“He doesn’t have a foot out of place — he’s amazing,” owner and handler Rose Savkov of Long Valley, New Jersey, said afterward. “And he would go in again.”
In the contest’s second year, the number of competitors grew by more than 45 percent, though the club raised the bar for qualifying by requiring more advanced agility titles.
The dogs spanned 74 breeds and varieties and included 15 mixed-breed hopefuls, which hadn’t had any place at Westminster for at least 130 years until last year’s agility contest. The traditional, or “conformation,” judging had some mixed breeds before 1885.
While the relentlessly energetic Roo! won the mixed breed title last year, owner and handler Stacey Campbell said she arrived with “no expectations.”
“Anything can happen,” said the dog trainer from Menlo Park, California. “They’re dogs. We’re humans.”
The entries were as tiny as Chihuahuas and as big as Rottweilers. While many came from herding or sporting backgrounds — border collies and Shetland sheepdogs made up more than a quarter of the entrants — less obviously athletic breeds such as pugs and French bulldogs also competed.
Wendy Lu and her Pomeranian, Daisy, traveled from San Jose, California, “to show the world that these little dogs are athletes, and they can do anything big dogs can do,” Lu said.
And she did. Daisy made it to the 50-dog final round.
Half the 330 entrants were at least 7, middle-aged or older for most dogs. Some were considerably older, including a 12-year-old Chinese crested named Cindy that survived a 2013 bout with spleen cancer.
Gus, a Maltese with multiple championships, made his retirement run Saturday, his 10th birthday.
“He’ll miss the excitement of it,” said owner-handler Maggie Schoolar of Austin, Texas.
Fans say the sport can help excitable dogs channel their energy and shy ones gain confidence. It builds a bond between the animals and their handlers, who use voice and body signals to guide the animals through a complex route of jumps, tunnels, ramps.
“It’s an interspecies communication,” says Dr. Colleen Copelan, who handled her Labrador retrievers, Maggie and Lacey, through Saturday’s course. Besides training and competing in their favorite sport, the Labs put in 50-plus hours a week as therapy dogs with Copelan’s mostly child and adolescent psychiatry patients in Camarillo, California.
Stanley, a 5-pound, wiry terrier mix that made it to the final, soared over jumps as though he’d been bred to do it. But when Stephanie Thies of Pleasant Ridge, Michigan, adopted him from a shelter organization four years ago, he was so nervous he’d never have been able to compete in front of an audience at Pier 94 in Manhattan.
Their teamwork in agility helped Stanley learn to trust that Thies would always look out for him, and now “he’s very confident, very outgoing,” she said as he licked a visitor’s hand.