Leap of Faith Flyball team got its start almost 20 years ago thanks to an SPCA-rescued Australian Shepherd puppy named Harley.
“In obedience class it was rather embarrassing because the other dogs, like Labs, would sit and be calm. Harley wasn’t calm,” said her owner, Terri May. “The instructor really hurt my feelings because she called my dog a ‘hellion.’ That was the word she used. I went home and cried and sent my husband to the class the next week.”
The following week, the instructor suggested to Doug May that Harley try flyball to have an outlet for her energy.
“It was clearly what the dog wanted to do,” Terri May said. “She ended up being a star. She was the fastest Australian shepherd in North America when she was participating in flyball. And she started as just a pound puppy.
The Mays founded Leap of Faith Flyball team in 1997.
Flyball is a team relay sport in which dogs run a 51-foot course, jumping over four poles, hitting a box at the end that releases a tennis ball and returning that ball to the starting line before the next dog is released. Leap of Faith’s fastest team time is about 16 seconds, May said, or about 4 seconds per dog.
“It’s amazing that that much can happen in that short of a time,” she said. “Typically it takes teams 17 to 21 seconds. The world record, I think, is 14.4 seconds.”
There are about eight people on the team and 15 to 20 dogs. The team competes locally at events it hosts each year and at some out-of-town tournaments.
The team will perform a demonstration at 10 a.m. Sunday, May 15 at Spring Bully Walk 2016 at Woodward Park.
Any dog can be trained in flyball, May said, but typically sport or herding breeds do well.
“We’ve seen all the way from Dachshunds to Chihuahuas to large breeds like Irish Wolfhounds, but the Border Collies and mixes, Whippets and Jack Russells have a lot of drive,” she said.
The jump height for a team is determined by the length of the smallest dog’s leg, May said.
“It’s important to have a short dog — they call it the height dog — to lower the jump height, which makes it easier for the dogs to run,” May said.
The team practices once a week at California Motoring Co. near Barstow and Clovis avenues in Clovis.
“We’ve had people come out and find out if it’s something they want to do,” May said. “It takes dedication to train your dog.”
The Mays’ flyball team-founding dog, Harley, died a few years ago at the ripe old age of 16.
“A lot of dogs who participate in flyball have long happy lives, I think because they are physically fit and mentally more alert,” May said. “Just like people, if you’re more active you’re going to be healthier.”
The dogs’ human counterparts get their share of exercise too, lugging around equipment, playing tug of war with their dogs and running them back and forth over the jumps.
“We go home tired,” May said.
Those who would like to try flyball with their dogs can visit www.leapoffaithflyballteam.webs.com for information and to contact the team.