Being selected for one of the US World Agility Teams is considered the ultimate achievement by many in the agility world.
Now junior handlers who are 18 years old and younger have the same exciting opportunity. The European Open Junior (EOJ) Agility Championships will take place in Luxembourg July 13 – 16, and the 2017 US EOJ team will include two juniors who handle All-American Dogs in the AKC Canine Partners program.
Kylie Doherty, 12, of Forest Grove, OR, and her dog, Rosie, and Gabbi Kabakchieva, 15, of Fox Point, WI, and her dog, Scotty, were selected for the 2017 team and are now busy practicing and raising money to help fund their trips. The AKC funds entries and uniforms, but the team members are responsible for the travel expenses.
To be considered for the team, says coach Susan Cochran, all juniors submitted a lengthy application along with videos. These were reviewed, and their trainers and parents were contacted with regard to their commitment and training level.
At 12, Kylie is the youngest team member, and dogs have been part of her family for six years. Her first dog was a rescue dog named Mickey. A couple of years later, Rosie came along. The litter was a surprise on a local farm, and flyers seeking homes for the puppies were sent out all over town.
One ended up in her brother’s kindergarten cubby, and her parents found it three days before Christmas. Rosie, a Border Collie/Australian Shepherd mix, was a big surprise present for Kylie and her brother Jake that year.
Kylie learned about agility through a friend who could not train and exercise both of her dogs adequately due to having a child with special needs. They asked Kylie if she would like to take one of these dogs, an Australian Shepherd, to an agility class on Fridays. The class was for adults, and the club was hesitant because she was only 5 years old. But Kylie’s mother asked the instructor, Kitty Ware, if she could come to one class to see how it would go. Apparently, it went well and she has been working with Kitty and her husband Steve ever since!
Kylie said what she likes best about agility is the fun of playing with her dog and that it keeps dogs fit, active, and out of trouble. Dogs learn basic commands like sit, stay, and down, as well as harder tricks like “back up” and “leave it.” She says that agility dogs also don't usually get spooked by loud noises.
Other sports Kylie enjoys include gymnastics, soccer, basketball, and volleyball. Her favorite is softball. When not busy with these, she is usually reading a book or playing with the dogs and her brother. Her favorite school subjects are art and history. Kylie said she wants to be an agility trainer or a veterinarian.
Kylie has lots of support, and her whole family – parents, grandmother, and brother – will be joining her in Luxembourg for a family vacation.
Dogs have been part of Gabbi’s life for nearly 10 years. She was born in New York where she lived with her mother in an apartment where dogs were not allowed. When they moved to Milwaukee, WI, just before Gabbi turned 5, they got Duke, an English Springer Spaniel, who is now 9. Duke has also done well in agility with Gabbi.
Scotty came along when Gabby was 10. She returned home from a trip to Europe extremely sick, and her mother promised another dog as a motivator to keep Gabbi fighting. At 6 am on the morning after exiting the plane in a wheelchair, she woke her mother to go to the Wisconsin Humane Society, which does not open at 6 am. But when the shelter opened, Scotty was waiting in the very first kennel. After much coaxing and calling, Scotty got up from his cot and started jumping on the door. That’s when they knew he was destined to be part their family. Later they learned that Scotty was meant to be euthanized, but through a special program, the Wisconsin Humane Society rescued the puppy and he became Gabbi’s best friend.
She and Scotty took a group agility class at the Milwaukee Dog Training Club. At first the goal was simply to have fun, but they worked hard and began competing. Gabbi’s grandfather helped out by building agility equipment for her backyard so they could practice. They are now working on Scotty’s Master’s titles and Master Agility Championship (MACH).
What Gabbi likes best about agility is that it “doesn't matter whether your dog is a mutt or a purebred because no matter what, you're a team. It takes a lot of bravery to step up to the start line and trust your dog, but in the end, it doesn't matter if you've qualified, or even finished! It's an honor no matter what to step to that start line and feel that connection with your dog.”
Agility is a huge part of Gabbi’s life, but she enjoys a few other pastimes. She competes in eventing with her horse, Raptor. She plays the viola, piano, ukulele, and sings. She spends hours drawing, and designed the t-shirt for her fund raiser. She plays soccer on her school’s Junior Varsity team and takes conformation handling classes with her new puppy (a Mudi named Kinder) and takes her dogs coursing occasionally. The family makes frequent trips to the dog park, and Gabbi does therapy dog work with Scotty to let him relax and enjoy extra loving from other people.
Gabbi loves school, and her favorite subject is biology. She wants to be a veterinarian and would also like to teach agility throughout high school. And she’s dreaming of making the European Open and WAO teams with Kinder. She credits her mother with helping her make it all the way to the junior world team.
“I can't be thankful enough to my mom, Maria Goranova, for helping me on this amazing but difficult journey. She helped me write my application, she videotaped me at trials, she helped set up my fundraisers, she has been a source of constant love and support, and she reminds me not to take life too seriously and enjoy the journey,” said Gabbi.
Kylie and Gabbi are amazing young competitors, but organizing the team is a big undertaking that requires help from some exceptional adults who have been very generous with their time.
Susan went through a long process before being appointed coach, and she said it was well worth the wait. Since team selection in early February the juniors have practiced skills they will need for international competition; the courses at the EOJ will require some skills not seen on American courses. There will be two practices: one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast.
Attendance at these practices is not mandatory but encouraged. In Europe, they will attend a seminar where the team will run courses and work on skills with a top European handler. The team will also get one practice at the event site prior to the start of the event.
The EOJ has grown from one junior with one dog in 2014 to 23 Juniors and 24 dogs this year. Susan reached out to Debby DuBay, Ret USAF, for help with marketing and fund-raising for the team and gave her the title of Team Liaison. Debby has enjoyed agility with her Poodles for seven years. Her long-time involvement with organizations that support children made her a natural for the job of helping juniors get to the EOJ.
The team is self-funded. The juniors must make their own way to Luxembourg, paying for their own airfare, hotel and food. A parent or guardian must accompany each junior. Most team members do fund-raising for themselves and for the team. The cost to go to the competition is about $2,200 per person/dog.
Debby established a GoFundMe for the EOJ team where anyone can donate any amount to support them.
If you would like to assist Gabbi, Kylie and the rest of the US EOJ team, go to these sites:
EOJ Team GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/2017-eoj-usa-agility-team
Kylie's and Rosie's GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/kylie-and-rosie-akc-european-open
Gabbi’s and Scotty’s GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/ScottyEOJ
Gabbi’s and Scotty’s Booster: https://www.booster.com/scotty