Dog Day at the Fair

The Fair is like a tiny town,
No sooner built than taken down.
Dan Waters, “Affair with a Fair”

The Agricultural Fair put on annually by the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society (MVAS) has to be the big event on the island calendar. It lasts four days, always the third long weekend in August, and if there’s any Vineyarder it doesn’t touch in some way, it’s because that Vineyarder is working very hard to avoid it.

Proofreader wanted?

For years the fair was three days long. Some were always pushing to add a fourth day, but it wasn’t till the year that torrential rains cancelled Thursday by flooding the new fairgrounds on Panhandle Road that the fair was extended through Sunday. (Someone give me a date here — 1997, 1998?) Ever since, Sunday has been informally known as islanders’ day at the fair. You know or at least recognize almost everyone you see. It’s the day of the draft horse show, and the women’s skillet throw, and the huge AKC-unrecognized all-breed dog show. For island dog people, Sunday is dog day at the fair.

HQ tent at the Positive Rewards booth

This is the third year that Trav and I have helped our instructor, Karen Ogden, with the Positive Rewards “booth” at the fair. (Trav is only three and a half; like many fairgoers, he started young.) This year we started setting up on Saturday evening, delineating our performance and chill-out areas with stakes, snow fencing, and lots of zip ties. Plenty remained to be done on Sunday morning, so we gathered at 7 and got to work erecting the little tent, hanging signs, and (big one) setting up the agility equipment. Agility equipment is bulky and heavy and includes myriad pieces of PVC pipe that fit together to form jumps and other obstacles. There is a reason that Karen not only drives around in a big Tacoma pickup but also hauls a good-sized utility trailer.

Dundee emerges from tunnel

Agility demonstrations — always a big crowd-pleaser — started at 10. Katy Upson and her Scottie, Dundee, who just started competing in agility this year, showed everyone how it’s done. Karen worked her Aussies, Austin and Nolan, and Julia Humphreys her Golden, Xochi. Willow, the agility star of our group, didn’t arrive till early afternoon, so we didn’t get to see him go.

Around 11:30, we removed some of the competition-caliber equipment and lowered heights on some of the rest, so novice teams could try it out. Karen coached and almost certainly attracted a few recruits for fall classes. Trav and I did an intro agility course over a year ago; there hasn’t been an intermediate class since then, and we aren’t ready for advanced. So we ran the beginner’s course a couple of times. Trav was focused and willing and apparently oblivious to the rotating, clutch-grinding Ferris wheel looming off to the right.

Trav hangs out in his crate

In the afternoon Karen set up a Rally Obedience course. This is Trav’s and my chosen sport and we work hard at it. In Rally, the first level is performed on leash, the upper two levels off. Trav and I are working off-leash, but the fair is a high-distraction environment, what with the Ferris wheel, passing kids, dogs, and golf carts, the draft horse show going on nearby, etc. I draped his leash over his back so I could grab it if need be. I didn’t have to. We ran the intricate course twice, and I was so proud of my puppy.

The first three days of the fair go till 10 p.m. Sunday ends at 6:30. It was hot, the dogs had had a long day — we started our “strike” around 4. (I took Trav home first.) What a wonder. We’ve done this together for several years now; we’re getting to be a real team.

Agility equipment, dismantled

Karen’s training facility, in the Woodland Marketplace off State Road in Vineyard Haven, isn’t big enough for agility, so she teaches in different places, like at the Ag Hall, and, in winter, in the indoor arena at Arrowhead Farm. Everything is portable. That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s light.

Nancy Rogers helps lower the tent.

Just about everything, from the tent to the dog walk to the ex-pens and crates, is waiting to pinch the fingers of the unwary. Nevertheless, this stuff is designed for sturdiness, ease of set-up, and packability.

See what I mean?

And when we finished, it was as though we’d never been there. Amazing. The whole fair is like that: Faery comes to rest on this magical parcel of land, where feasting and singing and dancing proceed for four days, then vanish into the ether. We all adjourned to Julia’s to celebrate the day with champagne, beer, wine, crackers and dip.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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3 Responses to Dog Day at the Fair

  1. Jan Pogue says:

    Great images, both through words and pictures.


  2. Hal Davis says:

    “the women’s skillet throw”?

    Is this the Vineyard version of the caber toss?


  3. susan robinson says:

    I like it that your confidence with everything from how to protect Travvy’s performance without assuming the worst, to working with the others with the equipment reflects a growth you’ve let us trace from the time you started all this–3 years ago–as a solution (please correct me if my understanding is limited) to the realization that Travvy needed help with impulsiveness. That’s big love in my book–channeling his energy, intelligence and love of engaging by using your own.


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