Queen of the red collies...
When did it all start? The seed was probably sown for Jane Cameron when she saw her first agility demonstration at a local agricultural show many years ago. At the time, however, the pressure of work left her little time over for anything apart from walking her dogs. She had kept Collies for many years, so it was not surprising that at the age of 60, she discovered Agility and found a whole new way of life although, at that time, she had no idea of how it would take over her life.
I was born hyperactive and must have been an exhausting child to live with! I suppose I have spent much of my life running... catching up, running away, sprinting and indeed purely running for the sheer pleasure or perhaps the sheer exhilaration of feeling the ground speed by beneath my feet.
Falling came naturally to me having suffered numerous unsuspecting Rugby tackles from my brother, six years my senior, who took great delight in coming up behind me and felling me to the ground.
Taking up a new sport in retirement gave me a purpose and enabled me to enjoy a life travelling the country which previously, due to my work, was never possible. I found most of my fellow and indeed younger competitors very supportive, even when I beat them! But I learned so much by example and watching others run their dogs and, of course, from my ever patient trainers at Scrambles, Pachesham and Sunniday.
Agility in later life has its drawbacks
Remembering courses as one progressed through the grades became harder especially running multiple dogs when at times I had as many as six courses to walk first thing in the morning. While running my dogs on several occasions, I can recall coming to a full stop frantically trying to remember where I was going.
I was never going to do shows let alone travel long distances and camping was definitely out of the question.
Competing at agility shows opened up a whole new way of life. I led an almost Nomadic existence during the show season, fitting in training, household tasks, gardening and preparing the caravan for the next trip during the few days spent at home each week. We went to some amazing venues, had wonderful walks in many counties and met so many delightful people whom I miss seeing. I loved running my dogs and discussing the days events with friends over a glass or two of wine before retiring to my tiny folding caravan with my six dogs.
I did a judging course which was an interesting and an enlightening experience made really enjoyable by the humour of Roy Napper, our instructor. I earned the required certificate and judged at a few shows including one memorable occasion during April in the snow!
My red dogs
Leo became my 'clear round' dog. He loved his training but was badly affected by an unfortunate experience which took a great many months and much encouragement to overcome.
Roli was the first of several red collies joined later by his brother Tambi who became my 'clear round' dog. They were something else. Both were tremendously fast. Tambi was like an unmanned rocket around the rings while Roli was like a Kamikaze pilot annihilating courses!
From the start Roli lived for his agility. What he lacked in accuracy, he made up for in enthusiasm. He loved his training but was badly affected by an unfortunate experience which took a great many months and much encouragement to overcome.
At the end of one particular round, I recall the judge coming up to me to tell me that Roli had actually left one jump up. Another commented that he had never seen a dog turn in mid-air to face his handler while jumping! Roli was blessed with a wonderful wait and always had great contacts. On another occasion when I fell - as I frequently did - he waited at the bottom of the A-frame until I picked myself up to release him. It was a great day when he won me out of Elementary.
Kai was something special
He and Tambi won out of Starters on the same weekend. It was the only win Tambi ever had. Kai, however, had many wins and progressed to Grade 6, competing at that level until he was 12 and finally retiring from Allsorts shortly before his 15th Birthday.
My other dogs
His half-brother Chart was possibly the naughtiest dog I ever owned. When it came to Agility, he would delight in playing the clown. Many was the time we went clear up to the final jump when he would give me one of his looks and run around to back jump! At other times, he would play hide and seek around obstacles. He quickly learned to locate the bucket containing his toy before the end of his run and it became a challenge to hide his reward without his noticing and leaving the ring early to claim his prize.
Brigg was special to me because he came from my home county of Lincolnshire, hence his KC name Borderstorm Lincoln Imp. He was the most laidback puppy I have ever had and fitted into the pack like a glove. He was a joy to train, and I soon became aware that I had a really outstanding dog. That we made it to Grade 7 despite my faults is a tribute to Brigg who, like Kai, was a dog in a million.
Brooke was my first bitch in many years. She took to Agility like a duck to water and was seriously fast. However, when it came to competing, she was wild and her frustration at my inadequacy to guide her showed in her biting my legs. I became expert in pirouettes and other moves to avoid confrontation, but I must have done something right to get her to Grade 5!
Finally Kofi joined us. He was a delightful little chap of mixed parentage whom the pack chose to ignore until he was almost six months old when Brooke deigned to play with him. Starting Foundation training, it became obvious that at times Kofi had an off button when his enthusiasm waned and when it came to competing he was ring shy. He only competed in two shows. Perhaps his reluctance might have changed with encouragement and patience as time progressed but this was not to be.
Things I don’t miss about Agility
Anyone who runs multiple dogs knows the nightmare of trying to get to various rings on time and especially when doing Ring Party. On more than one occasion as they were calling to the end of the class I had to take three of my dogs to one ring and run them consecutively, no mean feat for someone in their 70s!
Little did I know that in May 2017 when Brigg won a Grade 7 Agility that this would be our final run together. I recall walking 16 year old Kai around the rings and people commenting on how fit he looked and the next day he had gone. The following day I was struck down with Labyrinthitis from which I have never fully recovered so my agility days which really started with Kai ended with his passing.
Memories I have in abundance of a really happy period in my life with my wonderful dogs. It really was fun while it lasted.
About the author...
She studied at The Royal College of Music, prior to Grimsby and Kingston Schools of Art, and taught Music and Art at St. Martin's Preparatory School Grimsby, before moving to Surrey. She then became Director of Music at Woburn Hill School, now known as St. George's College Junior School, until her retirement.
First published 23rd February 2020