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West Valley Dog Sport: How it All Began

How did one agility group get started 25 years ago? By Kathy Lofthouse


It all started with a note that I put up on a notice board at a local feed store:  
 
DOG AGILITY 
 
IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THIS UP-AND-COMING SPORT, PLEASE CALL THE NUMBER BELOW.

  
A few days later, the phone rang and it was a local dog trainer. After excitedly discussing how best to get this sport going, she decided to incorporate agility into her classes as a confidence builder. She invited me to bring my German Shepherd, Saxon, to her class to demonstrate agility. Although Saxon was not exactly agility trained, we demonstrated with enough enthusiasm for several people in the class to catch the "agility bug" and become equally excited about having a go with this new sport.  This group formed an agility club (originally called West Valley Agility) that would eventually be known as West Valley Dog Sports. The only stipulation we had was that it be open to all dogs and no dog should be excluded due to their pedigree or lack thereof. Agility was to be a sport for all, just as it was in the UK.    
 
 
Kathy Lofthouse's Saxon earned his Agility Dog title at the first West Valley Dog Sports trial. Photo courtesy of Kathy Lofthouse.

Having followed the prestigious agility event at the Olympia Horse Show in London, I was aware that Pedigree Dog Food was a major sponsor. I called their representative who suggested I call Kenneth Tatsch at USDAA. Ken was putting together an event called the Pedigree Grand Prix of Dog Agility. After a lengthy discussion with Ken about the joys of dog agility and how this sport had so much to offer for dogs and their handlers, he asked if our group would like to hold a Regional competition as a qualifier for a National Championship to be held in Houston, Texas. I, of course, said "Yes!" We didn't have equipment, so my husband and our roommate built a set which I painted blue and yellow.  

We looked forward to the Regional, but did not have dogs who were trained on the full-sized equipment since it had just finished being built. We were also invited to provide an agility demonstration on the lawn at Universal Studios for the opening of the movie K9. This was extremely fun and Saxon was featured on the local news that evening.  
 
The next day, the Regional was held in the afternoon, but before it began we had a seminar to introduce dogs and their handlers to the sport. We were pleased to see over 50 dogs and handlers come to the seminar eager to see what this sport was about.


The courses from the first West Valley Dog Sports agility trial. Note that the courses are simply reversals of each other and that the numbers are not necessarily on the approach side of the obstacles. It was assumed that the dogs would take them "in flow."

The scores from the first trial, showing the winners: 1. Sandy Moore and Graf (30") 2. Scott Brown and Magik (21") 3. Carol Roe and Rainie (21")
 
Several of those who came to our initial demonstration and stayed for the competition became infected with the agility bug so badly that they are still deeply immersed in the sport today. Over the years, we continued to travel to dog events and hold demonstrations. I was able to introduce several people into the sport who are now nationally recognized, two of whom have gone on to compete internationally as well as become national champions.  

Kathy Lofthouse's English Shepherd, U-CDX, Just Rufus, MAD, who was the first 30-inch jumping dog to earn a USDAA agility title. Photo courtesy of Karen Moureaux.

However, it was through the efforts, hard work and dedication of the few people who were determined to get this sport going that West Valley Dog Sports became the club that it is today. Some of those people are no longer with us, but their legacy of competitive agility and fun for all has endured. This was witnessed by all who attended our 25th Anniversary trial and enjoyed hearing how it all began. 

As one of the only non-profit agility clubs in the state, I am proud of those who continue to work long and hard to provide the local agility community with the opportunity to see dogs and their handlers still doing the sport that they became enamored with all those years ago.      
Kathy Lofthouse and her dogs today. Photo courtesy of Annie DeChance. 

Still an active competitor, Kathy Lofthouse has earned four ADCH titles and recently achieved her 12th Agility Dog title with her youngest English Shepherd, Watson. Kathy always enjoys the pleasure of running her dogs. Her favorite event remains the USDAA Grand Prix and she has been a finalist with four different dogs: English Shepherds Rufus in 1992, Purdy and Bracken in 1996, and Border Collie Nel in 2001. In 2010, Kathy and her Border Collie from England, Lunarlite's Bobbie Dazzler, became Regional Champions in both thePerformance Grand Prix and Performance Speed Jumping after only running in a couple of events during the year. In addition to competing, Kathy has written many articles about agility for magazines and her children's story "A Dog Called Kan" is enjoyed by up-and-coming dog lovers of all ages, some of whom go on to compete in agility (for sale at www.petdoorsandmore.com). Kathy is available for private agility training; contact her at Runjumpweave@hotmail.com

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