The Kenai Little League Fields went to the dogs over Labor Day weekend.
Nearly 100 energetic dogs and their enthusiastic owners from all over the state put their canine’s athleticism and obedience to the test at the Kenai Kennel Club Agility Trials, a three-day event that concluded Monday in Kenai. Following the cues of their handler, dogs ran through a timed obstacle course full of jumps, tunnels and weave poles. From speedy Australian shepherds and border collies to dachshunds and poodles a variety of working class and toy class were represented.
After each dog and owner ran through the course, which ended with one final hurdle, the crowd offered applause and the owner praised the dog.
Kenai resident Barb Eagle, who has participated for seven years, said the competition is more about bonding with her dogs and having fun. Eagle owns six Pembroke Welsh corgis, small herding dogs with a long bodies and short legs. Two of her dogs, Flush and Vash, participated in the agility trials.
“Corgis are a herding breed and they tend to not run away but stick close to my side,” Eagle said. “Flush isn’t the best jumper so we go through it gracefully and get out. It is all about having fun.”
Soldotna resident Linda Jacobsen didn’t let her trouble walking stop her from competing with her dog Trace. Jacobsen stopped seven years ago when knee problems and the onset of Parkinson’s disease made it too painful to compete. After talking with friends who encouraged her to use a mobility scooter, she was back guiding her dog through the course.
“It is rewarding to still have the opportunity to do this despite not having the mobility I used to,” she said. “Being out here perks me up. The relationship you develop with your dog is really special.”
Trace is a three-year-old Chinese crested dog, a small hairless breed. While he may not be a common Alaskan dog, she said he is a ham, is really playful and lively and likes to put on a show for the audience.
Jacobsen participated in the novice course, which included objects like a teeter-totter, A-frame structure, tunnels and a hoop to jump through. All the handlers were given eight minutes to familiarize themselves with the 18-object course without their dog. The courses are set up differently each day to add an element of surprise for the dog and owner.
Trace got off to a great start on the course. He climbed the tall A-frame structure and jumped through the first set of obstacles in order, but then became distracted and lost some points for missing a couple objects. Jacobsen got him back on track and finished the course.
Kenai resident Kathy East said handlers don’t get to see the course before the run through, which can make it hard to remember the pattern. It can be challenging to instruct a dog as they maneuver the course, but that is also part of the fun, she said.
East has two dogs, one a golden retriever, the other a black lab. Her nine-year-old black lab, Ben, completed his retirement run Monday. Ben is a certified therapy dog and will continue to work with patients at Central Peninsula Hospital, she said. Her other dog is a rookie who has some things to learn, she said.
“I’m happy for Ben, but also sad this is his last run,” she said. “They both have different personalities. One command works for one but not the other. Its just fun to share this activity with them.”
Jacobsen said she enjoys the camaraderie between all the dog owners who camped out for the weekend and travel together to various shows and competitions.
“Dog people are really neat and supportive,” she said. “Everyone roots for each other and every breed of dog is welcome.”
Reach Dan Balmer at firstname.lastname@example.org