By ANTHONY FLORES
Upon arrival at Letty McNulty’s house on the outskirts of Liberty Hill, expect to be greeted at the front door by a pack of small, excited dogs – Papillons. Exiting through the back door is like being transported to dog fun heaven.
McNulty, a retired P.E. instructor of over four decades, is an agility instructor. The longtime educator trains her papillons in the art of running obstacle courses.
“I was not planning on working after retiring, but if I have to work, this is what I want to do. I think this is going to be cool,” said McNulty. “I was taught nuts and bolts, and that method is to form the best relationship with your dog, and they’ll start reading you and basic cues.”
Early on, it was clear to McNulty what career she wanted and, despite initial pushback from her parents she achieved that goal.
“My parents wouldn’t let me be a P.E. teacher. They were very upper crust. I had to fight for it. I spent two years at a liberal arts school, and I couldn’t do it. I knew what I wanted to do, and they said no child of ours is going to a state university,” she said. “The University of Maryland had four tracks, and one of them was pre-med. They said if I go pre-med, I could do it. So, I went pre-med, graduated, and I went for the first P.E. interview two weeks after I graduated.”
A determined and driven individual, McNulty enjoys the thrill of the outdoors and the rush of physical activities. She used physical education as a way to enrich the students she instructed.
“I was so lucky to be a P.E. teacher. It was the best job. You can model for kids and show them things,” said McNulty. “P.E. is not just exercising. There’s so much more to developing a whole person. I knew that from very early on. It’s teamwork, emotions, winning and losing, and how to handle all of that.”
Not yet at the point of retirement, McNulty discovered her second passion, diving headfirst into her new sport.
“I had a friend in Louisiana, and she had papillons. I helped her find her first confirmation dog. I was going to nationals in San Antonio, and she called me and asked me to come early and watch her run agility. I asked her what it was, and she said it was fun and I’d love to do it. So, I went and when I got home it was all I could do, I was in a class in two weeks. I was hooked.”
Taking her love of running agility and her 41 years of experience as an educator, McNulty decided to combine her passions and create the Liberty Oaks Agility Academy.
“I had to think about what I could do just to cover my agility habit. I thought, well, I’m a pretty good teacher and a pretty good coach and good at agility,” she said. “With eight dogs, I started to mess around with showing my grandkids, and they would bring their friends over. I figured that nobody else had thought to teach kids agility, and I could do that.”
McNulty boils it down to a few simple essentials when it comes to running a dog through a course.
“What I do is tell the kids there are three major necessities in agility. When you run a dog, you always have to keep your eye on the dog. You have to pre-queue the dog because you can’t just run up and expect them to jump. You have to tell them to jump,” said McNulty. “My dogs are trained on verbal, so they know what a tire is and a tunnel, and so on. The children will learn to use those words. They like to run with you, so you need to give them the verbal queue, or they may not jump. The last thing is to reward your dog.”
With the COVID pandemic, McNulty is enforcing COVID guidelines including, social distancing and sanitation. Masks are not required because lessons are outdoors. Parents can bring up to four kids for a single price of $50. Through her new business venture, McNulty hopes to help encourage the new generation of agility trainers.
“I wanted to do my private lessons, but I didn’t want to compete with others or try and take their business. Most are my friends. I figured I could teach lessons and feed into their businesses. That’s my hope. That kids come here, they can try it, and then stick with it. Classes will be six weeks for an hour-long.”