A handler works with her sheepdog to corral a herd of sheep through the course during the 2016 Vashon Sheepdog Classic. (Anneli Fogt/Staff Photo)

Sheepdog trials kick off next Thursday with new and old elements

Temple Grandin will be in attendance, but Saturday talk is sold out

No, Vashon, your eyes are not deceiving you, those are the Sheepdog Classic’s familiar wooden cut-outs you see along the busier thoroughfares, as it is, remarkably, time again for dogs, handlers, sheep and fiber arts enthusiasts to populate the fields of Misty Isle Farms for the popular annual event.

From Thursday, June 8, through Sunday, June 11, the rolling green, pastoral hills and meadows of the late Tom Stewart’s estate will once again be the proving grounds for competitive herding dog-and-handler teams from around the country.

The Vashon Sheepdog Classic (VSDC) was re-scheduled from its previous early-September dates to June last summer in an effort to avoid conflicting with another popular island event, the Passport to Pain, since both bring thousands of people to the island. With attendance numbers holding steady at last year’s trials, according to event producer Tina Shattuck, the change will remain.

More changes — and one big surprise — will come this year, as ticket sales will be limited at the gate.

“We are strongly urging people to buy their tickets in advance this year,” Shattuck said. “With the turnout growing each year, and Sunday’s special guest that we believe will attract an even bigger crowd … we don’t want it to get so big that you can’t move around on the field. We want to keep the feeling of what it’s been, and stay small enough that the specialness of the location remains. If we have too many people, it will feel like a different kind of event.”

The crowd-attracting special guest is Temple Grandin, author, professor of animal science, person with autism and consultant for livestock handling equipment design, animal behavior and welfare. Dr. Grandin, the subject of a multiple Emmy award-winning HBO movie in 2010, will be in attendance on Sunday, June 11.

Credited with bringing Grandin to the island for this year’s trials is longtime Sheepdog Classic supporter Julie Forbes. Forbes, of “The Dog Show with Julie Forbes” radio show and “pawdcast,” is a dog behavior and training expert in Seattle. She has been coming to the island for the trials since the “re-boot” around 2010, and connected with Sheepdog Classic Executive Director — and competitor — Maggi McClure. Forbes said that since she traditionally conducts interviews for her radio show live from the trials, she was brainstorming about who might be good to interview this year. She thought of Grandin, with whom she said she has a good rapport stemming from interviews they have done together previously.

Forbes reached out to Grandin with McClure’s support, and the rest is about to be Sheepdog Classic history, as they say. On Sunday afternoon, after the awards are given for Saturday’s competition, Forbes will speak with Grandin for both the attending crowd, as well as her show. Grandin will also be available to sign books for a period of time. Grandin is scheduled to speak at Vashon Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 10, but that event, which was promoted through the Sheepdog Classic’s email subscriber list, has been sold out for several months.

For her part, Forbes noted that while she’s watched the trials grow over the years, she feels that McClure has “done a great job of maintaining the character and authenticity of the event,” while singling out the popular Fiber Arts Village as a perfect “natural extension.”

And speaking of the Fiber Arts Village, knitters will have their own celebrity in attendance this year as knitting mentor, author and YouTube-tutorial star Cat Bordhi will be in the Yarn Arts tent for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon in honor of World Knit in Public Day.

Another familiar piece of the VSDC puzzle returning this year is the Partners in Education (PIE) Smart Dog Sponsorship program. A reminder that the event is, after all, not just a working dog competition but a fundraiser for island youth programs (over its history, the VSDC has donated over $100,000 to more than 20 island programs and organizations).

“For $100, you get to ‘sponsor’ a dog/handler team,” explained Jenna Riggs, vice president of the Vashon PIE board. “Which means you get two passes for every day of the event, a meet-and-greet with your chosen dog and handler team that includes pictures, entries in the sponsors-only raffle for goodies donated by island vendors, five free coupons for the pie (the kind you eat) raffle and an entry for a grand prize drawing for a three-night stay at Whistler.”

Sponsors names are also announced as their dogs enter the course and sponsors are guaranteed entry, as are all advance purchase ticket holders, even if the fields are at capacity on a given day.

The money raised for PIE through this program is separate from any money that might be given to the organization by the Sheepdog Classic when it donates its proceeds.

Last year the program raised $8,700 for PIE by selling 87 sponsorships. So far this year 70 dogs have been sponsored, with about 98 dogs participating, so there are still sponsorships available.

Shattuck explained that a few other notable changes this year are primarily logistical, including the addition of more handicapped parking and a shuttle to and from the south-end ferry, as previously there has only been a shuttle to and from the north end. The shuttle will also be free for islanders to and from multiple locations including Nashi Orchards, the Chamber of Commerce, Country Store and Gardens and Thriftway parking lot. Only those coming from the ferries will need to pay the $5 round trip. Shuttles will run every 20 to 30 minutes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

The schedule for the multi-day event will remain unchanged from past years, with the young and inexperienced dogs competing on Thursday and the veterans running the course Friday through Sunday.

And for any who have never attended or might be on the fence about it, so to speak, Forbes had this to say:

“I always recommend people go, just to see what’s possible between people and dogs — they are not just receptacles for our affection. I’m not sure where we’d be today without the help of dogs, as far as managing livestock goes. This event really honors that history,” she said.

Attend the trials

The Vashon Sheepdog Classic runs from 8 a.m. Thursday, June 8, through about 5 p.m. Sunday, June 11, at Misty Isle Farms. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com for Friday, Saturday and Sunday; Thursday’s admission is by donation. For more information and the full schedule of events, see vashonsheepdogclassic.com.

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