Sunday, July 22, 2012

I never thought

It has been 13 years since I first stepped to the the start line on an agility course with my Aussie Ray. And it never occurred to me that I would walk away from the sport. It filled my weekends, especially the ones when Duke was working. It was active, but didn't stress by aging body too much. Ray loved it and running him was so much fun. I met lots of new people and even made some friends. Early on I participated in AKC, NADAC and ASCA agility. AKC didn't last long for us. With only 2 runs a day and weird rules and all the breed people out for titles to use to increase the asking price for their pups, it wasn't to my taste. In those days, NADAC and by default ASCA agility was challenging and fun. And Ray did well. His independent obstacle skills suited him for the wide open courses that NADAC offered. But then one day, Sharon Nelson lost her mind and started changing the rules for NADAC and it just got too screwy. In the name of safety many challenges were eliminated. I couldn't keep up with all the new games and rule changes. So we began to compete in USDAA exclusively.

Measuring 22.5 inches at the withers, Ray had to jump 26 inches. At that time the Performance program was not as strong as it now is. It wasn't easy for him. Straight in the front, with a big head and a long torso the 26 inch jumps were challenging, but we persevered and Ray successfully achieved his AD and AAD,and to save his elbows and back we moved to Performance and earned a PAD. Except for Relay, where we continued, until Ray earned his Relay Master title. USDAA was great fun. The judges were tough but fair. The courses were challenging but doable and the atmosphere was fun. I remember attending the Y Agility trial at the Blackthorn for the 1st time in September of 2002. I didn't know anyone. But it was then that I met Judy Reilly, Nicole Levesque, Terri Ceserak and Monique Plinck. They were sitting a few tents away, ringside and scoring runs like it was ice skating at the Olympics. It was a riot. I introduced myself and sat with them for a while. I made the effort to put myself out at agility trials. Meeting new people. Volunteering to work classes as I became more familiar with the rules and protocols.

And it paid off. I felt that I had made some friends for life. And I could see myself doing agility for ever. There were lots of elderly women competing. As they became less mobile, they would train verbal cues and distance to compensate for not being able to run.

I went to camps every year. First Camp Gone to the Dogs in Vermont. It was more of a vacation with your dog kind of camp, but offered agility and obedience and games. It was there that I first met Stacy Peardot and Sue Sternberg. And then came the Clean Run Camps. They were hard core. I learned a lot at Clean Run camps, but I didn't enjoy them. One year I went to a camp in Ohio taught by Stacy and Bud Houston. I learned so much from Stacy at that camp, but Bud was a jerk. I took Flirt to Puppy Camp with Susan Garrett in Ontario and one year I went to camp with Linda Mecklenberg. And then the Kinetic Dog camps started and I attended every year since they began. I loved going to camp. It takes you completely out of your everyday and let's you focus exclusively on your dog and agility.

In 2003 I was honored to acquire Flirt (Ad Astra Aleshanee) from Mark Hodges and Anne Owenin Lawrence KS. Oddly enough the owner of Ray's sire also got a pup from this litter. Something I didn't know until the week I went out to KS to pick Flirt up. Flirt is a once in a lifetime dog. In the hands of someone younger and more dedicated to the sport, she would have been a champion 100 times over. She is so athletic, smart and biddable. But I did my best with her and we did get an ADCh and some metal titles in some classes. But I struggled through the standard courses with her. And even no she only has the 5 master standard legs required for an ADCh. But with Sharon Gilligan and Pepi Leids, we did win a DAM tournament and we finished in the money a few times in Steeplechase and one year we qualified in all 3 tournaments for the Cynosport games. I really had to be on my game with Flirt and quite a few times when I wasn't we had some spectacular crash and burn runs.

I must have run through every instructor in NJ and Eastern PA until I settled in with Mary Ellen Barry of Kinetic Dog. I've been with MEB for 6 or 7 years. Classes and privates. Lots of seminars and camps. Her instruction has been wonderful. She seemed to appreciate Flirt as much as I did and she was always honest but kind with us.

But back to the topic. I thought I would do agility until my dying days. And yet, last weekend I attended my last trial and this past week I attended my last camp. I am through with agility. I am through because I have 3 dogs that can't or won't compete and only one that can and is ready for Performance. And I feel that I am doing a terrible disservice to the other 3; Ray - too old, Bodhi - hates it and Merry - too young. They are repeatedly confined to crates and xpens for long periods of time while I compete or train with Flirt. They don't get the exercise or entertainment that Flirt does. Ray, who at 14+ years old is still healthy and active and isn't ready to spend his remaining days cooped up and doing nothing.

And the sport has changed in the 13 years since I started to compete. Changed so much that I for one think it needs to establish amateur and professional divisions.

And so I say farewell to agility. I hope I don't lose the friends I've made. And I hope to continue to contribute to the game by supporting the WAO team and being a working auditor for Mary Ellen's camps and seminars. And who knows, one day I might come back to it. But for now, as a competitor, dog agility and I have run our course and are through. And I know it's the right thing to do, because I am happy.

I owe Stacy, Mary Ellen, Val, Sheila, and so many others my thanks for their support and insights through the years. I'll be watching for you all on the podium.