Staff Writer

HANCOCK COUNTY — Dogs of all shapes and sizes, from tiny Chihuahuas to giant Labradors, made their way around the Hancock County 4-H Fairgrounds on Friday for the annual dog show.

While some full-blood breeds were instantly recognizable, some of the canines being fawned over were a little harder to identify. Jan Cochard, 4-H dog club leader, said that’s because the group encourages participants to rescue dogs from local shelters.

“Some of these 4-H students have been working with these rescued animals since they were puppies,” Cochard said.

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There are 79 students enrolled in the club, and around 55 participated in obedience, showmanship and agility contests.

Cochard said his favorite part about the show is training with the children and working with all the different breeds of dogs, including the mutts that make their way into loving homes from area shelters.

Zoe Castle, 11, competed Friday with her pit bull mix, Jaxson. She said her older sister taught her about the importance of rescuing animals and that shortly after discovering the high number of dogs that are put down because of a lack of space or funds, she rescued Jaxson from a shelter in Rushville.

“There are just so many dogs in the world that need homes,” Zoe said. “I wanted to adopt one so it didn’t get put to sleep.”

She said the dog has been a big part of her life over the past several months and that she hopes people can one day look past the bad reputation pit bulls have so more of the breed will eventually be adopted.

“He’s the best dog,” Zoe said. “I love him so much, and he’s so protective of our family.”

As Makayla Blade, 10, waited her turn to show her dog, Max, she thought back to how she came to find the 6-year-old boxer mix.

The dog was listed on Craigslist. Makayla said she felt adoption was important because it sometimes brings abused animals to loving homes.

“His original owners didn’t take care of him, which I don’t like,” Makayla said. “I know, for a fact, that I’ll have a dog for the rest of my life. I bet that most of them come from a shelter.”

One 4-H mother, Judy Roth, said her son’s rescue dog, Buster, turned the tables and had helped her son.

Jacob Roth, 14, has autism and is sometimes socially withdrawn. The crowded atmosphere of the fair sometimes can be overwhelming for him. But with Buster at his side, Jacob calms down and opens up to those around him, his mother said.

Buster was rescued as a puppy from a local Humane Society shelter. She said that her son has always been able to bond more easily with animals than humans and that sometimes the two even sleep together.

“Working with Buster has really helped him become more socially integrated,” Roth said.

Buster lay at Jacob’s feet Friday morning as the two waited for their contest class to be called.

“It’s just easier with him,” Jacob said nervously, holding the dog’s lead.

Once on the show floor, Jacob’s jitters disappeared as Buster listened intently to the commands. Their bond was obvious.

Taylor Gassert, a former 4-H’er, returned to the event Friday to watch the show in which she competed for 10 years.

While many 4-H’ers develop strong relationships with their animals, the bond between a shelter dog and its owner is something special, she said.

“Once you build that trust, it’s unbreakable,” Gassert said. “I think for rescues, there is definitely a stronger connection with their owners.”