I don’t think I’d ever heard of dog agility before I scrolled through the library’s non-fiction ebook selections and saw Robert Rodi’s Dogged Pursuit: My Year of Competing Dusty, the World’s Least Likely Agility Dog. Dusty, a funny-looking, grayish Sheltie, looking happy and proud in mid-jump over a bar, was pictured on the book’s cover. I was intrigued.
I learned that dog agility is a sport in which dogs and their handlers move through a series of obstacles, competing with other dogs and handlers for speed and accuracy. Some of the obstacles include bars to jump over, plastic tunnels to run through, A-frame structures to climb over, weave poles to run in and out of slalom-like, and (dreaded especially by Dusty) a teeter-totter that slaps down to the ground when the dog runs up to the middle of it.
Rodi had been entering another Sheltie, Carmen, in agility competitions, and had earned a few novice titles and ribbons until Carmen developed canine hip dysplasia. Carmen had seemed to enjoy the agility circuit in her prime, but her condition meant she could no longer compete. Rodi found himself missing the weekends on the circuit—something he never thought he would enjoy when he first started, as he thought of himself as an outsider, a “blue-state guy in a red-state world.” Rodi is an epicure, a sophisticate, and at first didn’t identify with the Midwesterners he thought of as “fanatics chasing ribbons.” Oh no, not him.
After Carmen was side-lined, Rodi looked for another Sheltie. He found Dusty on the website of the Central Illinois Sheltie Rescue. “…[W]hen I first glanced at Dusty’s photo, the phrase that came to mind was ‘heroin chic.’ A moment later, I changed my mind and dropped the ‘chic’.” It was not love at first sight, even when Rodi met Dusty in person and Dusty cowered under a chair. But the Rescue’s description of Dusty as a fast runner, able to jump over six-foot fences, helped persuade Rodi to sign the adoption papers and bring Dusty to the home he shared in Chicago with his partner Jeffrey.
Dusty was not another Carmen. He didn’t catch on quickly to the doggie track and field and didn’t seem to care either about getting ribbons or, really, about Rodi. Still, Rodi persisted for a year, taking Dusty to trials and competitions, making the circuit with their buddies from the dog training classes. Rodi’s very funny descriptions of what the two went through that year kept me chuckling. It wasn’t just Dusty having a hard time adjusting to the demands of the circuit, but Rodi, trying to fit in socially with people he felt he had little in common with.
Dusty gave Rodi mixed signals about whether or not he liked the agility work. On the advice of a fellow trainer, Rodi took him to an animal communicator, a.k.a., a “dog whisperer,” who translated Dusty’s thoughts to his owner. It’s interesting to read what people will spend money on for their dogs. Aromatherapy, too, is sold to dog owners and agility trainers.
Some trainers employ other unorthodox methods of preparing their dogs for the track, and if you’re easily offended, you may want to avoid the whole chapter on “Magic time.” Dusty gets car sick, and Rodi may drink a bit much at times. He writes about unpleasant bodily fluids almost as often as he describes the delicious-sounding gourmet meals he prepares at home.
If you read this book, you’ll learn what dog agility is all about, and you’ll probably have a few good laughs along the way.