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Furry family friends: Mom and son find fun in raising rare breed

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

Chris Miller once had a Canaan dog that had a unique way of getting table scraps not intended for canine consumption.

After dinner, when dishes with leftover food were sitting on the counter to be washed, the dog would run to the front door barking. Miller's family would follow to see what all the commotion was about.

The dog would then run back into the kitchen, jump on the counter and eat the food.

"It's always fun when your dog is smarter than you," Miller said. "Most dogs know A then B. Canaans know A then B then C."

Having raised and shown Canaans for 12 years, Miller is an expert on the rare breed from the Middle East which dates back thousands of years. Canaans are strong in herding, flocking and guarding, and can be used as guide dogs, military dogs and assistance dogs.

Miller said their intelligence, general good health and medium size -- females weigh between 35 and 45 and males between 45 and 55 -- made them appealing.

"That's what really drew me to them," she said.

She and her son Ethan, 14, travel monthly to dog shows throughout the Southeast and sometimes to other parts of the country to compete. Most recently, they returned from the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show where they didn't score well enough to discuss, said Miller.

They've performed better in other competitions, especially in 2009 when Vala, Ethan's dog, finished as the No. 2 Canaan dog in the country in breed points.

"Our success is within the breed," said Miller, who added that Canaans can be a bit stand-offish during the stand for examination because of their aloof nature.

Miller said that at age 6 her son asked to start showing the dogs. He's garnered much attention at shows, often winning out over his mother.

"He's very competitive within the family," said Miller. "He actually did very well. We won best of breed in an all-breed dog show, the Clemson Kennel Show. He beat the No. 1 Canaan dog."

Because cerebral palsy has left Ethan with no fine motor skills in his left hand and limited use of his left arm, he must show dogs on his right side. Typically dogs are shown on the left side.

Judges will ask him to switch sides at first, but when they learn of his special needs, they are accommodating, said Miller.

"Most judges are embarrassed," she said.

An eighth-grader at Peachtree Academy, Ethan also pitches for the Rockdale Youth Baseball Association and plays basketball on his school's team.

"He's an athlete, even with his challenges, he does very well at overcoming them," said Miller.

Ethan is the fourth generation in his family to breed and show dogs. A charter member of the Clearwater Kennel Club in the 1930s, his great-grandmother showed boxers, and his grandmother, Merry Houchard of Rockdale County, showed Great Danes.

A resident of Rockdale since 1969 and a Heritage High School graduate, Miller said showing dogs is a wholesome pastime for her family.

"It's a hobby and the AKC events are family venues," said Miller. "It's something I grew up with and Ethan enjoys it as well. He's got his whole dog show family."