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Published: 7/14/2008

Air dogs make a splash at Maumee Andersons

BY LAURA BENNETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lynn Taylor of Hartland, Mich., watches her dog, Champ, leap into the pool during the Ultimate Air Dogs competition at The Andersons Store in Maumee. Sixty dogs participated in yesterday's event, which drew a crowd of hundreds. Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox started Ultimate Air Dogs in 2006 with three events and this year plans to hold 50 competitions. Lynn Taylor of Hartland, Mich., watches her dog, Champ, leap into the pool during the Ultimate Air Dogs competition at The Andersons Store in Maumee. Sixty dogs participated in yesterday's event, which drew a crowd of hundreds. Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox started Ultimate Air Dogs in 2006 with three events and this year plans to hold 50 competitions.
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As "Who Let the Dogs Out?" blasted from the speakers, Milt Wilcox was working the crowd.

"You guys gonna make some noise out there," he bellowed. The audience erupted into yelps, barks, and cheers.

Then a chocolate lab named Cinder, a flailing tangle of legs, lunged off the platform and into the pool.

"17.2 feet!" Mr. Wilcox announced.

Cinder - ears askew and fur dripping - looked nonplused, but the people in the stands outside The Andersons Store in Maumee went wild.

Mr. Wilcox is president of Ultimate Air Dogs, a company based in Royal Oak, Mich., that holds "dock diving" competitions all over the country.

Before Ultimate Air Dogs was born, Mr. Wilcox played professional baseball for 16 years. He retired in 1986 after 10 years with the Detroit Tigers, but still has all the swagger of a major league pitcher.

He founded Ultimate Air Dogs in 2006 because he watched the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge on television and thought, "My dog could do that," he said.

In the beginning he held three events a year.

Now that number is up to 50. Pet owners can register for the competition online, though dogs merely interested in spectating also are welcome.

Yesterday's Ultimate Air Dogs competition drew 60 dogs and a large crowd of onlookers.

"This is a great community event," said Jeff Farthing, pet manager for The Andersons' Maumee store.

Most of the dogs were lean and sinewy, hunched in crates or strutting around the parking lot like they owned the place.

The best jumpers tend to be labradors, border collies, and pit bulls - "any skinny dog that likes to run and jump and play," Mr. Wilcox said.

But the competition includes smaller dogs as well, among which a Jack Russell terrier named Forrest Gumppy reigns supreme.

"Forrest learned to jump on his own," said the dog's owner, Sarah McDougal, 14, of Welland, Ont., Canada.

Sarah trained her three other dogs by throwing a toy into the water and making them jump out a bit farther each successive time.

But Forrest, the No. 1 little dog in the country, according to Mr. Wilcox, was a natural.

Recently, Forrest Gumppy has been fighting cancer, but on Friday was said to be in remission.

"The vet told him to do what he loves to do, and he loves to jump," Mr. Wilcox said.

As the finals began, some dogs cracked under the pressure.

A black lab strutted triumphantly onto the platform and urinated. A German shorthaired pointer stared at the pool for a few moments before edging into the water with a sad "plunk."

"It's all part of the game - you just take it and keep working," said the dog's owner, Beth Devriese, of Fruitport, Mich.

Forrest Gumppy was jittery with anticipation, tugging at his leash and yapping at the water's edge.

When Sarah tossed Forrest's rubber toy into the pool, the dog leapt after it in an arc of scrambling paws and flapping ears.

"16.4 feet!" Mr. Wilcox proclaimed.

Sarah beamed.

The top three finishers in each division won gift certificates to The Andersons.

Mr. Wilcox's own dog, Sparky Anderson Wilcox, a leggy black Labrador retriever, is the Ultimate Air Dogs mascot.

In his day, Sparky was one of the top dogs in the world of dock diving. He began jumping when he was just over a year old, and soon became "one of the best jumpers in the world," Mr. Wilcox said.

Now, at age 8, he is a bit slower, more sedate, sniffing at someone's leftover lo mein in the shade while other dogs vault through the air.

"These are great water dogs and great companions," Mr. Wilcox said. "This is my best friend right here."

Contact Laura Bennett at:

lbennett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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