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 2013 National Eukanuba Championship Inagural AKC Obedience Classic By Debbie Snyir (2013) Stella’s Orlando 2013 Experience It was with great excitement that I traveled with Stella to the Inaugural AKC Obedience Classic held in conjunction with the 2013 Eukaneuba National Championship and the AKC Agility Invitational in Orlando Florida.  The Obedience Classic is a brand new format that AKC offered for the first time this year.  Dogs of all levels can qualify and compete – Novice, Open, Utility and Masters (which is Open and Utility combined).  Previously the Obedience Invitational was offered in conjunction with the Eukaneuba in which only the very top dogs of each breed were invited, but this year would be something new and I was excited to be a part of it.  Stella, the only PON in the obedience event, was entered in the Utility division in which she would have to perform 3 full utility runs over the course of 2 days.  She was scheduled to show twice on Saturday and once on Sunday and the three scores would be added together to determine the final placings.  When we left Charleston SC for Orlando, I know that Stella and I were prepared as well as we possibly could be, but I also have competed in this type of tournament before and realize that you never know what could happen and my best laid plans could easily go awry.  Our whole attitude was ‘we’re here for the party’ and we planned on having a good time no matter what happened.  I was excited to be meeting up with Bob Young and Darius Hollway along with their PON, Zak, and Zak’s breeder Kristine Kim.  I met Bob and Darius when Stella was just a puppy, and they have remained warm and supportive over our career.  Also coming from PA was Mimi McGowan along with her little PON, Birdi.  Mimi and I have had a long distance friendship since she got Birdi and I was hopeful I would get to see Birdie running agility over the weekend. Stella and Birdi’s breeders, Merrilee and Jeff Cirtwell were also coming to be cheerleaders for us all and lend moral support. If anyone has been to the Eukaneuba previously in Orlando, it was spread out over a long building and each event had its own separate room, and was divided by Meet the Breeds, vendors, dock diving, exhibition events, etc.  Things were so separated it was difficult to keep track of things happening from one end of the building to another.  This year’s event was in one HUGE square building divided into sections, with obedience in one corner and agility opposite, with conformation in the middle along with vendors and all the other things to see.  It was much easier to get about the site and see everything. On Saturday our first run was very early in the day and Stella did great, passing every exercise with only one significant fault costing us a few points.  I was excited and very pleased.  The second run was mid-morning and, as the time we were to show was near, I realized we would have a whole PON cheering section!  The cheering squad of Merrilee and Jeff, Bob and Darius, Kristine, Mimi and Birdi were all sitting along the front row watching.  I had hoped we would continue to do well for our audience and Stella came through with no major errors and again passing every exercise!  As we finished, the PON crowd erupted and the judge looked over then smiled at me.  I informed her that the PON community is very supportive and she remarked on how great it was to see!  That finished our Saturday with two great runs, losing a total of 14 points putting Stella in 6th place at the end of day one!   We had plenty of time that afternoon to watch agility.  It was amazing to see Birdi and Mimi fly through the courses,  neither missing a step, with Birdi attentive and responsive to every little move Mimi made to direct her over the jumps and obstacles, her hair swishing as she ran.  We also got to see another PON, Molly, owned by Libba Hughes, running agility.  She was cute as a button, also ran clean courses, and was totally enjoying herself! On Sunday we were again scheduled to show early in the morning.  I knew from past experience at this type of tournament that our goal needed to be passing all the exercises with no major point deductions.  Stella had another passing run, which was very good, but all the activity of the weekend was getting to her and she was a little slower to respond to my commands, walking back to me on one exercise when she should have trotted, and failing to sit on my command twice on the directed jumping exercise.  Still, she passed every exercise and I knew when I came out of the ring we’d done everything we could and now it was a waiting game to see how the rest of the dogs in her class did, and to see if she could continue to hold onto one of the top 10 spots.   Later that morning we were able to see Birdi run agility again,   the excitement around the rings growing as it was determined which dogs would be making it to the final round.  Birdi seemed to just get faster and more confident as the weekend progressed. Stella and I also were able to watch the PON judging at the Eukaneuba.    I’ve heard before how some breed dogs walk into a ring and command the win, and when I watched Zak and Darius walk in, I knew what that meant.  Zak drew himself up into his pose with Darius at the end of the leash (I was pretty sure Zak knew what he was doing and didn’t really need Darius there) and he was pretty clearly saying it was his ring!  Even though all the PONs were beautiful, Zak stood out with his confident attitude and when the judge pointed to Zak for BOB, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more happy then Darius at that moment, Bob and Kristine beaming with pride outside the ring while everyone clapped and cheered. As the obedience competition drew to a close, while the AKC staff tabulated scores and determined placings, exhibitors scurried about adding up the posted ‘unofficial’ scores and it appeared Stella and I were going to place in the top 10!  We managed a quick brushing with the hope that there would soon be a photo op with one of those great big top 10 ribbons.  While we waited, I received a text message from Mimi that they had made it to the finals!!!  I later learned that they had placed 5th in their division – Go Mimi and Bird!!! The obedience rings were reconfigured with the AKC staff standing at tables with stacks of beautiful big rosettes, plaques, and various breed medallions.  All the judges sat in a row for handshakes and congratulations as the placings were called.  The announcements of the winners started with a new award of AKC Obedience Breeder of the Year, followed by Novice and Open top 10 placings.  We waited, hoping to hear our number called as the Utility exhibitors gathered excitedly.  When our number was called for 9th place, I was thrilled to step up, collect our big pink rosette and shake hands with the AKC staff and judges.  I had to fight tears as we left the ring to receive hugs and congratulations from our friends.  I was so proud of Stella and so appreciative of all the support I received on this journey from my obedience friends and my PON friends, new and old, especially Merrilee and Jeff who produced such a sweet, smart, funny little dog!  Once I got back to the hotel and the dogs were walked and fed, I went in search of a group of friends waiting for me in the hotel bar.  Of course they had a beer waiting for me and what else could it have possibly been, but a Stella Artois!