In a new arena, puppy lovers compete

Four-year-old Sophia Thill shows her freshly-painted puppy face to her younger brother at the Universitys College of Veterinary Medicines annual Dog Olympics.

Liam James Doyle

Four-year-old Sophia Thill shows her freshly-painted puppy face to her younger brother at the University’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s annual Dog Olympics.

by Jessie Bekker

Joe eyed the hurdles, waiting for a signal from his owner.
Upon hearing an excited “Come on, Joe,” the Labrador’s long legs found energy as he leaped across a small obstacle course and finished the trip with an enthusiastic jump in the air.
Joe belongs to one of about 300 dog owners who made their way to the AgStar Arena on the State Fair Grounds Saturday to show off their dogs’ talents and network at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine’s annual Dog Olympics. 
The event’s competitions, which include agility races and a costume contest, have grown since the canine Olympic Games’ start three years ago, prompting event organizers to change its location and make room for more participants.
Organized by the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the event raised money for the St. Paul Police K-9 Foundation’s veterinary services.
SCAVMA philanthropy officer and second-year veterinary student Lucy Tongen said organizers chose the organization because it is local and related to 
veterinary care.
Event attendance grew from the first year to the second, which led to the event’s move from the University’s Equine Center on the St. Paul campus to the larger AgStar Arena this year.
The arena was brimming with exhilarated pups and their owners Saturday.
Kristin Hohnadel, who has attended the event with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Scout, every year since its start, said the added space gave the dogs more room to stretch their legs.
“I think it’s nice they have seating and a big arena to work in,” Hohnadel said.
Scout made his owner proud, achieving first place in the tricks contest with a series of leaps and twirls.
Competing against Scout were nine other talented dogs whose coordinated wiggling and rolling wowed the audience.
Jedi, a Border Collie, took second place and won the crowd over with her ability to make a figure 8 between her owner’s legs.
Jedi finished off the trick by springing onto her owner’s back as she took a bow toward the audience.
Among the event’s spectators were Jenny Klausner-Shallman, her young daughter and their Great Dane, Tiny.
Klausner-Shallman said she makes a trip to the Dog Olympics with her daughter and their dog every year to let her daughter and Tiny make new, temporary friends.
“We are all dog lovers, especially this one right here,” she said, pointing to her daughter, who was in line to get her face painted with spots and a nose to resemble the dogs.
Julie Marshall brought her Toy Poodles, Rose and Doc, to socialize as well.
“In the spring, they go crazy; they’re ready to go outside, so any dog events we try to get to if we can,” she said.
Though Marshall said she doesn’t train her dogs to do flips and jumps like some of the other pups, she hopes to teach them in the future.
But the Dog Olympics are more than just a series of competitions. SCAVMA invited community and school organizations to take part in an educational fair at the event.
Nancy Galas and Natalie Mirando are volunteers for Minnesota’s Unwanted Siberian Husky Rescue, a dog rescue organization. They were present Saturday helping raise awareness for the Husky rescues.
Along with MUSHR, organizers from the Minnesota Disc Dog Club, Purina and Sidewalk Dog set up booths at the event for dog owners and their pets to stop by.
Dr. Kate An Hunter, a veterinarian and owner of Curry, a small, Pug-like dog called a Brussels Griffon, demonstrated some of the skills police dogs utilize to find drugs and bombs, called nose work.
In their demonstration, Curry searched for hidden fabrics doused in scented oils, like birch and clove.
“[Nose work is] very simple and positive,” Hunter said. “What I like about it best is it uses a lot of mental energy for the dogs, so it really does tire them out.”
After six hours of watching contests and occasionally stopping by booths — like the puppy kissing booth for a slobbery lick — attendees filed out of the arena around 4 p.m.
“It’s a beautiful day, and it [was] very well-organized,” Marshall said. “We’re having fun.”