LN Life: JUMP! A dog-gone good time had by all!At Dockdog games, just as in life, everybody roots for the underdog – and in this arena, they have just as good a chance as anyone to come home a winner.
By: Lucie Amundsen, Living North Magazine
Many Minnesotans know the special joy of whipping a toy from the dock for a grateful water-loving dog, but did you know it’s a bonafide sport? Reaching speeds of over 30 miles-per-hour and fantastic heights of 28-feet, canines competing in Dockdogs jumping events are televised on ESPN and ABC’s Wide World of Sports.
The sport is celebrating its 10th anniversary and has gone national and even international. The organization’s local chapter, DockDogs Northern Stars, has made a splash of its own this year at the South Saint Louis County fair held in Proctor. “The Fair board came back to us and said the event had some of the best attendance they’ve ever had. And it was our first year there,” says Andrea Whiting, a board member of the Northern Stars club.
She attributes the event’s popularity to the brash excitement of watching these canine athletes leap from a 40-foot dock, but it’s not just the thrill of the splash. “It’s a great family event. People can come right up, pet the dogs and ask the handlers questions. It’s a really friendly group of people involved in the sport and it just couldn’t be more welcoming.”
Jump on in; the water’s warm
It was this convivial feel that attracted Whiting to throw her family into the sport. The competition is open to participants as young as 10 and Andrea thought it might be just what her boyfriend’s son, Brendan Pucel needed. “You see Brendan isn’t like most other kids,” wrote Whiting via email. “He is limited as to what sports he can play because of a vision impairment…He always wanted to find a sport that he could excel at and have fun participating in.”
Last summer Pucel, then 15, took his yellow lab Caly to their first event in Ely. The pair had a slow start as Caly hesitated making the leap from lake jumping into a pool. “It’s a common reaction for dogs used to the lake,” explained Whiting. “They can’t really see that there’s water in a clear pool.” But with Caly’s strong bond and trust in Brendan, they got into finals. There her 18-foot, 8 inch jump earned the first place award in the junior class division. “Brendan was ecstatic to say the least,” wrote Whiting. “The crowd and Dockdogs people made him feel like a super star!”
The family has expanded their team to include a chocolate lab named Trigger and they all travel around the state and country competing in events. “We’re off to Ohio for nationals in October,” says Whiting. The national scoring system is partly based on points gathered at events all year long. This season the family had two unexpected funerals and then Pucel had an opportunity for an eye surgery, which improved his vision. “It was all very important stuff,” says Whiting, “but it took Brendan out of competition for a while and that was disappointing for him.” Despite these setbacks, Pucel has been nominated for the “Most Inspirational Handler” award on the national level.
Perry Ludwig, who also toured the national circuit and describes himself as a “semi-retired” handler, agrees that one of the sport’s best aspects is its accessibility. “Everybody can do it whether they’re 75 or 10-years-old. If you’ve got a dock and dog; it’s a blast.”
While Ludwig competes less these days, there’s still an eager handler in his house. Ludwig’s son, 11-year-old Danny, had the family’s yellow lab Lily jumping at the South St. Louis County fair. “Danny has aspersers [syndrome], but this is something he can do even though he has some limitations. He has a great bond with the dog.”
It’s that relationship between the dog and the handler that really makes a team, explained Ludwig. “Lily is really easy and gentle with Danny, like she understands his differences. Dogs are good judge of character.”
And this all-comers welcome attitude doesn’t stop with the people; any dog is invited to take a big leap off a short dock. The competition has a lap dog class, a veteran dogs class and there are no restrictions based on pedigree. Many dogs competing at the highest levels of the sport are part one breed, part mysterious stranger. Whiting says, “The announcers will usually give rescue dogs an extra little mention before they jump. It’s a real crowd pleaser.” At Dockdog games, just as in life, everybody roots for the underdog – and in this arena, they have just as good a chance as anyone to come home a winner.