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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This could be YOU!!!

Photo: Marion Kooyman (left) with her dog Spotter, and the agility trial judge.

Photo: Pat Kinney (right) with dog Jaxx and the agility trial judge.

Photo: Crystal West (left) with dog Teddy and the agility trial judge.

Most of us have this misconception that sports champions are elite people with years of vast experience and training in their disciplines. They're not like us.

Yet, at this moment I'm glancing over at three photos of very ordinary folks JUST LIKE YOU AND ME, with ordinary dogs JUST LIKE OURS. All three are family pets. None of them was chosen for anything more than their ability to love their owners and offer companionship.

Knowing these folks and their dogs the way they "used to be," you would never EVER suspect that any of them would be part of a small, elite corps of champions in the sport of DOG AGILITY. But they are! They're living proof and inspiration that even the most unsuspecting person and dog can start at the ground floor of a sport, learn it together, and achieve the highest of status.

First, there was Pat Kinney, a UPS driver in Yakima. Pat and his wife Kathy bought a Sheltie pup a few years back. Kathy wanted a companion dog. They brought "Jaxx" through my Leadership Class in Yakima where I suggested they go on to agility classes. Neither even knew what agility was, but Pat started taking Jaxx through the classes anyway. They excelled. It was around the tenth week of his agility classes that Pat showed up early to practice one day. In his shorts, t-shirt and visor cap, he just LOOKED like an agility competitor. I knew he was going to make it. Within about four years, Jaxx had earned his MACH (Master Agility Championship) in AKC trials. Along the way, Pat and Kathy got a second Sheltie and bought a motorhome for traveling to weekend agility trials, which became (and remains) their passion.

Next came Crystal West, a quiet and unassuming school secretary who, with her husband Cal, dearly loved their little Shih Tzus and decided to try something adventurous beyond basic obedience. They both took agility classes and steadily improved, showing the world that cute little dogs were good for more than just laps. After taking classes for several months, Crystal developed a grace in her handling. She was not naturally athletic, yet she glided across the course as if she'd been handling agility dogs for years. She discovered a natural gift. A few months ago Crystal attained a MACH on Teddy, one of her fastest dogs. This was shortly after they participated in the nationally televised AKC Invitationals in Long Beach last December!

Our latest unanticipated success is Marion Kooyman, who started my Leadership Class with a painfully shy and withdrawn heeler mix, Spotter, several years ago. Marion believed so strongly in her dog that they were an unstoppable team. They shared an inseparable bond and a sheer joy when they ran an agility course together. Marion wasn't a natural athlete either, but she moved like a dancer across the course, and always with a smile on her face that showed Spotter how pleased she was with her. A few weeks ago, Marion and Spotter earned the MEDALIST title, one of the highest attainable in NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council) competition.

These are the three agility superstars I had the pleasure of starting in Yakima. The only other "MACH" in that neighborhood belongs to Jan Farley's Dachshund--another unlikely agility breed. "Lewis," like Spotter, Teddy, and Jaxx, started out as a family pet. Agility came as an afterthought.

Here's the moral of this story: think of the least likely person or dog in the world to become "big" in agility, and you probably have one of the best candidates for success. Could that be you???

Look up your local agility club and get started in a class. You'll be surprised how it may change your life!

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