A few weeks ago in Dubuque, Iowa, I saw my sister Monica for the first time in two years. I can't say I ever expected our reunion to happen in the City of Five Flags, more than 1,000 miles away from her home in New Hampshire and a decent four-hour jaunt from our home in Illinois. She and her dog Trip were in Dubuque for the DockDogs World Championships. If you've never seen DockDogs before, just imagine water olympics of the canine kind. Monica and Trip qualified for the "high jump" event -- called Extreme Vertical.
Monica made the long drive from New Hampshire in a single vehicle along with five dogs (Trip, Yeager, Molly, Taho, and Abby), three other handlers (Dave, Jesse and Jennifer), and Jesse and Jennifer's infant daughter. Her compatriots were members of Team21, a team that raises money for and awareness of Down syndrome through their DockDogs participation. Dave's dog Yeager is the world record holder in Extreme Vertical and also competed in the Iron Dog all around.
From my perch at the end of the EV pool, I raised my camera and starting shooting. I knew there was no way I'd be fast enough on the draw for manual focus, so I switched to sports shooting mode and hoped my new zoom lens would live up to its price tag. The dogs raced down the dock, spraying water in their wake until they launch their eager bodies towards the bumper toy that dangles over the pool.
Often, a competitive fire comes with a lack of compassion. At DockDogs, it's quite the opposite. These dogs are companions, partners and family to their handlers. Amid the sensory-overloading cacophony of barks, arena music and play-by-play, you could feel the love and dedication that flowed within and among the teams. I've never seen my sister more genuinely happy. Even when the competition results didn't go in her favor, her spirits weren't deflated.
Monica was among her DockDogs family, and one thing was crystal clear. She's found her pack.
To see some of Team21 in action, check out this promotional video for the upcoming 2013 Rock-n-Dog Festival.
The photos in the photo collage at the top of this post were taken by Leslie Mattuchio. You can see more of her work at http://www.pbase.com/lesleylou and find her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lesley.mattuchio.