The four-year-old Doberman Pincher is a frequent visitor at schools, nursing homes, libraries and more, spreading smiles wherever she goes.
“She has a lot of friends,” said 16-year-old Rebekah Rawlinson, Ellie’s owner and dedicated trainer.
Along with more than 30 competition ribbons and six titles, Ellie is also a certified therapy dog.
Rebekah, who has been training Ellie for three years, said they got the idea to get her certified after visiting a nursing home.
“My great aunt was in the nursing home, and she loved dogs so we wanted to take Ellie to see her,” she said. “We were at the nursing home one day, and somebody suggested we get insurance on Ellie, so we started looking at different organizations.”
She soon located Therapy Dogs International, a national register of dogs and handlers certified to visit public groups for therapy purposes.
Since becoming certified, Ellie has made an impact during her many public visits. Jo Rawlinson, Rebekah’s mother, said people react strongly to Ellie.
“People warm up to her really fast,” Jo said. “She has all the patience in the world, and if you put her in a crowded room, she will find the person who needs her attention.”
This week, Ellie visited a kindergarten class at Indian Valley Elementary School, where Rebekah said the children were enthusiastic about petting and playing with her.
“It’s really neat to see how people react to her,” she said. “They just run right up.”
Rebekah works with Talladega-based dog trainer Julie Moon. Jo credits Moon for encouraging Rebekah to compete in American Kennel Club events.
“When we began training, our end result we hoped for was for Ellie to be a therapy dog, but it has turned into much more than that,” Jo said.
Ellie recently earned the title of RAE, or rally advanced excellent, which means Rebekah is competing in the professional ranks. Moon said Rebekah’s level of achievement is unusual for a teenager.
“RAE is quite a title for an adult, much less a 16-year-old,” Moon said. “Normally teenagers aren’t the best trainers, but Rebekah is really determined and works well with Ellie.”
Moon said dog training requires a consistent commitment of 15-30 minutes a day.
“It doesn’t sound like much time, but if it were easy, everyone would have a trained dog,” Moon said. “There are so many more things to do with your time now, but Rebekah really made a commitment to it. Whatever she puts her mind to, she achieves.”
Rebekah said being the youngest competitor in many of her events is fun.
“A lot of people at the competitions are very encouraging,” she said. “They love that I’m doing it, because not many young people are interested in dog training, and they don’t want the sport to die out.”
Rebekah and Ellie have attended competitions in Atlanta, Birmingham, Montgomery and Nashville, and Rebekah is considering moving to the national level with the Doberman Nationals in September.
Dog training is just the beginning of her hobbies, however. Rebekah is involved in multiple school organizations as well as tennis and piano.
As to how she finds the time for dog training, Rebekah said Ellie gives her no choice.
“She gets mad if I don’t pay her enough attention,” Rebekah said. “Her favorite way to get back at me is to hide my shoes.”
Rebekah, who hopes to make dog training a lifelong hobby, said she and Ellie have no intention of stopping their visits or competitions any time soon.
“I just really enjoy it,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of experiences we wouldn’t have had without Ellie.”
Contact Emily Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.