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Talking with... Rhonda Koeske

The next in a series of interviews with USDAA IFCS World Agility Championship team members. By Brenna Fender

The 2010 World Agility Championships are fast approaching. USDAA will send a terrific team to Clevedon, North Sommerset in the United Kingdom for the event that runs from May 14-16 at the Hand Equestrian Centre. Team members include Angie Benacquisto with Duncan and Dylan, Daneen Fox and Masher, Janelle Julyan and Eve, Rhonda Koeske and Tack, Elise Lynch and Ting, Kate Moureaux and Driven, Stephanie Spyr and Rage, Rosanne DeMascio and Drifter, Dudley Fontaine and Maverick, Ann Zarr and Skylar, Suzanne Wesley and Sonic, and coach Stacy Peardot-Goudy. To celebrate our team, we'll be doing periodic interviews with team members.

This year has already been busy for Rhonda Koeske and her family, including her mixed breed dog, Tack. In March, the mechanical engineer moved from Sterling Heights, Michigan to The Villages, Florida. Plus, she's gearing up for to travel overseas as part of the USDAA IFCS/World team. What a hectic start for 2010! Rhonda doesn't do other dog sports but she does participate in pet therapy at hospitals and nursing homes. She also enjoys camping, traveling, and playing golf.

Brenna Fender (BF): How did your family and friends react to your making the IFCS team?

Rhonda Koeske (RK): Friends and family are very happy for me. It has been great going to trials and getting congratulated.  People who I didn't even think knew who I was have come up and congratulated me.  It's very flattering!

The Michigan agility community has been fantastic and very supportive. I'm very thankful to my club, Canine Combustion Dog Agility Club of Michigan, and Mark Bills at Highest Hopes Dog Training for their support, as well as those people who have helped me train: Chris Frank, Lori Michewicz, and Angie Benaquisto.

BF: Will a friend or family member travel with you to the event?

RK: My husband will be traveling with me.  He doesn't come to competitions very much, but he couldn't miss this. It will be great for me; he is great support and helps me keep my focus where it needs to be.

BF: Tell me about how you got Tack.

RK: I found Tack on I was looking to rescue a small-breed, puppy that wouldn't shed too much and was built in such a way that it could be successful in agility (she is my second agility dog).  She was the result of a careless owner who let his dog breed with a neighborhood dog and then advertised free pups at five weeks of age.  Her litter was picked up by New Start on Life Chinese Crested Rescue in order to keep them together until they were a little older and could be spayed and neutered.  We looked at four of the litter of seven and she was the most interactive with people and would retrieve a crumpled paper ball.  She was the runt of the litter.  Her mix is Chinese Crested (mother) and Cocker Spaniel.

BF: How tough did you find the qualification process to become a team member?

RK: That's a difficult question. Having never done anything before like this I was unsure what my strategy should be for which events to go to, etc.  Thankfully a few good friends, Elizabeth Evans and Angie Benaquisto, really helped.  Once you set your strategy and complete your events, all you can do is wait and see what happens with the points.  That was stressful!  It was great that Elizabeth set up the Yahoo group for people that were interested in making the team and Jeremy Gerhard helped keep the points tally so we had some idea what was going on with points throughout the country.  It was actually a very exciting process, I think you need to be really committed to trying to make the team. With the travel and expense, I had to rearrange my priorities and focus on the goal to make it happen.

BF: What is your goal for this year's event?

RK: I have to say, I really want to come home with a medal; I think Tack and I are underdogs (no pun intended), so we will do our best and see what happens.  I know that we have a great team and even if I don't get a medal, I hope to be able to celebrate my teammates' medals.  Nobody will be prouder than me to see USA on the podium; I will probably cry my eyes out, as I get very emotional about that type of thing (watching the Olympics, etc.) and seeing those representing our country do well!

BF: How would you describe your emotions as the event draws closer?

RK: Really, really excited.  I can't wait.

BF: What is your greatest concern about the trip to the UK for the event?
RK: Travel issues and having everything come together to be at the right place at the right time.  I'm traveling through Belgium to make the trip easier on Tack, but that makes the travel details very complicated.  And of course, making sure all of the UK veterinary requirements are correct is very nerve-wracking.

BF: What do you think will be the most difficult part of the competition itself? 

RK: I don't know, but I think the different challenges the judges from the different countries present to us will be exciting and interesting.

BF: What do you expect to be fairly easy or smooth? 

RK: This will probably sound horrible, but I expect nothing to be easy or smooth.  I'm the type of person that likes to be prepared for the worst and hopes to be pleasantly surprised.  I've traveled a lot and things can just go wrong.  The really neat part is when someone from another country goes out of their way to help you and you make a new friend.  It always happens when you travel, it's amazing.  I expect that I will find it even more true meeting agility people from other countries.

BF: Any other comments? 

RK: It's really an honor to be on the team, especially representing the mixed breed contingent, following in Dana Pike and Tangle's shoes.  It is very important to me that USDAA has always supported mixed breeds, I hope I can show that a humble "Petfinder dog" can be a true international competitor.

Brenna Fender is the editor for the USDAA's subscriber services portion of the website.  She is also a freelance writer, wife, and parent of two dogs and two children.  Please contact Brenna at with comments, questions, or submissions.

Photo courtesy of Sue Ann Morgan.


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