The U.S. Disc Dog Nationals (USDDN) World Finals held over the weekend in Bartow County is all the proof you need that canines — across the globe — are indeed man's best friend. More …
The U.S. Disc Dog Nationals (USDDN) World Finals held over the weekend in Bartow County is all the proof you need that canines — across the globe — are indeed man's best friend.
More than 140 people and their four-legged teammates flocked to Dellinger Park Saturday and Sunday for the 17th annual event, which drew attendees and participants from all over the world.
"We have Canada, the United States, Japan, China, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Israel," said USDDN Steering Committee Chair Pat Nadarajah. "And we have some spectators who came from Korea."
Among those making the trip to Cartersville was Yachi Hirai, who traveled all the way from Japan to participate in the festivities.
He said he's made the trip to Cartersville at least eight times now.
"This is the best tournament in the world," he said. "It makes the world smaller and smaller, this sport."
Hirai said he's been active in disc dog — the sport's official title, although it's colloquially referred to as "dog Frisbee" in some circles — for about 26 years.
His teammate for the finals was a Bulldog/Whippet mix named, rather fittingly, Woof! — and yes, the exclamation point is included in his proper name.
Canine after canine — some of whom had their tails dyed pink and purple — dazzled spectators with their acrobatic leaps and lightning-fast dashes, making thrilling, last-second diving catches while tracks from artists as diverse as Glen Campbell and Fallout Boy pumped over the park speakers.
The yearly trek from Ontario, Canada, to Bartow County is one Nadarajah said she looks forward to each year. She described the local community as a very dog-friendly environment.
"It's very welcoming," she said. "I love that I can bring my dog here, that I can walk around this facility ... people are very friendly to us, including the businesses in the area, the hotels, the restaurants, parks and rec, everybody."
It was the seventh time Glenn Blattner, a representative of the event's primary sponsor, Bayer HealthCare, attended the finals.
"Each year, it seems like it grows a little bit more than the year before," he said. "I think it's the camaraderie of the competitors, I think it's the athleticism of the canines, I think it is unique in terms of sporting events most Americans are used to seeing."
Part backyard catch and part performance art, disc dog represents a multi-species ballet, complete with awe-inspiring, mid-air grabs, snags and snatches that put most NFL wide receivers to shame.
"The herding breeds do really well — Border Collies, Cattle Dogs, Malinois, even some of the good sports mixes do as well," Nadarajah said. "It's a team sport, so the dog has to want to work ... if you have a good connection with your dog, it's magical."
The event drew 72 of the planet's best freestyle players and 70 of the globe's elite toss and fetch athletes. The yearly competition at Dellinger Park, she said, represents the pinnacle of the sport. This truly is where the absolute best of the beasts come to showcase their skills and showmanship — a live YouTube stream of the competition garnered thousands of viewers.
"This is the world competition, so there is prestige around winning this particular contest," she said. "This is probably the top level of Frisbee dog out of all the associations."
The event itself was founded by a Bartow local — the late Melissa Heeter, a Rydal resident who died in 2016. Nadarajah said Heeter was instrumental in relocating the finals to Cartersville, where the festivities have been held for the last 11 years.
"I hope that she would be really happy, tickled that we have this many people that are here and it's going very well," she said. "There's a lot of interest in the sport and the USDDN, specifically, is continuing to grow worldwide ... because we have good representation from other countries here today, it's continuing to move on as we put in more qualifiers through the year."
And as for Hirai and Woof!? Neither of them left empty-handed (or empty-pawed), considering the tandem took home the 2018 USDDN freestyle championship trophy — shaped, of course, like a glass Frisbee.
Their success, Hirai said, was about something deeper than mere teamwork.
"It's about communication between human and dog," Hirai said. "We have long histories ... for each other, it's a special animal."