Agility course doggone riveting

A group of children oohed and clapped as they watched Willow, a 1-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, navigate an agility course’s weave poles at the third annual Central PA Pet Expo at the Blair County Convention Center.

Despite her sturdy build, Willow swept gracefully through a tunnel before racing to the top of a seesaw – where she stood, waiting until it fell to the floor with a thunk – before jumping through another tunnel and making her way to the course’s end.

Although Sunday’s agility demonstration wasn’t for a prize, Willow’s owner, Robin Quist of Hastings, said she and Willow take training seriously as Altoona Kennel Club members.

They started last year in puppy classes, before moving up to obedience training and, finally, agility.

As a sport dominated by small dogs, Quist said Willow is unusual for sure, but that her pup easily keeps up with the competition.

“She loves the tunnel,” Quist said. “She has no problem going in there.”

Amy Hanna, Altoona Mirror marketing director and show coordinator, said breed awareness is one of the most important services provided during the expo.

People sometimes come in knowing they want a certain kind of dog or cat, she said, but during the agility competition or while interacting with one of the dozen rescue groups participating at the expo, they can realize they were looking for a different breed altogether.

“It helps you find out what kind of pet is best for you,” she said.

And this year brought some changes, Hanna said, adding that organizers tried to pack all the fun and entertainment of the expo’s first two years into a shorter timeframe, condensing the expo from five to four hours.

“Rescues and vendors … they had met so many people [during the five-hour expo last year] that they were running out of products,” she said. “And the animals were getting tired.”

Breed awareness and education is key to volunteers with Operation Pit Bull, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating people on pit bull and other “bully” breeds.

Volunteer Scott Brown said it was the group’s first year at the expo, where they handed out flyers and talked to event-goers about the breed, including many of the myths surrounding Pit Bulls.

One handout featured a dozen photos of bully-looking dogs, and Brown asked people to point out how many of the dogs pictured were Pit Bulls.

Many pointed to three, four and sometimes five of the pictures, with no one accurately guessing that the answer was just one.

“We try to educate the public more about Pit Bulls,” he said, adding that he believed the group’s presence at the expo was a success.

“We changed some peoples’ opinions today,” he said.

Hanna said even with the shortened time frame, thousands of people turned out for the event.

“It is definitely … a success, if not more successful than our first two shows,” she said, which averaged around 4,500 visitors each.

“If this isn’t a record-breaking year, it is in line with years one and two,” she added.

Mirror Staff Writer Kelly Cernetich is at 946-7520.