February 11

Nothing gets in the way of Maine’s top dog in agility

Westminster was just the latest win for Kelso, a border collie trained by a college student from Cape Elizabeth.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

During the 28.44 seconds that her dog dashed, jumped and zigzagged his way around the ring, Delaney Ratner heard nothing.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Delaney Ratner of Cape Elizabeth, with her dog Kelso, gets a ribbon and a face-lick after Kelso won the first masters agility title at Westminster.

Jack Grassa/The Westminster Kennel Club

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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