People who see the Internet clip of Texas-born Carolyn Scott performing a song from "Grease" with her golden retriever Rookie are riveted...

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People who see the Internet clip of Texas-born Carolyn Scott performing a song from “Grease” with her golden retriever Rookie are riveted to the screen. Thousands have sent her e-mails, many saying they cried with joy.

They know they’re seeing something special between this woman and this dog as Rookie spins and grins at Scott in the relatively new sport of canine freestyle dance, but they can’t quite put their finger on it.

“They look at that capacity for love and they want it,” says Rochelle Lesser, a school psychologist who is making a documentary film on Scott and Rookie. “They can’t comprehend anything that pure.”

Watch Carolyn Scott and Rookie dance

Carolyn Scott and her dog Rookie perform to the Grease theme song. Courtesy of Carolyn Scott and the Musical Dog Sport Association.
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Scott, 58, and Rookie, 12, are making their first appearance together in the Northwest this weekend in Woodinville, where they will demonstrate and teach their technical skills for canine freestyle, which uses choreographed musical routines.

But their lessons in life are even more powerful.

Scott was scarred by polio that weakened her right side and damaged her self-confidence. She was shunned from people’s houses out of fear when she was 4 years old.

Gotta bark,
gotta dance

Seminar: Carolyn Scott and her famous dog, Rookie, will appear in a freestyle seminar Saturday and Sunday sponsored by the Emerald City Freestyle Canine Dancers, Washington Chapter of Paws 2 Dance.

A fun match starts at 6 p.m. tomorrow and seminars start at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Located at Lucky Spud, 19254 176th Ave., Woodinville. Go to and click on directions or e-mail Corinne Lawson at Contact Carolyn Money at

Contest: For more on Boot Scootin’ Boogie 2005, go to The June 12 event starts at 11 a.m. at Paws-Abilities Dog Training Center, 1007 Industry Drive, Building 33, in Tukwila. For information on the show, contact Pat Moore (co-chair) at 360-437-7717 or e-mail or Carolyn Money (co-chair) at or Corinne Lawson at To reach Paws-Abilities, call 425-277-3794 or go to for a map.

“Gotta Dance” Documentary: For information on the documentary being made by Rochelle Lesser and filmmaker Dave Mintzer, go to

Additional Web sites:

Paws 2 Dance:

Carolyn Scott:

Musical Dog Sport Association:

Sherry Stripling

As an adult, she grew too afraid to leave her house without the support of her husband, her high-school sweetheart.

Then she got Rookie, a submissive puppy who was fearful of people and tight places. He collapsed when confronted with anything new.

Their journey is a lesson in reading each other’s strengths and the trust that comes from consistent, positive reinforcement.

“Through the process of working on his fears, I started addressing some of mine,” said Scott, in a warm and moderated Texas accent by phone from her home in Houston.

Seeing the limits fear placed on Rookie’s life allowed Scott to see how she limited her own life.

Today she and Rookie appear all over the country and on television, though Scott still has to talk herself through her nervousness.

She says she owes it all to that “little yellow dog.” Though she worries about what will happen when Rookie grows too old to accompany her, she’s made successful trips on her own for workshops in Japan and Australia. Norway is next.

“My husband is totally in shock, and so are my kids,” Scott said. “I’m getting over the hump.”

“You must do what you find hardest to do.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

The journey for Scott began in 1950 when she contracted polio at age 4, just two years before the terrible disease reached its peak, afflicting 21,000 people in the U.S.

By the time she was released from a hospital for “crippled children” near Gonzales, Texas, her right leg was an inch and a half smaller than her left and the muscles had atrophied.

She hid her limp, just as President Roosevelt hid his paralysis after contracting the disease in 1921. FDR used arm strength and braces to appear in public as if he were standing.

“Most of us polio survivors did overcompensate,” Scott says. “We worked hard and just focused on achieving. I didn’t start talking about it until the last few years.”

Much of her hard work as a child to rebuild her mobility has come back to haunt her. She wore her leg out, she says. She suffers continued deterioration on her ride side. Her left leg is starting to give from carrying the load.

Scott’s first bond outside her family was with a collie. As an adult, she trained dogs for obedience.

But the handler must confine movement in obedience and Scott “wavered in the wind.” She was afraid of falling and embarrassing herself. And when she got Rookie, she could see that obedience was too rigid for his fragile nature.

In 1996, when he was 3, she introduced him to the new sport of canine freestyle dance, a natural for him and for her.

They won — or, as she says, “he” won — the first national competition in the off-leash division, a highlight of her life.

“It was a process of discovery,” Scott says. “I had no idea how much talent he had. I started watching him closely to see what he enjoyed doing.”

She built his confidence by using a “clicker” device that signals to the dog immediately that he’s doing the right thing and reward is on its way.

She taught him spins but he added throwing his feet in the air and other moves that give him such verve. Though she’s trying to keep her balance, she lets him improvise.

“Then I reward him like crazy. He loves doing it.”

Lesser, who’s making the documentary, says she also has a fearful dog but she accepts the dog’s limitations because she can’t or won’t put the hours in that Scott did with Rookie.

“Trust, me, when Carolyn had this fearful dog, this was her life; she was devoted to overcoming this,” Lesser says. “The amount of hours she put into this would just amaze people. They just see the end product.”

As a consequence, there is no other team like them, Lesser believes. No team that moves so much as one.

She’s hoping her documentary, “Gotta Dance,” will show that connection, raise money for canine oncology and deliver the message that people don’t have to stop enjoying life because of difficulties.

“Unfortunately, Carolyn can’t be who she is right now without what she went through,” Lesser says. “She’s just incredible. She has a real presence.”

Instead of telling herself she’s going to fall down and how frightened she is, Scott restructures her thoughts to tell herself she’s going to do a good job. If she falls down, it’s OK.

And if she questions herself, she has only to look at Rookie, whose natural personality was hidden under all that fear.

“All of us walk around masquerading ourselves,” Scott says. “We don’t let ourselves be vulnerable.”

Scott taught Rookie that life is a fun game. She gives him random rewards and lets him play with people when they go out.

“Of course, now he thinks that’s what they’re there for,” Scott said. “Both of our personalities have taken a change. He’s confident and enjoying life — just like I am.”

Sherry Stripling is a former Seattle Times writer who now freelances: