Not doggin' it

Sheepdogs focus on Meeker Trials as they continue through Sunday

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Jennie Weaver didn't make the cut for the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials this year. There were just too many dogs registered for the event, at least there were when she left her home in Williamson, Mich.

After driving all the way to Colorado, her phone rang just west of Denver, telling her that there had been a scratch. She was in, the caller told her, with only 15 minutes until the closing of entries.

"I started out Monday morning about 8:30 and headed for Colorado," Weaver said. "I drove out hoping for a spot."

Weaver's dog, Liz, was awarded that last-minute spot, and by Wednesday morning, she was rounding up her five sheep and herding them toward the small pen from a great distance.

Weaver whistled commands from 200 feet away, as Liz moved the herd.

When close enough, Weaver switched to voice commands, and the dog instantly turned the group clockwise, drove them around a post and headed for the shedding ring.

"I've been running border collies for 10 years," Weaver said. "Liz and I won the Canadian National Championship a couple weeks ago."

In the shedding ring, Liz cuts out the last two sheep from the group of five, and keeps them separated.

On command, the collie re-groups the sheep, and heads them toward the pen.

Liz is very experienced for a sheepdog. She will be 10 years old in December and is nearing retirement.

"Liz doesn't need any more training," Weaver said. "She just needs a little tune-up before the competition."

Weaver has voice commands that instruct Liz to turn the sheep clockwise or counter-clockwise, to speed up or slow down, and to lie down.

"Some dogs here take several commands in a second," she said. "At this level, the training has gone on for a couple of years at least."

Weaver said training usually begins at 10 to 12 months old. The dogs will be useful around the ranch after three or four months of training, but it takes much more to compete at the level of the Meeker Classic.

Event Director Ellen Nieslanik said that 121 dogs were registered for the five-day competition this year. When the registration opened, they filled the available slots in four days, with 79 dogs left on the waiting list.

"We have fewer dogs this year than in the past because there are sponsors for every dog," Nieslanik said. "We'll be running 40 to 42 dogs each day."

The event has grown so large that it's nearly impossible to find a motel room in Meeker, she said. Many of the participants arrive in trailers and motor homes, but even that space is limited. Only the 73 handlers and vendors can camp at the trial site, just west of Meeker.

Weaver, who spends five hours a day training dogs for other owners, runs about 50 ewes on her Michigan property. She markets the lambs herself, saying there is big demand for grass-fed lambs in the area.

Weaver said Liz, the border collie, is put off by the bigger, independent sheep of the West, and struggles getting the sheep into the pen.

Weaver settled for a score of 62 out of 100 points.

She consoled Liz in the exhaust area, where the tired sheep gathered for their return to a grazing pasture. Her 13 minutes expired without penning the sheep, but Weaver still saw the joy in the eyes of her tired friend, Liz.

"They love this. They live for it," Weaver said. "They would rather be doing this than anything in the world."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

What: Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials

When: Starting at 7 a.m. today through Sunday

Cost: One-day gate pass: Adults, $10; Children ages 8 to 16, $5; children younger than 8 get in free. Five-day gate pass: Adults, $30; children ages 8 to 16, $15; children younger than 8 get in free

Schedule of events

Today

7 a.m. Preliminary runs (40 Dogs)

9 a.m. Food and craft fair open

5 to 7 p.m. Art reception and social, 2006 Winner unveiled at Fifth and Main streets (Fay Building)

Friday

7 a.m. Preliminary runs (40 Dogs)

7 a.m. Pancake breakfast, Rio Blanco Masons (trial site)

9 a.m. Food and craft fair open

Saturday

7 a.m. Semi-final runs (30 qualifying dogs)

7 a.m. Pancake breakfast, Rio Blanco Masons (trial site)

9 a.m. Food and craft fair open

9 a.m. Close spinning demonstrations, petting farm and educational displays (vendor staging area)

Noon to 1:30 p.m. Lunch break

1 p.m. Dog handling demonstration

1:30 p.m. Semi-final runs resume

4 to 10 p.m. Free bluegrass concerts, downtown Meeker, courthouse lawn

5 to 7 p.m. Lion's Club barbecue, downtown Meeker, courthouse lawn

6 p.m. Calcutta, downtown Meeker, courthouse lawn

7 p.m. Jackpot Stockdog Competition, Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds

Sunday

7 a.m. Pancake breakfast, Rio Blanco Masons (trial site)

8 a.m. Second Calcutta (trial site)

8:15 a.m. Opening ceremonies (trial site)

8:30 a.m. Final runs (12 Dogs)

9 a.m. Food and craft fair open

9 a.m. Close spinning demonstrations, petting farm and educational displays (vendor staging area)

Noon to 1:30 p.m. Lunch break, Rio Blanco County Wool-Growers Lamb Barbecue

1 p.m. Dog handling demonstration

1:30 p.m. Final runs resume

4 p.m. Awards ceremony after final run

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