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2005-07-06 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Do you like to tango with your Terrier or limbo with your Lab? If so, it might be time to choreograph your steps and enter the world of canine freestyle, a competitive sport where owners and dogs dance as smoothly as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Organizations in the US, Canada, and Britain hold championships where handler and dog show off their fancy footwork before large audiences.

The World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) and the Canine Freestyle Federation (CFF) are 2 American groups that sponsor events with prize money. The dogs entered are all obedience trained first. Their moves to the music just meld with their handler. The people can wear costumes to match the musical selection, but the dogs are only allowed ankle bands and decorative collars. The teams may have props like a hula hoop or cane.

According to Patie Ventre of Brooklyn, founder of the WCFO: "the object of musical freestyle is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative and original dance, using music and intricate movements to showcase teamwork, artistry, costuming, athleticism and style in interpreting the theme of the music." Patie was a champion skater and ballroom dancing. She has the lofty goal of elevating canine freestyle to a worldwide sport and perhaps having an American team enter the Olympics some day.

Joan Tennille of Virginia who founded the CFF in 1983 says she’s never met a dog that didn’t love this sport. It forms a bond between the human and dog. If you’d like to participate, it’s best that a dog complete a basic obedience course first. The dog will have to learn to heel on both sides, not just the left as in regular dog training. The dog will also have to know how to walk backward in a straight line, pivot in place , and sidestep. More advanced dogs move between the owner’s legs, spin, leap, and bounce on their hind legs.

You have to choose music that fit’s the rhythm of the dog and then work on choreography. Make sure you pick a tune your dog likes because dogs do have musical preferences. Start experimenting with your Bow Wow Barishnikov. Video taping and friends observing are great ways to critique while you practice. The routine has to work in a ring that is 40 feet by 50 feet. Some competitions allow owners of shy dogs to enter tapes of their routines because they know the dogs will not perform in front of an audience.

The judging of canine freestyle routines is complicated and similar to ice skating. It is broken into 2 sections - technical merit and artistic impression—with a perfect "10" the best for each. Dogs can participate in 2 categories - Heelwork-to-Music and Musical Freestyle. They win titles that progress from Junior through Novice to Advanced to Handi Dandi to Sassy Seniors.

This is the first time I wish the column came equipped with a video cassette because you have to see these routines to believe them. Yes, those smart aleck Border collies dominate this sport too. In fact one winning video shows a Border Collie doing a Gladiator routine to music with his partner. Other breeds win titles too. In fact a small Schipperke won the Handi Dandi WCFO competition in May by dancing to Herb Albert’s "The Lonely Bull". On a French website I found a Jack Russell dancing with a phony nun to a jazzed up "Ave Maria" (Gounod, not Schubert).

Probably the most amazing dog dancing video shows Carolyn Scott and her 12 year old Golden Retriever Rookie frolicking to Olivia Newton John‘s "Grease." I get chills every time I watch it. These two are veterans of "Pet Star" and many other TV appearances. Carolyn was paralyzed at 4 years old with polio and her work with Rookie has inspired canine freestyle organizations for the disabled and the Land of Pure Gold Cancer Fund. You just have to see Rookie dance. In fact, STOP reading this and go to a computer right now-http://gottadance.landof puregold.com. If you can’t access it, contact me at the BEACON and I’ll forward the video to you.

Now do you feel like a wall flower without a dog dance partner? If so, you might want to waltz into Babylon Town Animal Shelter (643-9270) 51 Lamar St. W. Babylon to adopt the "polka pup" of your dreams. If you like to slow dance, "Bobo" is the perfect partner. This lovable fellow in Cage 31 is a hefty 10 year old Flat Coated Retriever mix. Picture a big Golden Retriever dipped in chocolate. He is neutered and great with kids. Bobo is an excellent family dog. He unfortunately had a landlord with no tolerance for dogs. If you rather cha cha with a cat, "Rocky" is a great choice. He is a large neut. gray tabby who adores dogs. He lets dogs jump over him so you might be able to work that into your freestyle routine. His owner loved him but had severe asthma. I talked Last Hope into taking his brother "Harley" so I feel obliged to find "Rocky" (Case 17517) a home too.

•Females: a chocolate Lab mix puppy in Cage 94 and "Summer" her sweet Shepherd mix kennel mate in Cage 93. Summer was abandoned at a church.

•Males: a red Chow in Cage 7; "Frankie" the Beagle mix pup in Cage 43; a handsome Husky in Cage 21; and poor "Sam Shepard" in Cage 41 who looks just like a wolf.

Kittens: There are some gorgeous, baby tortoiseshell and Russian Blue types.

•Low Cost Spay/Neuter- (516)364-PAWS; Island Rescue- 968-8700.

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