Not many dogs get to see their handsome image on the cover of a book, let alone one that reaches No. 2 on USA Today‘s list of new and noteworthy titles. But Wallace the Pit Bull, subject of the new book Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed a Breed — One Flying Disc at a Time, by Jim Gorant, isn’t just any canine cover model. He’s a role model and champion athlete who won hearts nationwide with his jaw-dropping feats as disc dog — all captured on video, set to music, and viewed umpteen times on YouTube. Going in as the underdog, Wallace won the 2006 Cynosport World Games then followed up that achievement by capturing the 2007 Purina Incredible Dog Challenge National Championship.
Now, in addition to his many athletic awards and accolades, Wallace the disc dog is a literary lion as well. How did Wallace’s book deal come about? Author Jim Gorant is the Sports Illustrated writer who scored a touchdown with The Lost Dogs, the bestseller about the canine survivors of Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation.
While reporting that book, Gorant interviewed Wallace’s owner, Andrew “Roo” Yori — who had adopted Hector, one of Vick’s former dogs — and interviewer and interviewee hit it off. “I really liked his writing and how he handled that situation and the general topic,” Yori recalls. “We’ve gotten to know each other since, so I called him up and pitched him the idea of writing a book about Wallace. He wasn’t planning on writing another dog book, but Wallace’s story was too good to pass up.”
Gorant’s nose for a great story didn’t let him down, for Wallace’s story isn’t “another dog book,” but the tale of a champion, regardless of species. It’s a story that deserved to be told, and heard. For Yori, Wallace’s tremendous athletic career symbolizes “reaching beyond expectations to find your true potential,” he says. “Wallace didn’t know he was supposed to fail, and as a result achieved a lot. He never worried that he wasn’t quite as fast as the Border Collies on the field, or that he couldn’t jump as high as the cattle dogs. He simply did what he could with what he had, to the best of his ability — every time.”
At the animal shelter where he used to reside, Wallace, formerly known as Ranger T. Chuck, was renamed after Rasheed Wallace of the Detroit Pistons. But a review of the dog’s incredible career, especially his natural gift for overcoming the hurdle of widespread bias against his breed, suggests that he has the heart of an Olympic champ. Which raises the question: If Wallace were an Olympic champion from the past or present, who would he be?
“He didn’t win Olympic gold, but I think Wallace would most closely relate to Oscar Pistorius for the attitude and inspirational aspect,” Yori says. “It seems that Oscar takes on obstacles that face him with everything he has, and that he enjoys the challenges that are part of it. No matter what obstacles happened to be in Wallace’s path, he didn’t care. To whatever he was doing, he simply gave everything he had, and as a result accomplished more than anybody else thought he could. When you push that envelope and reach beyond what people think is possible, it’s inspirational. Even when Wallace didn’t win, he was inspiring, and that, just like with Oscar Pistorius, is what set him apart.”
Yori also says that Wallace would have lots to talk about with the great Jesse Owens. “Owens often fell ill as a youngster, and Wallace has had his share of physical issues,” Yori says. “Owens was African-American at a time of great racial prejudice, and Wallace was born into a time of great breed prejudice. Owens has been described as ‘a determined young man who fought against the odds to beat out all of his competitors and win.’ Replace ‘man’ with ‘dog’ and you describe Wallace as well.”
At 10 years young, the super-driven Wallace finds enjoyment in his daily routine despite being retired from the game he lived to play. “His wrists were both sprained, and they cause him some issues,” Yori reports, “so we’ll play some tug or I’ll toss some toys for him to catch in his mouth without really having to run that much. Recently he’s found delight in pulling sticks out of the fire pit to chew on. He’s got some calcinosis cutis [calcium deposits] on his skin, left over from a few years ago, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. He still struggles with allergies but — knock on wood — is doing well with that at this time. He still trots around the yard, pesters his buddy Angus, a black Lab mix, and enjoys bathing in the sun on his bed, so he’s still able to live a good, happy life.”
Asked what’s the most valuable lesson Wallace has taught him, Yori answers without hesitation: “Be open enough to find out new truths, even if you’re convinced the truth is otherwise. I often feel we think we know more about dogs than we actually do. Not many people believed in Wallace at first. I was one of the people fighting for him, and even I had my doubts. Fortunately, I gave Wallace a chance to prove me and everybody else wrong, and sure enough, he did. Also, he further proved that there are great dogs in shelters and rescues that are looking for a second chance. Most are there not because they are bad dogs, but because of circumstances beyond their control. I encourage everybody that is looking for their next companion animal to adopt from a shelter or rescue.”