When you think of a champion show dog, the kind who eventually makes his way to the upper echelons of Westminster, a certain life arc comes to mind. A pampered pooch, born with much pomp and circumstance, raised lovingly by a person ready to groom them from day one for a life in the spotlight. A dog who knows little of pain and neglect, attended to like a celebrity from the get-go. And for the most part, you’d be right.
Then again, Maverick isn’t like most dogs.
Sure, he started life with all the right underpinnings: born to a breeder of champion Weimaraners, he began his journey with a man on the West Coast who planned to show him. But his owner lost his house, and that’s when Maverick’s life took a sad detour.
Rather than contact the breeder, who had been trying to track them down with no success, Maverick’s owner sold him on Craigslist to a family on the East Coast who was unprepared for life with a large dog. The man who bought Maverick liked Weimaraners, but spent a lot of time away from home. His wife, busy with the children, had little time or patience for a young dog. So Maverick spent the next year and a half in a crate in an apartment, chewing himself raw with boredom and stress. No walks, no training, a body deprived of both physical and emotional nourishment.
The family eventually ended up listing him, once again, on Craigslist in February 2010. The listing caught the eye of Dan Stallings, who runs the mid-Atlantic Weimaraner rescue. Stallings, who knew little about the world of dog fancy, was shocked when he first laid eyes on the supposed show dog.
“He was about twenty pounds underweight,” Stallings said, “with sores all over his body. He looked so bad I was sure he had heartworms or some other health problem.” Horrified, Stallings immediately took Maverick under his wing. He remembers Maverick’s first trip to the vet, holding him down while the technicians trimmed his overgrown toenails so he could walk normally. “That’s my new show dog,” he said to the staff, who looked askance at the emaciated, struggling dog. To Stallings’ amazement, aside from a staph infection Maverick was in good health. “All of that,” he says with sadness, “was just the result of neglect.”
Stallings gently nursed Maverick back to health, adding twenty pounds to his frame and helping him learn to trust people. Several months later, Maverick had transformed into a robust dog with a wonderful gait and presence. With the encouragement of friends who showed dogs, Stallings found a handler experienced with the breed, and Maverick hit the show ring.
Stallings wasn’t expecting a lot. He certainly wasn’t expecting Maverick to start winning big right from the start. He had certain issues with crating that meant Stallings had to deliver him ringside before each show- “I’m not going to sacrifice his health or well-being for a show,” he says- but within just a few months, Maverick had won his first five point major, a huge deal in this sport. After a year and a half, he was on the road to national shows.
In December, Maverick made the trip to Orlando for the AKC/Eukanuba dog show. “When I got the invitation to the Eukanuba show, I thought, ‘Are you kidding me?’” said Stallings. After making the cut at that event, Maverick made his way to New York for Westminster.
I met Stallings and Maverick in the lobby at the Hotel Pennsylvania the morning of the show. In a lobby filled with champion dogs and dog lovers to mingle with, people were drawn to him like moths to a lightbulb. I watched as group after group approached the duo, drawn by the soulful way Maverick watched Stallings’ every move. Every time he stood up, Maverick would raise his large frame and sink his paws into Stallings’ shoulders for a hug.
There are bonds, and then there are bonds.
As the curious approached for a closer look, Maverick would glance over, letting strangers run their fingers over his glossy coat, then return to watching Stallings. To each new group, Stallings would share Maverick’s amazing story, drawing them in to show them the small scar on his tail that never completely healed from his earlier trauma. Soon a small crowd had gathered, to a one moved by his story in a way rarely seen in a world that is sometimes jaded.
Stallings continues to be a tireless rescue advocate, reminding people that no matter a dog’s background or his accomplishments in life, they’re all worthy of love so they can become who they were meant to be. “He’s some ambassador, isn’t he?” chuckled Stallings as four cameraphones were pointed Maverick’s way. “That’s my boy.”
Later that day, Maverick entered the ring of one of the most prestigious shows in the world. He’s come a long way from his days in a cramped apartment. He didn’t win at Westminster, a fact that bothers Stallings not in the least. “I want him to be happy and healthy,” he said. “Everything else is just gravy.” At home, he’s Maverick, and in the ring, he’s living up to his official call name: Grand Champion Anson’s Unforgettable.
For more about Maverick and his upcoming book, check out his Facebook page!