His adoption profile at Friends For Life Animal Shelter said he had “off the charts potential.” But not even the people who wrote that about the pup could have imagined how far he would go, especially so fast.
The progression of the dog they called Duke – who was later renamed Wolfe by the Oak Forest couple who adopted him in July 2017 – is out of this world. So is his jumping ability.
Wolfe arrived at the no-kill shelter in the Heights along with his stray mother and five siblings. He was there for nearly a month before being adopted on a whim by Steve and Judith Scholtes, who wanted a fuzzy, cuddly companion during a trying time for their family.
Two-and-a-half years later, the Scholtes have helped the black Shepherd mix become one of the best dock-diving dogs in the United States. Wolfe was invited to compete in the 2019 North America Diving Dogs/American Kennel Club National Championships this weekend in Orlando, Florida, where the springiest pooches in the country will dart down a runway and soar 20 feet or more into a pool of water.
“For him to make that arc from abandoned stray puppy to dock-diving champion is pretty fantastic,” said Pam Newton, adoption manager at Friends For Life. “It’s very unusual.”
Their experience with Wolfe (pronounced Wolfie) has been just as remarkable for the Scholtes, who were not looking for a competition dog and didn’t know they had one until about seven months ago. Training Wolfe to be a therapy dog was the initial objective of Judith Scholtes, who said her pup had been working with Stephanie Bennett of Believe in Dog Training since the fall of 2017.
After seeing Wolfe fetch a ball thrown into a pool at a dog park, Bennett suggested the Scholtes try dock diving. So they took Wolfe to the Houston Dog Ranch, where dock diving instructor Michele Scarantino quickly realized the Scholtes had a natural on their hands.
That was in the spring, when Wolfe started competing in dock diving around the Houston area and throughout Texas. He earned his invitation to the national competition in September, when he won his division at a qualifying event in San Marcos.
“We thought we’d try something else with him. Next thing you know, we were in competitions,” Judith Scholtes said. “Next thing you know, we got a letter saying we’re going to nationals. We’re like, ‘Really? OK. I guess we’re going.’
“We really feel like we don’t even know what we’re doing,” she added. “We’re going anyway.”
Scarantino, who is taking her own dog to the national competition, said the animals are mostly responsible for their success in the sport. They just need nudging from their owners.
Judith Scholtes stays with Wolfe at the start of the runway before sending him off toward the water. Husband Steve, positioned near the end of the dock, then provides a jumping target by tossing a bright yellow competition stick into the water.
Wolfe averaged 23 feet, 9 inches in 15 competitive jumps this year. He competes in the Master division, which is the second-highest classification out of five, and is ranked in a tie for 33rd out of 589 dogs in his division across the country.
“That boy can fly,” Scarantino said.
Scarantino said Wolfe is so good because he’s athletic, intelligent, loves to play and loves water. Judith Scholtes said she and her husband want 2-year-old Wolfe to take advantage of his world-class talent while he has the opportunity.
Traveling to competitions might be just as much fun for the Scholtes, who do not have children but can now relate to parents who take their kids to gymnastics meets or soccer tournaments.
“It’s like, ‘Oh wow, this is what all these people have been doing all these years. Now I get it. Now I know,” Judith said. “It’s taking us all these places we never imagined we would ever go.”
The Scholtes were not having nearly as much fun when they adopted Wolfe. About two weeks beforehand, their soft-coated Wheaten Terrier named Riley died suddenly at age 7.
The Scholtes also were caring for Judith’s father, Henri Irvington, at the time. He had to go to the emergency room one night, and the Scholtes adopted Wolfe on their way home from the hospital the next morning.
“My husband liked him, and next thing we knew we were sitting in the car with him,” Judith said. “We were kind of punch drunk, like, ‘What did we just do?’ ”
Wolfe and the dog the Scholtes had previously adopted from Friends For Life, named Ruby, comforted them when Hurricane Harvey damaged a significant portion of their home one month later. Then, in October 2017, Irvington died and the Scholtes were again in mourning.
Scarantino said she applauds the Scholtes for keeping Wolfe and continuing to train him during that time, when they could have decided to give him away.
Now the dog, who will compete on a national stage Saturday, is a source of joy and a source of pride.
“It’s not just about his dock diving,” Newton said. “That’s wonderful, but he’s been a real companion and kind of helped the family through some rough times.”