, Minn., placed first in the event.(Whitney Curtis/AP)
"That’s going to be hard for him," Yori said. "Wallace is not exactly the type of dog that chills out.
To put it mildly.
Wallace’s life story is a study in unbridled enthusiasm. Found running the streets of Rochester when he was just a pup, he ended up a local animal shelter where he was dubbed Wallace (after the Detroit Pistons’ 6’11", 230-pound center, Rasheed Wallace).
The canine Wallace quickly earned a reputation as a trouble-maker. Unsocialized by other dogs and untrained by humans, he did not play well with others. He didn’t know how. Cooped up without any outlet for his physical and mental energy, Wallace tried to make the best of his bad situation. If someone entered his kennel without a toy, Wallace would initiate a game of tug-of-war, grabbing whatever was handy -- a pants leg, a shirt sleeve, a shoelace -- and pulling with all his might.
His aggressive behavior, coupled with pit bulls’ bad reputation, scared off most of the shelter volunteers and all prospective parents.
All, that is, but one: Yori, a technologist at the Mayo Clinic and shelter volunteer. Yori looked past Wallace’s bad manners and saw a playful, misunderstood, high-octane athlete that needed a challenge and a second chance.
"His behavior was definitely rude and not appropriate, but he was not mean," Yori said. "He was hard to handle because of his high energy and high drive; it was scary for people who didn’t know better."
When Yori and his wife, Clara, tried to adopt Wallace, the shelter hesitated: If he bit someone -- or worse -- the shelter could be liable. The prospect of euthanasia loomed, as it often does for unwanted "bully breeds" like pit bulls and rottweilers,
But Yori persisted, and five months later Wallace became a member of the family.
"I started with love," said Yori. "I gave Wallace something he never had: a good training program, proper nutrition and a chance to prove himself. Nobody else did."
When Wallace was 2, his life changed with the flip of a Frisbee. The first time Yori threw the disc, Wallace exploded into the air. He leaped, he twirled, he ran, he caught. He was a natural, learned fast and loved to compete. To watch Wallace and Yori in the freestyle flying disc event (go to wallacethepitbull.com), is to witness pure athleticism and unbounded joy. Yori, who played varsity soccer all four years of college, is an athlete in his own right.
When he won the freestyle flying disc event at last year’s Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, Wallace was the only pit bull in a crowd of usual suspects: border collies, Australian cattle dogs, etc. As in years past, this year’s event will bring top dogs from around the nation to compete in agility, diving, Jack Russell hurdle racing, and weave-pole racing and, of course, flying disc.
Olympic (human) diver Laura Wilkinson will make a special appearance at the event, but not Wallace.
Yori had hoped to again show the world what even an unwanted pit bull can achieve.
"When people see Wallace compete, they don’t see him as a pit bull just for those few minutes," Yori said. "They are cheering him on, and not even noticing his breed -- just a sweet and competitive dog."
As much as Yori has given Wallace, Wallace has given back -- and not just the trophies and bragging rights.
"What Wallace has taught me is to enjoy everything in life," Yori said. "Everything he does, he does with all he’s got."
Just ask the spatula.
Watch Wallace in action