The Fur Fun Flyball team is no stranger to competing at events like the 2023 AKC Flyball Dog Challenge Presented by Tractor Supply Company that took place this past February 25 and 26 in Ocala, Florida. But this year, things for the team, which includes Phil Getty and his daughter, Grace, are different. This is the first year they’re playing without Emily Getty, Phil’s late wife and Grace’s late mother, who passed away from a rare cancer in October 2022 at only 46 years old.
Newlyweds and New to Dog Sports
Over two decades ago, Phil and Emily Getty said “I do.” Six weeks later, they brought home a rescued dog, a mixed breed named Indy. “She just loved running around our backyard, doing crazy things,” Phil said, so they began looking for dog sports as a result. After doing some research online, Emily was the one who discovered Flyball as an outlet for Indy. As it turns out, there was already a team near their home in Philadelphia.
Now, Phil has been involved in the sport for 22 years, partially because his background playing competitive sports in high school and college. When Emily found Flyball, they started training Indy. “Then about a year later, she started running [Flyball], and we’ve been doing it ever since.” Since that initial search, the Gettys have belonged to multiple Flyball teams through the decades. Now based in Raleigh, North Carolina, they joined Fur Fun in October 2015.
The Gettys currently have four All-American Dogs. Phil describes 12-year-old Rico as Emily’s “heart dog,” and their 3-year-old dog Helix is trained by their daughter, Grace, who is fifteen. They also have a 9-year-old dog, Ion, and a puppy, Mose, who is still too young to compete.
Flyball: It’s a Family Affair
“Basically, ever since I was in the womb, I’ve been doing Flyball,” said Grace, who began participating when she was eight. She started out by running her parents’ dogs in Flyball until she got her own. Her brother, Noah, who is eighteen, has also participated in the past.
Training Helix has been a labor of love for the ninth grader. “When I got to training my own dog, it was so very rewarding because I trained him all the way up to where he is now, with the help of others, of course.” Grace added that each milestone is especially exciting for her because she is Helix’s primary trainer and handler.
Being on a team with her parents wasn’t always easy. “Sometimes it’s a little difficult with family, just because we get into arguments a little bit,” she said. “Most of the time [it’s] just really, really fun.”
But when Emily was diagnosed with a rare cancer in 2017, their bonds through the sport and the memories they made together became even more important to the Gettys. Traveling to competitions in their RV and competing together would become something they could look back on together, remembering Emily’s passion for the sport, her dogs, and her family.
Honoring Emily’s Love for Flyball
Emily was extremely passionate about Flyball, and in addition to practicing and competing, she volunteered with the North American Flyball Association (NAFA) and helped with their annual Flyball CanAm Classic by coordinating the prizes. “She would spend many hours on that, trying to figure out what she wanted to give people, make it better than the year before,” Phil recalls. “She took great pride in hearing people talk about that year’s prizes and awards.”
NAFA chose to rename the CanAm Multibreed Championship trophy to the “Emily Getty Cup” in her honor. “It was a wonderful tribute,” said Phil. “The really exciting thing about it was, she was able to know that before she passed,” Phil comments. He adds, “She didn’t think it was warranted. She didn’t think it should be named after her, and I was telling her how having that before she passed, it meant a lot.”
Emily played Flyball with multiple dogs, including Ion. “He was on our team that ran under fifteen seconds—we ran 14.99,” says Phil. “Emily, at the time, was handling him before her diagnosis and everything, so they had that special bond.”
Carrying On With Competition
This past AKC Flyball Dog Challenge was the Getty’s first tournament without Emily, which Phil says was “extra special, but a little bittersweet.”
The competition meant a lot to both him and Grace. “This time, I got to actually run my dog in it,” she explained. “I love the experience and it wasn’t as much pressure as everyone else might have thought it was. I mean, our only goal on our team was to go out there and have fun and do our best, and that’s what we did. It was very special.”
“But to watch Grace and Helix run, and how she performed and handled the pressure—it was so special to watch,” said Phil. “I even teared up a few times she was racing because it was great. I was so proud of her.”
By competing in Flyball together, the Gettys continue to honor Emily’s legacy. As she competes, Grace applies what her mom taught her: “don’t take things for granted. You’re going to fail and you need to just try again.”