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Close encounters of the canine kind...

At a recent show, someone in Sally Jones' ring party said something that reminded her of an article she wrote for The Agility Eye back in March 1999 under her pseudonym Perennial Starter. It reminded her that there was a whole new generation out there who had never read her rambling so she's agreed to share this golden oldie. She has kindly translated the Martian into English for those of you who aren't fluent.

A few weeks ago I invited a friend to come and watch an agility show at which I was entered. Now my friend does not have a dog nor has she ever even seen agility on telly let alone attended at a noisy winter indoor show so she had no idea what to expect. Her reaction was to stand in stupefied amazement at the antics that we all consider 'normal' agility behaviour. The total culture shock was exacerbated by the fact she is German. If we had been in cartoon-land, a big think bubble would have appeared out of her head with the words 'Vot are zees crazy Englisherpersons doing covered in zee mud on a freezing day mit zee barking hunds?' I had never really considered myself eccentric until that moment but I have to admit my friend has a point.

Can you imagine if aliens landed on the outskirts of an agility show and had their first sighting of life on planet Earth?  Imagine they watched undetected from the distance and then sped off back to their own galaxy to report their findings.  The debriefing would probably go something like this...

'Well, High Commander, there appear to be two distinct life forms. The majority of the bipeds are the Handler species of the hooman-bein genus and the quadrupeds seem to be divided into littlegits, youbustards, and poppets. The poppet species is in the minority. Bipeds have two forms of locomotion.

The first - and marginally slowest - is to be dragged by numerous quadrupeds attached to the biped by a cord. This is not enjoyable for the biped so they periodically detach the cord. The second method of locomotion is inside a structure comprising mostly metal and rubber, with much of the metal being oxidised. The quadrupeds are incarcerated in this structure for long periods of time. Rather confusingly this structure can also be referred to as 'youbustard' if it fails to make a continuous humming sound.

We were fortuitous to happen upon these life forms whilst engaged in some sort of ritual ceremony to which only initiates of an omnipotent force known as The Casey are privvy. At this ceremony a separate species of biped presides known as The Judge, or sometimes, rather confusingly, 'youbustard.' The Judge is a kind of high priest with attendant novices called Scribe (now the Scrime), jumpputterupper and the keeper of the time machine. It appears to be The Judge's duty to dictate the arrangement of the ritual equipment that is variously shaped and coloured. The Handler species then perform a dance en masse around this equipment, within the confines of a sacred perimeter. It is at this point that The Judge is most often referred to as 'youbustard.'

The Handlers then leave the hallowed place to return to their metal structures to choose a sacrificial quadruped. The quadruped is prepared for its part in the ritual by being bodily purged and stripped of all artifice. The Handler and quadruped then perform the ritual dance alone in the ring apart from The Judge who signals his disapproval. We did not observe any ritual sacrifice of quadruped, but this act was alluded to by several Handlers whose littlegits had earned much disapproval from The Judge as they were heard to shout, 'I will kill you.' That is evidence enough.

In addition to the ritual dance, there were also words to be chanted that varied with each biped/quadruped combination. These were mostly difficult to understand but some of those commonly used, and used with great fervour and volume were, 'NO!' 'pickyerbloodyfeetup' and 'SteadySteadySTEADY Damn!.' At the end of the ritual, the quadruped is re-attached to the cord and returned to the metal structure.

The climax of the proceeding is a ceremony, attended mainly by the bipeds who did not incur The Judge's disapproval. A disembodied voice makes a proclamation, the bipeds clash their upper limbs to make a noise and the Chosen biped approaches The Judge - who is now never referred to as youbustard -  and is presented with a ceremonial piece of fabric. This is repeated many times and, as the ceremony progresses, the bipeds become hysterical, especially when the Chosen biped receives red fabric and what must be an icon of quite some reverence. The bipeds then disperse. It was at this point we decided to leave before being detected.'

So, are we any more odd than the participants in any other sport? I don't think so, but just in case we are doing the human race an injustice, in future I'm going to look for strange marks in the grass in the exercise area!

About the author...
Sally Jones has been taking part in agility since 1989 and, for some of that time, was actually competitive. The antics of her rescue crossbreeds are what prompted her to write the Perennial Starter articles for Agility Eye magazine to give the 'also rans' like her a meeting place amongst the points tables and reports on national finals in the rest of the magazine.  Sod's Law then intervened and two of her dogs shot up to Advanced (G7 for you youngsters) but Sally stuck to her Perennial Starter roots, knowing that one day she would be back there.  And she is.  

In the real world, Sally is a full member of Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors and her wonderful five dogs work with her as teaching and stooge dogs as well as strutting their stuff at the odd agility show.  

In a parallel universe, she is the coach for the Italian National Agility Squad at the World Agility Open and still doesn't know how that happened.

First published 06 November 2013


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