SKOWHEGAN — Jackie Dennis’ life has gone to the dogs. And she’s ecstatic.

Dennis, 67, a retired teacher and account manager from Farmington, went through the paces Sunday with her 22-month-old Sheltie, Piper, at the Eastern Maine Agility Club’s canine agility trials at Skowhegan State Fairgrounds.

“This is my retirement project. I’m stretching myself and keeping fit,” said Dennis, who has been participating in the sport for about two years.

“I didn’t think it was something I could ever do,” she said. “I came to the Skowhegan Fairgrounds (to a trial) three years ago, and I didn’t know what I was watching but I knew I wanted to do it.”

It is a series of obstacles for dogs, including teeter planks, jumps, tunnels, tires, a dog walk and weave poles. A handler directs his or her dog through the course. Time and accuracy are both important.

Dennis began working with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Confetti, 3, and then she got Piper and Piper joined in the fun, too.

“I had a lot to learn,” said Dennis, laughing when she recalled that Piper once tried to herd an obstacle.

So Dennis bought some PVC pipe and built obstacles in her backyard so she and her pets could practice.

“It has helped my confidence,” Dennis said. “I have a whole new family of friends.”

Human and canine.

Bystanders, judges and handlers cheered and clapped Sunday when participants succeeded.

After completing a run, handlers often took their partners to a nearby wading pool to reap praise, a treat and a cool dip.

For Bruce and Lynn Thibodeau and their dogs, the agility trials are a family affair.

Lynn Thibodeau said years ago, her then-high school-age daughter, Megan, watched the sport on Animal Planet and wanted to get involved. So the family got Hannah, a Sheltie.

Megan Thibodeau and Hannah went to puppy kindergarten, received additional training and began taking part in agility trials.

When Megan went to college, Lynn Thibodeau said she didn’t want Hannah’s career to end.

So Lynn Thibodeau, who had transported her daughter and Hannah to many trials over the years, decided she would give handling a shot.

“I immediately became addicted,” Thibodeau said.

She loved it so much she got two more Shelties, Jason, 4, and Kaleigh, 2.

Last year, when Bruce Thibodeau went to watch a trial he saw his wife trying to manage three dogs between two courses.

So he volunteered to assist and soon he too fell in love with the sport.

Lynn said the trials are wonderful mini-vacations for she and her husband, who are proud their daughter is studying to become a veterinarian.

Brandi Moore of Searsmont, who once competed in horse shows, also used the word “addictive” to describe the sport.

“It’s always a challenge,” said the real estate investor.

“It’s humbling. Every time you master something, you re-evaluate and find you have so much more to learn.”

Moore brought her mother’s two dogs, Mac and Bonnie, both 10, with her Sunday, as well as her dog, McLeod, 3.

She said Mac, a rescue dog, has benefited greatly from the agility trials.

“He used to be very reactive and he’s completely changed. All he can think about is agility,” said Moore, adding that participating dogs feel useful and part of the pack.

The trials offer a lot for humans too, said Moore.

“It’s a great sport. It’s a social outlet and you make friends,” she said, smiling. “It’s a great way to bond with your family pet. And it’s great exercise.”

Beth Staples — 861-9252

[email protected]

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