Frisbee Dogs Just Want to Have Fun

Canines get the jump on the national championships to be held in September

Two solitary figures stood motionless yet alert in the center of a grassy lawn as a white plastic disc sailed across the field.

Suddenly, ears perked, an anxious canine rocketed through the air and chomped on the projectile all to the music of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun."

Girls may want to have fun, but most of the fun was going to the dogs at the Northeast Regional Final of the ALPO Canine Frisbee Disc Championships at Boston's Fens Park last Saturday.

The day was gray, but the action was vivid as man and mutt converged for a game of Frisbee-in-the-park. For the serious competitors, the prize was a ticket to the World Championships in Washington, D. C., in September.

Eyes focused and tongues lolling (canine and human), spectators watched slack-jawed as dog and master performed daredevil stunts in a graceful pas de deux.

"There's no limit to what dogs will do if they're having a good time," said Eldon McIntire, a 20-year veteran and pioneer of the sport.

No disagreement from Spirit, Taylor, and Belle as they ran through their owners' legs, jumped over their backs, and catapulted through space in pursuit of the illusive Frisbee. Tails wagging, they dutifully returned their prize, eagerly awaiting the next event.

As the competition went on, passersby stopped to gawk, laugh, and applaud. "It's cool," said Muhammed Abdrahim from atop his mountain bike. "This is the first time I've seen anything like this, and it's amazing to see what the dogs can do."

"It's a lot of fun - especially when the crowd reacts," said first-time performer Todd Lane of Haymarket, Va. Lane and his four-legged partner, Cricket, had only been practicing for a year.

Thirty-two teams were competing at various levels. The competition consists of three rounds: two choreographed 90-second free-flight exhibitions, and a minidistance test. All were judged on leaping and agility, showmanship, difficulty, and execution.

The choreographed events were the real show-stoppers. As the throbbing theme from "Jaws" brought goose bumps to spectators, a playful black canine with a fin attached to his back charged onto the field.

There was tension, but the competitors didn't bark at each other like football players. Johnny McGuire of Saugerties, N.Y. said: "Everybody encourages each other. That's what attracted me. The people are fantastic."

Mr. McGuire and his buddy, Spirit, finished runner-up in the regionals and are now headed for D.C. They will join the top two finishers from each of the six regions throughout the US.

But not everyone at the event was riveted to the action. James, a young cocker spaniel from down the street, was more interested in scrounging for food. "He could care less about Frisbee," said owner Karen Boxer.

The competitors, however, were focused and unaware of the distractions of their stray friends.

"Dogs need a workout - it's a way to focus their energy positively instead of negatively," said Mr. McIntire.

"It [competing] gives me an opportunity to travel to all sorts of places to perform. It's just a ball," said Laurie Cunningham from Milton, Pa.

Some of the performing dogs were mixed breeds saved from a dubious life at the pound. "There are a lot of dogs in prison right now that would love to go home with you," McIntire said.

Perhaps after a day of jumping, drooling, and cheering some spectators would be encouraged to save one from an uncertain future at the animal shelter. That's what the day was really all about.

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