Thursday, November 29, 2007


Two Mondays ago, on our last day of beginner's agility, there was a staff reporter for WauwatosaNOW sitting among us. Just as Marvin and I were settling in, she began asking me questions – our names, what breed of dog Marvin is, why we signed up for agility. I admit I forgot about the whole thing until our instructor, Dave, e-mailed me this morning telling me we were "famous".

Here is the story:


How to keep Fido flying

Programs keep dogs active, healthy during winter

By Lori Weiss
Staff Writer
Posted: Nov. 28, 2007

Jackie Ratcliffe gently pets her multi-colored beagle, Marvin, as she leans down to take a blue leash off his neck.

She points him toward a yellow cloth tunnel that gently winds around a corner.

She soon begins to run toward the tunnel with Marvin on her left side and points to it, saying "tunnel, tunnel" in a gentle voice.

Marvin's black, brown and white speckled body disappears into the tunnel and his face soon appears at the other end and he quickly looks for his owner, who is preparing him for the next obstacle - a jumping bar.

The two challenges Marvin and Ratcliffe tried to conquer are part of an agility sport for dogs.

"By giving (dogs) activities using their minds, bodies, they are much happier," said Patti Muraczewski, owner of For Pet's Sake that has a branch location at Central Bark Doggy Day Care, 6442 River Parkway. "It's nice because it's positively trained. It's something dogs enjoy immensely."

Started in UK

Agility involves dog owners who direct their dogs over a course filled with jumps, tunnels, teeter-totters, dog walks, A-frames and weave poles.

Agility came to the United States from the United Kingdom in the 1980s, and For Pet's Sake began offering agility courses about eight years ago.

"It just took off like wildfire," Muraczewski said. "Agility has become a good portion of what we offer."

Muraczewski said the sport is a good outlet for dog owners, especially in the winter.

"It gives people another activity if they aren't going to the park as often," she said.

Dave Fink, an agility instructor who runs the class in Wauwatosa, agrees.

"We see a big spike in the winter because you can't take your dog outside running and it's driving their dogs crazy," he said.

Fink started his 7-year-old boxer, Sasha, in agility about five years ago.

"I needed something to do with her," he said. "I did it just to give Sasha something to do, to run around and have fun."

There are many older dogs like Sasha who take part in the sport, even though they have arthritis.

"It's good for them to do," Muraczewski said. "It can be a low level and still keeps them active."

Any dog can participate

While it's a popular sport for border collies, any dog can do it.

Muraczewski said mixed breed dogs and even dogs as big as Great Danes are often seen in agility.

"Any dog can be motivated to do agility," Fink said.

That is the reason Laurie Wannemacher enrolled her border collie, Payton, in the beginner's agility class.

"(I enrolled Payton) because he is shy and needed some comforting, and I wanted him to be around other dogs," she said.

Wannemacher said Payton has been better with people since taking the class.

"It's a wonderful outlet for people, no matter what your occupation, to be able to enjoy something like this with your dog," Muraczewski said.

Some try competitions

While many dog owners enroll their dogs in agility classes for the fun of it, some pets move on to trials where they are judged on speed and accuracy.

Even though it takes hard work to be prepared for competition, Fink said it should remain a fun activity.

"If you're not having fun, you shouldn't be doing it," he said.

Lori Weiss can be reached at or (262) 446-6645.


Upcoming area agility trials

• Dec. 6 to 9 - Hounds for the Holidays at Uihlein Soccer Center, 7101 W. Good Hope Road, Milwaukee

• June 13 to 15 - United States Dog Agility Association at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds, 30820 111th St., Wilmot

• July 18 to 20 - American Kennel Club agility trial at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds

• Sept. 13 to 14 - USDAA agility trial at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds


Agility training through For Pet's Sake

• The classes are eight-weeks long, one hour each session.

• Beginners courses cost $115.

• Intermediate and advanced classes cost $95.

• Contact For Pet's Sake at (262) 363-4529 for the next available eight-week session.


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