Dogs Take It in the Teeth at Contest : Canines Compete in Capturing Flying Frisbees

Times Staff Writer

For the owners, it was a chance to see whether Frisbee disk catching was their doggies’ bag.

And what better way to begin the first weekend of summer anyway than on a softball field in Torrance, where the only positions were pitching and catching.

The occasion was the fifth annual Ashley Whippet Invitational at Torrance Park, sponsored by the Gaines dog food company. A couple dozen canines and their owners competed in memory of the late Ashley Whippet of Sierra Madre.

Ashley, you may recall, first gained attention in 1974 when he and trainer Alex Stein diverted the attention of a national television audience watching a game at Dodger Stadium. The human tossed a plastic disk, and the dog received it in his teeth.


Set New Standards

After subsequently being crowned three times the world champion at this sort of thing, the animal succumbed to the infirmities of old age (13 years) three months ago. But new trails had been blazed. For a family’s mutt, just fetching the newspaper didn’t cut it anymore.

“A dog basically has to have an interest in retrieving, but also has to have an instinct that can’t be taught,” Kathy Miller of Hacienda Heights explained. A gift, you might say, such as baseball scouts look for.

“A lot of dogs will wait for a thrown Frisbee to hit the ground,” Miller said. “Some won’t bring it back. Others will try to eat it.


“Our Australian shepherd-collie named Cas had always liked catching tennis balls. One night in the house I tossed a Frisbee, and she went right up after it.”

Miller’s husband, Mike, enthused: “I had always wanted a Frisbee dog. It’s the sort of thing you can never be guaranteed.”

The tension was building. Among the hopefuls awaiting the first pitch was Roger Coleman of Torrance, pacing with Rocky, his shepherd-schnauzer (say it fast, while sober).

“He’s been on the injured reserve list,” the owner said. “He got a burr under his right front paw, and for two weeks we couldn’t play. But we’ll be ready.”


Also on hand, of course, was the defending champion--a collie-shepherd named Jude, owned by Ken Land of Torrance. “He watched another dog when he was a pup and has been able ever since,” the owner said.

Chalk had outlined this day’s field of battle, a circle 34 yards in diameter, inside of which was a four-yard square, where each thrower stood.

Seated at a table outside the circle were the judges, Carl Kaemerle and Pat Cameranesi of the Torrance Recreation and Parks Department, which coordinated the free event.

“There are two phases of the event, the first of which is basic throw and catch,” Kaemerle explained. “Each pair is allowed 60 seconds. One point is awarded for any catch where the dog lands inside the circle, two points for any catch outside the circle--but with one or more paws touching the ground--and three points for any mid-air catch where the dog lands outside the boundary circle, no paw touching the ground at the time of the catch.”


This is known as meaningful paws.

The scene was set. A hundred or so spectators sat in the sunlight, on picnic blankets, in beach chairs. On the sidelines, in the shade, a cat took it all in, wearily superior.

Ignoring barked bench jockeying, a Labrador-husky named Tasha competed in her first such event by catching a goodly number tossed by David Hubbel of Buena Park, to the cheers of wife Tammy and the silent encouragement of son Ryan, who is 5 months old.

For one group of animals, the chalked boundary was definitely a family circle. “Six dogs here are all related,” Kim Smith of Redondo Beach said. Not only were she and co-owner Charlie Spellman ready with Tanker and his common-law wife, Scooter, but also with the animal couple’s sons, Digger Dog and Bernie. Competing for others from the same litter were Boomer and Reggie. All are Doberman-Labrador mixes.


Inside the square the various owners were imploring, “Come on, boy!” and “Come on up, up !”

Often it worked, sometimes not. The hit of the day was Jenny Sparks of Torrance and her Doberman-pit bull named Au Jus. As Sparks hurled the disk, the dog dutifully caught same in her teeth, but then ran around refusing to surrender it. As the crowd roared, Au Jus would eventually drop it near the outside of the circle, for her owner to fetch.

“It’s our first competition,” Sparks later explained. “I think she thought she could drop one and come back for another.”

The second part of the approximately two-hour contest was what is known as free flight, 60 seconds during which from one to 10 points were awarded for showmanship, leaping ability and degree of difficulty.


One dog grabbed a Frisbee from his owner’s mouth. Another took time to leap into his master’s arms. Some went after five disks thrown in rapid succession.

When every dog had had his day, when the last flying saucer had been sighted, it was sibling rivalry that carried the day. The two Australian shepherd-cattle dog brothers that Wade Lassiter of Pasadena had entered--Kashmire and Kona Gold--tied for first with 42 points apiece. The tie was broken during a throw and catch during which Kashmire prevailed.

“We all practice in my backyard,” Lassiter said. For their efforts, he got a T-shirt and Kashmire got a ham-bone-scented nylon bone.

For his brother, it had been a fangless task.