MARCO ISLAND — Kathleen and Larry Krieder’s life has gone to the dogs.
The two spend much of their free time traveling to American Kennel Club (AKC) agility trials with their champion Papillons. This weekend, they will be in Orlando for a national invitational event, with only the top five of each breed in the country invited.
Their current reigning champion, MACH7 Cilloette Jumpin’ Zak Flash, OF T2B, mercifully known simply as Zak, is the only one competing, but the Krieders are taking all four of their Papillons along for the trip.
“Traveling is no problem. The dogs get in the car and go to sleep,” said Kathleen, adding that the dog-friendly policies of La Quinta have been a boon to them as they tour from here to as far as Monroe, Louisiana to follow their passion. To make things still easier, though, the couple recently bought a ‘fifth wheel’ travel trailer.
These dogs live high on the hog no Ken-L-Ration or kibble for them.
“I home cook for all the dogs,” said Kathleen Krieder, “predominately beef and salmon, or chicken. They eat a lot of sweet potatoes, green beans, blueberries and cottage cheese.”
The dogs, high-energy pooches with high-pitched voices, do respond avidly to commercial dog treats, crowding around Kathleen, standing on their hind legs, and leaping into the air when the zip-lock bag of treats appears. She spoke to the relationship between food and training.
“Some handlers don’t feed them the day of the trial. We don’t do that, but after their run, they get some chicken,” she said, when the volume of excited Papillon barking subsided somewhat.
The “run” is through a series of obstacles for agility training, which the AKC says is the fastest-growing canine sport, with over one million entries annually. The AKC Agility Invitational, they say, brings the “swiftest, most agile dogs in the country” together to compete for the top dog spot.
The dogs run, off-leash, over a seesaw, through a tunnel, pause on a table for five seconds “he hates that,” Kathleen said of Zak and weave through a series of poles, as the handler runs alongside and tries to keep up.
“The dog is always faster than the handler,” she said, “but it’s a team sport. He and I work together. He can read my body language, my face, and my verbal cues.” Indeed, as Zak runs through a practice course set up poolside at the Krieders’ home in the Estates area of Marco, his gaze goes instantly to Kathleen as he completes each revolution.
All of this dedication has garnered a serious amount of hardware in the form of ribbons, trophies and “MACH” sticks, (for Master Agility Champion) for three of the Krieders’ four dogs. One room in the Krieder home is dedicated as a trophy room. The walls are covered with plaques, ribbons, MACH sticks and photos of the dogs in their glory, with additional ribbons strewn about. Then Kathleen opens the closet and pulls out a series of plastic bins, standing as tall as she does, filled with additional ribbons.
The fourth dog, Luc, short for Luc the Dude Spotted Calypso, doesn’t compete. He “just didn’t get it,” said Kathleen, so he gets to enjoy the lifestyle of a star showdog, with the pampering and the personal chef, without having to endure the rigors of competition. So who’s smarter, really?
Traveling to trials and dog shows nearly every weekend, training and caring for the dogs, is pretty much a fulltime job, but Kathleen Krieder does have a day job, as financial administrator for San Marco Catholic Church.
Papillon is French for ‘butterfly,’ and the name comes from their prominent, widespread ears, reminiscent of the Mogwai from the film “Gremlins,” whom they somewhat resemble. Kathleen Krieder said they are descended from Spanish spaniels, and are a natural for agility training, along with herding breeds such as border collies and Shelties.
The Krieders used to own German shepherds, when they lived on acreage in Tennessee, but wanted smaller dogs who would fit in better in Florida.
“It was between Papillons and Westies,” said Kathleen, “but terriers are terrorists.”
She’ll probably be up against a few of them in Orlando this weekend, so she and Zak better be ready with their best Jack Bauer response.