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by Brenna Fender



Meet Mary VanDeCarr

By Brenna Fender, Photos courtesy Mary VanDeCarr

Mary VanDeCarr has been doing agility for nearly two decades, and she truly loves the sport. With her youthful enthusiasm and dedication to agility, you’d never guess that she’s in her mid-80s. You would, however, notice the walker that helps her make her way through the course.

Mary, who lives near Saratoga, New York, doesn’t let limited mobility get in her way. She competes in various flavors of agility and dabbles in other dog sports as well. She also does extensive rescue, rehoming many dogs. Jazz Agility Club, one of the clubs that she belongs to, is populated with many dogs that she’s rescued.

Mary’s dedication and attitude have a big effect on other competitors. “Mary is a real inspiration for a lot of people,” says Heidi Fuge, a Jazz Agility member who owns one of Mary’s rescues. Sharon Bishop, who also trials in New York, says “I am 66 years old and she gives me a lot of inspiration to know that there are plenty more years ahead.”

Mary shares some of her experiences in the sport with Clean Run.

Brenna Fender (BF): Will you please tell us a little bit about your dogs?

Mary VanDerCarr (MV): I am currently training four dogs and showing three:

Dozer (nine-year-old Miniature Schnauzer): He is in Level 5 in CPE and Excellent Preferred and Open Jumpers Preferred in AKC. He has his Superior Novice Standard and Superior Novice Gamblers titles in ASCA. Dozer placed first in his class at 2008 CPE National. I also show Dozer in Rally. He needs one more leg for his Novice title.

Carlos (eight-year-old rescued Chihuahua): He is in Levels 2 and 3 in CPE. In TDAA, he has his Teacup Beginner Agile Dog and Teacup Games 1 titles.

Furbie (seven-year-old rescued Pomeranian mix): He is in Level 2, Standard, in CPE.

Charlie (black Miniature Schnauzer): Born June 1, 2009. Just started agility.

BF: Where do you train?

MV: I have trained with Fran and Bill Seibert (Jazz Agility in Greenfield Center) for 18 years. I go Monday (one class), Wednesday (two classes), and Friday (one class). And about a year ago I started to go to High Goal Farm in Greenwich on Tuesday (Wendy Cerilli is the instructor).

BF: When did you start agility?

MV: I have always loved dogs and for many years I enjoyed obedience, tracking, and herding. Then, around 19 years ago, I discovered agility. I never had so much fun with my dogs. I am thrilled when we qualify but regardless whether we Q or not we have a good time!

BF: Have you always needed a walker while doing agility?

MV: Around six years ago, I fell while trialing and broke a couple of ribs. I guess old age was catching up with me. I had had both knees replaced, and had back and balance problems. That was the day I conceded to use a walker (with the urging of my three sons). I have five walkers (two in my house, one at my class in Greenfield, and two in my car—one regular and one all-terrain).

My “all-terrain” walker was designed and built by one of my sons. He modified a regular walker, extending the front and replacing the wheels with bicycle wheels. I can use it on any terrain.

BF: What challenges does using a walker pose to you?

MV: The dogs adjusted to my walker quickly. I did have a few challenges. I really have difficulty trying to do a front cross so I taught Carlos and Furbie to “switch” by going behind my walker to the opposite side. And at first Dozer was going off course quite often. Then my instructors pointed out that he was following my front wheels. He works ahead of me, knows verbal commands and is learning “left” and “right” commands. Now we are a team again; like old wine, we improve with age. Dozer is reliable and we either Q or are a second or two over time.

Carlos is a clown and gets a lot of laughs. He gets the zoomies now and then. If I ignore it and keep on moving he will catch up with me. I also had a problem with him sniffing. I found that giving him lots of steak or liver before he went on the course helped. Much better than what he would find on the floor/ground. He loves to sit on the seat of my walker. At his first trial he jumped up on the seat in the middle of the run. Everyone laughed, including the judge. Now I let him jump on the seat at the end of the run and wheel him off the course with him looking so proud.

Furbie had such an abusive life before I rescued him that it took me a long time before I could show him. You might say that Furbie is a “work in progress,” but he has a great time.

BF: Many people describe you as an inspiration to them. What advice do you have for others who compete with walkers or other aids?

MV: I am flattered anyone would think that I am an inspiration. I have always felt that agility handlers inspire me by praising and encouraging me very time I finish a run (even the bad ones). I consider my agility friends my second family.

Although I am unsteady without my walker, I can run when I use it. I would advise anyone who needs to use an aid to compete in agility to attend seminars when possible, and attend as many classes as possible. My instructors have been very supportive.

I hope you enjoy agility as your dog does. Brenna, can you tell that I am addicted to agility?

BF: Thank you, Mary, for inspiring all of us with your enthusiasm for our wonderful sport.