From Rescue to Champion: Three-Legged Rising Star of Dog Competitions is Animal Center Alum

Dr. Jennifer Federico kneels with Miller the dog and his first-place ribbon in front of a DockDogs canvas
Dr. Jenn and Miller show off his DockDogs first-place ribbon.

When we ask the public to adopt our adorable pets, Wake County staff are generally the first to answer the plea and save animals. Animal Services Director Dr. Jennifer Federico has six adopted dogs of her own…in fact, all the dogs she’s ever owned have been rescues. One of the most recent is Miller, a Labrador, who joined the Federico family just a few months ago. From day one, it’s been a great adventure!

Miller, initially named Yule, arrived at the Wake County Animal Center as a stray. He was brought in by a good Samaritan who had found him. Miller’s right hind leg had been broken and was healing incorrectly and causing other issues in that leg. After the Veterinary Team at the center examined him, it was determined that he would need to have the leg amputated. Miller was not the only dog in this situation. In December 2022, Wake County took in numerous dogs with leg injuries that required surgery or amputation, and several could not find permanent homes. Miller was one of those dogs. Chief Veterinarian Dr. Sarah McCain performed the amputation on Miller’s leg. The surgery went well, and now Miller had to get through recovery. Staff worked to place him temporarily with a foster family. Clay and Kristine Berry stepped up for the job but needed someone to watch him Christmas weekend while they were away.

“Since his amputation was right before the holidays, Clay and Kristine could take him if someone could keep him for a few days over Christmas,” said Dr. Jenn. “Since I was going to be home for the holidays myself, I volunteered since it would only be a short time. On top of that, we had several people show interest in adopting him, so I naturally thought he would find a forever home fairly quickly…but little did I know, things would turn out very differently.”

Dr. Jenn soon became what the animal services world calls a “foster fail” – that’s a term when fosters have no intention of adopting a pet but, for one reason or another, just can’t let the animal out of their lives. Several families did show interest in adopting Miller, but with each one, something did not work out; either they decided it wasn’t the right time to adopt, or he wasn’t the right fit. Meantime, Miller was growing on Dr. Jenn.

“I definitely was not looking for another dog,” she said. “I had already had five dogs and two horses. But, Miller came into my life at just the right time. Soon after I adopted him, I lost one of my horses, who had been with me for 29 years. Sammy was 34 years old and he was my heart horse. I was devastated, but this new, three-legged dog suddenly became this wonderful distraction and opened up my world to a new sport and new adventures!”

Dr. Jenn went through a ton of possible names for him, but none of them fit. Some were classic Labrador names, some were bird dog names, but nothing felt right. Then, Dr. Jenn remembered when she shared the news with Joanne Duda, the center’s Foster Coordinator, that she was going to keep Miller herself, Joanne knew that Miller was not Dr. Jenn’s first foster fail and teased Dr. Jenn, saying “You cannot possibly fail again!” and Dr. Jenn replied, “Hold my beer!” and that led to the name “Miller” finally being the chosen name.

As Miller recovered, Dr. Jenn soon discovered his love for balls and swimming. He loved jumping in the water and retrieving sticks, bottles and softballs from the pond near the farm where she keeps her horse. Miller was a natural swimmer. Dr. Jenn couldn't help but marvel at how much he loved the water.

It was not long before Miller took part in his first water competition! In March, Dr. Jenn took him to the NC State Fairgrounds where the Carolina DockDogs were hosting an aquatic dog competition. Dogs of all sizes run off the end of a dock into a giant pool of water to see who can jump the highest, the longest or the fastest to retrieve an object. It was Miller’s time to shine.

“The Carolina DockDogs group was absolutely amazing,” said Dr. Jenn. “They first had Miller go into the water from the ramp so he would know how to get out of the pool. Then we tossed a toy a few times. But Miller, only having three legs, struggled to get up from the water onto the ramp. But then I started throwing the toy a little farther. Suddenly, he was addicted. He just kept barking and jumping and swimming and wanted to go again and again! He absolutely loved it.”

In his very first competition, Miller did unbelievably well! In dog dock diving, the Big Air competitions are broken up into “waves” and different divisions. Miller was in the Novice Division, where jumping distances go up to almost 10 feet, but incredibly, Miller placed first! That was enough to get him into finals – where the top six dogs in each division compete. He came in fifth overall! He was a natural champion.

And to make that win even more impressive, Miller was the only three-legged dog in the competition. He showed that nothing should stop you from giving your all. Now, Miller has more competitions to look forward to. He’ll compete in May in Goldston at the Bark at Noah’s Ark competition and has entered another contest in August being held in Raleigh.

Dr. Jenn shared Miller’s story to help show that even if you aren’t necessarily looking for a new furry family member, if you just spend a short time with one of our incredible shelter pets, you might just find they’re exactly what your heart needed. Your time with them will open the doors to new adventures, create special memories and enrich both of your lives. Sometimes life gives you exactly what you need, without you even knowing you needed it at the time.

So, if you're looking for a new companion to brighten up your days (or perhaps win a few diving ribbons), be sure to visit the Wake County Animal Center at 820 Beacon Lake Drive, Raleigh. The shelter is open for adoptions daily from noon to 6 p.m., seven days a week. You might find your own unlikely best friend, just like Dr. Jenn did with Miller.

Press Release