FAIRBANKS — When Shonda Oderkirk first encountered her dog Mocha 12 years ago, the newborn puppy with its eyes still closed had just been rescued from a Dumpster along with eight other puppies in the litter.
Oderkirk, a volunteer with Golden Retriever Rescue, bottle fed the abandoned puppies when they were about as big as guinea pigs.
She hadn’t planned on adopting any of them, but she couldn’t let go of Mocha, who liked to run and jump.
“There was just something about her that stood out over the others. She was bold and was always the first one to escape out of whatever puppy containment we had them in. And I could tell she was sassy and had an attitude. She still does,” Oderkirk says.
At 12, Mocha qualifies as a senior citizen, but that won’t keep her from taking part in the 10th annual Tanana Valley Kennel Club agility trials that continue through Saturday at the Tanana Valley Fairgrounds. The trials run from about 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
Mocha and Oderkirk have been competing all 10 years, as have three other dogs and owners.
About 200 other dogs and owners from across the state are expected to take part. Spectators are welcome.
In a minor concession to age, Mocha competes in a category requiring her to jump 20 inches, down from the 24-inch target of years past. In human years, she would be 96, so it’s not bad to be able to jump your height at that age.
Oderkirk said Mocha likes running straight and fast better than anything else, though there are many twists and turns for the dogs that run obstacles courses and show how agile they are.
Club member Cheryl Laudert said the group wants to honor the people who got the sport started in Fairbanks a decade ago.
She said Oderkirk and Mocha earned the Master Agility Champion Title.
“I challenge anyone to be able to pick out this frisky 12-year-old dog from the couple hundred other dogs there,” Laudert said.
She said many of the dogs in the sport are rescue dogs.
“The don’t all come from Dumpsters, thank heaven, but our shelters are full of dogs looking for their forever homes. In dog agility, there are many rescue-dog success stories — not only in Fairbanks and around the state. The sport of dog agility is all positive reinforcement based. The dogs love it! It is all one big game to them, and it’s very fun for their people, too.”
Dermot Cole can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMdermot.