Marvelous Mutts

Rescue Dogs Overcome the Odds

By , Platinum Performance®

The Marvelous Mutts Organization Promotes Pet Adoption By Rescuing Dogs and Showcasing Their Spectacular Talents Across The Country

When Nadja Palenzuela and Kara Gilmore adopted their first two shelter pets 20 years ago, they had no idea the passion this would spark to make a career out of rescuing dogs and performing with them in front of audiences all over the nation. Bandit and Clementine, the two incredible canines that kickstarted The Marvelous Mutts, were average rescue dogs longing for affection and seething with energy and athletic potential. “I had this active puppy that wanted to do stuff all the time, so it was partly me finding things to do to keep him busy, but then the more I did it, the more I loved it,” Gilmore recalls. What’s most spectacular about the humble beginnings of the Taghkanic, New York-based Marvelous Mutts is that neither Palenzuela nor Gilmore had any experience training dogs or competing in any dog sports events: dock diving, Frisbee (flying discs) or agility. “I hadn’t done any canine sports before I got Bandit. I had dogs, but they were very much just wonderful pets,” jokes Gilmore. Fast forward to today and this powerful duo lists champions in every sport they and their animals have competed in, including world finalist disc dogs, national finalist agility canines and their dock diving dogs that literally jump off a dock and catch discs midair before landing nose-up in a pool of water. Their champions have made worldwide TV appearances on ESPN and Animal Planet. The team, former lawyer and architect, has also since expanded from its two original rescues to 18 talented canine athletes, all either in training to perform, are performing stars with a following or have retired from a career wowing crowds across the country. Palenzuela concludes, “It’s been an amazing journey, and it’s led us to not only traveling all over the U.S. but to adopting some really amazing dogs too.”

Nadja Palenzuela, left, and Kara Gilmore, middle, are the co-founders and owners of The Marvelous Mutts. Palenzuela spends her time out on the road traveling and showing their dogs, while Gilmore stays home training the up-and-coming rescues and caring for the retirees.

How The Program Works

From the outside, The Marvelous Mutts looks to be a simple entertainment business, but after a deeper look, it’s apparent there are many incredible layers to this inspiring organization. “Kara and I started The Marvelous Mutts in 2011, and we’ve crisscrossed the country, from New York to California and everywhere in between, for many years,” Palenzuela says. “Then about four years ago, we started a new business of training other people’s dogs, so the retired dogs now get to stay home with Kara while she runs the training business, and I’m out on the road with the dogs that are performing.” The new business, Hudson Valley Dog Farm, is about two hours north of New York City in a beautiful rural atmosphere. Gilmore explains; “We have a lot of clients whose dogs come from New York City, and so for them, it is a great opportunity to get some decompression in a nice country setting combined with some training while they’re here.” The training is purposefully very intimate as they take very few dogs at a time, so they can maintain a close connection with each animal. “It all starts with manners, focus and engagement. Once you get those things from a dog, you can teach them to do anything — but you’ve really got to dial in that connection first,” preaches Gilmore.

Meanwhile, Palenzuela is out on the road with their seven performing dogs for about six to seven months at a time. This year alone, her team is scheduled to perform at a dozen events that range from five days to seven weeks in length. These include fairs and rodeos to harvest festivals and even halftime shows at sporting events. The actual productions are 20-minute scripted performances held three times a day, rotating through the dogs, so not all are featured in every show. “Most of the dogs will do just two performances a day. So, when people come, they can come multiple times to see our show, and they’ll see different dogs each time,” Palenzuela says.

“The best part of the journey is seeing the dogs flourish in a show and having people chant their names. It’s just like, wow, this is a dog that nobody wanted, and now, they just can’t get enough of him.”
— Nadja Palenzuela, Co-Founder of The Marvelous Mutts

Meet Cha-Cha-Cha

Adopted from Arizona Cattle Dog Rescue in Flagstaff in October of 2015

Cha-Cha-Cha is a 9-year-old, three-legged Australian Cattle Dog found as a stray on an Arizona reservation. Palenzuela explains, “When we adopted her, her leg had already been amputated by the rescue group because it was severely mangled.” Still, this super athlete has performed for over eight years and is a crowd favorite due to her unique athleticism and sweet personality. “She’s pretty spectacular,” Palenzuela says. “A lot of people don’t even realize that she’s three-legged until I point it out in the show that she’s the fastest thing on three wheels.”

Marveling The Crowds

The art of making these performances successful is a handcrafted talent the duo has perfected over time. They carefully select performers from rescues and shelters all over the country; dogs that they feel have the drive and ability to excel in one of their three events. Palenzuela explains, “The show has dogs that do agility, Frisbee and dock diving. Just depending on what the dog does best, that’s what we have them signed up to do.” On average, it takes about a year for a rescue to be trained to perform in a show; however, Palenzuela admits there are exceptions. “We have dogs that have been in the show within months of being adopted because they were just such sponges for learning, and they just picked up the skills really quickly.” Gilmore being the more conservative of the two says, “I would say it takes about a year because it is not just training all the skills but it’s also acclimating them to the sights and sounds of being around a ton of people with strange noises and strange things.”

Along with the time and work invested in training, many hours are also spent behind the wheel driving to gigs and setting up the stage at each venue. Their show sites aren’t equipped with a pool or agility course, which means that they have to haul their entire stage with them. “It’s quite a production,” Palenzuela says. “We bring the pool, the dock, the perimeter — basically everything that you see comes with us.” This massive amount of gear requires her to haul a trailer behind the RV to carry their equipment. Gilmore jokes, “Not only are we dog trainers, but we are really good drivers too!” Nevertheless, the hours spent training, driving and setting up seem worth it to see these dogs shine on stage. Palenzuela sums it up perfectly, “The best part of the journey is seeing the dogs flourish in a show and having people chant their names. It’s just like, wow, this is a dog that nobody wanted, and now, they just can’t get enough of him.”

Gallo is a 5-year-old Frisbee dog that came from Healing Hearts Rescue in Arizona. “Gallo is a cool dog that’s very understated. He looks like a junkyard dog because he’s missing part of his ear, but you watch him do Frisbee and he just leaps 10 feet in the air. He's a really spectacular athlete,” says Nadja Palenzuela.

“The best part of the journey is seeing the dogs flourish in a show and having people chant their names. It’s just like, wow, this is a dog that nobody wanted, and now, they just can’t get enough of him.”
— Nadja Palenzuela, Co-Founder of The Marvelous Mutts

It Starts With Nutrition

The dedication to these rescued canines is unwavering for the two New Yorkers who feel strongly that their dogs deserve the best care and attention even after their performing days are over. Palenzuela states firmly, “Our commitment to these dogs is that we keep them their whole lives.” That includes providing each dog with the comprehensive nutrition and joint support they need to succeed. “We’re really careful about what we feed them. The supplements that they get depend on what issues they might have. Right now, all the dogs, even the retired ones, get Platinum Performance® Canine CJ (Complete Joint) every day,” she says. One dog — their tripod superstar, Cha-Cha-Cha — made this duo firm believers in the Complete Joint formula. “She’s a dog that probably wouldn’t have had such a long career, and she’s still performing at 9 years old,” Palenzuela explains. “Just given her physical issues, not that being three-legged would have been an issue, but the longevity of her career I think is surprising. I would say that’s a real testament to having her on the CJ for all of these years.” The overarching ingredients that support comprehensive health combined with the advanced level of joint support in the Platinum Performance ® Canine CJ have helped Cha- Cha-Cha along with all of The Marvelous Mutts to perform on stage to the best of their abilities. Because some of these rescues come to the farm malnourished and abused, their new owners have seen first-hand how nutrition can affect a dog’s health and performance. “Platinum has been really great for our dogs. It’s the foundation of support for their diet and supplementation,” Palenzuela concludes.

The Hard Truths

  • Approx. 6.3 million animals enter a U.S. animal shelter every year.
  • Only about 4.1 million pets are adopted each year.
  • About 810,000 animals that enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners.
  • Of the dogs entering shelters, approximately 65% are adopted.

Source: American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Meet Shazam

Adopted from Jefferson City Animal Shelter in Jefferson, Missouri in July of 2012

“Shazam epitomizes everything that The Marvelous Mutts stands for,” Gilmore says. This mixed breed, brown female came to the duo after a fan who also is a shelter volunteer reached out. Says Palenzuela: “This woman saw our show and contacted us saying there was this dog at her shelter that we needed to see.” After getting a video of the dog playing with a ball, the pair decided to adopt Shazam, who went on to thrill audiences across the country for many years with her speed, jumping and loving disposition. “The woman that referred her to us came to see her in the show for years,” Palenzuela says. “She would fly all over the country to catch at least one show every year so that she could see this little dog that she had saved because really it was her wanting this one dog to find a home that brought her to us. It was just so sweet and really embodies why we love what we do.”

Adopting The Underdog

It’s pretty evident with their actions that The Marvelous Mutts’ founders pour their hearts and souls into helping rescues find their place in the world. They transform the unwanted mutts into family, and they do everything in their power to keep them happy, healthy and flourishing. “This is a lifestyle for us,” Gilmore affirms. “We live with a lot of dogs and give them everything that they need. When we add a dog, we make sure we have the time and resources needed for this dog for the next 15 years.” They truly believe all their dogs are special, and they have dedicated their lives to helping others realize they are too. Palenzuela explains, “I would say the message that we try to put out in our shows is that rescue dogs are great dogs, and we hope that people will consider rescuing a dog the next time that they’re looking for one. At least consider it.” The goal of their shows isn’t simply to promote pet adoption rather it’s about educating the public on how to find the right family pet. “We sincerely believe that there is the right home for every dog,” she says. “As much as we advocate for rescue, we also advocate that you find the right dog for you. A lot of times, these high-energy dogs have been in a home that didn’t have the time, the space or the patience to train a dog, and so that’s how they ended up getting surrendered.” What she means is if a person’s lifestyle is mainly indoors, then a herding dog, like a Border Collie, isn’t the right fit. These dogs require space outdoors to let their energy run wild. In contrast, for a family that likes to hike or run, a Bulldog most likely won’t be the dog that enjoys these activities. Just like a person chooses a career path, a dog is a lifetime commitment that requires both parties to be compatible with each other.

There’s something inspiring about seeing the underdog succeed and these Marvelous Mutts are true underdogs, strays with a dark past who were able to overcome the odds to perform in front of thousands of fans and be loved by two incredible women: Nadja Palenzuela and Kara Gilmore. They are truly changing the world … one rescue at a time.