By Jessica Groover
National champions, out-of-towners and even a celebrity came to the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center Saturday on all fours.
The American Kennel Club hosted its National Agility Championship over the weekend, bringing 890 dogs and their handlers to the competition.
Even Brody, who was one of the dogs that played Marley in the movie “Marley and Me,” came to see the event and promote the film’s DVD release.
A line of people waited to have their picture taken with the famous dog.
“He was very cute,” said Carson Smith, 10, of Harrisburg. “(My friend and I) were both thinking, ‘we’re about to meet a celebrity.’”
But most of the event was about the dogs who jumped, ran and weaved through the various courses.
On one of the jumper’s courses, dogs were led by their handlers through 19 jumps and an area the dogs had to weave through. Some dogs completed the course in just 24 seconds.
In the year leading up to the national event, the competing dogs had to have received six perfect agility scores and be just as fast or quicker than the standard course time.
Among the dogs from 43 different states, six will be crowned national champions in their various categories today.
“For agility, this is the biggest event,” said Andy Hartman, director of agility for American Kennel Club.
The event is big enough that people drove hours or days more than they usually do for competitions. Cynthia Hornor, of Howard County, Maryland, drove six-and-a-half hours so that her Shetland Sheepdog, 5-year-old Dash, could compete in his second national championship.
Usually Hornor attends trials within about an hour from her house.
Hornor said Dash started competing when he was two. She said the typical amount of time to train a dog is two years and another year for nationals.
And while many dogs and people were competing, the event also drew a large crowd of people who just wanted to watch. Chris Amsbary and Stephan Amsbary, both of Charlotte, had never been to an event like it.
“We will be back,” Stephan Amsbary said. “These are really riveting. It makes us realize how lazy we are. We’re going to have to work our dogs harder.”
Chris Amsbary, like many others who had never been to one of the championships, was surprised at how fast the dogs were as they ran through the course.
“I had no idea,” Chris Amsbary said. “The handlers have to be really good athletes too.”
While only six dogs and handlers will walk away with a national championship, Hartman’s advice for competitors is to enjoy being there.
“The key to agility is to have fun,” Hartman said. “The most important thing to remember is we’re out here to have fun with our dogs.”
• Contact reporter Jessica Groover: 704-789-9152