Rachel Clark of St. Johns and her 4-year-old dog Chewy will make their national television debut at 8 p.m. tonight as contestants on the show, "America's Top Dog" on A&E.
Clark, 25, is a manager at Cher Car Kennels in St. Johns, which boards, breeds and trains dogs. Cheryl Carlson, the owner and Clark's boss and mentor, texted Clark one night to tell her about the show. Clark said she had never heard of it.
"You and Chewy need to get on this," Carlson said.
"Just reading the name, 'America's Top Dog,' I was like, 'Yeah, okay, Cheryl. You're blowing a little smoke here,'" Clark said. "But I started looking up clips of the show and actually started watching season one and I was like, 'You were not joking. We do all of this.'"
Which, is saying something.
"'America's Top Dog' is like 'American Ninja Warrior,' but people do it with their dogs," Clark said. "There's obstacles, there's scent-detection, there's dock-diving...jumping over hurdles, knocking down walls, pushing buttons and pulling levers in order to activate ramps..."
Clark rescued Chewy as a puppy and started training him immediately.
Now, they do everything together.
"If my dog's not invited, odds are I'm not coming," Clark laughed.
"The bond between Rachel and Chewy is very, very special," Carlson said. "I knew, with his talents and her drive, they could go places."
Clark found a casting call and began going through the interview process for the show.
"Then all of a sudden COVID hit, and I didn't hear back for a long time and I was just stressed," Clark said. "But, we started building obstacles. We started prepping and dissecting season one episodes like, 'All right. We're going to train like we're going,' and fortunately, that paid off for us because we just got extra time to prep."
Clark finally got the callback and had about a month to prepare.
"We trained in the evening. We had people running around with flashlights. We had boom-boxes. We had all the things that we could think of that might cause them to have some problems so that we knew we'd be super prepared when we got out to actually be on set," Carlson said.
In September, Clark and Carlson flew out to California for the taping of the show.
"Traveling with him in that capacity for the first time was pretty significant," Clark said. "I'm always looking for something new to challenge us."
Win or lose, Clark said she considers competing on the show the start of her career with dogs.
"Chewy has been a huge part of that for me. He's my foundation dog. I had an amazing opportunity stumbling upon a job listing for this kennel...but, I wouldn't have been able to take full advantage of it if I didn't have a dog, and he's my first dog," Clark said.
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