Corder: Air up there: Dogs soar to new heights

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2003

If you’ve been busy watching summer reruns of &uot;The Other Half&uot; this week, shame on you when ESPN has had not-so-live coverage of the Great Outdoor Games.

To be honest, you’ve got to be related to Paul Bunyan to get some of these sports, but there is a sweet fishing competition and sporting dogs’ events, which are my bowl of tea.

In particular, I started wagging my tail and panting at the Big Air competition, the canine version of the Olympic long jump.

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There was a big upset at the GOGs, which were held last week in Reno, Nev., when 3-year-old female black Lab Skeeter kicked world-record holder Little Morgan from the doghouse.

Little Morgan jumped 26 feet, 6 inches to defeat Clinton, Miss., native Wally at last year’s Lake Placid, N.Y., Games.

&uot;He’s really good at it &045;,&uot; handler Melissa Holden said as Wally interrupted in the background. &uot;That’s Wally barking. He knows it’s dinnertime.&uot;

Old, freezer-burned steaks were on the 5-year-old black Lab’s menu Thursday. What, no filet? On the road back from Reno, where Wally finished ninth, Melissa and husband Jerry fed Wally a hamburger &uot;or two.&uot;

Wally, who jumped 23 feet, 7 inches, at the 2002 GOGs, trails only Little Morgan’s numerous paw prints in the Big Air books.

&uot;He loves it. He really feeds off the energy of everyone there,&uot; Melissa said of Wally, who skies to Creed’s ‘Higher’ each jump. &uot;He gets so excited he starts shivering.&uot;

It all began with a Super Retriever Series where Jerry’s big daddy, 10-year-old black Lab Jake Š Well, if we’re memorizing dates , it actually sprang up nine years ago in Dewitt, Ark., at the first hunting trial for both Jerry and Melissa, less than strangers at the time.

Two years later the couple soared into matrimonial bliss in Vegas baby. They’re up to 11 dogs now &045; all Labs except for one chow &045; and five different styles of dog food, including reduced calorie, senior mix and Wally’s performance brand. Plans are in place to build a 45-foot long rectangular pond with a regulation-sized dock (48 x 8 feet) that extends into the water.

Wally is a product of the first litter Melissa ever raised.

&uot;He was a nutball, always jumping around,&uot; Melissa remembered. &uot;My husband had Jake entered in a retriever trial when we saw Big Air. Wally can’t compete in retriever trials because he’s claustrophobic, but he loves Big Air.&uot;

Intense training began more than two months ago when every night at 8:30, like clockwork, Wally started to pace between Melissa and Jerry and a wall where at the top, a bookshelf boasted his toys.

&uot;Every night he’d bug the heck out of you,&uot; Melissa said. &uot;He’d stare at you and then the bookshelf. You’d say, ‘You want to go play Frisbee,’ and he’d start barking.&uot;

Since only a top-three finish guarantees a trip back to the GOGs, Wally and Melissa will sniff their way around to Big Air events, which are sponsored by, to qualify.

&uot;The more excited I get, the more excited he gets,&uot; Melissa explained. &uot;(Wally) trusts me fully. That’s what’s involved. The more time you spend with them, the better-behaved dog you have.&uot;

Chuck Corder

is a sports writer for The Natchez Democrat. You can reach him at (601) 445-3633 or by e-mail at chuck.corder@