17 July 2008

Back from vacation: Spotlight on George

We went to the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota and stayed at Custom Cabins for a week. It was beautiful and we had a great time hiking, swimming, "goin' to town" and fishing.
George, as it turns out, loves to fish.
A lot.
It's almost a clinical obsession requiring a combination of medication and intense therapy. Since Dr. Phil wasn't in Ely, Minnesota during our trip, we had no other choice but to enable his addiction by fishing off the dock. In past trips, he has stared so intently at the bobber that he's fallen off the dock and into the water. Now George is a big boy and has all of the swimming characteristics of an anvil. He wasn't deterred though. He struggled to shore - splashing away - and scrambled back on to the dock to resume his hunt.
He's almost 10 now, so we figure whatever makes him happy makes us happy too.
Here are some shots of him in action:

"Heeere fishy fishy!"

"Whoa! Slippery when wet! And there's a fish on my head! Ack!"

"All your fish are belong to me"

"Wait! Now what?"

"Oh yeah. Now I remember. Fishsickles!"

"Fish-licking is quite exhausting. I must nap now in front of the fire with my blankie and my four dog beds."

"There have got to be fish in the waterfall behind us. What are we doing just sitting here?"

01 July 2008

My hat is in the ring

Please send me your donations. It's going to be an uphill battle.

27 June 2008

The Bear Story

Since I don't have a lot of new dog news to report, I thought I'd tell the The Bear Wrestling Story.

Lonnie - roommate
Don - Ex-Army Ranger
Kevin - Former high school wrestling champ
Me - Fine Art Major
Sampson - 8'+ 700+ lbs - Black Bear

It was 1991 and I was attending college in central Minnesota. One of my roommates, Lonnie, came home from his part-time job at the Convention Center where he was helping set up for the annual Sports Show. Lonnie told us of one of the big attractions: Sampson the Wrestling Bear. That evening Sampson and his handler were walking through the Convention Center when Sampson stopped to pee, which Lonnie had to clean up. IT COMPLETELY FILLED A 5-GALLON WET-VAC. A five gallon pee, just think about that. Sampson was a BIG BEAR. He had been declawed and his teeth were worn down but he was still big freaking bear. Sampson was taking on all comers and since we were young and invincible, we decided to take him on. We went out to the bars that night and Don, Kevin and I proceeded to brag about wrestling Sampson the next day. As the night (and beers) wore on, our boasting got more and more out of touch with reality. We were going to open up a can of whup ass on Sampson! He'll never know what hit him! By the end of the night, we had told pretty much everyone we knew that we were going to make mincemeat out of Sampson.

Boy, did our heads hurt the next morning. We were woken up by the incessant ringing of the phone - people calling us to wish us luck and to ask what time we were going to take on Sampson. Ugh. We were screwed. We now HAD to wrestle him. We headed over to the Convention Center to get our names on the list - secretly hoping that it would be full and we would have an out. Lonnie, being the loyal roommate that he was, pulled some strings and reserved three spots for us. We found the guy running the show and he took us into his office for a chat. We sat down and he handed us all disclaimer forms, stating that we would not hold them responsible if we were injured, dismembered, paralyzed, disfigured or killed. We looked at him, looked at each other and said "Boy, is this stupid. Where do we sign?" Game on.

The stage they had set up for this event was a lightly carpeted plywood stage, about 15'x20'. No padding. No ropes. No nothing. Don, Kevin and I were discussing this when a sudden collective gasp came from the crowd of about 200 people. Sampson was in the house. He waddled out onto the stage (which was creaking under his weight) on his hind legs. He was big. Really big. Too big. I had the sudden urge to urinate which was quickly followed by the sudden urge to run crying from the room. Thankfully, I was frozen in fear which allowed me to give the illusion of calm and keep whatever dignity I would soon lose. We drew straws and I was lucky enough to be the first to wrestle. Sampson sat down on his haunches which put him at just about eye level. Did you know bears have really big heads but very little faces? And they stink. I asked the handler what I was supposed to do and he said, and I quote "The goal is to knock him over. You get three attempts. Put your shoulder underneath his chin and go."
"Go?!?", I replied. "That's it? Just go? He's going to pop my head off my body like a dandelion from it's stem. "Go" you say. What kind of help is that?"
"Don't worry," he reassured me, "Sampson will know what to do."
"OK, then. Here I go."

I was somehow able to get my shoulder underneath his chin, grabbed two big handfuls of stinky fur and pushed as hard as I could. Imagine this: wrap a really foul-smelling fur rug around the biggest tree you can find and try to push the tree over. That is exactly what it was like. I figure my chances of success hovered around .02%. Sampson just kind of sat there with a that's-all-you-got? look on his face when I felt his neck twitch and heard someone in the audience scream.

When I opened my eyes. I was flat on my back about 10 feet away from Sampson. The twitch I felt was him throwing me through the air by doing nothing more than turning his head. I rolled onto my side and saw Don and Kevin looking at me slack-jawed and bug-eyed. Not a comforting sight. I checked myself to make sure I wasn't missing anything, struggled to my feet and faced my opponent for Round #2. As soon as I had my shoulder in place under his chin, he made what I am told was a beautiful move. He pushed my upper body to the left with his head while he swept my lower body to the right with his left paw - essentially slapping me to the ground and knocking the wind out of me. It took about 30 seconds for me to start breathing normally again before I could get to my feet for Round 3.

By this point, Sampson had pretty much knocked the fight right out of me. He never moved from his sitting position as he threw me around like a three-year-old girl. Round 3 ended pretty predictably: I again got in position and he put his left paw between us and basically backhanded me across the stage where I landed in a heap like a marionette who's strings have been cut. Thank God it was over. I still had all of my limbs, my dignity and clean underwear.

Don was up next and he fared worse that I did. If you can picture a dog sitting down and then put a little doll underneath him in that little space behind his front feet, that's where Don found himself. Sampson pinned him to the floor and tore his shirt. I could see that Don was struggling for his life and was furiously kicking and punching, but Sampson was just sitting there, casually bopping Don in the stomach and chest with his muzzle. Kevin was next and had the most spectacular bout of all of us. At one point, Sampson grabbed Kevin around the side of his chest using his nubby teeth and picked him up off the ground - bruising several of Kevin's ribs in the process - before he spit him out like so much chewed gum.

We went back out to the bars that night and proceeded to brag about wrestling Sampson. Kevin had scars where Sampson had grabbed him and had some difficulty breathing, Don's upper body was a mass of bruises and I couldn't turn my head to the left for about a week and a half. We were a mess but we did it: We wrestled a bear and walked away to tell about it.

26 June 2008


Yes, I'm still alive! I apologize to my legions of loyal readers - aka my mom - for being blogless for the past few months. I've gone through a lot of changes in my life lately and I really wasn't - and am still not - entirely sure where things would take me. The biggest change is that Sasha was diagnosed with a fairly severe heart problem, which necessitated our early retirement from agility. We had been doing that consistently for the past five or six years, so there's a big gaping hole in my life as I try to find something to fill that void. I have also taken a break from teaching as well. It is just so hard to remain enthusiastic about the sport and to pass that enthusiasm on to my students when I am heartbroken that we can't compete any more. I can't give 100%, and that's not fair to them. One of the hardest things about that is that I no longer see my friends from agility any more. There are a couple people I saw every Monday that are really fun to be around but since I'm not running Sasha or teaching any more, I don't see them, and that makes me sad. So, I guess all in all I just sort of feel adrift right now and I'm not sure where I'm going next.

Sorry to get so morose. No one wants to read about how I'm contemplating life and what it all means, blah blah blah... I promise to be more upbeat. In fact, I heard there was a new Ugliest Dog winner: a one-eyed, three-legged Chinese Crested. I'll have to dig around for photos to post. In the meantime, stay tuned. I'll be posting more stuff soon.

14 December 2007

Photos from the article

Here are the "action shots" of me and Sasha from the article. A friend of mine pointed out that they put Sasha's name in quotes, like she's running under an assumed name or something. the funny thing is that shortly after the photographer left, "Sasha" and I collided and I totally wiped out. It was a pretty spectacular crash and actually, the first time we had ever done that. I zigged, she zagged and I went down like a sack of potatoes. Thank God they didn't get a picture of that!

Here's a photo of my friend Kevin's Border Collie, Fergus. What a great shot! I told Kevin it should be on the cover of Clean Run!

29 November 2007

A Nice Article

A reporter from WauwatosaNOW came to my agility class to do a story on agility. I thought it was quite nice, although she neglected to mention how good looking and charismatic I am. Jackie and Marvin mentioned in the article are from the Beagle Blog listed under my links column. Here it is:

How to keep Fido flying
Programs keep dogs active, healthy during winter
By Lori Weiss
Staff Writer
Posted: Nov. 28, 2007
Jackie Ratcliff gently pets her multi-colored beagle, Marvin, as she leans down to take a blue leash off his neck.

She points him toward a yellow cloth tunnel that gently winds around a corner.

She soon begins to run toward the tunnel with Marvin on her left side and points to it, saying "tunnel, tunnel" in a gentle voice.

Marvin's black, brown and white speckled body disappears into the tunnel and his face soon appears at the other end and he quickly looks for his owner, who is preparing him for the next obstacle - a jumping bar.

The two challenges Marvin and Ratcliff tried to conquer are part of an agility sport for dogs.

"By giving (dogs) activities using their minds, bodies, they are much happier," said Patti Muraczewski, owner of For Pet's Sake that has a branch location at Central Bark Doggy Day Care, 6442 River Parkway. "It's nice because it's positively trained. It's something dogs enjoy immensely."

Started in UK
Agility involves dog owners who direct their dogs over a course filled with jumps, tunnels, teeter-totters, dog walks, A-frames and weave poles.

Agility came to the United States from the United Kingdom in the 1980s, and For Pet's Sake began offering agility courses about eight years ago.

"It just took off like wildfire," Muraczewski said. "Agility has become a good portion of what we offer."

Muraczewski said the sport is a good outlet for dog owners, especially in the winter.

"It gives people another activity if they aren't going to the park as often," she said.

Dave Fink, an agility instructor who runs the class in Wauwatosa, agrees.

"We see a big spike in the winter because you can't take your dog outside running and it's driving their dogs crazy," he said.

Fink started his 7-year-old boxer, Sasha, in agility about five years ago.

"I needed something to do with her," he said. "I did it just to give Sasha something to do, to run around and have fun."

There are many older dogs like Sasha who take part in the sport, even thought they have arthritis.

"It's good for them to do," Muraczewski said. "It can be a low level and still keeps them active."

Any dog can participate
While it's a popular sport for border collies, any dog can do it.

Muraczewski said mixed breed dogs and even dogs as big as Great Danes are often seen in agility.

"Any dog can be motivated to do agility," Fink said.

That is the reason Laurie Wannemacher enrolled her border collie, Payton, in the beginner's agility class.

"(I enrolled Payton) because he is shy and needed some comforting, and I wanted him to be around other dogs," she said.

Wannemacher said Payton has been better with people since taking the class.

"It's a wonderful outlet for people, no matter what your occupation, to be able to enjoy something like this with your dog," Muraczewski said.

Some try competitions
While many dog owners enroll their dogs in agility classes for the fun of it, some pets move on to trials where they are judged on speed and accuracy.

Even though it takes hard work to be prepared for competition, Fink said it should remain a fun activity.

"If you're not having fun, you shouldn't be doing it," he said.

Lori Weiss can be reached at lweiss@cninow.com or (262) 446-6645.

Upcoming area agility trials

• Dec. 6 to 9 - Hounds for the Holidays at Uihlein Soccer Center, 7101 W. Good Hope Road, Milwaukee

• June 13 to 15 - United States Dog Agility Association at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds, 30820 111th St., Wilmot

• July 18 to 20 - American Kennel Club agility trial at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds

• Sept. 13 to 14 - USDAA agility trial at the Kenosha County Fairgrounds

Agility training through For Pet's Sake

• The classes are eight-weeks long, one hour each session.

• Beginners courses cost $115.

• Intermediate and advanced classes cost $95.

• Contact For Pet's Sake at (262) 363-4529 for the next available eight-week session