Despite the vague instructions on the club’s website, my mom and I took Shizuka out to Bennett’s Creek Park in Suffolk, Va. early this morning to try our paws at lure coursing. A few weeks ago I stumbled on to the Sight Hound Organization of Tidewater’s (SHOT) website while looking for information about activities Basenji like to do (I’m still convinced this is part of Shizuka’s mix). The club meets on the last Sunday of every month at Bennett’s Creek park and, if you’re a newcomer, the first run is free. Though I had serious doubts that the area was fenced in and that I’d actually feel comfortable letting my tiny hunter loose on her own, we went anyway to give it a go.
Eager not to miss any information (there was none- don’t hold your breath), we arrived at 8:30 for a 9:00 meeting time. Hardly anyone was in the park, except for a group setting up for some kind of party. We wandered around for a bit, and eventually saw some people with dogs in their cars. Naturally, we followed and 4 other cars convened in a parking lot down the way. Everyone was a newcomer though, and with no sign of an actual setup, we were all a bit worried. Funny thing- I wanted to go to a sight hound organization to see if Shizuka fit in, but not a dog in that parking lot was an actual sight hound. Around 9:15, a trailer rolled up on the far side of the park and just sat there for a while. The five cars in the parking lot (ours included) wandered over to the trailer, which turned out to be the SHOT equipment.
First off, it turns out that SHOT is one of the only organizations of its kind for quite some distance. Around 9:45, sight hounds started to pull up in cars with license plates from North Carolina. A passel of Whippets, a Saluki, a woman with 5 adorable Basenji in tow. Closer to 11, an enormous Rhodesian Ridegeback arrived and did a beautiful run. The Virginia participants came from as far as the other side of Richmond. I guess it just takes them a while to arrive. Note to self: if we go again, don’t show up until 10.
We unloaded a wagon from the trailer with a set of pulleys that get nailed into the ground at various spots. Apart from the woman driving the trailer, the sight hound club members didn’t arrive until 10:00, so that’s when setup began. Needless to say, by 10 am on a late July morning, it was hot. Shizuka was bored. No one seemed to know what was going on. That aside, another newcomer and I helped a man wheel around a little red wagon and create a giant figure eight out of pulleys and string that spanned at least the length of a football field. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I sort of thought it would be a little more contained. It’s not. It’s pulleys with string in a field sheltered on one side by woods, one side by a parking lot (backed by Bennett’s Creek), one side with houses and the other side with the one road that leads into the park. My dog is not the best when it comes to recall, so I was starting to reconsider letting her run at all…
If you’re expecting an actual meeting with an introduction that lets newcomers know what the rules are, the etiquette, what membership entails, or what the point of the sport is, you should probably look it up on the internet before you come (I didn’t). With the lure set up and a test run complete, a sign up sheet is put out on the small table behind the ladder that allows the person operating the lure to see the entire course. With the whirr of the generator in the background, don’t expect that you’ll hear your name called. Go up and keep track.
A few experienced sight hounds made a go of the course, and it was totally worth the two hour wait. A few newcomers were non-starters. Their dogs chased for a few yards and lost interest. I don’t know that there’s any mentoring or teaching that goes on. Your dog does it or doesn’t. Luckily, though I was worried she’d get bored in the middle and run away, or poop, Shizuka took to the sport like a Lab to water. She dashed the length of the figure 8–soooo far into the distance– completely focused on the little white bags whipping by. Just in case, I even had my mom park the car on the opposite side of the field in the event that Shizuka dashed off for the creek. No need though. She came all the way back, grabbed the bag and killed it, and then joyously returned to her leash. Holy cow- one of the proudest moments of my doggy-companionship life! I can’t believe she did it! It was beautiful- seriously. I only ran her once. Partly this was because she didn’t run as fast as I knew she could, and I think that was due to her being extremely hot, and partly because I wanted to end on a high note.
I don’t want to speak too soon, but I may have found a sport for Shizuka! Membership fees are very reasonable at just $25 a year, so I think I’ll sign up and take her when it gets a little cooler. Next time I’ll be there at 10. Now for Dock Dogs Orientation next weekend…