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Having the time of her life...

Loch Ness monsters!In March 2017, Janet White Spunner contacted Agilitynet to see if it would be possible to add an extra age division to the Senior Agility League category - one for the over 80s. After all, the other categories have five year gaps, while Diamond handlers are aged 70 to infinity! That lead to Janet agreeing to write something for Agilitynet about competing as an Octogenarian but only after her 80th birthday at Easter.

  • I have just come back from my first post-80 show and I feel like the cat who got the cream! It was a two day show and my 12 year old Miniature Poodle - and first ever agility dog - Marchesi Marie (alias Vicar of Dibley / Dib) won the trophy for Best Overall Agility Dog (Small)! I was so chuffed we took it with us Pet therapy visiting the next day!! She had 2 x 2nds, a 3rd, a 6th and a clear round with seconds to spare!

My little dog, Irish & International Champion Tanglebrook Nice 'n Noble  got a 4th. If only I hadn’t told him to go in the wrong end of the tunnel. It would have had a 1st place. Their pup Shinrone Zarina (aka Cindy) got a superb 2nd, but I have to admit to borrowing younger, longer legs!  My dogs run with anyone and they just love it when the legs go at speed!

What gave me extra joy was to see two teenagers who train with me getting clear rounds. One even won the trophy for Best Beginner Large dogs. Truly an All Age Sport!

I had Labradors all my adult life, trained them and worked them on the local shoots 'picking up.'  I also puppy walked a good number - some my own breeding - for the Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind.

Because we were farming, I've also had two Border collies. They made moving cattle or sheep a pleasure, especially if I was riding a small pony in order to keep up with them.

When my last Labrador became old and arthritic and too heavy for me to lift, I looked around for another breed, smaller and lighter. If it didn’t shed, that would be a big bonus! And so Dib came into my life.  At 4 1/2 months old she could buy and sell me!  We were out of control so I went to doggy classes and found agility which has changed my life.

Nations Cup with DibThe Kennel Club Festival
The KC Agility Festival used to be such fun especially the Nations Cup. The first time I was persuaded by friends to come over to the UK, I only had Dib, whom I think was still Grade 1. We came home covered in rosettes and, by default, had made up a ‘Rest of the World’ team. We had a ball!  What's more, the crowd loved our antics!

Now that Dib and Gounod are both Grade 6 and were part of Republic of Ireland teams last year, but it wasn’t nearly as much fun. We are not coming this year, mainly because our rabies vaccinations have run out and we don’t want to repeat them.  We thought of going to Scotland instead, via Larne. No passports needed from Northern Ireland, and we are constantly up there for competitions!  Will Brexit make a difference?  I was born in St Albans, and still have my British passport. So far none of us has been asked to show our Pet Passports, but we wouldn’t risk it.

Agility is such a fabulous sport
I tell everyone that it's the best aerobic exercise you can get! There is no way I could motivate myself to take the same exercise in a gym.  I am blessed that I still have my own hips and knees!  I take glucosamine and chondroitin everyday and have recently added a tablespoon of cider vinegar, taken in a glass full of water sweetened with a little honey, every morning.

We are all very competitive, but never bitchy!  We all appreciate how hard our dogs try to please us and how often we let them down!

I set goals for myself. It's an all age sport, and at every level we set our own targets. Any time I now complete a course within the allotted time, is a red letter day. Getting a rosette is a cherry on the cake! Please God, there’s years ahead of us yet.

I’m trying to find out about Rally Obedience. Would it be slower and more suited to my 'time of life?'

About the author
Janet White Spunner's father was a rubber planter with Dunlops in Malaysia when the Japanese invaded in 1942. Her father was taken prisoner and she, her (step) mother and brother became refugees. They arrived in Australia with very little more than what they stood up in! Australia and the Victoria League (Red Cross equivalent) were very good to them. Janet was aged 4 and nearly died of acute appendicitis as this was  pre-penicillin days!

They headed home after VE day but before VJ day and were in convoy when an oil tanker caught on fire after being hit by a depth charge. Janet's Mummy just said ‘Look at the lovely fireworks!'  What a brilliant way of taking the fear out of a very frightening situation.

Janet came back to England and started school in Bournemouth and boarded from age 9. As her father who had arrived home, very emaciated, was now considered fit to return to Malaysia to help get the economy going again, she did not see him for four years. Her mother returned after her first sister was born, and always divided her time between England and Malaya.

After leaving school, Janet trained as a nurse in St. Thomas’ hospital London and then in Southampton as a midwife - jobs which she loved.

Then she met and married Richard who had been in the security forces in Malaya and was back in Ireland, trying to bring the family farm back to solvency!  She became a 'hands on' farmer's wife. Cattle, rearing calves, sheep, poultry, pigs, goats - you name it and they had it and did it! Her husband asked me not to hunt, but had no problem with horse riding, so she bred and broke 12.2 ponies for children and rode them bareback round the cattle and sheep accompanied by a pack of Labradors who would sit and stay while she went to check the sheep. It was as good as having eyes in the back of your head. If the sheep started to move, she knew a Labrador had broken ranks! She used to tie the newest recruit to the oldest Lab who would refuse to budge however hard the pup tried to drag it!

Janet had always been involved with the Church so became a Lay Reader. When women were being ordained in Ireland but not in England, she decided to offer herself for training. She has now been an ordained priest in the Church of Ireland for 22 years. Wonderfully fulfilling. Now retired. she helps out whenever she is asked, but she is happy to say ‘Sorry I can’t do that Sunday’ when there's an agility competition on!

When she was 68, Janet started doing amazing holiday trips,  originally fundraisers for charities. A horse ride camping in  the Sahara on stallions was first and others followed. Some were holidays, but always challenging. Husky sledding in the Swedish Arctic was brilliantly exhilarating, snorkelling in the Galapagos, and now she is off to kayak in the Indonesian islands, snorkel and trek to see komodo dragons!  How good can Life be!

First published 31 May 2017