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An international experience...

One of the scariest things in life must be is to be diagnosed with something for which doctors have no cure. It was in 2007 when Dave Maylam was told that he had Parkinson's disease. Four years on and he's had to fact the fact that his days of dog agility may be numbered as Parkinson's is a progressive disease and it's begun to affect his memory and balance - the two essential requirements for doing dog agility. But hey! Enough of the sympathy vote. It didn't him from representing his country at PAWC 2011.

This year IMCA/PAWC 2011 was to be held in Nijmegen, Holland. It would prove to be even more emotional this year than last as we were to meet up the old friends we had made in Switzerland last year.

Before we left, I knew that if I was going to compete in Holland that I would have to find a new strategy to help me overcome limitation with my mobility and memory. Simple tasks which would take an able bodied person ten minutes to do were taking me twice as long.

In the end, I realised that it's the dog that works the agility course and the handler who gives the directions. Being at the right place at the right time is all we need to do!

Calling on the skills of a most amazing dog agility teacher in the world - my wife Dianne - we started to re-school my dog Jess so that she could be worked from a distance using more verbal commands and shoulders because more often than not my arms and hands do not work. We've lots of help from many trainers including Audrey Weekes at Stour Valley Agility Club, Dave Munnings, Nancy Hudson, Leah Gardner, Toni Dawkins, Dianne Talbot and Rosie Pilbeam. Their contribution has been so helpful.

I keep referring to my dog without explaining who my dog is. Jess is a self- assured, super-fast Belgian Shepherd x WSD who likes to travel at 90mph and takes shortcuts wherever she deems necessary. At two years old, she had to learn to recall through weaves, know her left and right commands and jump whatever is in front of her unless, of course, I say otherwise.

Preparing for PAWC
Before I started re-training, I did a little homework on training collies to work sheep so I could understand how to handle a dog from a distance. When it all comes together, the training can be quite impressive to watch as the dog works purely to voice commands. I was sure that it would not prove to be too difficult a task for me.

Dianne used the internet to see how other people with disabilities managed their dogs and she came across the article by Sue Drew from Jersey on Agilitynet. That is when we decided to contact Richard Partridge regarding Para-gility, and I was asked if I would like to join the UK team!!

After a brief meeting at Cranleigh show and a letter to Susan Rekveld, we were both accepted onto the team. The invitation included Dianne with the two young dogs Max (Maysar Maximum Damage) and Fudge (Little Miss Fudgecake) who, in years to come, will take Jess's place as she is now seven years old.

Tanja Blaszyk - Para-Agility Club Schweiz PACSPAWC show
The opening ceremonies, when all participating countries parade around the arena with with their national flags was very emotional but also daunting as we were introduced to who was whom - including those who had won or been placed in the European Champs. Back in the UK, we had assumed (wrongly) that this competition would be of a lesser standard than other International events only to discover that most of the other countries run qualifiers and their teams include their top dogs and handlers for the IMCA. Even though there were only four competitors from the UK, we were welcomed warmly.

To see the dogs working with competitors who had artificial limbs, were in wheelchairs or amazingly were blind was incredible! It made my disability seem quite mediocre. It really was quite moving. Everyone got the greatest support by cheering right through to the end of each round.

My dog was fantastic! I had some real high moments but, with Jess as fast as she is, it was inevitable that I would be caught out by the some of the traps. Nevertheless she was amazing !

Yes, I made mistakes, but will never forget the last round I did in Switzerland in 2010 when I really did get it all together and just called too late for a tight turn so that Jess put her foot on the off-course A-frame. As the round had progressed, I could hear the excitement building followed by a huge aaaahhh! as I made that mistake! But I was still cheered to the end.

The PAWC 2011 Competitors

Susan RekveldTeam success
The UK was not let down by the IMCA team either and, although not in the medals, the handlers did some lovely rounds. We even had a few clears. Dianne gave her two dogs up to Jennifer Bannister and Stacie Irwin so that we had a large team while she ran Jess in the IMCA. This team along with Nick Clarkson and Daisy managed a very creditable 6th place in the Team Jumping ! Jess was a little difficult as she always looks for me but Dianne achieved a 21st in the Individual Agility, just missing the dogwalk contact. Stacie and Kim Pennels were also high in the overall placings.

Team Leader Richard Partridge said, 'Although we did not manage to run off with any medals the team did exceptionally well, completely eclipsing any previous efforts. Taking into account that most of the members had no previous experience in this type of competition, with all of the razzmatazz, tension, very high calibre competitors and difficult courses, not to mention a pretty busy social diary, we are very proud of their achievements. Most got at least one clear round, a great effort over full blown International courses, and the teams in particular, won satisfactory places.'

PAWC has really brought it home to me that dogs have no barriers and give pleasure to many and bring a smile to those who have little to look forward to. The courses are flowing, but not easy, plenty of traps and a true test. I felt so proud to represent the UK - a little disappointed that I did not achieve better results but ecstatic that I will be able to do it all again next year in Belgium!

And to any company out there who would be willing to sponsor the UK Team and enable more disabled competitors to take part, please do not hesitate to contact Richard Partridge, Team Leader by email to

About the author...
Dave Maylem
has been working with sheepdogs since he was a child at home on the farm. He worked a brace as part of his working career as a Nature Reserve Sites Manager with Natural England where they had flocks of unruly Beulah sheep which were used for grassland management. The dogs had to work out of sight in scrub land.

Dave took early retirement at the age of 54 years after being diagnosed with Parkinsons in 2007.

His wife Dianne started agility with the working dogs at home in the mid-eighties and joined Stour Valley Agility Club in 1996, but the dogs were usually working for Dave at weekends so shows were not an option as he could not work without them. 

Photos: Dave Maylam, Blaszyk and Susan Rekveld

First published 02/12/11



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