By Ray KozakewiczMarch 20, 2014
FORT LEE, Va. (March 20, 2014) -- While many sports enthusiasts are focused on March Madness these days, two Fort Lee community members have a more important athletic event on their minds -- The American Kennel Club National Agility Championship March 27-30.
Tom Burnette, a general engineer at the Sustainment Battle Laboratory at CASCOM, and Lisa Godfrey, an administrative support assistant with Army Logistics University, both will compete at this major canine event in Harrisburg, Pa.
They hope they have the swiftest and most agile dogs to gain a top honor at the largest ever AKC agility championship. It's the first national competition for each of them.
Burnette and Jane, his 6-year old Australian shepherd, and Godfrey and Sadie B, her 5-year old boxer, have already gained many "clean" -- or perfect 100 --scores in a number of local and regional tournaments to qualify for these grueling four-days. In agility events, they must guide their dogs off-leash with visual cues through demanding, timed obstacle courses mixed with jumps, tunnels, weave poles, chutes and other objects. A typical event may run 30-40 seconds depending on the number of obstacles set out by the judge.
In Harrisburg, 1,640 dogs will compete in five rings, representing 112 breeds from 48 states and Canada. At stake are the titles of National Agility Champion and Preferred National Agility Champion. Agility is the AKC's fastest growing sport.
"I just want to enjoy the experience," said Burnette who took up agility competition in 2009 with Jane. "It's an amazing sport. I don't expect to win, but it will be a lot of fun."
He got involved in canine agility after watching his wife, Linette, compete for several years with Lexi, her first agility dog. "A co-worker suggested I also get involved with agility," said Burnette, "so I made the plunge."
He purchased Jane -- Lexi's younger sister -- in January 2008. "I began with early foundation training with Jane." Dogs cannot enter competition until they are at least 15 months old.
Over the past few years, the two worked together to progress through the novice,
open and excellent agility levels, and now she is in the master or the highest level.
Godfrey, a certified trainer, looks forward to this event too.
"I'm ready," Godrey said, "I trust Sadie B and she trusts me."
They will not compete against Burnette and Jane. Sadie B is in the preferred 16-inch jump category while Jane is in the 24-inch jump preferred grouping.
"This is a once in a lifetime event," Godfrey noted.
Sadie B is one of only three boxers in the championship. "Some say the breed is not smart," said Godrey, "Boxers are intelligent but hard-headed. It just takes time for them to learn."
Godfrey said, "We compete three or four times a month. Agility is like geometry. There are hard turns that demand precise movement."
She has grown up with boxers and has three -- and may acquire another soon. In addition to Sadie B, Godrey has Lacey, a retired agility and therapy dog with many titles, and Zip, a therapy dog with Caring Canines. Godfrey regularly brings Zip to the Fort Lee Community Library to provide emotional support to children while they read books aloud and hear stories.
Both Godfrey and Burnette noted its important to have a strong bond with their dogs.
"If I turn my shoulder the wrong way, it can mess up Jane," said Burnette, "She relies on me."
To help with his agility work, Burnette takes private lessons with Jane about once a month. "This has helped me."
Godfrey said, "She puts up with me, and I give her a lot of treats."
The two work together nearly every day. "We do it in short spurts -- about 10 minutes at a time -- and work on certain moves."
She also takes Sadie B for weekly massage treatments and a soothing swim in a heated, salt water pool. "Sadie B loves this," Godfrey said. "We are a team and she needs a mental break sometimes."
Godfrey works hard on the sport and was drawn into it about 10 years ago. Her yard resembles an agility field with several obstacles.
It's like a dance," Godfrey said. "She watches my body movements and understands."
Godrey and Burnette and their trained dogs are prepared for the four days. As always, they want to get a Q -- a clean run with no mishaps and several seconds under the standard course time.