This is the blog from Sandy and the rest of the ACE instructors. We post on ACE and everything agility and of course training, owning and loving dogs! Feel free to join the conversation! You can also check out our student blog—where our students post their training and trailing brags.
Best of Dogs, Best of Friends
When founding father Alexander Hamilton left his sleeping wife on July 4, 1804 to meet Aaron Burr on the dueling grounds, he closed the note he left Eliza with this: “adieu, best of wives, best of women”. When Ron Chernow wrote his New York Times best seller, “Alexander Hamilton”, in 2004, his dedication of the book was this: “To Valerie, best of wives, best of women”, and when Lin-Manuel Miranda created a Broadway sensation based on that book his bio in the Play Bill reads, “For Vanessa, best of wives, best of women”.
“The best of” is what a magical weekend became when I flew to New York City on February 11th, 2016. There was a one major event at hand at first—The Westminster Agility Championships. I had entered my aging super star in 2015, only to have a mail snafu keep us from getting in. I suffered a very long waitlist; I was 36th, watching each of the other folks in the same boat as I get accepted. As fate would have it, I was the very next dog on the list, or, in other words, the first dog that did not get in. My girl was 10 years old with nothing more to prove, it was not meant to be, so I retired her from “travel” competitions then. The next year she was not slowing down as I had expected she would. I entered Westminster again, “just to see if I got in” as I could always decide not to go. I actually had little intention of going; I just decided to hedge my bets. When my entry was officially accepted, I thought, “I will go if I can travel with someone fun”, make it into something more than just another dog show.
Talk about tempting fate. I began to throw out the idea of a trip to NYC to a few friends who I thought might do it… my dear old friend from high school days, Mary, with little hesitation said, “Yeah, I’ll go”. She was counting the number of states she had seen me compete in… Indiana, Washington, Oregon, California… she wanted to add the big apple to her resume. I told Nanci about the trip too. She said, “I just saw this special on 60 Minutes about this hot new Broadway play that “intrigues” me (her current favorite word that means we are all in for a ride), so she was actually looking for an excuse to go to New York. The play was “Hamilton”, based on the life of Alexander Hamilton. I got intrigued too, kind of an understatement actually. I fell madly in love the with the writer, lyricist and star Lin-Manuel Miranda, bought the CD and 730 page book, and, by the way, I am still consumed by both. Now we had a second major event at hand. Tickets were not easy to get and ended up being more of an investment than a purchase.
Before I know it, I am buying a plane ticket to travel to our nation’s most prestigious dog show and the hottest play on Broadway. The first was the last feather in my precious girl’s cap, the later was a once in a lifetime deal, and all with two very wild and very crazy non-agility party girls I have loved for decades.
I had confessed that I thought that this trip might be turning into fun city first and dog show second when my dear savior Kelly, with a beaconing finger in motion, said, “Come over here a minute. Listen,” she said, “you have known these women for a long time; don’t you think you can party with them another time? Don’t you think you want this trip to be about doing your best with Quilly? You do get it, that this could be her last hurrah, right?” ‘nough said. Operation “do your best all cost” was officially in motion. Check. Whew, close call that one.
Ok, so no drinking with my TWO favorite drinking buddies until after the competition. Yes, including skipping the traditional Bloody Mary on Thursday morning at the airport. Easier said than done.
On Friday afternoon in New York, I was able to hook up with fellow competitor and student Liz Armstrong. She joined us for lunch and I was able to talk agility. This was the key brain switch needed, as we had just visited the soul sucking 9/11 memorial earlier that day. Liz’s energy was perfect and we all walked down to the show site to soak in the vibe, again easier said than done, as the temperatures in NYC were as low as they had been in 20 years, like 0 degrees with the wind chill. Quilly was MISERABLE whenever we were outside and protested every attempted to leave the hotel thereafter.
Saturday up at dawn with Liz, Mary serving as my personal valet, we hit Westminster. The excitement was growing by the second. Everything there was perfect. All purple and beautiful… I’d yet to be competing with flowers and lush couches to lounge on. Once I had a course map in hand and could get ringside I was ready to rock and roll, and so was Quilly. She had her sassy eyes when we woke up. Whew.
What that competition actually was is best seen on film. The live TV broadcast really captured it all. The ambiance, the excitement is all there. Nanci and Mary were supportive beyond belief, and Liz and I were able to strategize on every level from where to set up, to course handling and where to park her family (so special to meet them) and my friends for the competition. They had all paid $70 bucks to watch us do our thing! ($35 for the day performance and $35 to watch the sold out in advance finals)
The fact that Liz and I both did so well in the preliminary rounds was super sweet; I’ve had it all ways and this is by far the best way. We both made finals, both as third seed, super good. This is the goal, the one and only goal at these events, to make finals. When that happened, this little dog of mine, this darling little soul mate, whom I will never know how I was ever so lucky to share my life with, achieved a crowning glory. She had now run in finals of every major national event we had attempted. Including USDAA Grand Prix, Steeplechase, AKC Nationals, Invitational, and now Westminster. She was a world and national champion with nothing left to prove. What is important to me, is that with this finals, I got to share her and our joy of this game with the world and more than that, with my family and friends. My “brother” had his entire tugboat crew watching from Indiana, my family in Ohio (my cousin’s 5 year old grandson claiming he had trained Quill, as he had “run” her on their recent visit) and family in West Virginia were all watching. My students’ families from all over were tuning in and letting me know and even my dear David was trying frantically in vain to watch from China. Can you imagine what that level of support feels like? It is nothing short of overwhelming; it stops you in your tracks, it makes your heart swell. When people look and SEE what agility IS, it is soul filling. When a TV camera can show ALL that is there to be seen, the love, the dedication, the skill. I can only hope that every competitor there felt what I did, that unique opportunity to share their passion on that level.
I have had so many people tell me that our run, and our celebration after it, conveyed joy, pure and simple. This little white dog had now brought me more joy than I can express, she had taken me all over the world and now to NYC with my treasured friends and we got the chance to shine with the whole world watching.
Finishing second (the new first!) was beyond my wildest dreams, having Liz come in second too was the sweetest icing EVER! Champagne flowed, the spirit was as high as it could be. Liz and I had come, and accomplished, what we set out to do, we put our best foot forward and we had our friends and family with us, all united for a little red dog called Rusty and a little white dynamo called Quill.
Ok, so did I convince you that I was also a little excited about the play? That happened the next day.
You know how when you build yourself up for something for weeks and get really into it and then no matter what, it just can’t live up to your expectations? Well…. NOT! … HAMILTON ROCKED. When that play ended, I was stunned. The spirit of the performance, the dedication to excellence on all levels was there. I could not help but compare it to the performances at Westminster the day before. Humans, trying our hardest to shine, to do our best, to reach our loftiest of goals. I sat in my seat absorbing the entire experience; I had gotten glory with my girl and I was with my dearest of friends and life had never, ever been sweeter.
I had a weekend with the best of friends, the best of dogs.
liz and rusty JWW
liz and rusty standard
sandy and quill JWW
sandy and quill standard
sandy and quill on TV