SPOTLIGHT ON . . .
MERLIN (KERNCARN GAWEN AT TOONIEHOLM)
Merlin was four and half years old when I got him in September 2005. His former owner was moving to France and thought he might have potential for agility . . . boy, she couldnt have been more right! He had done agility before, but hated being put in a sit and wait and went under jumps if he made a mistake on the course. It didnt bother me whether Merlin did agility or not when I got him, as I was just happy to have a sheltie companion again. I had lost my Sheltie Superstar Jed aged just 7 the year before and after living almost a year without a Sheltie in the house, the time felt right to start looking for another. When the opportunity came to have Merlin, I was very uncertain about whether it was the right thing to do, but I liked the quiet blue boy and decided to go for it!
Merlin was a pleasure to own right from day one. I arrived home with him and he was instantly my shadow and has been every day since. He had a fair bit of weight to lose (weighing 12.5kg) so he went straight onto a steady diet planned to lose his weight gradually over time. I didnt do any training with Merlin for the first couple of months as I thought it would be stressful enough for him having changed home. So, we walked and played and of course cuddled...Merlin loves his cuddles.
I entered a local match in November and the first thing Merlin did after jump number one was go and see the ring steward to see if they had any treats. I laughed it off and we carried on. I knew he didnt like pressure from what his previous owner (and a lady who used to run him) said, so didnt want him to ever know he had made a mistake, let alone think I would be cross at him for going wrong.
I started doing a little training with Merlin, nothing too serious as like I said to his owner, my priority was for Merlin to settle in to his new home and if he didnt want to do agility, he would be staying put! Well, Merlin did brilliantly at one of his first shows in the following season and came home with a rosette and a trophy...hurray!! We went to Supadogs (one of the biggest shows in the Country) in May 2006 and I couldnt believe how well we did. Merlin won, not one but TWO novice classes, each with over 100 medium dogs in. I was so proud of him. . . he was into Senior! The following year at Kernow K9 Merlin went Advanced (now known as Grade 7) after having his FOURTH agility win...there was no stopping the little blue boy!!!
Merlin with one of his three crystal vases at his first Supadogs...where he won into Novice
Every time Merlin achieved something, it surprised me so much and made me so proud of him, as I never had any expectations of him. It showed me how much a dog can achieve with fun training alongside ensuring zero pressure.
In 2007, we took advantage of being Grade 7 and we entered our first Championship Agility Classes together. These were some of the hardest and most nerve wracking courses I had ever done, but Merlin loved the atmosphere and thrived on the challenge of the more difficult courses. In fact, these proved to be our strength as while Merlin might not be the fastest dog in a straight line, he could do tricky manouveres and incredibly tight turns gaining us valuable savings our on course times. We did well at Champ level and made it through to the finals in the majority of the classes we entered, placing us amongst the best in the Country. The classes were so much fun as I enjoyed taking part with Merlin and to gain rosettes at that level was such an achievement, but a total bonus.
Merlin competing at Agility Club show where we qualified for Crufts by winning Team Agility!!!
In 2008, our amibition to try out for Crufts took us to several of the largest shows in the Country with some of our closest friends. We were in the Crufts Medium Team qualifiers, where four dogs and handlers have to complete a course in the fastest time with a batton change between each handler. Team qualifiers are notoriously difficult due to the pressure of trying not to let your team members down and the sheer difficulty of getting four dogs round a course clear, one after the other.
Our dreams came true at Agility Club's show in July 2008, when we qualified for Crufts!!! Finally, we would get to compete on the green carpet after watching it for many many years and wishing to be there. The day that we qualified was one of the hottest of the year and Merlin managed a clear round in every class (6 runs in total), including one of our greatest achievements winning the Reserve in the Champ Class...what an incredible day...no wonder Merlin is yawning in his photo!!!
Merlin and I with his Reserve Championship Ticket, Rosette and Crystal Vase!
March 2009 came incredibly quickly and boy were we nervous. The pressure of the event, plus just not knowing how Merlin would take to running indoors...under lights...with cameras...and on astro turf...meant it was incredibly nerve wracking...and exciting of course. We did our Semi Final run in the morning and Merlin was brilliant...just a 5 on the down contact of the dog walk. Our team was through to the final!!! My phone never stopped buzzing from good luck texts and my stomach was turning sommersaults...but I wanted to remain as calm as I could for Merlin. He didnt seem too bothered by it all as I had a tub full of duck and liver!!!
Merlin jumping in the team finals at Crufts 2009
The Final came and the ring was packed full of spectators...it was a brilliant atmosphere. Our turn came...I remember holding his collar as the team member before us went. I whispered "good luck" into his ear just moments before the batton was taken from my hand...we were off! It was all a bit of a blur really, but I tried to work Merlin as calmly as I could focusing on accuracy. He ran as if it was any other run on any other day and did exactly as I asked. We neared the end of the course and there was a sharp call off...for one moment I thought he was going to work straight on and called him name out...he turned instantly off the jump and came to me PHEW!!! Through the tunnel, over two more jumps and we had gone clear...our role was played. One more handler to go and our team had finished. Minutes later all of the teams had finished running and we were called up to go out to the presentations. None of us had any idea where we had come. With praising our dogs and recounting how our runs had gone, we hadnt had the opportunity to see how the other teams had run...but they had called our names out so we must be second...or dare we think it first.
Merlin and I made our way out of the tunnel and back onto the green carpet. The lights were blinding and the announcer was busy reading out who we were. There were people in suits holding silver trays with medals and crystal trophies...they started walking over to us...WE HAD WON!!! I put the medal around Merlin's neck and we made our way to the Crufts podium to have our team photo taken...what a day...what an achievement!!!
Merlin with his team mates on the Winners podium at Crufts . . . a dream come true!
Merlin didnt stop there, we continued to go on and qualify for Crufts 2010 too, making our dreams come true to compete on the green carpet for a second time. Merlin did a fantastic clear round in the Semi Final, but our team didnt make it as far as the final on that occasion, but it was brilliant to be there again and part of the atmosphere.
Unfortunately, later that year in July Merlin injured his hind leg. We were on a walk and he didnt do anything out of the ordinary, but appeared from around a corner on three legs. After a sit down and a cuddle, his leg was no better, so I carried him back to the car and we went to the emergency vet. It turned out he had somehow displaced a bone in his hock and ruptured his ligaments. After specialist surgery and several months of rehabilitation, he injured his leg again. This time it was his achilles tendon. Another few months later and after building up his strength, Merlin can enjoy long walks with only a few minor twinges in his leg. He still has as much attitude as ever and we even entered an "anysize" agility class this summer. These jumps are set on micro height, so only a couple of inches off the ground. My aim was to run as slowly as possible and just let him enjoy being part of the atmosphere again...but Merlin being Merlin had other plans and steamed off ahead of me running the course as if he knew where the numbers were! When it was announced that we had won, tears sprang to my eyes. I never thought Merlin's name would ever be called out at an agility class again. We ran in two more of these special classes over the summer and Merlin won both!
Merlin is such a special dog. He loves his life and enjoys living it to the full every day. We have created lots of special memories together and who knows next summer we may even manage another couple of anysize classes. But whether we do or not we will enjoy simply being together and recounting our special memories together.
Merlin with his rosette and crystal glass at Agility Club 2007 (above left) when we qualified for the Olympia Semi-Finals. . . and at Dordale in 2006 (above right) when he won a trophy at one of our first shows together . . .and more recently in 2012 on the beach at Gwithian chilling out (below)
Trudy Swann - December 2011