We all root for the older athletes. Those veterans of athletic combat whom, through many wars, trials and tribulations persevere against the newer and younger competitors.
Chase is such an athlete.
An 11-and-a-half-year-old blue heeler, Chase and handler Sherrie Jans, just achieved the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Master Agility Championship, or MACH, at the 2012 Pals & Paws AKC Trial at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center on February 2-5.
“It is one in a million really,” Sherrie Jans said. “It was a long and eventful journey. Chase started in agility nine years ago in Juneau.”
The honor is the equivalent of the football’s Heisman Trophy, or the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship Trophy.
It is akin to being a first-time golfer, buying some clubs at the local Salvation Army and winning the Masters.
Chase is the first dog from Juneau, and one of a handful, or pawful, in Alaska, ever to achieve this honor. A Sheltie in Ketchikan has a MACH as well.
The sport of dog Agility is very competitive and one of the fastest growing in the United States. Agility pits a handler and a dog against a challenging obstacle course, other competitors and the clock.
Two runs are performed and the judge designs the course without competitors knowing before hand. The course is changed after each run. Dogs must run at least a minute under the course time to get just a single point.
A run in the agility trials must be perfect to score points and accomplished in a minimum time. A MACH is awarded for reaching the goal of 750 points, including 20
Double Q’s, or two qualifying runs in a single day. According to Jans that is the equivalent of hitting two home runs in two at-bats. Sherrie and Chase won their MACH with nearly 40 points to spare.
“One event will have all the obstacles and the other will have the jumps and leaps,” Jans said. “It is the same, but different every time. You have to be pretty fast and you have to be completely accurate.”
Most dogs in the elite categories rarely run past the age of five. Chase competes against the world’s best three five year old dogs.
When she started at age two, Chase needed to channel her energy, and agility trials were the answer. Her first AKC show was in 2004. Chase could only attend one major show out of state per year during the first five years of competing. Most dog handlers in Juneau can only attend one as the town’s isolation makes travel a chore.
“That is why it took so long for this,” Jans said. “But she showed talent at it and I felt it was worth it to keep going. She has made it to age 11-and-a- half, when most dogs are not running anymore at all, she is getting a championship.”
The Jans’ (Sherrie and Nick) and Chase have been spending winters in Floridathe past six years and dog agility competitions are more abundant. Chase now gets five or six yearly events. Most championship dogs are able to compete every other week- end.
Chase’s genes as a working cattle dog is the reason Jans got into the sport. Blue heelers are an Australian breed that is two-thirds feral dingo “I had this puppy who was very work oriented and needed something to think about, not just exercise,” Jans said. “So we started agility and it was kind of a chess game for her to play. She is good at it because cattle dogs are prob- lem solvers.”
Not only was Chase new to the sport, but also so was Jans. The two had to learn together in an isolated place (Juneau) with little guidance and had to travel far and basically learn at shows. Competitions would actually be practice, as Juneau weather limited local course training. Nick Jans told her it was akin to getting used golf clubs at a good will store and winning the World Cup.
Another factor in the equation is that Chase has diminished hearing and eyesight.
“She sees things up close a lot better than further away,” Jans said. “We have had to constantly adjust our learning together to accommodate not only her getting older, but to change our partner skills.”
Jans said they have two other dogs and noticed that Chase would key off of them if someone came to the door. That meant that Chase was not hearing out on the course either.
“We learned the sport together,” Jans said. “She is my first agility dog and it is amazing that we have been able to do this together. She really did seem to know. She was very content just to stay there with me, kissing me, and that is not like her. It really was different, she really seemed to know we had done well.”
To top it off, Chase scored another Double Q the next day, and scored more points the following two days.
“She is competing in great style,” Jans said. “To get points in both events and then do it again the next day was just a great weekend. We have learned to accommodate our teamwork with her lack of hearing and diminished eyesight but she is solid in every other way and she loves doing it. I think we have another season anyway. What makes this so special is obtaining it against all odds. The hardest thing in the sport is being able to react without thinking. You can make a plan but you can’t really follow the plan, and that takes a while to get under your belt. It is a lot of course reaction. A lot of things have to work right.”