Dr. Andrea Lee of VCA Fairmont Animal Hospital and her eight-year-old Brittany, Joy, were the first of the medium dogs to compete in the Agility event. Dr. Lee showed Joy the liverwurst she had as a special treat for after the course – an incentive to make it through the obstacles as fast as possible – and then Joy set out through a series of jumps, weave poles, a seesaw, and more, posting a time of 27.66. Now they just had to wait for the other four dogs to compete.    

They were participating in ESPN Dog Day on August 26th, 2021, which was in partnership with the American Kennel Club (AKC) to help showcase dog sports and their accessibility to the general public. It was a perfect event for Dr. Lee, as she had first gotten into agility as a form of training for her first dog, Marcus, also a Brittany. “I adopted my first dog and he was crazy,” says Dr. Lee. “I was really struggling in obedience training and then a friend suggested agility training as a positive outlet for his excess energy. What we found was that when we did agility, his obedience actually improved quite a bit.”

Dr. Lee has been competing since 1998, and she and Joy are still well-known in the agility world. Just last year, Joy won the 16-inch category at the AKC Agility Invitational in Orlando, FL. This is likely one reason they were asked to be one of approximately 90 dogs competing in the ESPN Dog Day event. 

However, they didn’t receive the invitation until a few weeks before the event. “Fortunately, the people at work were like, ‘You have to go! You can’t lose this opportunity,’” says Dr. Lee. “So I was very fortunate to have very understanding coworkers and a very good friend and coworker who does agility who said, ‘I'm not going to let you miss this.’ And she actually worked on the days that she took off for vacation so that I could have coverage at the office.”

While the competition was telecast for just two hours starting at 7 p.m., Dr. Lee and Joy needed to arrive by 3:30 p.m. and had a much longer day. It was a four-hour drive for them from Syracuse, NY to Hartford, CT, as the event was held at Dunkin Donuts Park, home of the Hartford Yard Goats Minor League Baseball team. “It was in the nineties that day, so Joy and I got our stuff set up in the shade,” says Dr. Lee. “We were on the field near the dugout between home base and first base. Thankfully, the day really cooled down a lot after the sun went down, so we spent some time taking pictures and walked around. I had never been on the field of a baseball stadium that large, so that was really neat.”

The dogs were given the option to practice the Weave Pole, the aptly named competition where dogs weave in between poles, but given how hot it was, Dr. Lee chose not to do that for Joy’s sake. The competition started with Diving Dogs, or Dock Diving, where dogs compete for the longest jump from a dock into a pool of water, and everything was streamed on the jumbotron. Hosts of the event were ESPN SportsCenter anchor Phil Murphy and AKC Executive Secretary Gina DiNardo.
Following Dock Diving was the Weave Pole competition, one of the two events Joy was competing in that day. Joy was going head-to-head with Diego, a Miniature American Shepherd. Although Joy was leading most of the course, she missed the vertical posts at the end that acted as a timer and had to go back, and Diego beat her. “As it turned out, the dog that won the weave pole challenge, who's a Border Collie named Rae, she's super fast and I don't think we would have beat her,” says Dr. Lee. “I do think that Joy represented really well in that challenge, so I'm not complaining whatsoever.”

Following the Weave Pole challenge was Flyball, where a team of dogs compete relay-style to jump hurdles and catch a ball released via a special box. The final event was Agility. “I knew basically all of my competitors and on any given day, each of these competitors are capable of beating Joy and they have in the past at local competitions,” says Dr. Lee. “So, I thought that it was nice and even and anybody could win.”

Joy was first up and when Dr. Lee thought she received the all clear to go, they started, before hearing “Woah, you can’t start yet!” because they were apparently on a commercial break. “So we actually had a false start, which you did not see on TV,” says Dr. Lee. “And then she did great, showed well.” Then they waited for the four other dogs to compete.

“She won, and I was pleasantly surprised,” says Dr. Lee. “I thought my friend, Tom, and his Australian Shepherd with a tail, Ruby Lee, would beat us for sure. But Ruby Lee’s a very young dog and I think that between doing 48 weave poles and the lights, cameras, et cetera, the environment got to her.” 

Dr. Lee believes all of Joy’s national experience, as well as her own, helped them to perform like they would at any other competition. “She [Joy] is so experienced, and the environment doesn't bother her one bit,” says Dr. Lee. 

After the Agility competition, Dr. Lee was interviewed by Dr. Terrence Ferguson and Dr. Vernard Hodges, who are from Nat Geo Wild’s Critter Fixers, a show about country veterinarians. By the time they left (and Joy got her dinner!), it was 9 p.m.

Agility training extends beyond these types of competitions for Dr. Lee, as she sometimes recommends it to clients at her VCA hospital. She tells them, “If you want an outlet, why don’t you try agility training? How about some trick training? You’ll have fun, the dog will have fun, and you’ll both be tired at the end of the day.”

Currently, Dr. Lee is hoping to utilize all her training experience on her 15-month-old puppy, Blizzard, who is also a Brittany. “All of the dogs that I've had have each inspired me and taught me many things that I needed to know,” says Dr. Lee. “Joy is a benefit from all of these lessons, and I'm hoping to apply these lessons to the puppy that's screaming in the background.” 
β€œβ€œAll of the dogs that I've had have each inspired me and taught me many things that I needed to know,” says Dr. Lee.”