for the dogs
Sandi Pensinger, Living With Dogs
By Kelly Luker
You might say Sandi Pensinger was born into a dog’s world. A highly respected dog trainer, Sandi began her animal career by helping her father in his veterinary cardiology practice. Her business, Living With Dogs, has helped hundreds of grateful owners since it was established a decade ago. She offers private and group training for basic manners as well as for canine sports like agility training, flyball, dock-diving and, Sandi’s latest passion, Treiball (a cross between herding & soccer).
Sandi has made it her mission to improve the image of dogs and raise public awareness of responsible dog owners. She and her friends campaigned almost five years to see more off-leash beaches and dog parks in Santa Cruz County. By 2000, they realized the best way to affect change was to change public perception about dogs. In order to shine a spotlight on the positive aspects of our furry friends, the non-profit organization Coastal Dog Owners’ Group (C-DOG) was born.
“We wanted to create some good news about dogs,” recalled Sandi. “We wanted to find more ways dogs could be an accepted part of society.” One of the main ways C-DOG accomplishes this is by hosting the annual Spring Dog Festival, held each May at the Soquel High School athletic fields. This year’s celebration, with its ‘60s theme “Woofstock West,” drew more than 3000 human visitors and another 1,000 four-footed companions. Frisbee dogs, lure coursing, agility trials and police K-9 demonstrations competed with beauty contests, costume parades and races in four different rings to keep festival-goers entertained.
A percentage of the Spring Dog Festival’s entrance fee goes towards the Angel Fund, which gives grants to other dog-related non-profit groups such as the Santa Cruz SPCA, Annie’s Blankets, and Soquel High School’s Veterinary Science Program, where Sandi teaches dog behavior to about 60 students a year. She estimates that C-DOG has raised close to $14,000 since the Angel Fund’s inception.
In September of this year, C-DOG also organized the first Responsible Dog Owner Day, which offered attendees the opportunity to take the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. This is often the first step for those who plan to eventually certify their pets as therapy dogs.
The trainer uses positive reinforcement in her work and emphasizes the importance of recreation. As evidenced in both her business and community involvement, Sandi lives by one of her favorite sayings: “People who play with their dogs stay with their dogs.”
Kelly Luker is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Runner's World, Salon and various alternative weeklies. She owns Little Pup Lodge, a daycare and cage-free boarding facility designed exclusively for small dogs.