Aug. 26, 2010By Jessica Sanders Observer correspondent
Champlain Valley Fair is going to the dogs, and one Williston resident will be there to help make it happen.
The fair, which opens Saturday at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex, will feature dock jumping dogs in three different genres: Extreme Vertical, High Jump and Speed Retrieve. Williston resident Linda Levitt will be competing at the fair with her black lab Madison. Although Vermont does not have its own dock jumping club, Levitt and Madison practice in a pond behind their home.
“Jumping into a pond and into the lake is very different than jumping into a pool because it looks different to the dog. First of all the dock is much higher. It’s 2 feet above the water, and they’re looking into clear water, so you have to practice,” Levitt said.
Despite Vermont not having a club, Levitt loves competing and practicing with Madison.
“It’s fun for both of us,” she said.
The competition is brought to the fair by Dock Dogs, a traveling act. The event, which will run from Aug. 28 to Sept. 6 in Essex, was booked last year by Rich Lewis, director of communications for Champlain Valley Exposition.
“We have a convention every year that highlights a lot of acts and a lot of artists and people who make their livelihood through doing fairs and festivals,” Lewis said. “A number of years ago at the convention this group showed up called Dock Dogs. It was very intriguing.”
Dock Dogs gives relatively seasoned competitors, like Levitt, the chance to be recognized regionally and worldwide.
“Events that are put on by DD National allow competitors to earn national titles and chances to receive an invitation to the World Championship at the end of the season,” Kristen Brayne, secretary of Hudson Valley Dock Dogs in Millerton, N.Y., explained in an e-mail.
Levitt has visited the Hudson Valley Dock Dogs club, and has competed in many places including Canada and Maine, where Madison has won first place for Speed Retrieve.
The three different parts of each competition test different skills. Extreme Vertical presents the dog with a bumper that is held in the air, and it is raised incrementally higher. The challenge is to see how high it can go before the dog can no longer reach it.
The High Jump is similar, but requires effort from the owner as well. The owner must throw a non-living, non-food item in the air, and the dog must jump out and catch the toy while it’s soaring above the pool. Levitt explained that Madison lacks in this category because of her own inability to throw well.
Speed Retrieve is a little different, and challenges a dog’s ability to move quickly through the water by timing its swim from the dock to the other end, where the dog must retrieve a bumper.
Though the Champlain Valley Fair has hosted a multitude of other dog competitions, this one is different.
“A lot of people, they are interested in dogs, but this is a new presentation, a new angle on dogs,” Lewis said. “Dogs from outside actually doing the competition. It’s one of those things, a lot more people are involved in this.”
Lewis is unsure if he will bring Dock Dogs back next year, mostly based on the act’s busy schedule. But he believes it will attract many fair-goers, and be a fun and entertaining new act.