Sunday, February 15, 2015

Marge Goes to Westminster

Wow, wow, wow.

A day like this takes me back to my first couple of days of agility trialing, where I was completely neurotic, overprepared and had no idea what to expect. Waking up earlier than I need to so that I can arrive to a trial 2 hours earlier than necessary, packing way more than I need to so I don't stress about running out of treats, wondering how my dog is going to do in the ring.

Wait, let me expand upon that. Wondering how my dog, my Novice A to MX/MXJ dog is going to do in the ring surrounded by literally hundreds of people at what may be the biggest trial of her life.

The Days Before

Hype was building around this event.  Though trials like the AKC Nationals and AKC Invitationals actually require more than just a pair of Masters' titles to get in to, the Westminster Masters Agility Championship gets tons of press coverage from location and name recognition alone. News articles were coming out all over the country, agility demos were being given on live TV, and this girl was wondering how a dog that used to be afraid to walk around the block was going to deal with the crowds, noise, and excitement of such a highly publicized trial.

We got a little publicity of our own; our local newspaper featured us in an absolutely awesome story on Friday about our participation, complete with pictures and video.  I absolutely loved how they emphasized Marge's beginnings and my attitude about her performance at the show. After getting her growls out early (I mean, she HAS to keep me a little bit humble and growl at the reporter, obviously!), Marge was a total ham during her photo shoot.  We didn't have any agility equipment to use, so I set up a pair of cones and had her "jump" through them.

I got to deliver the newspaper to my customers on Friday with my dog's face printed across the front page.  AWESOME.  Definitely the highlight of my paper girl career.

The Morning Of

My clock was set for 4:30 AM.  I awoke at 4:09 and decided that trying to fall asleep again was useless.  I tried my hardest to not bring things I didn't really need as I envisioned the massive pile of bags splayed across my living room floor 5 years ago at my first show.  Treats, water, and crate/bedding in tow, we were off to Manhattan.

Unloading was fairly simple; part of the reason I wanted to arrive early was to keep things as low stress as possible.  We went in, checked in, got my complimentary Pro Plan T-Shirt and goodie bag and set off for the restricted crating area.

There was plenty of crating space behind the scenes, in a less accessible area of the trial site.  There was SO much room that we were in our own row of benches at one point.  I didn't want Marge to be completely alone, so I moved her to a row nearby where some other local exhibitors had set up.  Absolutely no one bothered us there all day.

She settled right in on her brand new crate pad.

We then tackled the next problem.. pottying!  The show had a policy that all dogs needed to show a release form each time they entered and exited the building.  To discourage people from leaving, they set up exercise pens with pine shavings for dogs to potty in.

I wasn't so sure about taking Marge out in to the Manhattan streets to begin with, so I give their setup a try. I may be the only person in the history of Westminster to take a picture of my dog with a puddle of pee, but here it is.

Oh, you want me to pee here?  No problem.

Off to a good start.

First Run - Jumpers with Weaves

Our first run of the day was Jumpers with Weaves.

When I saw the course on paper, I was a little nervous.  Once I walked it, I thought it was super flowy.

It started out with a jump to a curved tunnel.  Actually, in my case, it started out with a jump to a tunnel-peek-a-boo-tunnel.

Whaaaaat?!  I can't for the life of me fully figure out why she came out of the tunnel.  That's not really a typical Marge move, unless the tunnel is wet.  My only possible explanation is that she caught a glimpse of me moving away from her to get in to position for number three.  A bummer, but the rest of the run was absolutely slammin'.  She did turn the wrong way over one jump, but we recovered, so who cares?  This run felt really good, especially the end after the straight tunnel.

After my run, I went to hang out a bunch of my students who had come to watch the competition and support the club members that were showing.  

Marge was obviously very uncomfortable ringside.

The other mixed breed dog in the class had also NQ'd, leaving the 20" mixed breed spot for finals still either of ours for the taking.  I watched him run and he was a really cute dog.  Not a speed demon, but looked like the slow and steady type.

Second Run - Standard

The pressure was on for this run.  In order to make Finals, you must qualify in either of the first two classes.  I was worried more about the teeter than anything.  Though I had drilled Marge on her teeter several times over the preceding weeks, I know it is always the first thing to go at a trial.

The trial site was also filling up with exhibitors.  The dog walk was very close to the ring gates, and dogs were falling off because they were looking at the crowds next to them.  Kind of scary.

This is what we had to contend with ringside.

Even with the volume of people and volume of sound, I honestly thought that if my dog managed to perform the teeter and the table correctly, that we would qualify and make it to finals.

It was not to be, and that is okay.

When my front cross after the teeter was botched, I should have re-thought my plan for the A-Frame.  When under stress at a trial, my front crosses become sloppy and Marge tends to read my handling less forgivingly.  Rear crosses are generally my go-to.  But, I thought because there were no very close off-course opportunities near the A-Frame, that we'd be okay with a front cross.  

But we got tangled up together and although Marge got on the frame, she bailed on the ascending side. 
It took a little while for us to recover, but we did, and ended the run with a nice set of weave poles and drive to the finish.

Honestly, the first half of this run was probably one of the best agility moments of Marge's career.  My friends told me that people in the stands were commenting on how fast Marge was moving down the line to the tunnel.  My dog is not a speed demon, and compared to a Border Collie, it may not look like she was moving fast at all.  But it just felt so intense.  Like she was running harder than she had ever run before.  And with all of those people around!

The other mixed breed, too, incurred some faults in this class; he stopped halfway through his weaves to scope out the crowd.  So, neither of us advanced to finals.

After Our Runs

We hung out for a little while after our runs.  Though I knew I didn't make finals, I wanted to wait until my class ended and I saw the results just so I could be absolutely, positively, 100% sure.  The 20" Finals class wound up consisting of three Border Collies, a Golden, an Aussie, a Portuguese Water Dog, an AmStaff, a Boxer, a Springer, and a Brittany.  Not a bad variety!

I wandered around with Marge a little more. Some people asked to pet her, which she allowed willingly.  It then started to get really loud and congested, so we headed back towards the crating area, took a couple of pictures, and started to head out.

We took a quick picture with Amy and Layla, our friends from the 24" class, who went to finals and wound up 4th overall in their height class!  Like us, they started out in Novice A about 5 years ago.. so this success is really special for them, I'm sure.

One Sour Note

After we packed up to leave, we decided to just carry our things to our car rather than pull the car up.  We were directed by security personnel in to the wrong elevator and wound up on the floor at AKC's Meet the Breeds next door in Pier 92.  Meet the Breeds was benched, and dogs weren't allowed to leave until 5 PM.  

When they saw Marge on the floor, they told me I was not allowed to leave, mistaking her for a dog participating in that event.  Though I tried to explain we were from the agility show and were directed incorrectly, the security personnel kept repeating that they could not permit me to leave.  So, if I wasn't supposed to leave and wasn't a part of Meet the Breeds, where was I supposed to go? I got pretty heated pretty quick and demanded a manager.  They eventually let us go - the manager was more informed about the agility show than her employees - but we had to ride in a crowded elevator full of spectators.  Marge was not thrilled with it, but she was OK.  Remind me to not make that mistake next year!

Closing Thoughts

Westminster -- the whole lead up, the actual show -- was an event of proportions I would have never been able to fathom when I first got Marge.  

The reality is that Marge is more than likely not going to go to AKC Nationals or AKC Agility Invitationals during her career.  For someone like me, who has a Masters' level dog that doesn't have those events in reach, Westminster is a really awesome alternative.  

Though I am a little disappointed that we didn't make finals -- it was so clearly within reach -- I am still absolutely thrilled with how the day went.  It's kind of hard to explain, but there were so many little moments that just all added up to make it a great experience.  

Things like the little boys on my paper route who used to be afraid of Marge commenting about her  making the front page.  Things like my Rally students coming to the show and wearing sweatshirts that said "Go Tang! Go Marge!" to honor my and my instructor's dogs.  Things like random people asking me in the line for the bathroom how my dog did today or random people coming up and asking to pet her.  Cheering on my fellow competitors while Marge dozed off ringside. Or how about Marge banging a teeter in front of several hundred people?  I mean, if that was the only agility obstacle she did, it still would have been a massively successful day.

How did this all happen?  Where did it come from?  Somewhere along the way, this is who Marge became.  This is who we became together.  And that -- and the impact that have hopefully been able to have on the people around us -- is the real story.

And that basically concludes Westminster 2015 for Marge and me.  If we are physically, mentally, and financially able, I'd really love another stab at it next year.  For now, I will be proud of what we have accomplished together.  Because we have accomplished an awful lot.


Cyndi and Stumpy February 15, 2015 at 9:36 AM  

Congratulations to you and Marge. More important than any ribbon is the fact that you are both ambassadors for rescue, adoption, the fearful dog and that the sky is the limit. That's a lot of blue! (I know you know that)

Diana February 15, 2015 at 12:59 PM  

Congrats for even having the courage to go. Those things can be so nerve racking. great job!

Laura and The Corgi, Toller, & Duck February 15, 2015 at 3:05 PM  

Congrats on a great day!!! What an experience!

Anna the GSD February 17, 2015 at 2:48 PM  

We is so proud of you Marge and Mom! The fact you got there, with all those peoples and dogs and even competed is amazing!! Job well done!!!

How Sam Sees It February 18, 2015 at 12:22 PM  

Congratulations on making it all the way to Westminster! That in itself is something to be super proud of!

Monty and Harlow

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