PORT CLYDE – Ron Staschak believes the time has come for his Labrador retriever, Hazel, to win something. “She’s been a loser all her life,” said Staschak of Rockport.

But lobsterman Gary Libby of Port Clyde thinks with an entire chamber of commerce behind his dog, Red, they will win it all at the World Championship Boatyard Dog Trials on Aug. 15 in Rockland.

“We’re going to give it our best shot,” Libby said, a sarcastic grin across his face as he drove his lobster boat.

The World Championship Boatyard Dog Trials is coastal Maine’s version of “Best in Show,” which is to say it is more of a comedy than a contest.

And the dogs supposedly enter it with this in mind.

“The way it’s supposed to work, the dog dictates the (entry) letter to the handler and tells them why they should win. We’ve gotten some wing-nut proposals,” said Dave Getchell Jr., associate publisher of Rockland-based Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors magazine.

The magazine hosts the three-day Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show at Rockland Harbor that features more than 70 boats on exhibit, a model yacht pond, music, artists, architects, boat builders and zucchini boat racing, as well as the popular dog show.

There were six dogs chosen for this year’s contest that will bring back defending champion — and surfboard rider — Pancho Villa of Camden.

Abigail Matlack, Pancho’s handler, said his trick this year is double the fun — and that’s all she’d say about their secret trick, other than that Pancho loves the surfboard.

“I was on it one day and he decided he could do it. He rides it and walks around on it,” said Matlack, 13. “This year will be a little bit different. Better than last year. We’re adding on.”

The other contestants are getting ready.

As Staschak tossed a ball to Hazel near the Rockland Breakwater, he spoke affectionately about how she failed rescue dog school, which would have made her a guide dog for a person with disabilities. That’s how Staschak and his wife, Denise, got her.

“We call her flunky,” Staschak said.

But winning the World Championship Boatyard Dog title would change all that, Staschak said with a grin.

“When I wrote her letter, Hazel was thinking of her bucket list, and one of the things on the list was to win this contest,” Staschak said. “She also put down she wanted to catch a squirrel. But I don’t know if that is ever going to happen.”

And a short way down the coast, as Libby motors his lobster boat out to haul traps, his “first mate,” Red, keeps quiet company beside him.

Red goes lobstering with Libby and is a hero at the Port Clyde Fishermen’s Co-op wharf and in town. It’s this local renown that will lead them to victory, Libby said.

When folks at the local chamber of commerce asked Libby to enter Red in the Boatyard Dog Trials, Libby, a native of Port Clyde, said he’d give it a go. Now he’s hoping Red charms the audience at the Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors Show the way he does folks around their fishing village.

“When I’m driving the car he sits on my lap. Sometimes I lie back so it looks like he’s driving,” Libby said with a smirk. “People ask me, ‘Is that Red driving?’“

This is just the sort of hijinks boatyard trials judges smile on. At this dog show, comedy is central.

Contestants have to navigate a lobster-trap obstacle course, show agility jumping in and out of a dingy, and most of all make the crowd laugh.

If a dog takes a wrong turn that evokes laughter — it’s bonus points.

“There is an applause-o-meter. So the audience ultimately sort of decides,” said Trisha Badger, Maine Boats, Homes & Harbors show assistant.

In years past, dogs have been involved in giving judges tokens, treats, even six-packs.

One year a dog sang in a sailor suit. Another year, a contestant impersonated Elvis.

The dog and handler are required to finish soaking wet. That’s the only rule in this canine clown act.

It amounts to a shot at redemption for “Team Hazel,” as Staschak calls his pup’s fan base.

“The final program of rescue school they brought out toys. And Hazel, who is toy crazy, went after a toy so they threw her out of the program,” Staschak said of his happy Lab.

“But according to her, nothing really changed. She is still with me. So now she is getting ready to win the dog contest.”

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

[email protected]


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