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IFCS 2016 Team Member Profile: Joy Mercier

A profile of IFCS 2016 Team Member Joy Mercier and her dog Chiquita.

We are featuring regular profiles of all of the IFCS 2016 Team Members. Today we feature Joy Mercier and her dog Chiquita.


Where do you live? Elgin, Texas, which is near Austin.

How did you first get involved with agility? I was in graduate school and a friend of mine enrolled in a beginner agility class at a local agility club. She kept telling me about what they were doing and how much fun she was having with her dog. It didn't take long before I was harassing the club, asking when they would be offering another beginner agility class!

What made you decide to compete? I remember thinking that competition was going to be hard and "scary." I don't remember what happened to convince me to enter my first trial - it was probably the steady encouragement of my instructor at the time, Mary Marshall. And I used to compete in sports in school, so it was a natural progression to start competing in my new sport.

Do you (or did you) participate in any other dog sports or training with your dogs? A couple of years ago, Chiqui and I tried out flyball. I really enjoyed the new training challenges, and Chiqui was a very promising "height dog." But unfortunately, I wasn't able to pursue both agility and flyball. I have also dabbled in herding and nosework in the past, but quickly found that agility doesn't leave much time/money for anything else!

Tell us more about the dog(s) you will be competing with as an IFCS Team Member? Chiquita (Chiqui) is an 11 pound "mutt" from a country shelter near Austin. My best guess is that she is a Sheltie/Rat Terrier/Dachshund mix. Chiqui was one-year-old when I saw her at the shelter. She looked like she would be an agility rock star - sure enough! She is feisty, noisy, playful, and a totally food hound, but also eager to please, incredibly devoted, and a committed snuggler. I could not have hoped for a better teammate!

Does your dog have any quirks or unique habits that you would love to share? Quirky or unique habits ... yes, there are a few! Chiqui is obsessed with The Lap. Half the time, she gets in my lap and I don't even notice - suddenly she's there! Also, Chiqui growls when she is saying "Hi" to other dogs, whether it's a dog she loves or a dog who is supposed to keep his/her distance. Similarly, she postures to her older, larger "sister" after they have been separated every time, even if it's only for a few hours. Luckily, her sister (a Labrador/Border Collie mix) is incredibly tolerant of this ridiculous ritual. Oh, and Chiqui LOVES to raid my garden and steal leaves off my "broccoli-ish" plant when I'm not looking. I have to protect my plant with vigilance!

Are there any challenges you have faced with your dog that you'd be willing to share and how you both overcame the challenge and achieved success? Chiqui sprained her knee a couple of years after I adopted her. I didn't recognize right away that she needed more than "a couple weeks off." Once I did, I needed to find a vet who knew more than the average bear about canine soundness. Through a friend's recommendation, I found Dr. Van Winkle in Austin, who is trained in chiropractic and acupuncture modalities. She explained what real "crate rest" is, patiently coached us through a long and conservative rehab program, and discussed a chiro/acupuncture maintenance schedule that would help prevent re-injury. I later found that Chiqui responds extremely well to trigger point therapy. Overall, the experience of resting and rehabilitating an injured dog has made me into a better canine "coach" since I'm always watching her to see if she is feeling ok, and taking counter measures if I think she is getting tight, tired, or sore.

Do you have other dogs/pets aside from your IFCS dog? Tell us more about them: I have two 11-year-old dogs, a Doberman male named Orion, and a Border Collie/Labrador named Amiga (Miga). Miga is my first agility dog, and I will be forever thankful to her for playing this silly game with me just to make me happy. The most important thing I learned from Miga (other than how much I love this sport), is that I must put my dog's mental well-being ahead of my desire to compete.

Describe for us what you do in your "other" non-agility life/work life? I am a hydrogeologist (groundwater) by training. I work at a Texas state environmental agency, overseeing a number of remediation projects. All of my sites have voluntarily enrolled in this cleanup program (called the Voluntary Cleanup Program, go figure!). The sites investigate historical activities on the site and assess soil and groundwater for contamination. And when necessary, they implement a cleanup (remediation) plan. I particularly enjoy the technical challenges involved in the initial characterization of the site's historical, geologic, hydrogeologic conditions, and how these factors may have influenced contaminant fate and transport.

How does it feel to be on the IFCS Team this year? Exciting! I am so happy that my first international competition is with Chiquita. And it's nice to have several other Texans on the team!

What are you looking forward to the most at the World Agility Championship event in The Netherlands this April? I've watched European agility competitions on TV and heard seminar instructors talk about what "European courses" are like. I'm excited to experience a European competition first hand and compare the course challenges to the challenges I see in USDAA Team and Masters Challenge courses.

Do you do anything special to prepare yourself for a big competition? For any competition, I get trigger point or chiro/acupuncture work on Chiqui in the preceding week. And I try to get as much sleep as possible in the days lead up to the competition.

People who enjoy agility with their dogs are often intimidated by the idea of competition - what advice would you give them to encourage them to take the plunge? Competing in agility is an excellent way to motivate you to become a better handler and trainer. Even if you're doing agility "just for fun," your dog will have more fun as you improve your handling and training skills, so it's a win-win for you and your dog!

I strongly encourage my beginner agility students to attend local agility trials to "see how it works." Students who attend local trials and volunteer as ring crew (like bar setter or leash runner) learn the most about agility competitions ahead of time. I encourage my students to attend the trial without their dog for part of the time so that they can volunteer as ring crew (and I advise them which jobs are the easiest jobs and how to do them). But I also think it is important for them to attend the trial with their dog for part of the time (when allowed), because it gives their dog a chance to experience the energy of an agility trial without the pressure to perform.

Do you have a favorite dog from a book, movie, TV-show or video game? No, growing up, I was all about horses. I especially loved "The Black Stallion." It wasn't until after I had owned a horse and a dog that I realized that dogs are the superior companions. Sorry, horse people!


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