The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, August 27, 2010


Local Agility Club has attained national prominence

Look Ma, no hands! Susan Goodall guides Mac through the tire obstacle. (Photo by Jane Hamilton)

It’s five o’clock on a hot Wednesday as the first cars pull in and park on the gravel driveway at 291 River Road (River Road Farm). Toting treats and toys, water and dog crates and led by eager dogs of all shapes and sizes, the members of ARFF (Agility is Really Fun for Fido) Agility Club are arriving to set up for their weekly practice on the agility field at the farm.

As the dogs excitedly greet each other, ARFFers lay out a 100-foot measuring tape. Using measuring wheels, they carefully measure out where each piece of agility equipment will go for the night’s course following a detailed course map. Working in teams, members bring out tunnels, move the larger pieces of equipment, arrange the jumps and mark the course with numbered cones to show the order in which each obstacle must be taken.

For the next two to three hours, dogs and handlers have a glorious time navigating the day’s course and practicing individual obstacles. The club’s current benefactors, Maris and Elizabeth (“Betty” to family and friends) Platais are often out on their porch watching the action. Bicyclists stop and cars slow as people pause to watch the speedy pooches and their smiling handlers negotiate the obstacles.

Agility is a sport in which the handler is given a set amount of time in which to direct a dog, without a leash or collar, through an obstacle course. Then it’s off to the races as the handler directs his/her dog around the course: leaping jumps, scrambling through tunnels, galloping up and over the A-frame, across the dog walk and tipping the teeter totter all in an effort to finish the course in the fastest time with the least number of faults.

The rules are fairly simple. Handlers may give an unlimited number of commands or signals to their dogs but they may not touch the dog or the equipment.

In competitions, the obstacles are arranged in various configurations, unique from trial to trial, that offer appropriate challenges based on the experience of the dog and handler. Dogs compete against other dogs of similar height (measured at the withers) and experience.

ARFF was formed in 1993 by a small group of dog lovers. At the time, agility was a relatively new dog sport. The founding members purchased equipment and began practices at a church parking lot in Wayland. When Rachel “Pagey” Elliot grew interested in agility at the age of 86, she invited the club to use the field next to her home at River Road Farm for practices.

“Pagey said, ‘You know, I can’t drive at night. But I have this field,’” ARFF founding member Nini Bloch recalled. “We have been so fortunate to be able to use it ever since.”

“It’s a really special place,” Debra Gorfine, current president of ARFF, said. “It’s such a privilege to be here (at the field). Betty and Maris have told us that we’re welcome to continue using it. They want to continue to share Pagey’s legacy.”

“A lot of ARFF’s success has to do with Pagey, and now Betty and Maris,” Bloch said. “We have a permanent place to be that other clubs can only drool over. The practice field has given us such stability and has contributed to our longevity.”

Interest in agility has ballooned since ARFF’s early days. The club currently has 55 members who live in Carlisle, many eastern Massachusetts towns, New Hampshire and even as far away as Maryland.

According to Susan Klavon of ARFF’s Communication Committee, ARFF members compete in all of the major agility venues: the United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA), the American Kennel Club (AKC), Canine Performance Events (CPE), the North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) and the Teacup Dogs Agility Association (TDAA).

Members compete at all levels from the beginning ones (called Starters, Novice, Level 1 and P1 depending on the organization) to the highest rung of each organization. Eleven ARFFers have trained and handled their dogs to agility championships. This year four ARFF teams finished in the top five of their respective breeds earning automatic invitations to the 2010 AKC Invitational.

While ARFF boasts a wealth of talented experienced teams, it also welcomes newcomers to the sport and supports them while they pursue their agility dreams. ARFF matches rookies with a mentor to help them feel comfortable at the practices and to assist with any training issues they may be having.

Teri Olsen described her experience as a new member, “ARFFers would see us first thing in the morning (at a trial) and ask if we needed help or had any questions. When we were befuddled, they helped us. When we had our first runs, they were at the finish line saying ‘Good job!’”

“ARFF is very near and dear to my heart because of how supportive club members are,” Klavon explained. “When Echo (Klavon’s dog) and I first started out, ARFFers invited us to set up with them in their tents at trials and to hang out with them. They made a point to watch us run and to celebrate when we did a good job and to encourage me when things didn’t go so well because we were still learning.”

ARFF is a USDAA-sanctioned agility club. Every year the club hosts a USDAA Agility trial at the Middlesex County 4-H Fairgrounds in Westford over the Labor Day weekend. This year’s trial will be on September 4 and 5.

“The trial will run all day long, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.,” Gorfine explained. “We run two rings. There will be refreshments from the Greyhound Grill, which raises money for Greyhound rescue. There’ll be massages for dogs and people, vendors selling all sorts of dog supplies and a raffle to benefit dog rescue groups.”

In addition to the USDAA trial, ARFF hosts periodic fun matches and brings in nationally recognized dog trainers for workshops for its members. Spring through fall, members meet at the agility field on Wednesdays and during the winter the club hosts brunches where members watch agility videos and DVDs.

“Agility has become my passion,” Gorfine said enthusiastically. “My friendships have come from the club. I rejoin each year because I want the passion and the friendships to continue.”

“To this day, Jake (Gorfine’s dog) starts whining in the car when we’re about a half-mile away from the farm. He knows he’s going to one of his favorite places on earth.”

For additional information about ARFF and the Labor Day weekend trial, visit ARFF’s web site at ∆


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