Popular sheepdog trials return to Vashon
By SUSAN RIEMER
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
September 27, 2011 · Updated 11:22 AM
Come Friday, a scene resembling pastoral England will unfold on a rolling field in the heart of Vashon Island, with sheep dotting the landscape and working dogs and their handlers at the ready to herd them.
While the scene might look like one from far away, it will be part of a very Vashon event: the second annual Vashon Sheepdog Classic at Misty Isle Farms. The event will feature nearly 100 dog and handler teams, including some that are highly skilled, such as the 2010 U.S. National Champion Patrick Shannahan, who served as last year’s judge.
“This is a rare opportunity for people to watch these wonderful dogs work,” said Maggi McClure, the event’s organizer. “It is growing into one of the most prestigious working dog events on the West Coast.”
Like last year’s event, which McClure said drew roughly 3,500 spectators, this event is also a fundraiser for Vashon’s Partners in Education (PIE), which supports Vashon’s public schools.
What people should expect this weekend, McClure said, is a traditional sheepdog trial set on a classic course.
The mission of these highly trained dogs will be to run the length of the field, gather what McClure calls “willful and wise” sheep and bring them into a pen back up the field not far from the handler. Throughout, McClure said, the dogs must conduct themselves in an “efficient but workmanlike manner,” an important part of the process.
“We want the sheep feeling as good about themselves as they can,” she said.
While herding might sound straightforward, each dog’s run will be broken into seven judged components, McClure said, and she recommends binoculars to catch some of the highlights along the way.
One of the most important pieces of each run is when the dog first makes contact with the sheep at the end of the field. The dog must approach “with authority and patience” to guide them, McClure said, and within seconds the dog’s relationship with the sheep will likely be established.
While the speed of the event is not judged, all seven steps must take place in about 10 minutes.
Last year the dogs had a challenging time penning the sheep, McClure recalled, and she ex-pects this will be the case this year as well.
“These sheep run in bands of thousands,” she said. “They are not used to fences. Going into a small area — they do not understand that at all.”
The sheep, trucked in from the Blue Mountains in Eastern Washington for the event, are used to cougars, bears, coyotes and wide open spaces, and the dogs will have to be skilled, according to McClure.
“It’s a worthy competition,” she said.
The weekend event will include a range of other activities and booths — including a shearing demonstration and displays of fiber arts. Food will be available, and a representative from the Kitsap Humane Society will be there with some senior dogs she hopes people will want to adopt.
Parking will be along the roadways with overflow at Paradise Ridge, and Island Girl Ride Service will offer rides for people who have to park at a distance from the entrance. Spectators are welcome to bring picnics and chairs, McClure said, and there will be a convenient location set up as a load and unload zone.
“It takes a lot of people to put an event like this on,” McClure noted.
The event raised more than $5,000 last year, she said, and she hopes to exceed that this year.
“I am hoping for good weather,” McClure said. “We hope people come out.”
The trials will run from dawn until dusk Friday through Sunday at Misty Isle Farms at Old Mill Road and 220th Ave. S.W. The entry fee is $5, and kids 12 and under are free.
To learn more about the event as well as sponsoring a dog, see www.vashonsheepdogclassic.com.
Contact Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter Susan Riemer at email@example.com or 206-463-9195.