A Dog’s Best Friend in Southwest Florida
Our Woof Wish spotlight this month is on Michelle Delaney, a remarkable woman who I had the good fortune to meet and talk with at the recent Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Florida. Michelle is one of the great pet champions of southwest Florida. An award-winning trainer, she owns and operates the Shelzsmide K9s Dog Training facility in Naples, Florida. Michelle is also the founder and runs the Big Cypress German Shepherd Rescue (BCGSR), a non-profit organization she started to rehabilitate German Shepherds. That’s all in her spare time!
In her real job Michelle is Lieutenant Delaney, a 28-year veteran of the North Collier Fire Department (pic below). There, she works with search and rescue, usually to help with missing and endangered elderly cases that are reported, almost daily, in her area. As Michelle told the South Florida Fox4 News, “Since I’m with the fire department search and rescue this is just another part of our duties. With as much training as we’ve done with the tracking, it all just fits hand in hand. We didn’t want people standing out on a street corner wondering where their loved ones are, we can help bring a loved one home. In a matter of minutes my family of German Shepard’s can locate a lost person and it all starts with a simple scent. As one takes a step there are thousands of skin rafts’ that fall off onto the ground getting stuck in the shrubs, and we can go from there.”
Geronimo, the first
Michelle became involved with training dogs 18 years ago when she purchased her own ‘personal protection dog’, Geronimo. “Geronimo turned out to be a fear biter, biting everyone that came close to him,” she explained. “Trainer after trainer tried fixing him, but it just made him become more aggressive.” Deciding to take matters into her own hands to see what she could accomplish, Michelle began taking classes, going to workshops and training in a positive, self-rewarding style. Utilizing ‘operant conditioning’ - word association between a behaviour and a consequence, (better known as response-stimulus conditioning), Michelle formed an association between the dogs’ response [behaviour] and the stimulus that follows [consequence]. Positive reinforcement is anything that increases a behaviour - makes it occur more frequently, makes it stronger, or makes it more likely to occur. A negative is anything that decreases a behaviour and makes it occur less frequently, makes it weaker, or makes it less likely to occur.
“Everyone told me I should put him down, but I said no. I’ve put too much time effort and money into Geronimo and I’m going to put him into a different mind frame and I’m going to make this work.” The results were encouraging. Geronimo, though never fixed completely became a compassionate and loving part of the family, reliable enough to protect Michelle and to take everywhere. What it did do was inspire Michelle to continue training in this manner.
Shelzsmide K9 Training
In 2006, she opened Shelzsmide K9s (name origin is the result of her Goddaughter Ashlie mispronouncing her name) with the goal of providing the highest quality of dog training from family companion dogs to protection dogs. At Shelzsmide K9'S, Michelle and her team apply the same methods she used with Geronimo. Positive reinforcement, not negative stimulus, always being careful to preserve the relationship between people and their dogs. They utilize the dogs’ innate instincts; rewarding and reinforcing appropriate behaviour. “We must be doing something right,” we are building new bonds with trust and loyalty. I guess word travels.” Their site http://www.sk9dogtraining.com offers many testimonials about Michelle’s training successes.
Big Cypress German Shepherd Rescue
Another of Michelle’s ventures is Big Cypress German Shepherd Rescue, http://www.saveagermanshepherd.org/. It was founded as a non-profit in 2015. “It’s not unusual to find a dog tied up to the front porch of my house that someone has abandoned,” Michelle commented, “I would vaccinate, feed and place these misplaced German Shepherds. That's what inspired the rescue. Now Michelle is dedicated to the rescue of homeless, abandoned, unwanted, abused, and neglected German Shepherd dogs and puppies. “When you physically, emotionally and nutritionally, rehabilitate a German Shepherd they become loving and loyal companions,” she explained. Because BCGSR is a non-profit support comes from the services’ many fund-raising activities like the Muddy Paws’ annual Dog Biathlon held annually in Anniston, Alabama. They also hold various fund-raising events throughout the year like the Halloween and Christmas photo events, a talent contest and K9X games where both dogs and humans compete together to strengthen that bond even more.
Rina, an inspiration
One of Michelle’s search and rescue dogs was a German Shepherd named Rina. Rina was the North Collier fire departments’ first canine to excel in urban tracking, wilderness trailing, building searches, open area search and off leash obedience. Rina was an exceptional and inspirational dog. She continued to excel at tracking after developing Canine Degenerative Myelopathy and requiring the use of wheels for mobility.
“Rina was blessed that a friend who had a wheel chair for her to use and sent it as soon as she heard the horrifying news,” Michelle explained, “Unfortunately Rina didn’t realize she was in a wheelchair and kept rolling in the chair. Then a wonderful company stepped in, Handicapped Pets – Walkin’ Wheels, http://walkinwheels.com/ to provide a means for Rina to get around. This enabled her to continue tracking and playing with the other dogs as normal as can be.”
Scout & Muttluks
Rina has since passed but what brought Michelle and Muttluks together was a new dog Scout, a handicapped six-week-old German Shepherd puppy that Michelle was trying to find a home for. Scout came to the rescue the day before Rina was set free. Scout caries on the legacy of Rina overcoming a devastating condition. Scout was born with a malformation of her right front paw and was given up to BCGSR in the hopes that the organization could care for her in her difficult journey. Scout, who will need extensive medical treatment, has since found a loving home. Muttluks has generously donated Mud Monster boots in several sizes to protect Scout’s partial limb and accommodate her growth ahead.
As you can see Michelle is an incredible and needed benevolent resource to the canines of southwest Florida. It was a pleasure to meet you Michelle and hear about the wonderful work you and your team do.
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