This is a good news story of a different kind … a truly inspiring tale of a wonderful dog who’s overcome adversity and an uncertain future to become Australia’s only K-9 champion marathon runner. Mark Jensen and his dog Ty are Team Ty – extraordinary athletes, with an even more extraordinary story to tell …
How long have you lived in the Manning-Great Lakes area, and what originally brought you here?
I’m originally from Kingswood, NSW. I have been holidaying in Forster most of my life, coming here with my family since I was about 8-years-old and visiting family members who were living in Tuncurry. I bought in Forster in 2000.
I enjoy the outdoors and keeping active, I love the water and the environment. I’ve been an animal lover my whole life. I’ve always had dogs, cats, birds and reptiles. I had homing pigeons as I was growing up, and I find they’re a great hobby. I’m a licensed electrician and have worked in the electrical trades since 1982.
I’ve been marathon running for about 25 years, after giving up smoking. I find long distance running a great outlet and a time to reflect.
How did Ty become a part of your family?
Ty is a Kelpie cross Border Collie, and she’s 6 years old. Ty was given to an 80 year old grandmother as a pup, and at 18 months the woman could no longer care for her, so she took her to a vet to be euthanised. Ty was rescued by an RSPCA Animal Shelter in Kurri Kurri and put up for adoption.
I had originally gone to visit this particular animal shelter looking to adopt a German Shepherd and immediately found the dog I wanted to bring home. Her name was Gabbie, and she was a beautiful Shepherd. Gabbie was about 9 years old when I first met her. Gabbie had found a new friend at this shelter − Ty. I noticed that Gabbie and Ty were inseparable and had formed a close bond with each other. I was not sure how to separate them, so I adopted them both. It was a huge challenge to introduce two large dogs to our home, as we already had 5 rescue cats living with us.
Gabbie and Ty settled into their new home very quickly, and I’m happy to say that the five cats and two dogs were all able to live together without too much unrest. We enjoyed and loved Gabbie for the next three years, until one day she began to get sick. We took her to the vet, and it seemed Gabbie had some form of brain tumour. We could do nothing for her except bring her home and make her as comfortable as we could. Within 6 months, she was gone. Gabbie was very much loved and is greatly missed.
How did you first come up with the idea of entering both yourself and Ty in marathons?
Ty is different to any other dog I’ve ever known. Her high energy levels require an outlet. I was not sure how to keep Ty happy, other than go for walks and play ball. After 2½ years, I decided to take Ty for a run to help release this incredible energy that she has. I wasn’t too sure how far I should run with Ty; I figured about 2 km would be far enough.
I discovered something unique about Ty from our very first outing. She had a talent for running, which even today I cannot explain. It was like I had opened up a world to Ty … it took this first moment of running to release an incredible ability.
Our next outing covered about 5 km, then 10 km, and then a whopping 14 km, and Ty loved every step of the way.
To date, how many marathons have you both run, and what have been your results?
In June 2011, I decided to enter myself and Ty (Team Ty) into the Brooks Forster Running Festival on September 11, 2011. The half marathon is 21.1 km, which I was confident Ty could complete safely − but also knowing this distance had never been attempted before in Australia by a canine. Ty ran her first half marathon event comfortably and finished with plenty still in the tank. Ty crossed the finish line of the half marathon in a speedy time of 2:28:47 and became the first dog in Australian marathon running history (from 1908) to complete a marathon event.
Ty ran her 2nd half marathon in Port Macquarie on March 18, 2012 in a time of 2:31:20 with a field of about 1,000 runners, becoming the first dog in Australia to be photographed crossing the finish line of a marathon event.
Ty ran her 3rd half marathon on May 20, 2012 in the Sydney Morning Herald half marathon, crossing the finish line in a time of 2:20:08 with a field of about 13,000 runners.
The thought of running a dog in a full marathon event was so absurd it was bordering on the psychotic, but I knew Ty could cope with this huge challenge. On July 29, 2012, Ty lined up at the start of the Westlink M7 Cities Marathon, leaving Liverpool and finishing at Blacktown International Sportspark, 42.2 km later. After the 21.1 km point, Ty was entering uncharted waters, and nobody could say just how she would cope with this incredible endurance event. At the halfway mark, it was as simple as taking one step at a time toward the finish line.
Ty’s vet could not tell us just how she should train for such a long distance and gruelling event, what Ty should eat the morning of the big race or how much she should eat. All the vet knew for sure was that Ty must be kept hydrated throughout the entire marathon event, which meant she would need to have fluids every 2.5 km. I needed to carry her water and food with me the entire marathon, which added more weight to me and led to a long, slow day.
As we entered the Sportspark, I could hear people cheering for Ty. And there it was: the finish line 100 m away. I looked up to see our finish time was 5:14:07 and as Ty touched down at the finish line, we were met by photographers, race officials, retired athletes and the Blacktown Mayor, Mr Alan Pendleton, who awarded Ty two medals to recognise her incredible effort.
The world looked pretty good at that point, when Ty had become the greatest running dog in Australian marathon running history. Never before in Australia has there been a K-9 marathoner, and never before in Australia has there been a dog awarded the ‘Marathon Finishers Medal’. Ty had come from death row to become 4 times Australian K-9 marathon running champion.
On Sunday, September 9, 2012, Ty returned to where it all started, the Brooks Forster Running Festival half marathon. Ty ran a nice comfortable race, as there was nothing more for her to prove, and amazingly she ran the 2012 race in a record time of 2:18:18, taking a whopping 10 mins, 29 secs off her first half marathon.
Ty’s story has been written about in newspapers and magazines. She has been on radio and television and is the only dog in Australia running for the RSPCA and to show people the benefits of recycled pets.
When is Team Ty’s next marathon?
Ty’s next marathon event will be in the Port Macquarie half marathon on Sunday, March 10, 2013.
Ty’s obviously very special in terms of her running ability, but what else is special about her – how would you describe her personality?
Ty’s a remarkable dog with a great personality. She is very intelligent; she loves people and absolutely loves to be cheered on. Ty gets on well with the other family pets: Molly the dog and 5 cats: BB, Bonnie, Freddy, Rosie and Meeka − all have been rescued from an uncertain future. Ty loves to play ball and chase the water coming from the hose. Her favourite colour is yellow, her favourite snack is the chicken drumstick, and her favourite song is Ben by Michael Jackson.
Ty has her own bed and her own backyard to play in. She does not tolerate the birds too much when they land in her yard and try to steal her food. Ty is an all-round great dog and has never been any trouble.
You’d like to give a special mention to a lady in Kurri Kurri, who operates a rescue service for German Shepherds. What does this service actually do?
Pauline Bellemore is the operator of ‘German Shepherd Rescue NSW’ and is located in Keinbah, in the Kurri Kurri area. Pauline has been rescuing Shepherds for 9 years and has rescued and re-homed over 450 Shepherds, with some people coming back for their second Shepherd after their last one passed away. The German Shepherd is a very beautiful dog and is very intelligent and can be fiercely protective of their environment. Pauline can be contacted by email: paulinebellemore@hotmail and her group would be grateful for any feedback or enquiries.
What inspires you to keep competing?
Ty and I love to run for and support the RSPCA. We are a life member of the RSPCA, and we have seen first hand the difficulties and the struggles that the RSPCA are faced with every day. The RSPCA NSW require $35 million a year to keep up the great work that they do. The Government gives them about $400,000, and the rest comes from bequests and people like us who donate. All donations to the RSPCA are tax deductable.
The RSPCA NSW inspectorate has 32 inspectors across the state, 16 inspectors in metropolitan Sydney − one inspector for every 281,250 people. There are 16 regional inspectors covering over 800,480 km − one inspector for every 50,030 km. It’s a small team with lots of ground to cover and thousands of animals requiring the RSPCA’s assistance.
The RSPCA NSW can be found at: rspcansw.org.au, or write to: Po Box 34, Yagoona NSW 2199, or phone: 1300 278 3589.
What’s in the future for team Ty?
The future of Team Ty Marathon Dog is to keep running long distance as long as we possibly can and to keep supporting the RSPCA NSW. I would like to see Ty recognised and registered as an Australian Champion running dog, but at the moment Australia does not have a category for marathon running dogs.
I would also like to see a K-9 marathon event take place in Sydney, which has never been seen before in Australia, or even the world. This K-9 marathon event would be for K-9 teams only and could be used as a fundraising event for organisations such as the RSPCA and Animal Welfare League. I believe this idea would attract a lot of interest and generate sponsorship directly from Australian industry.
I guess when the day comes that Ty gets too old to be running these long distance events, she may be giving herself to the elderly as a companion dog visiting nursing homes and the like. As Team Ty, we would like to thank everyone who has come out to support Ty the wonder dog and see her run and to all those who have donated to the RSPCA.
Thanks Mark and Ty.
Interview by Jo Atkins.
This interview was found in issue 70 of Manning Great Lakes Focus