Over the weekend, more than 250 dogs competed in an American Kennel Club event at Miami-Dade County’s Tropical Park. Anyone in attendance learned that canine athletes are capable of feats humans can only dream of doing and would never dream of doing.
"Wait," says Carol Clark to her six-year-old Weimaraner, Boo.
At his owner’s signal, Boo takes off - leaping hurdles, climbing ramps, ducking through tubes.
This agility course is set up on top of dusty red dirt, underneath Tropical Park’s horse pavilion. While Boo bobs and weaves, a few dogs dance around in an on-deck area. Most are relaxing in cages off to the side. Some are protected by heat-reflective tarps; some have personal fans.
Some owners try and get their dogs to focus, other look on from folding chairs.
"Yeah," shouted Clark as Boo cleared one final hurdle, "you get cookies! Cookies! COOKIES!" Boo finished his run in under a minute.
Boo loves his cookies. (Listen to the included audio piece to hear just how much)
He also loves running, fetching a stick from the water and chasing a Frisbee.
He’s not so into squeaky toys or stuffed animals says his owner Carol Clark.
"He's a real man," said Clark, "but he's not afraid to wear pink. He look great in pink."
"Dogs are colorblind," this reporter reminded Clark.
"[Boo's] secure in his masculinity," she assured the reporter.
Hundreds of American Kennel Club sanctioned events happen all across the country. These particular agility trials are put on by the Miami Obedience Club. Clark, one of the event organizers, said this is their winter event, and it gets a big out-of-town crowd.
"It draws a lot of people that get in their motor homes when they weather gets cold," she said. "They just travel south and enter agility trials wherever they go. And this is pretty much, obviously, the final destination."
While this event is called “agility trials” it’s not the same as, say, a swimming heat. First, second and third places are great, but not necessarily the goal. In some ways it's more Boy Scouts than it is Olympics, more about leveling-up than getting on a podium. By competing, dogs can move up in rank from “novice” to “open” to “master” in a number of different events.
That being said, it is still competitive.
"All of my dogs have always been aware they were in a competition," said Dave Proe, president of the Miami Obedience Club - a first hand witness to the Portuguese water dog who unexpectedly stole the show.
Proe was standing just outside of the agility course, explaining what draws him to dogs at that moment. "They attach you to nature in a way that nothing else does," Proe said, unaware of just how accurate his answer would become. "They have a different view of life and of nature. Oh!" exclaimed Proe, who's attention was drawn to the middle of the agility course. "And sometimes that happens sometimes."
A whistle blew and then came a collective gasp as the crowd noticed what Proe was seeing. A scruffy Portuguese, in the middle of her timed run, had stopped cold in her tracks. Instead of leaping hurdles and climbing ramps she was squatting in the middle of the course.
"That's an automatic elimination," said Carol Clark, owner of Boo the manly Weimaraner and another witnessed to the ill-timed pit stop, "the whistle blew, [the owner] has to clean it up and leave the ring."
Clark said this doesn’t happen very often - and it’s embarrassing when it does.
But isn’t this why we love dogs?
You hire trainers, pay contest fees, travel hundreds of miles in a motor homes and, as Dave Proe was saying about dogs before he was interrupted by one, "they attach you to nature in a way nothing else does. It's just, they ground you in a way that's incredible."
Miami Herald intern Melissa Caceres contributed to this report.