Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Dog agility is a new event at the Rocky Mountain State Games

by Brooke Pryor sports@gazette.com - Published: July 13, 2013

Armed with a lunchbox of treats like string cheese and sardines, and a cloth Frisbee, Kathy Matejka prepares her 5-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi, Zinger, for the American Kennel Club Agility Trials at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Friday morning.

Zinger, who is coming off a two-month hiatus from competitions due to a pulled muscle on the outside of her hip, appears anxious to be taken out of her crate and begin warming up for her run through the standard course.

After a quick jog, a few throws of the Frisbee and a bathroom break, Zinger and Matejka are at the start line waiting for the signal to begin the run through the course.

Though Zinger has been sidelined for two months, and after using balance balls and swimming to rehab her hip, the corgi has a flawless run, placing first in the preferred 4-inch standard group.

In 2012, Zinger placed third in the same division in the national championship in Reno, Nev. Zinger is also a multi- master agility champion, an honor that takes 20 perfect scores and 750 points to achieve. The points represent the number of seconds under the cutoff time the dog performed the course in. The master agility champion is not an easy title to achieve, and Zinger captured her last one six months ago.

Matejka is overjoyed with Zinger's performance, not only because her dog had a clean run, but because she's sure that Zinger will be able to compete in the Rocky Mountain State Games. But most importantly, Zinger had fun.

"Everybody is all about the dogs," she said. "Yeah, we want the championships. We like the ribbons ... but it's just all about the dogs."

Zinger will be one of many dogs competing in the three-day long dog agility competition, a new addition to this year's games.

Dog Agility is the first non-human event in the RMSG, and it will be held at America the Beautiful Park on a grass course. All breeds are welcome.

The Colorado Springs Sports Corp. first contacted the Pikes Peak Agility Club about the possibility of having a dog agility competition in November. The group agreed to help put it on, but the journey since that agreement has been a rollercoaster.

"They called us up and said we've been thinking about adding new events, and we'd like to know about the possibility of having this," Matejka said. "It usually takes us a year and a half to put on a trial. We really had to work hard."

Judges, who are responsible for designing unique courses for the competitions, are booked years in advance. But the club managed to find judges, even on short notice.

The group also spent money on stands for the timers for the courses, banners and a few new obstacles for the course. Veterinarian Liz Harriger volunteered to store the trailer full of equipment at her home in Black Forest. But a month ago, the Black Forest fire consumed all of the equipment, and the club had to start gathering the materials again.

With less than a week to go until the opening ceremonies of the event, the group has been able to replace the lost materials with the help of the community.

The dogs and their trainers can compete in one day, two days or all three days - it's up to each team how much they want to participate.

Zinger, who only competed in two days of the AKC in Castle Rock this weekend, will participate in all three days of the Rocky Mountain State Games.

Many are excited about the outdoor grass course instead of indoor dirt courses, but some owners, like Dawn Pribyl, are passing on the competition for that reason.

Pribyl competes with her five rescue dogs, and said that it wouldn't be a good environment for them because of the heat and the overstimulation that comes from an outdoor environment.

"I would rather someone do the right thing for the dog and not come to the trial than put that kind of stress and pressure on the dog," Matejka said.

That trait, making the decisions to enter competitions based on the dogs' needs, is one that characterizes the dog agility community.

Matejka explained that the bond between the dog and its trainer is a strong one, and one that can be seen during the agility competitions.

The agility competitions often help correct behavioral problems in dogs by giving them structure and helping them build trust in their owners.

Kirsta Scherff-Norris, a wildlife biologist, said that the agility competitions did just that for her smooth collie Trapper. Her 12-year-old dog recently finished chemotherapy to fight off lymphoma and the disease is now in remission.

"Agility saved his life," she said. "He had fear and aggression issues and this helped his behavior and trust."

Scherff-Norris, who will compete with Trapper in the RMSG, has two younger Australian shepherds, but has only begun to bring one to competitions because she wants to spend time with Trapper as he gets near the end of his life.

Matejka also has dogs other than Zinger - a male corgi that doesn't do agility competitions and a young, 4-month-old Corgi, Bramble, who is just beginning to train for agility trials.

"Agility dogs are like potato chips," Matejka said. "You can't have just one."

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