Sky, an Australian shepherd, runs the weave poles during the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster on Saturday in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
NEW YORK — A border collie named Kelso navigated a maze of obstacles Saturday, besting about 225 other dogs to win the Westminster Kennel Club show’s first agility competition.
Owned by Delaney Ratner, of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, Kelso, jumped, darted and clambered better than the competition to break new ground at Westminster. The winner was one of 35 border collies entered in the competition.
A husky mix called Roo!, owned by trainer Stacey Campbell, of San Francisco, got a special award for the best mixed-breed dog at the event.
The agility trial added a dynamic, fast-growing sport to the nation’s best-known dog show and marked the first time mixed-breed dogs have appeared there in 130 or more years. Dogs are judged on accuracy and speed as they navigate jumps, tunnels, ramps and other objects off-leash, with handlers guiding them via calls and signals.
Established decades ago, agility is an increasingly popular canine pursuit. The number of dogs competing in agility trials sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the governing body for many canine events, has grown by nearly 50 percent over the last five years.
But at Westminster, the sport is playing on dogdom’s biggest stage. The final rounds night were televised on Fox Sports 1.
“It’s very special being here because of Westminster’s prestige,” said Westbury-based dog trainer and breeder Andrea Samuels, who had five papillons in Saturday’s contest.
Agility aficionados say the sport is a canine confidence-builder that creates rapport between dogs and owners and provides a healthy outlet for high-energy dogs that need something to occupy them.
Saturday’s competitors spanned 63 different breeds, from the diminutive papillions to such big dogs as Doberman pinschers.
Many represented breeds known for their agility chops. But their rivals included breeds with physiques that don’t necessarily scream “nimble.”
About 16 of the competitors didn’t represent any one breed at all, in a substantial shift for a dog show that has long been purely purebred turf. Westminster featured some mixed breeds early on but not since at least 1884, organizers say.
Mixed-breeds — or what the show calls “all-American dogs” — still can’t compete for the sought-after Best in Show trophy. But their inclusion in the agility contest has brought cheers from owners eager to show that everyday dogs can go nose-to-nose with their purebred peers. Animals-rights advocates who have criticized Westminster, and dog breeding in general, call the development a good step, though they still plan to protest the traditional part of the show next week.
Westminster officials say adding mixed-breed contestants helps the show make good on its aim to honor all dogs and their roles in people’s lives.