High-energy hounds fly over hurdles
Some of them are a force of nature, great hurtling things that bend the air around them as they move, awesome to behold.
Some of them are rockets, jet-propelled streaks of motion with ears flat against their heads, mere blurs of brown and black and white fur.
And some are prancing Vienna sausages on miniscule legs. They’re pretty great, too.
All of them have one goal: the ball. Get the ball. Get the ball! Gettheballgettheballgettheball!
They race for it, these canine athletes, jumping four hurdles on a grassy course, snatching the tennis ball and barrelling back over the hurdles. And at the end are the greatest delights of their furry little hearts: treats and toys and endless, belly-rubbing, tail-wagging praise.
“Good job! Good girl! Who’s a good girl?”
This weekend, the good girls and boys are the competitors in a flyball tournament happening at Lions Park at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. Eighteen teams of dogs (and their people) from Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming are competing to see who’s the fastest and, really, to have a delightful, sometimes spazzy time running very, very fast.
But first, a word about this flyball: It’s a sport in which two teams of four dogs run, relay-style, side-by-side, down 51-foot courses. They jump over four hurdles, touch an angled board to release a tennis ball, grab the ball in their mouth and race back over the starting line.
The goal, of course, is speed, but accuracy counts, too. If a dog gets distracted and wanders into the other lane, that’s a disqualification.
If they cross over the starting line before the light — reminiscent of a drag-race light — is green, it’s a disqualification. There are rules and regulations (check out http://www.flyball.org), and then there are the dogs. The barking, panting, jumping dogs.
Saturday morning, Lions Park was a canine cacophony as dogs greeted each other and waited their turn to race and strongly encouraged people to give them treats.
“This is so much fun,” said Grand Junction’s Carol Ward, a new member of the Westside Woofers, Grand Junction’s flyball group. She came to this tournament last year as a spectator with a high-energy dog, knowing she could either take her dog, Bree, a cattle dog mix, back to PetSmart or find an outlet for her energy. So, they tried flyball.
“Now, I can say to her, ‘Let’s go to flyball!’ and she knows,” Ward said. “She’s having a blast.”
Some dogs, said Cathy Stampe, a Westwide Woofer who helped organize this weekend’s tournament, take to flyball naturally; say, border collies and other dogs who are just fast and love to run.
Some dogs can be trained, which brings up the point that “a lot of these dogs here are rescue dogs,” Stampe said. Her daughter, Amy, a junior at Colorado State University, has a border collie-Jack Russel terrier mix named Bonzai! who had been in five homes before she rescued him.
“He’s a really good dog,” Amy Stampe said. “He’s just very energetic. I have to run him every day, or twice a day. He will not chill. So, flyball is really good for him.”
Any dog can participate in flyball. It’s not specific to any breed or body type.
Laura Dolph of Denver has a 6-year-old miniature schnauzer named Daisy Mae who races, and Lynn Gillespie of Houston has an English cocker spaniel named India whose fur brushes the ground as she runs.
Each team has a “height dog,” the dog used to determine the height of the hurdles, which is between seven and 14 inches. Which means that each team of four usually has a small dog (for lower hurdles; strategy, see) that seems to gambol over the hurdles instead of shooting over them like the bigger dogs.
Saturday morning, regardless of size, each dog seemed to be doing its best.
Sure, some got distracted, some dropped their balls, some freaked the heck out when they saw the treats waiting for them at the end.
But motivated by whistles and clapping and auctioneer-like calls of “Come on, Rosie! Come on, Rosie!” or “Go, Tomba! Go, Tomba!” the dogs raced. They sped. They flew.
And then they looked around for their toys and treats, tongues lolling and ready for more.