Topics/ PETS : Dog Catcher Supreme : Soarin' Sam Wins His Second Canine Frisbee Title

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Soarin' Sam is a mottled brown Australian sheep dog with a blue fleck in one of his eyes and a graying muzzle.

"Most people think he's old and blind, until I break out the Frisbee," said Sam's owner, Gary Suzuki.

Suzuki, a 31-year-old Covina resident, and his dog Sam took the 1994 Canine Frisbee World Champion title for the second year in a row, vying against 13 of the top canine Frisbee competitors from around the country.

"Sam is a great leaper; he has a gift," said Jeff Perry, chief judge for the championship. "But there is also a lot of strategy involved."

Judging in the competition was based on a host of skills similar to those prized in figure-skating: showmanship, leaping agility, degree of difficulty and execution. In addition to catching Frisbees, the dogs also perform a variety of tricks--from flipping in midair to landing in their owners' arms.

The competition culminated in a two-minute choreographed routine to music with five disks being thrown in rapid succession and a series of leaps and flips by the owners and their dogs.

Suzuki found his 7-year-old championship pet through an ad for free puppies. He spent four years training Sam with a manual provided by the Friskies pet food company before winning the world title. He said one of the best things about the sport is that it doesn't matter if the dogs are mutts or pedigrees.

"Sam is a natural," Suzuki said. "He always showed an interest in retrieving and he's very consistent--he has to get every throw."

Canine Frisbee Championships were started 20 years ago by Alex Stine and his legendary dog Ashley Whippet, who won the first three competitions in 1975-1977.

The sport is gaining momentum and each year the competitions attract more people, said Perry, who predicts it will soon catch on internationally.

Suzuki received the top prize of a $1,000 savings bond. When not competing in Frisbee competitions, he and Sam perform exhibitions for charity events and NFL games across the country.

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