Leaping for honors in a ruff contest

Competiton: Dogs and their human companions aim to fetch trophies in a flying disc event in Lutherville.

May 10, 2004|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

The local equivalent to David Letterman's "Stupid Pet Tricks" trotted into Lutherville yesterday morning, as dogs and their owners twisted and hurtled themselves high in the air for choreographed routines set to music during the Skyhoundz flying disc competition in Orchard Hills Park.

Frank Montgomery looked down at his Australian shepherd and asked, "You ready?" before they embarked on their acrobatic, trophy-winning performance, beating out several dogs, including another Australian shepherd dancing to a Whitney Houston ballad.

The Whitney Houston routine ended with Jo Ann Urciolo, 52, rolling over in synchronized time with Brizbane, her 18-month-old floppy-eared companion, as "One Moment in Time" blared through the speakers.

"Because of my age, I can't go as fast as the other people," said Urciolo, who lives in Odenton. "I try to keep it simple."

The competition is the local round of Skyhoundz, a national tour for dogs and owners who play competitively with flying discs. Yesterday, about 15 dogs competed in two heats -- one for distance and the other for freestyle, which included the routines set to music.

Winners, who took home plaques, will get to compete in a regional, and perhaps a world championship, round. The regional championship for the Northeast is next weekend in Virginia Beach.

The destination for the world championship has not been announced. Previous spots have been San Francisco and New York City. Yesterday's event was sponsored by the Lutherville-Timonium Recreation Commission and Atlanta-based Skyhoundz, which was founded in 1998 for disc and dog enthusiasts, according to Skyhoundz's Web site.

Several dog-handler pairs didn't place, despite impressive routines.

Peter Williams, 31, who lives in Germantown with his Australian shepherd, Lena, attempted an ambitious move in which Williams made a wide "O" with his arms while holding the disc in his teeth.

Lena jumped through his arms and took the flying disc from his mouth. But by the time she landed, she had dropped the disc.

"She's so eager," Williams said after the competition, noting that he missed third place by a point and a half.

As for the winner, Montgomery, 45, who lives in Annapolis, clinched the title for freestyle with Pixie Chick after the dog successfully jumped up and balanced on Montgomery's arched back.

Their musical selection was the country hit "Too Much Fun" by Daryle Singletary. As the tune blared through a set of speakers next to the field, Pixie Chick had 90 seconds to show off her stuff.

She hurled herself onto Montgomery's back as he bent down with a disc in his hand.

She stood on his shoulders, sat, steadied herself, then launched her body in the air, aiming herself at the disc, which she nabbed just before landing on the grass.

The crowd cheered.

Pixie Chick caught several discs that Montgomery threw -- some high, some low, some across the field.

She jumped, twisted and stretched, always keeping her eyes trained on what was coming at her next.

"Thirty seconds," Ray Lowman of Annapolis, a judge and event emcee announced.

Montgomery threw the flying disc across the 50-yard field. Pixie Chick tore after it, hoisted herself up and landed gently, disc in mouth.

The companions walked off the field, both winded.

"She doesn't even know she's performing," Montgomery said.

As for the distance competition, which consisted of several throws retrieved in the span of a minute, top honors went to Jake and his handler, Alan Michalak, 47, who drove from Long Island, N.Y., for the event.

Michalak, wearing a silver dangling dog earring and an embroidered dog hat, came with his wife, Andrea, and his three yellow Labrador retrievers: Jake, Madison and Roxi.

"Jake is very focused," Michalak said proudly. "He doesn't let anything distract him."

At the end of the competition, as the noon sun was beating down on the tired dogs and their owners, Lowman declared the event a success.

"The dogs have a great time with it," Lowman said. Then he paused and clarified his statement. "The people do, too."

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