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Lacey the Lab goes for gold at Westminster agility competition

Lacey the Lab goes for gold at Westminster agility competition
Colleen Copelan of Camarillo, Calif., and her dog, Lacey, competed Saturday in the agility competition at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

NEW YORK -- As the National Anthem played at the start of the Westminster Kennel Club's agility championship, people weren't the only ones standing at attention.

Lacey, a Labrador retriever, sat up on her hind legs, occasionally holding out a paw to owner Colleen Copelan.

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Copelan and Lacey live in Camarillo, Calif., where Copelan is a psychiatrist and Lacey is a therapy dog, working mainly with troubled children and adolescents.

"Her soul is gorgeous," Copelan said of the brown-eyed blond, a relative novice to agility competition. Copelan said she was amazed either of them had made it to New York for this contest, the first agility competition put on by the prestigious Westminster club.

Copelan has undergone several hip surgeries; Lacey nabbed a spot in the contest thanks in part to the random draw from the 653 entry submissions. There was space for 225 dogs, and Lacey made the cut.

"For a beginner, Lacey is a very exuberant athlete," said Copelan, as cheers went up for dogs racing through Ring 1, with its 18 obstacles.

Like other handlers, Copelan will tell you there is far more to agility than teaching a dog how to jump over bars and dash through tunnels.

"It's more about training the handler," she said. "Occasionally the dog will blow you off to take a tunnel, because they love it, but it's up the handler to direct them."

She headed into the ring with Lacey, but things didn't go as hoped. Lacey zigged where Copelan zagged at one point, throwing them off by several seconds.

Copelan blamed herself, saying she hadn't given the dog adequate signals for what was to come.

That heaped pressure on the pair to turn in a sterling performance in Ring 2.

It wasn't to be. Lacey knocked down a bar on one of the early leaps, and although she finished the rest of the course without making mistakes, the error was enough to end her bid for the trophy.

"I think she just blasted out of the cannon," Copelan said, this time blaming Lacey's exuberance, not her own misdirection, for the fault.

"But what an accomplishment for the both of us," she said cheerfully. "We'll be back next year."

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