Last weekend Travvy and I headed north for a Rally obedience trial in Raymond, New Hampshire. Raymond is due east of Manchester, a three-hour drive from Woods Hole. Like most Rally trials, this one was hosted by a local training center. Dog training centers require plenty of open floor space, especially if they offer agility classes, and dog training is not the world’s most lucrative business. As a result, they’re often housed in abandoned factories or converted warehouses. Bo-Gee Agility occupies one of the latter, in a small mall on N.H. Route 107. Trav and I were there last May. I knew how to get there. We didn’t get lost.
Aside: You know how I don’t have a cell phone, of either the smart or stupid variety? I don’t have GPS either. I do have some roadmaps in my car. Occasionally I remember to look at them.
Finding the venue was only one of the challenges. If you live on Martha’s Vineyard, “trialing” (sorry, sister and brother editors: we dog people verbed “trial” a long time ago) nearly always involves at least one night away from home. Hotels and motels that accept dogs are few and far between, and if you’re on a budget your options are even more limited. I’ve become a big fan of the pet-friendly Motel 6 chain. We stayed at the one in Nashua. Actually there are two Motel 6s in/near Nashua, both within a stone’s throw of U.S. Route 3. The one we stayed at is known as Nashua South. It’s a 40-minute highway drive from Bo-Gee.
So Travvy was a trouper and we had a very good trial. We achieved our goal: we finished our Level 3 title! Level 3 is the highest level in APDT Rally. It’s fun but very challenging, so I’m proud of us — not least because a year and a half ago I was thinking we’d never work off-leash again. Level 3, like Level 2, is all off-leash, and several of the exercises ask the handler to leave her dog and give directions from a distance. Not a huge distance, mind you — 10 to 15 feet, usually — but far enough that you have your dog’s attention only as long as he chooses to give it to you. Travvy did so choose, and I’m grateful.
Just over the hill from the Motel 6 is a sprawling mall. It’s an easy walk, but the traffic on Spit Brook Road (love that name) is heavy and continuous so I minded the crosswalks and used the request light rather than sprint across four lanes (two in each direction) of fast-moving cars. Friday evening, supper was high on the agenda, so I headed in the general direction of the Burger King. En route a modest sign caught my eye: “Chipotle,” it said. Hmm, thought I, and changed direction to check it out. It turned out to be a burrito place. The burritos are briskly prepared assembly-line style by a friendly staff. The food was good, and they sold beer as well as high-end soft drinks. I had supper there both my nights in Nashua.
At the Rally trial, you never would have known that the presidential election was a scant three days away and that outside Bo-Gee’s walls the country was being bombarded with ads and robocalls. True, lawn signs were much in evidence on lesser roads. Returning from Saturday’s trial, I followed the signs for U.S. 3 instead of the Everett Turnpike — at some points the two are one, but at other points they aren’t, but I hadn’t figured this out yet. This took me through residential areas where campaign placards sprouted on many lawns and at plenty of intersections. For president, Romney-Ryan signs probably edged out those for Obama-Biden, but at least three-quarters of the names belonged to candidates for local and state office.
At the trial, though, it was all about dogs. We watched each other’s runs, encouraged each other, commiserated when a goof cost a team points or led to an NQ, a non-qualifying run. We admired each other’s dogs, and we swapped training stories and training tips. At the end of Sunday’s last class, I knew plenty about our fellow competitors, but I had no idea whom anyone intended to vote for.
These trials are all run by volunteers. I’ve hung back from volunteering because Trav is fairly high-maintenance and my primary obligation is to him. But as it happened, Barb, the trial secretary — a drop-dead competent and computer-savvy woman who manages to organize volunteers and keep scrupulously accurate records while also competing with her black Lab — took sick on Sunday afternoon and was taken to the hospital. Everybody pitched in to pick up the slack. I did a shift as desk steward: adding run times to each team’s score sheet and making sure the scores were added up correctly. Not only did the show go on, but someone remembered to buy Barb a get-well card that everybody could sign. (Barb sent an email around the next day to let us all know that she was out of the hospital and feeling fine.)
It was very like our weekend at Camp N Pack a month ago. “We all had dogs in common, and a willingness to get along,” I wrote then. “And we got along fine. It’s startling, sobering, and all in all encouraging to realize how little the partisan hullabaloo has to surface in day-to-day life.”
This time I was less startled, but just as encouraged.