Top retrievers coming to Missoula
By Hookemharry

Posted: October 10, 2002

Who let the dogs out? Well, this week in Missoula, it should more like: Let your dogs out and let the games begin.

The ESPN Super Retriever Series games will begin its qualifying competition today (Thursday), and continue Friday, Saturday and conclude with the finalists competition on Sunday.

The series breaks down into two categories, Retriever/Handler and Big Air. Both events will be held at the retriever field next to Linda Vista golf course on lower Miller Creek Road. Both are free and open to the public.

The retriever series, which lasts all four days, will feature 50 of the nation’s top retriever/handler teams. The Big Air competition qualifying round will be held on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

The Big Air is sanctioned by DockDogs, which also organizes the event. The Big Air competition has become so popular that last year during the finals, ESPN tripled the seating and brought in a Jumbotron just accommodate the tens of thousands of spectators.

In Big Air, dogs jump off two foot-high dock while fetching a ball. The object is to jump the furthest. In fact, the world record is 24 feet.

Why is Big Air becoming so popular? Shad Field, from DockDogs, says, “Anyone with a dog and a ball can compete. You don’t need a $15,000 professionally trained retriever to compete at even a national level.”

Field feels that the simplicity and national recognition make Big Air popular as well.

Aimee McManus, from Missoula, will be there with her female Karelian bear dog named Ronan. The breed, which comes from Russia, was trained to tree bears in Canada, according to McManus.

Ronan, which will have to jump with only three legs because of an accident, will be two years old in January. McManus e-mailed some pictures to her twin sister Julie, who lives in Virginia, of Ronan going after a ball off a dock earlier this year. Julie , who knew about the ESPN Big Air then entered Ronan in the competition.

McManus and her sister aren’t expecting a lot from Ronan in the competition. Ronan reportedly can jump as far as 12 feet, but because the competition is being held in Missoula, Julie has decided to fly out and join her sister watching Ronan compete.

Who knows? If Ronan does well with her disability of having only three legs, maybe some dog food company will proved her free dog food for life.

Jesse Crowe, of Missoula, will have his dog in Big Air. Zodi is half-Lab, half-shepherd that weighs 85 pounds and is four and a half years old. Crowe remembers the Big Air competition last winter on TV. So when Zodi needed to have ACL surgery in January and then again in April on both of her year knees, Crowe wasn’t thinking about the competition.

“I thought that was a good way to rehabilitate Zodi after her operations,” Crowe said. “So I started to throwing a ball off a one foot dock up at Placid Lake.”

The next thing Crowe finds out is his wife Michael entered Zodi in the Big Air competition after visiting and filling out the form. In fact, Crowe remembers commenting to his wife last winter while watching the games on TV that it would be nice of they would have the Big Air competition in Missoula.

You can still register your dog for Saturday’s event by calling 330-321-8707 or visiting the web site. And remember, all the events are open to the public free of charge.