SCOTTS VALLEY — Two four-legged elite athletes from Boulder Creek will be competing on the world stage this month, vying with their foreign brethren for world titles in several high-competition events.
They'll take place during the annual DockDogs World Championships from Nov. 15-18 at the Five Flags Center in Dubuque, Iowa.
"It's basically like the Olympics in dock jumping," said Ashley Rietfors, who works as a dog trainer at PetSmart in Santa Cruz. "Their slogan is, 'Where the Elite with Four Feet Go to Compete.'"
She's the proud owner of Pyro, a Dutch shepherd, and Tonka, a Belgian Malinois and border terrier mix. Both won top placements at the DockDogs western regional championships held in October in Las Vegas.
The six top dogs in each division were invited to compete there, and Pyro placed second in the Super Elite Big Air division, for dogs that jump more than 25 feet. But the big winner was Tonka, who took top honors in two divisions, placing first in both Cadet Extreme Vertical (jumping up to 5 feet, 11 inches) and in the Elite Division of Big Air.
Those placements allowed the duo to move on to this year's world championships.
The competition will be more stiff, with hundreds of dogs entered in four events — Big Air, Extreme Vertical, Speed Retrieve and Iron Dog — each having two or more divisions.
Pyro will compete in the Top Gun division of Extreme Vertical, which requires him to jump from 6 feet to 6 feet, 11 inches.
Meanwhile, Tonka will go for a win in the Cadet Division of Extreme Vertical, requiring him to reach a height of 5 feet 11 inches, and the Warrior Division of Iron Dog. That's a K-9 version of a triathlon: He will earn points as he moves through the Big Air, Extreme Vertical and Speed Retrieve competitions.
But Rietfors isn't in it for fame, glory or the money. Prizes for the top three placements, after all, only range from $25 to $100.
The events take her away from home at least one weekend each month, usually more. Those costs add up, but she says it's worth it to see her dogs enjoying themselves and getting to meet other enthusiasts around the country.
Dog people are pretty welcoming, she added, "so even if you've only met them a couple times, they know you're coming" and open up their homes.
Pyro competed in last year's world championships in the Top Gun division of the Extreme Vertical competition, placing second to the world record holder. But "this is Tonka's first year (at the world championships), which is why we're super excited about it," Rietfors said.