You don’t always have to have your own dog to win big in agility.
Fourteen-year-old Katie Blair Williamson from New Orleans, Louisiana, competes in agility with Blink (Blackmyst’s In A Blink Of An Eye), a Shetland Sheepdog, and Voulez (YaYa’s Voulez Vous Q Cher), a Golden Retriever.
Although Voulez is Williamson’s agility partner, she’s owned by Susan Fraser and her husband, and co-owned by Steve Matthews. For Williamson, getting involved with agility was love at first sight. Though she doesn’t come from a dog show family, her interest began while in elementary school. “I found agility by watching videos on the internet and then asked for a beginner agility set for Christmas,” she says. “And the rest is history.”
She fondly remembers making “jumps out of sticks for the bars and pillows as the wings for my dog, Lily, a Coton De Tulear.” A couple of years later, when Williamson was in sixth grade, she got involved in agility training through her local training center, K9 Klub, with her rescued Beagle, Luna. This is what eventually led to Williamson meeting her teammate Voulez.
A Perfect Match
Mentorship is key for anyone getting involved in dog sports and Williamson says connecting with other competitors changed the course of her life. “I was at a trial in Covington, Lousiana, when Jaime Juckett told me she wanted to introduce me to someone,” she recalls. “That’s when I met Susan Fraser and Gitchi. Gitchi was wagging her tail with a bumper in her mouth.” Fraser told Williamson that she wanted to run Gitchi, so they practiced at K9 Klub and eventually got to compete in Novice Preferred. Unfortunately, Gitchi had to retire, so Fraser suggested that Williamson run Voulez.
Since that time, Williamson and Voulez have been racking up wins. While some people might find it strange to think about running agility with someone else’s dog, Williamson explains that it’s been a great experience. “It’s fun because I get to run with a dog who is already experienced, and she has taught me so much and has shaped me into a better handler,” she says, adding that she has benefited from the chance to be mentored by Fraser. “Having someone like Ms. Susan, who has been in the sport for a much longer time than I have, teaches me and helps me understand the sport is so important for growth in agility.”
Success on the Course
In addition to being #9 for Golden Retrievers in agility in the country, the team is currently at double Q number 15 in their quest to achieve their MACH (Master Agility Champion) title. They are also already qualified for the 2022 National Agility Championship.
Williamson is committed to continuing to build her skills as a handler. “Ms. Susan calls me an adrenaline junkie,” she says. “I love the rush of an agility trial. During training I like to work on specific skills, like when I watched Nationals, I saw all of these handlers use different techniques, so when Nationals was over, I went out in my backyard and taught them to Vou.”
But the joy of dog agility isn’t just about the wins. “Seeing and experiencing how much work goes into every dog’s success story has shaped my perspective on work ethic,” Williamson says. “I’ve learned that persistence and hard work can allow me to achieve my goals thanks to the hard-working dogs and trainers in my life.”
Encouraging Junior Handlers
Fraser is not just Voulez’s owner but also her breeder—Voulez is the fourth generation of Goldens in her home. Fraser did all of Voulez’s beginning foundation training, but she is quick to point out that “Katie is not just running someone else’s dog; the bond they have is far and away more than that. They are teammates and best friends, and Voulez is equally at home at the Williamson’s as she is at our house—and honestly probably spends about equal time at each.” The connection between Williamson and Volulez was immediate and natural. “Katie’s talent and sunny disposition combined with Voulez’s sweet nature and biddability are what made this dream team possible,” Fraser adds. “Their temperaments were just simply made for each other and it gives me immense pleasure to witness their joy.”
2020 was a hard year for many people, especially those in the medical field like Fraser, who is a nurse. For her, seeing her dog and Williamson training and competing brought her a lot of joy during a challenging time. “It was really a blessing to me that Katie could give Voulez lots of time, training, and loving. They went to the Junior Agility Invitational in Orlando and did well. When we started having trials again here, Katie continued to run Vou, and they just got steadily better and better.”
Advice On Mentoring
Performance sports like dog agility are a fantastic way for kids and teens to get involved in the dog world. For prospective junior handlers interested in learning about showing dogs, Williamson encourages reaching out for support and mentorship with kennel clubs and individuals in your local community.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions because most of the time the adults are very happy to answer,” she says. She also encourages kids to speak up, get involved, and build friendships with other people you meet in classes and at shows. “Don’t think that people won’t listen to you just because you’re a child—you can point out hard parts of the course and give suggestions and it helps you grow a bond with others in your community.”
Intergenerational friendships and connection is something very special that can occur in the dog show world. Adults and junior handlers can mutually learn from one another to benefit dogs and the dog sports world as a whole. Fraser encourages other experienced agility competitors to support kids and teens who are getting involved in the sport. She also encourages dog owners to consider allowing juniors to compete with their dogs. “Mentoring a junior will inspire you and give you the thrill you felt with your first successes at this sport,” she says. “And most likely, your dog will love how fast those young legs can run!”
This summer, Fraser notified us that Williamson had been in an accident and broken both bones in her forearm, requiring a cast from armpit to fingers. But despite being injured, Williamson hasn’t slowed down. “In true Katie spirit, less than 60 hours later, she ran Voulez in Master Standard agility—and qualified and placed,” Fraser says proudly. “To top it off, they also qualified in Master Jumpers and Time 2 Beat the same day.” Two days later with the cast wrapped in a plastic bag, Williamson and Voulez went to a Diving Dogs competition where they set a new personal best of 21 feet 3 inches, for their first Master Dock Dog leg.
With that resilient attitude, Williamson’s goals for the immediate future include earning her MACH with Voulez, going to the Junior Invitationals, Agility Nationals, and applying for the Junior World Team in 2022 (the competition was canceled in 2021 because of the pandemic). On top of all that, Williamson is looking forward to starting her freshman year of high school this fall.