Adopted dog has new leash on life
Destructive at an early age and given away for adoption, Smoke has a new leash on life as a national champion.
At just 2 years old, Smoke, a Chesapeake Bay retriever, has a sponsor and many awards for his athletic ability. He also will receive television time in January when the ABC network airs the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge national finals, which were held Oct. 3 at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, Mo.
Smoke took first place in the diving dog competition—also known as distance jumping—with a 30-foot, 3-inch jump from a dock into the water.
“Anything over 23 feet is huge,” said his owner, Melissa Ness of Ramona.
Much to Ness’ surprise, Smoke was presented his award from Olympic gold medalist diver Greg Louganis, who had a Jack Russell terrier competing in another sport at the finals.
To be on the same stage with Louganis, Ness said, “was definitely, really momentous for me.”
According to Ness, there is an array of sporting competitions for dogs held throughout the country. Various organizations host such competitions as distance jump, vertical jump, iron dog, agility, weave pole racing and speed retrieve. Ness, who says her part-time hobby is sports dog training, has five other dogs living at her home that compete in various contests.
Ness adopted Smoke through Chesapeake Bay Retriever Relief and Rescue about a year ago. He had lived with a couple in Phoenix, Ariz., where he had destroyed their backyard and had a habit of jumping the fence. Although he didn’t run away, he would sit on the porch, waiting for his owners, his destructive and reckless patterns were too much for his owners to handle, and he ended up at the relief and rescue organization.
Ness fostered Smoke before she adopted him. The first thing he learned was obedience, she said, teaching him such tasks of heel, come, sit, and stay. It didn’t take him long to master his tasks and Ness said he already looked competitive.
“He was a natural,” she said.
Although Smoke is an all-around dog, qualified to do different sports, Ness has concentrated his training on distance jumping.
Considering the sport involves a dog running down a dock, then jumping into the water as a dog toy is thrown out for the dog to retrieve, one would think Ness would be training with a dock and a body of water. That is not the case.
“I enjoy training,” said Ness. “I don’t train like everyone else. My training is mainly ground training.”
Although she has a pond on her property, there is no dock, so Smoke can only do short jumps into the water. Ness said she uses different training techniques with Smoke and her other dogs, including keeping their minds active.
So Smoke can get some actual dock practice in before competing, Ness said she usually arrives at a competition event early. Then she can see that “what I taught on the ground transfers to the dock.”
To compete at the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge national finals, Smoke had to qualify at an event in June at the San Diego County Fair. He placed second in distance jumping with housemate Henry taking first place at the qualifier.
Henry, also a Chesapeake Bay retriever, is owned by Barbara Henderson of Carlsbad. He has been living at Ness’ home so she can train him. Almost 8 years old, Henry is older than most of the other dogs competing.
Henry and Smoke then competed at the Purina finals, trading places with their wins with Henry placing second to Smoke’s championship jump.
Ness has another dog, Stryker, who is a combination of Border collie and Belgian Malinois. He has been a reigning champion in vertical jumping.
In the vertical jump, a “bumper” is attached to an adjustable pole hanging over the water and the dog must leap off the dock and knock the bumper off or grab it in his mouth. The highest jump wins. Stryker’s personal best jump is 7 feet, 8 inches.
The dogs wear vests when they are competing, often with their sponsor’s logo on it. Smoke’s sponsor is Natural Balance.
Smoke also has a green vest with a green U.S. flag as a tribute to the Army because Ness has a brother in the Army. In fact, Smoke’s registered name is “Project Treetop Smokin’ Secret,” because the day Ness brought Smoke home was the day her brother was deployed to Iraq. Her brother is home now, recovering from wounds.
Ness, who has a full-time job, said she traveled a lot this summer to the dog sporting events. She was scheduled to attend the DockDogs National Championships at King’s Island Resort in Ohio, the weekend of Oct. 9-11, where Smoke would again be competing.
Traveling this year to Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Arizona and Ohio, to name a few states, Ness said, “I think I probably hit 12 big ones (competitions) and three or four little ones.”
Sometimes she flies with Smoke and Stryker, who travel really well by plane, she said. The dogs travel in separate crates in the baggage section of the plane. She said the sponsors usually pick up the airfare.
Ness drives to competitions on the West Coast, including ones in Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Northern California and Arizona. She can’t take all her dogs, she added, so she must pick and chose.
“Each one has a different personality,” she noted.
With her dogs winning so many awards, Ness said the trophy case in her living room is full and she needs a bigger one. The wins bring in anywhere from $500 to up to $2,000.
“It’s not something you go to, to make money,” said Ness. “It’s not about winning. It’s about having fun with the dogs. For some reason they’re really having fun.”
Not only has she had fun with the dogs, but she has made friends with people from all over the United States and Canada.
“I have more friends out of state than I do in state,” she said with a laugh.
Ness noted that she is involved in SoCal DockDogs, a nonprofit club that started up this summer and is dedicated to the sport of dock diving. She encouraged anyone who is interested in the club to access its Web site, SoCalDockdogs.com.
For those who would like to see Ramona residents Smoke and Henry compete and win the top two national spots in distance jumping, Ness said the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge finals are scheduled to be aired on ABC on Jan. 24 at 12:30 p.m. Pacific time (3:30 p.m. EST).
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