During the 28.44 seconds that her dog dashed, jumped and zigzagged his way around the ring, Delaney Ratner heard nothing.
She didn’t hear the applause of the crowd or the oohs and ahhs that filled Pier 94 in New York City on Saturday night as her border collie, Kelso, streaked his way through the obstacle course, a barely recognizable flash of brown and white fur.
But there was no mistaking the announcement that followed: Kelso, her 7-year-old dog, had run away with the competition to win the Westminster Kennel Club’s first-ever agility competition.
“It was pretty amazing. I knew he had it in him,” Ratner, a 20-year-old college student from Cape Elizabeth, said Monday. “He was already a national champion. This was the icing on the cake.”
Ratner, a sophomore who is studying economics at the University of Massachusetts and teaches agility courses, was still basking in the Westminster glow Monday but was back at school in Amherst, Mass., where she has a straight-A grade point average.
Although the spotlight was brighter in New York, it was just the latest win for the pair, who will keep training for their next competition, this weekend in Manchester, N.H.
Ratner and her mother, Cindy, went to Westminster’s 138th annual dog show with five dogs. Kelso and Jonesy, the Ratners’ 9-year-old miniature schnauzer, placed first in their divisions after running the obstacle course in less than 30 seconds. Kelso was then named overall champ.
The trip to Westminster was a first for Delaney Ratner, who grew up watching her mother train dogs and take them to compete in agility trials.
“I can’t remember not being at agility trials,” Ratner said. “It’s second nature.”
Ratner got Kelso when she was 16, and has been training with him ever since. When she went away to college, Kelso tagged along. Occasionally, when Ratner is buried with classwork or studying for exams, Kelso comes home to Maine for a few weeks to train with Ratner’s mother.
Kelso – a cuddly but hyperactive border collie who thinks he’s a lap dog – has won an impressive number of competitions, but it doesn’t faze him, Ratner said. He was already a national champion when his opportunity to perform on the iconic Westminster stage finally came.
For all of Kelso’s success, there was no guarantee he would make it to Westminster. This year, the club did a random drawing of names of dogs and trainers who hoped to compete. Kelso was one of 225 dogs chosen.
“I was just happy to be lucky enough to be pulled out of a stack of envelopes,” Ratner said.
For Kelso, the Westminster competition wasn’t much different from the others. The course still had 18 to 20 obstacles, and Ratner still guided him through it. Ratner, dressed head to toe in black, darted nearly as fast as her dog as she moved between obstacles, using hand and body motions to give Kelso cues.
Although she didn’t hear the crowd while she was running the course, Ratner said it was hard not to notice the difference between Westminster and the hundreds of other competitions she’s attended.
“It’s louder and there are cameras in your face. I try to focus on my dogs and run them like I would in my backyard,” Ratner said. “It’s really about centering yourself and doing what you need to do for your dog.”
Cindy Ratner, who trains dogs professionally throughout southern Maine, said it was exciting to watch Kelso and her daughter compete in New York, but it’s just as thrilling that the entire sport is getting more attention.
Dog agility competitions came to the United States in the 1980s from Great Britain, where they originated as demonstrations at horse shows. Since then, interest in the sport has picked up steadily, she said.
“Westminster is so iconic, and this gave the public a chance to see lots of breeds and mixed breeds doing agility,” Cindy Ratner said. “It shows you can be a show dog with a beautiful coat and still get out and participate in a fun sport. Or you can be a shelter dog and get out there and do this.”
After Kelso’s win, Delaney Ratner found herself doing interviews and posing for photos, a world away from the apartment in Amherst that she and Kelso share with their college roommates.
“Kelso’s happiest place in the world is next to Delaney,” Cindy Ratner said. “As long as he’s there with her, he’s more than happy to stand there and be interviewed as well.”
After years of success, Kelso is finally getting used to being in the spotlight, even if that means posing for photos instead of going right back to play on the obstacles, Delaney Ratner said.
“As he’s placed in more competitions, he’s figured it out, but he’s still a dork,” she said. “At least he’ll pose for a photo now instead of just trying to lick my face. He doesn’t care if he wins, as long as he’s running and getting treats.”
Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: