TWO PAWS UP
A total of 398 points out of 400.
That was the score that Emilie Bullard and her golden retriever, Revel, received at the recent American Kennel Club Rally National Championship, where they squared off against 148 other dog and owner teams at the highest level of competition.
Those 398 points, plus a time that was fast enough to break a tie, earned Bullard and Revel second place in the contest.
Rally is a relatively knew category in dog showing — about 15 or 20 years old, Bullard said — that showcases obedience and agility. An owner guides her dog through an obstacle course, in which a series of signs instructs the team on what to do.
"Rally was introduced to get more people involved in obedience, because there's something fun about doing these courses," said Bullard, a Sherwood resident. "Revel is a real big crowd-pleaser because of her prancing heel. People always come up to me and tell me how much they love watching her."
The American Kennel Club's recent competition included four rounds, worth a possible 100 points each. Bullard and Revel scored a perfect 100 on three rounds, but lost two points in the third round as Revel hit a jump.
"Each of the courses are fairly short, but they feel like longer when you're out there," Bullard said. "Every little mistake they do can lose points."
The June 29 competition in Wilmington, Ohio, was the pair's debut on the national stage. But Bullard has been involved in dog shows for much of her life.
As an adolescent, she was part of a 4-H dog-showing club called Paw Power. About 10 years ago, Bullard adopted her spouse's daughter, then 8 years old, and wanted to get her involved in dog showing — but discovered there was no longer a 4-H dog program in Washington County.
So she contacted her old Paw Power director and asked if she could start her own group using that name.
"I started out with four incredible kids, and we had a great time," Bullard remembered. "We've had as many as 20 members, and now we have about 10 members."
Paw Power had a dog-showing event at the Washington County Fair on July 26. Bullard said the club can teach kids important life skills, such as knowing how to present oneself in a professional manner.
"They dress up in suits and nice outfits, and a lot of kids don't get an opportunity to practice those types of skills," she said. "They might need that for a job interview someday, and because of 4-H, they won't feel completely like a fish out of water."
Bullard is also a dog breeder — and when she isn't doing something involving animals, she finds time to practice business and litigation law in Portland. She said Revel often keeps her company when she's up late working on a case.
The affection Revel has for her owner — and for humans in general — is clear. She's not afraid to put a paw on your shoulder if she can reach it, and is happy to trade a few friendly licks in exchange for some petting.
"Her biggest weakness is her friendliness toward strangers," Bullard said, laughing as she recalled times when Revel would want to greet judges in the ring during a competition. "Sometimes I use her love of people as the reward. I let her go up to people after we leave the ring, and that seems to reenergize her."
Bullard likes to train Revel in quick, 5-minute bursts, so that she doesn't grow tired of the sport. In between rounds at the Ohio competition, the golden retriever got the royal treatment: ice mats to lay down on, and two fans pointed directly on her to keep her cool.
"I work really hard," Bullard said, "to make sure she enjoys it."