Alumna goes for purple and gold at the Westminster Master's Agility Championship
July 24, 2023
Samantha Perry DVM '19 has watched the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show since she was a child, but she didn’t need a television to watch Westminster this year.
Perry and her golden retriever Dallas were among 350 Master’s Agility Championship competitors at the Westminster show in New York in May.
Seeing the athleticism and connection of the human-canine teams at one of the largest canine companion events in the United States always left her in awe. This time, she was part of the grandeur.
"There's just nothing like that feeling of being able to say, we trained and we got this accomplishment. This $2 ribbon just meant the world to me then."
Perry started dabbling in agility in high school using equipment she built with her father in their backyard, but didn’t start competing in the sport until after she entered veterinary school at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.
“There's just nothing like that feeling of being able to say, we trained and we got this accomplishment,” she said of completing her first agility trial. “This $2 ribbon just meant the world to me then.”
For Perry, becoming involved in dog sports while training as a veterinarian was a fun and enriching experience. “It helped me realize there's a whole world of veterinary sports medicine, and it’s grown so much in recent years,” she said.
“There actually are a lot of other vets in the sport, as well as veterinary technicians, which I was maybe a little surprised to find.”
Her main goals at Westminster were to have fun and maybe earn a qualifying ribbon to have as a memento, but Dallas exceeded expectations. In their first run, he charmed the crowd by “saying hi” to the judge, wiggling up next to the judge mid-course, resulting in enthusiastic applause.
“A golden says hi to the judge?” said Perry. “They love that, but he did it the right time, so it didn't cost us any faults. And we finished in just barely enough time.”
Their second run, however, presented a more significant challenge. Dallas had a tendency to excitedly leap from his favorite obstacles, which sometimes can lead to disqualification. Despite the pressure, Perry and Dallas delivered a solid performance, earning their second qualifying run and securing a coveted purple and gold Westminster ribbon.
Even though the two didn’t make the event finals, they were ecstatic with the experience.
“I always joke that our team name would be ‘Going for Gold’ with reference to the Olympics,” Perry said. “I'm a vet, I'm going to be busy working. So I always joke like, I'm going to be the best amateur I could be.”
“It just super enriches that human-animal bond. Like there's just nothing like it. Anybody’s dog can do it. You don’t need a purebred dog, you don’t need a young dog–there’s a sport for every dog and every team–and you don’t need to be athletic yourself.”
Earning ribbons is more icing on the cake than anything for Perry. The real reward is working together with Dallas and having a great experience with her canine partner. She highly encourages all pet owners to explore different activities to do together with their pets.
“It just super enriches that human-animal bond. Like there's just nothing like it,” she said. “Anybody’s dog can do it. You don’t need a purebred dog, you don’t need a young dog–there’s a sport for every dog and every team–and you don’t need to be athletic yourself.”
However, as a small animal practitioner in Roanoke, she does have recommendations for those interested in exploring dog sports.
First and foremost, owners should talk with their veterinarian to determine the level of activity that would best suit their pet and to work with a qualified trainer. Many sports do require building up to a higher level of health and fitness, just like human athletes.
Plan to build in plenty of days of rest and rejuvenation between training sessions and competitions. Going for a hike or a long walk are great ways for people and pets to decompress.
The most important requirement is simple: have fun with your dog.
“Every moment is precious,” Perry explained. “Don't be afraid to get out there and be bad. You're not always going to be the competition, you're going to be the entertainment. And Dallas, perhaps more than my other dogs, has taught me that very well.”