In the Pink: Border collie wins Westminster agility contest


Liberty, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, and owner Marcia Lyons of Seattle get ready to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club’s agility championship in New York, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020. The retrievers, known as “tollers,” aren’t too common in the sport, but “I like to be a little different,” Lyons said. (AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz)

NEW YORK (AP) — She might have looked like a black-and-blur, but this dog is pretty Pink.

Pink the border collie streaked to the Westminster Kennel Club’s agility title Saturday night with determination, dazzle and a steady stream of barks.

Named after the pop singer of “Get the Party Started” and “Trouble,” the dog “sings and screams all the way through,” explained handler Jennifer Crank of Pickerington, Ohio.

Pink’s win extends an all-but sweep for border collies in agility’s seven years at Westminster, save for an Australian shepherd’s 2016 win.

Meanwhile, a dog named Moses won a special award for the top mixed-breed dog. Bounding with gusto, Moses ran with handler Jordan York of Evansville, Indiana.

Traditional judging toward Westminster’s best in show award begins Sunday, with the finals set for Tuesday night.

Some 325 dogs from dachshunds to Doberman pinschers took on Saturday’s serpentine agility course of jumps, ramps, tunnels and other obstacles.

Top “awwws” – if no formal awards – went to competitors including Carly Rae, a poodle that puzzled over a line of weave poles, and Lobo, a lovably wayward Siberian husky.

Scores depend on both speed and accuracy, with handlers using verbal cues and body language to guide the animals. “You have to memorize. You have to strategize … It’s a delightful challenge,” said Marcia Lyons of Seattle. She competed with her Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, Liberty.

To their owners, the success of border collies in this event is no surprise.

“They’re very focused, and they love to work and learn new stuff,” said Westminster competitor Jim Koras, who has three border collies.

But dogs that aren’t quite such naturals at the sport “actually teach you the most,” says Koras, of Weathersfield, Connecticut. “You have to learn more about them, and it’s harder to build that teamwork, but it’s really satisfying to do.”

He was at Westminster on Saturday with his first and so far most accomplished agility dog, a husky-border collie mix named Cote.

If there were border collies, Shetland sheepdogs and golden retrievers by the dozens, there were also some far rarer dog, such as Valur the Saluki.

The leggy, ancient Middle Eastern hounds are fleet but known for independent-mindedness, so owner Christine Klein of Sharon, Vermont, makes sure to “keep it fun.”

As a pug, Niner comes from a breed more associated with snuggling than speed.

But after a bystander spotted her zipping around a dog park some years ago and suggested agility, “we saw how much she liked it,” said one of her owners, Cindy Pichotta of Minneapolis.

Seven-year-old Niner made her Westminster debut Saturday, handled by Pichotta’s partner, Dan Webster.

“People are surprised when they see her,” Pichotta allows. “You don’t expect to see a pug.”

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