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Bark in the Park weekend at Clay's Park showcases skills

By jim Published: June 1, 2009

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

LAWRENCE TWP.: The German shorthaired pointer balked at the edge of the dock. Staccato, or ''Sticky,'' for short, was a novice Friday at the DockDog Big Air Wave competition at the Bark in the Park weekend at Clay's Park in North Lawrence Township.

He was really at the competition just to get his sea legs.

''It's his first competition. I'm just hoping he'll get wet,'' said Sarah Simone, 15, Sticky's owner and handler.

Simone, who is from Canada, is a member of Buckeye DockDogs, a group based in Medina. She is a seasoned veteran of the sport that challenges dogs to take a leap of faith into a 28,000-gallon pool of cold water just to retrieve a special toy.

The sport really has only two requirements for dogs. They must both love water and their toys.

Simone's last dog was a champion. In a sport that considers a 20-foot jump to be competitive distance for dogs the size of small refrigerators, top ranked Forrest Gumpy, a small Jack Russell
terrier, could launch off a dock and clear more than 23 feet.

He proved it on a visit to The Late Show With David Letterman last year, about six months before the rescue dog died of lymphoma.

''You could hear people yell 'jump Forrest, jump,' when he was on the dock,'' she said.

After the dog's cancer diagnosis, Simone embarked on a mission to help eradicate canine cancer and has raised $2,500 to date for the Chase Away K-9 Cancer fund.

Next Wednesday, following the three-day competition in Ohio, she will fly to Montreal to speak at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and Canadian Veterinary Medical Association convention about the work she has undertaken since she lost her pet.

During the first wave in the Big Air competition on Friday, Fever, a Belgium Malinois had no trouble launching off the dock in a respectable 21-feet, 2-inch jump.

''At nine weeks, she got in a creek and just swam like a beaver,'' said owner Cindy Noland of Beaver Falls, Pa.

''That's a nice pop and drop off the DockDogs runway,'' boomed Grant Reeves, chief executive officer of the Medina-based DockDogs, as he announced the early rounds.

Reeves said the company puts on more than 150 similar events throughout the world each year.

DockDogs got its start in the Great Outdoor Games on ESPN in 1999. It has grown into a popular, worldwide event with competitions in Canada, Japan, the United Kingdom and this year in Australia.

''It has a huge economic impact whenever we go into an area,'' said Reeves.

Finalists on Sunday will split a prize purse totaling $2,000. All the contestants will share in $1,000 worth of giveaways from Royal Canine Pet Food, a sponsor for the competition, he said.

Taylor Rohrbaugh, 16, who holds the title of DockDog Youth Handler of the Year, was competing with her year-old Jack Russell terrier, Spot, who jumped 5 feet 7 inches, despite his diminutive, 10-inch high body.

The Rohrbaughs breed Labrador retrievers at their Spring Grove, Pa. home, said Taylor's mother, Linda Rohrbaugh.

''We just keep Spot around for comic relief,'' she joked after fishing him out of the water for the second time Friday.

Jake, the only Norfolk terrier DockDog competitor in the country, was anxious to get back into the water each time owner Janet Latterner loosened his lead. The crowd pleaser is a multi-tasker, Latterner said. ''He's also a certified therapy dog. When he's not jumping, he's helping people feel better.''

Next week, Jake will compete in Dayton in an Earth Dog competition, where small working dogs go into underground tunnels to catch vermin, she said.

Matt Kuzniakowski, 11, and his sister Kayla, 13, students at James A. Garfield in Garrettsville, watched as their mother, Kathy Kuzniakowski competed with Tess, a 2-year-old black Labrador retriever. It was Tess' second lifetime jump. The first was earlier in the day.

''They say people do fall in. That would be embarrassing, especially if your dog doesn't jump in, too,'' she joked.

The DockDog Competition, will continue from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. today and Sunday. Admission for spectators is $5 per person; children two and under are free. Entry to the competition at Clay's Park is off state Route 93 at the Patterson Road gate.

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