Absolutely Fetching Owner and pooch train in hope of becoming top dog at Frisbee contest

June 19, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Peter Bloeme has a favorite saying: "Keep dogs out of the pound, get dogs out of the pound, give dogs a reason for being."

How? Let them fetch a Frisbee!

Most any dog can do it, although Mr. Bloeme concedes the 50 or so canines competing (with their human partners) in a regional fetch-off today at Johns Hopkins University rank snout and shoulders above the average backyard dog.

"Will your dog chase a ball? Basically, you just substitute a Frisbee for the ball and you've got yourself a Frisbee dog," says the national director of the Friskies Canine Frisbee disc Championships. He will be a judge at the Northeast Regional Finals, which begin at 9:30 a.m. today at Garland Field.

Well, OK, it is not exactly that easy. Ask Andrew Schaffer and his 2-year-old border collie, Jasmine.

Most evenings in recent weeks, you could find them in Sudbrook Stream Valley Park in Baltimore County, training for today's event. The bright-eyed black dog chases flying discs tirelessly -- sometimes racing far out under a long throw to snatch the saucer before it hits the ground, sometimes vaulting over her owner's back to snare a little pop-up.

"She would chase them till she drops," says Sheila Schaffer, Andrew's wife, who had never had a dog until they married in 1990, but concedes, "I love 'em now."

Indeed, demonstrating earlier this week, Jasmine snagged a sharp edge of plastic and began to bleed from the mouth. She had to be forced to drink some water before frisking away to nose a Frisbee eagerly off the ground, dripping flecks of red on the white disc.

Sharp-edged tooth holes are a common hazard of the training routine, says Mr. Schaffer, who orders factory-second Frisbees in 150-disc deliveries.

Mr. Schaffer and Jasmine competed together in last year's regional finals, in Philadelphia, and placed in the middle of the field. Jasmine is still no Bobby McGee, concedes the 30-year-old construction firm worker.

Bobby McGee was Mr. Schaffer's first Frisbee dog. In 1988 he and this mutt of apparent golden retriever/collie lineage qualified for the World Championships at Disney World. They placed second in the regional, in New York's Central Park, and finished 10th at the worlds.

In their trademark move, depicted in a photograph on the wall of the Schaffer's Sudbrook home, Mr. Schaffer and Bobby McGee would each grip a single disc in their teeth and twirl around like Chinese acrobats, the dog spinning 5 feet off the ground.

"I don't think anybody else was stupid enough to try it," says Mr. Schaffer modestly.

Jasmine is learning the trick, but still tends to drop free on the first spin.

"Actually, I think she's coming along a lot faster than Bobby McGee," says Mr. Schaffer.

His first dog, who died of a stomach ailment in 1990 at the age of 7, took a good three years of training to reach the worlds.

He acquired her while attending Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. She wandered onto campus and was taken in by a friend, but when he couldn't keep the dog, "I was next in line," recalls Mr. Schaffer.

Bobby McGee initially proved Frisbee-deficient. Mr. Schaffer was already an avid competitor in the sport of ultimate Frisbee, a fast-flowing game which is something of a cross between football and rugby.

Naturally, he began throwing discs for his dog.

"She didn't catch on right away. It would just bonk her on the head."

But one day, "she finally just realized I wanted her to catch it," and the teamwork was born that would eventually see Mr. Schaffer and Bobby McGee not only competing, but also demonstrating their skills at halftime shows of the National Football League Redskins, Giants and Eagles.

Deeply saddened when Bobby McGee died, Mr. Schaffer did not plan to immediately resume the canine/Frisbee connection.

"We went to the pound to look for a cat," recalls Sheila Schaffer, a part-time physical therapist who is also kept busy by the couple's child, 7-month-old Rachael.

Instead, they returned with Brittany, a silky-coated mixed-breed dog who has made a lovely, friendly pet, they say.

But Mr. Schaffer says this dog showed little interest in chasing a spinning plastic disc. So it was not long before he acquired purebred Jasmine from a breeder, and began to train her for competition.

"She took to it right away, and you can see she loves it. But we really do it for the fun and exercise. As for this weekend, well, I don't know. We'll do our best," Mr. Schaffer says.

CANINE COMPETITION

What: Northeast Regional Finals, Friskies Canine Frisbee disc Championships

When: 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today; registration begins at 9 a.m.

Where: Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus, Garland Field (west side of campus, off Art Museum Drive).

Admission: Free

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