Flyball Returns to the 2019 Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge

By Jayne McQuillen, NAFA Communications Committee

On August 5th, I received a surprise phone call from Paul Carson of Carson Events inviting Skidmarkz Flyball Club to participate in the 2019 Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge on September 27-28 at Purina Farms just west of St. Louis, Missouri. Carson Events decided to bring flyball back to the IDC in a big way! They invited the top two finishers from both NAFA & U-FLI’s 2018 championships. The idea was to showcase the best of the best from the sport of flyball.

Sharing that honor with the Skidz Crew were teams from clubs Hyperflight, Omaha Speed Racers and Animal Inn. The two greatest challenges were the short notice and that the IDC is held outside on grass. Not only were teams scrambling to get time off and lodging figured out, we all had to figure out if our dogs could play flyball outside! Adding to the time crunch, the IDC was only two weeks before CanAm and three weeks before U-FLI Champs. Normally busy fall schedules suddenly got a lot busier. Just one more adventure in flyball!

The last time the IDC featured flyball (in 2013) they ran a singles competition. Full teams racing posed some new challenges to the producers. They aren’t terribly familiar with flyball racing, so when the teams had questions, it led to even more questions. Namely, how would this blended competition work? NAFA sprung to the competitors’ aid, not only providing an EJS, but also negotiating a lot of details. We are so grateful that NAFA Executive Director Neil Flood explained flyball to Carson Events and helped us figure out how to make it all work!

This was a showcase of flyball for TV, not a tournament. To accommodate everyone, we used U-FLI heights and box regulations and NAFA lights and racing rules. Unfortunately Neil couldn’t join his club Animal Inn at the IDC. Riding to the rescue was Steve Corona, Chairman of the NAFA Board of Directors. What makes this even more admirable is that Neil and Steve were just a few weeks out from CanAm, the World’s Largest Flyball Tournament, as well as dealing with regular NAFA business. As the NAFA representative, Steve became the point of contact with Carson Events. He not only advocated for the teams, he helped make sure we put on the best show possible. When we had concerns or questions, he had already anticipated them and was working on resolutions. Schedules, heat, rain, runback length, taking down and setting up the EJS . . . all became details the competitors didn’t have to deal with! We could focus on safely racing our dogs. Also working tirelessly were judges Randy Garvin, Jess Love and Anthony Pirnat. They left just as much, if not more, sweat out on that hot, humid field as the competitors!

Carson Events and Purina Pro Plan treated the competitors really well. We had catered meals onsite, including an amazing dinner at the Purina Event Center featuring a great presentation highlighting the 22 years of the IDC. They also provided great swag, and free massages and chiropractic care—just for the dogs, unfortunately! They also went above and beyond to ensure the safety of our dogs. And to top it all off, we had front row seats to watch all the other events! Many of us were a bit starstruck seeing top international handlers and dogs from other sports.

Overall, I think the IDC will show a larger audience how exciting flyball is, not to mention how amazing our canine athletes are! And it will show the sportsmanship and true spirit of teamwork that pervade the flyball community. We all wore the same white IDC shirts, which made it hard to distinguish the individual teams when we raced. But it also meant that all you saw were flyballers—not NAFA teams, not U-FLI teams—working together in the spirit of cooperation that we love about this sport. If you needed a boxloader, pass caller, whatever . . . all you had to do was ask. At the Incredible Dog Challenge, we were all on Team Flyball and we were all #IncredibleTogether.

We don’t have exact dates and times that the 2019 Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge will be airing on TV, other than possibly in November. Stay tuned to NAFA communication channels (the NAFANews group, Facebook, Twitter, and this blog) for updates. You can also follow Carson Events on Facebook. They have a sneak peak posted already!

Flyball Road Trips: 18 Things to Know Before You Go

By Dede Crough, NAFA Communications Committee

Having a flyball dog is a lot like having a child on a sports travel team: there are practices to attend, tournaments close to home and farther away, and a whole lotta stuff you need to do (and have!) to be prepared.

I could write a dozen posts and still not exhaust the topic of traveling with your flyball dog(s). With CanAm 2019 quickly approaching, I’ll limit this post to an overview—including helpful links—to help keep your flyball adventures safe and happy.

Did someone say CanAm?

A couple notes before I go any further: if you’re not already a member of the Dog Sport Vehicles Ideas & Set-ups group on Facebook, I highly recommend joining. It is a wealth of tremendously useful info from fellow competitors.

Also, I have no affiliation with any products/retailers I mention or link to. Most of them I use or purchase from myself. The links are just a starting point. Feel free to Google to find your best product or price.

For Your Dog

1. Take their vaccination records. In the event of an emergency, records will be tremendously helpful. Make sure you bring a copy of your dog’s Rabies Certificate (not just the record of the vaccination) with you. I keep copies for my dogs in my purse and have another copy in their travel pouch that goes with them whether they are traveling with me, or going to stay with friends.

2. What is a travel pouch, you ask? I keep zippered pencil cases for each dog with their rabies cert. Because they have grommets for putting in a 3-ring binder, they are easily attached to crates with a carabiner or zip tie. I can put emergency info cards, meds, and other items in there, too.

Another popular way to store all this is in a PVC Emergency Tube. You can make your own or buy them already made.

3. Speaking of emergencies, taking emergency cards or premade “LOST” posters is not overkill. Having info and photos prepped and ready to be shared can save precious time if your pet is loose in a strange place.

An example of an emergency card with space for info and photos printed front and back.

4. Make sure you have your dog’s tags. In addition to having ID on your dog away from home, you may be asked to provide proof of the dog being licensed.

5. Of course you’ll want to take your dogs’ food and any medications with you. I always pack meals for at least one additional day just in case.

6. I pack water for the dogs as well. It’s an extra precaution to help ensure no one gets the runs away from home!

If I’m going to be gone too long to take enough water from home, I buy gallons of purified drinking water (not spring water, not distilled water) from the supermarket. In a pinch, you can usually find single-use bottled water that is purified and not spring water, but I prefer not to use single-use bottles.

7. If you’re traveling out of the country, make sure you check the current requirements for taking dogs across the border, and for bringing them back again. These requirements can change, so it’s best to check well ahead of your trip, and then again shortly before you go. Also check if there are any restrictions on the food or medications you plan to take with you. For US info, click here. Traveling to Canada? Click here.

For You

8. If you travel alone a lot (not including the dogs!) you might consider getting a Road ID or something similar. In the event of an accident, if you were unconscious and your phone went flying, it could provide first responders with critical information. My Road ID has my name and birth year, hometown and state, contact info for my sister and my landlords, contact info for a friend close by who could take charge of the dogs, and a note to PLS CHECK CAR FOR DOGS.

9. Hurray for technology that can tell us when and where to make the next turn! Navigation apps are great. Waze is one that allows you and your teammates to track each other’s progress. When I’m driving somewhere for the first time, I admit I take printed directions as a backup, just in case I run into areas where the GPS cuts out.

10. I always have a good flashlight with me for walking dogs in the dark.

Dark, schmark. Let’s go.

For Your Vehicle

11. The most important point to discuss about traveling with dogs is to keep your dog restrained/contained while traveling, both for the dog’s safety and yours! In most cases, dogs will have a much better chance of surviving an accident if they are not riding loose. Having them secured not only will prevent them from distracting you while you’re driving, it will prevent them from being thrown into you and possibly injuring both of you in case of an accident, being flung into the windshield, or being ejected from the car, which could result in them running into traffic in a panic. It will also make things easier for first responders if they don’t have to worry about your dogs.

My first “dogmobile” was a 2-door Pontiac GrandAm. My two dogs (40 lbs. and 63 lbs.) rode in the backseat in harnesses that were strapped to the seat belts. It wasn’t the best, but it was better than nothing.

The Dog Sport Vehicles Ideas & Set-ups group has hundreds of photos and recommendations of various types of crates and ways to arrange them in a multitude of vehicles, from sedans to RVs. *Make sure to strap down your crates!

The Sleepypod Harness has extensive testing to back up their safety claims.

If you need convincing that your dog should not ride loose, check out this story (with a happy ending) about a dog that was ejected not only from the vehicle after an accident, but off a bridge!

Snacks are actually the most important point to discuss about traveling.

12. I have a jump starter that has saved my bacon more than once. It’s incredibly easy to use and doesn’t require another vehicle. If you’ve ever drained your battery after leaving the lights on, you might want to take one with you.

13. If you’re traveling in warm weather, and especially if you’re working out of your vehicle, there are several things you can do to keep your dog comfortable:

  • Battery-powered fans. A lot of flyball people (including me) use Ryobi fans, but they certainly aren’t your only choice. Whatever you choose, make sure you get high-capacity batteries that will last the entire day.
  • Reflective/shade cloths. There’s a good explanation of the differences between reflective cloths and shade cloths here. Most of what you see at dog events is likely Aluminet from Clean Run or Solar Canopy from Pet Edge. If you cover your vehicle before the day heats up with either of these, it can make a remarkable difference in the interior temp.
  • Ventlocks. This ingenious invention allows you to leave your door(s) open for ventilation, but still have your vehicle securely locked.

14. Road tripping in cold weather? Cover your dogs’ crates with thick blankets (I use old wool blankets) to keep their body heat in and, if they need extra insulation, get them a good dog coat.

For Hotels

If you travel with dogs, chances are  you’ve stayed in a hotel with them at least a few times. If you’ve always crashed with friends or taken your RV – lucky you! You can skip this part. 😊

15. Inspect the room before letting your dogs loose in it. There are countless stories of competitors finding unsavory—and sometimes dangerous—items left behind by previous occupants, particularly under beds.

16. Don’t leave your dog(s) loose in a hotel room if you’re not there! This is usually prohibited by hotels anyway, but these days most hotels have lever door handles that are easily opened from inside the room, even if you lock the door when you leave. Click here to read one harrowing story of a dog lost for nearly two months after letting itself out of a room. If you must leave your dog, make sure they are securely crated. And if they are going to bark when you leave/while you’re gone, definitely don’t leave them!

17. Be a considerate guest. Take sheets to cover the beds and other furniture if your dogs will be getting up on them at all, and plenty of “dog” towels from home to dry off wet dogs or clean up after them. In addition to picking up after your dogs, don’t let them pee on buildings, flowers, decorative plantings, trash cans, other guests’ cars . . . you get the idea.

Do you mind? I’m watching my show!

18. Leave a good tip for the housekeeper.

Did I miss your favorite travel tip or product? Feel free to comment below, we’d love to hear about it!

The Man Behind the New EJS Start Lights

Get to Know NAFA People – Dave Thomas, the ‘Flying Nerd’

The first in a series designed to let readers know some of the people behind the scenes at NAFA

by Emma Mak, NAFA Communications Committee
Dave Thomas with his flying pup, Cassie, on the wing of his Cirrus SR22

NAFA is incredibly thankful to have Dave Thomas, a Go Dog Go! member from North Carolina, as a technical consultant on the Technology Committee. Some of you may recognize Dave as the person behind the APES (Automatic Pass Evaluator System) used in the Championship rings at NAFA’s CanAm Flyball Classic. 

In 2018, Dave created a prototype for new start lights (light trees) donating all his engineering time, which could have easily cost many thousands of dollars, and charging NAFA only for the cost of parts. NAFA’s goals for new development of EJS include reduction of overall cost, easily replaceable parts, and an eye towards reducing shipping costs as supplier rates continue to escalate. These are all things Dave delivered in his prototype for the start lights.  They’ve since been tested alongside the current lights at multiple events in the East and Midwest with great success. Now, NAFA is a few months away from having five new EJS start light sets, ready to replace existing sets as they fail.

New EJS Start Lights

The new lights offer the following features:

– one horizontal light instead of two vertical ones, saving space and reducing weight for shipping

– use an affordable, readily available 20V battery that can be charged in 1 hour

– low cost, easily replaceable parts – including LED light strips, Raspberry Pi computer

– flexibility in terms of how the lights can be programmed to work and look

The Technology Committee was initially concerned that competitors would find the horizontal configuration of the lights too different from the original, but as Jonathan Bescher, NAFA Supervising Judge in Region 9 explains, “It took a few heats to get used to the horizontal flow of the lights, but once you saw it,  it was very easy to adjust.” He adds, “The feedback I have heard from competitors has all been positive. With the lights not hanging down from the poles, it allows more room and visibility to see the time displays behind the box loaders.” Flags and lane wins are indicated by red lights or green flashing lights at the far end of each side (left for flag left lane, right for flag right lane, etc.).

Start Lights in action…*

The brightness of the lights in this video is not true to life, due to camera exposure settings. During tests, the New EJS Start Lights were found to be as bright, or brighter than existing lights.

As NAFA looks to the future of the EJS, Dave would like to totally eliminate the need for head table workers and work toward fully automated, real time tournament scoring. Line judge time sheets could be replaced with software on tablets. Dave has already written software for this (the “Stats Helper” application) that obtains times from the EJS, and line judges need to only define run order and confirm race result. Lighter, thinner time displays, as well as moving away from Farmtek’s custom designed hardware to off-the-shelf hardware and open source software where possible, are all being discussed.

So, who is Dave Thomas? Dave retired from a 35-year career at IBM, including 15 years as a chip designer and 15 years of software development of C++ and kernel level C debuggers. 

In Dave’s own words (Warning: highly technical content ahead), “Projects included DRAM , numerous analog, and microprocessor designs. I got a patent for the first NMOS, non-volatile RAM cell—a big deal before CMOS technology was affordable.  I also spent several years designing high frequency DC/DC convertors and the chip to make the designs possible.  I share a patent for the first 1 Mhz, monolithic DC/DC convertor chip (along with several of my co-workers).” 

Later he did the hardware design for the for worldwide compatible modem for the Thinkpad machines. He adds, “Back then, countries had widely varied regulatory requirements which drove many unique hardware designs. My ‘universal’ design had programmable electrical characteristics so a single hardware design could pass regulatory requirements in all countries.”

It’s okay if you didn’t understand all of the above two paragraphs, you’re not alone. To say Dave has an absolute passion for all things technical would be an understatement. In his retirement, his enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled in the least. “Now I do embedded hardware and software development for fun. I just love writing code in any language! It’s instant gratification versus chip design.”

With his penchant for riding electric unicycles and being a licensed commercial drone operator, as Dave would be the first to admit, he tends towards super geeky pursuits . . . but he and his wife, Sandy, also a former engineer at IBM, have plenty of decidedly non-nerd hobbies, including skiing, scuba diving, and hiking in Montana. And if you ask Dave how he got into flyball he’ll tell you, “It was a good excuse to fly! Flying to a flyball tournament was a nice alternative to a weekend trip for a $100 hamburger.” Dave is also an instrument-rated pilot and owns his own plane, a Cirrus SR22. 

Having a similar Cirrus airplane saved Dave’s life in 2016, when he survived a crash with “only a collapsed T12 vertebra.” The Cirrus is special for having a ballistic parachute system.  Due to engine power loss during that flight, Dave as pilot was able to take quick action, pulling an emergency handle which launched a rocket which then deployed a parachute, allowing the whole plane to safely descend to the ground.

See a nail-biting demonstration of this feature in the above brief video

The future of NAFA EJS looks bright, in huge part thanks to Dave’s generous contributions of hours of time and brain power. Ask Dave if he has any answers for a technical issue and he’ll rapidly provide myriad detailed and innovative solutions. Not only does he generate creative ideas, he quickly hones in on the most practical solution, and with NAFA’s go-ahead, gets the work done. 

Dave plans to bring a new start light set to CanAm 2019 for demonstration to interested flyballers. You can find him near the Pit Boss area . . . if he’s not off somewhere riding his electric unicycle or racing with Go Dog Go!