Vashon Sheepdog Trials to Host World-Famous Dr. Temple Grandin

Posted by Stacey Venzel
temple grandin
All images via Vashon Sheepdog Classic.

The eighth-annual international Vashon Sheepdog Classic in Washington welcomes Dr. Temple Grandin to the podium this year.

The Vashon Sheepdog Classic (VSDC) has made a name for itself as a favorite summer activity for Pacific Northwesterners in the month of June. This year, the event is expected to surpass last year’s draw of more than 8,000 attendees as the VSDC welcomes Dr. Temple Grandin, a 2017 National Woman’s Hall of Fame inductee.

Dr. Grandin is the leading voice for animals in slaughterhouses throughout the world, with half of livestock facilities in the U.S. using her humane herding design. She says that even though the fate of these animals is predetermined, they are still worthy of living respectful lives up until the very end. She is also a renowned autism spokesperson, herself having severe Asperger’s syndrome as a child.

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A BBC documentary entitled “The Woman Who Thinks Like a Cow” detailed Grandin’s method of literally putting herself in a cow’s shoes–even if it meant crawling through mud on her hands and knees–to better understand them. Her invention of the human “hug box,” which mimics the calming squeeze cage used to inoculate cattle, was pivotal in getting her through school.

Dr. Grandin was listed under the “Time 100” list of influential modern-day heroes in 2010. In the same year, she delivered a riveting TED talk, speaking to her autism when she said, “The world needs all types of minds.”

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The HBO true-life film “Temple Grandin” starring Clare Danes took home numerous Emmys and Golden Globes, including Best Film and Best Actress. Artistically depicting Dr. Grandin’s life from a toddler to adult via a photographic look into the autistic mind, the film accurately portrays how she overcame the odds to master speech and successfully graduate from college with the support of a devoted mother and science teacher.

Dr. Grandin is the author of several books on the livestock industry and autism, including my personal favorite and life-changing book, “Animals in Translation.” She was inducted into the Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016.

READ MORELacking a Sheepdog, Tech-Savvy Farmer Uses Drone to Herd Sheep

On June 11, closing day of the four-day sheepdog trials, Dr. Grandin will do a Q&A at the event at Misty Isle Farms in Vashon Island, Washington.

VSDC Executive Director Maggi McClure, a past competitor at the trials, answered some questions for an exclusive Wide Open Pets interview about hosting Dr. Grandin and what is in store for the June 8-11 event.

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Dr. Temple Grandin will be speaking at the event–and what a huge honor that is. What do you hope her speech will bring to the event?

Temple offers a unique perspective of working with herd animals in the ways she views the word and the impact she has had on changing the way slaughter occurs. We feel Temple Grandin will continue to help educate people about animals and their place in agriculture. Vashon Sheepdog Classic wants to create an environment that inspires people to look at their partnership with animals in a new light. Our dogs help us get important work done and lessen the stress on the sheep when worked in a compassionate manner.

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For people who have no previous knowledge of herding, would you still recommend this event?

We have new faces joining us each year. The layout of the land and the magic of the working partnership between dog and their person is fascinating to all. Add the fact the event is located in one of the most beautiful places in Washington State with wonderful food and crafts. It is a lovely way to spend the day. We have an emcee who is also a competitor who offers all sorts of color commentary and information about the event.

How many people does VSDC expect to draw this year and from how many countries?

Our competitors will be coming from across the US and Canada. We have a few folks who have moved to the US so they can compete and participate in the sport more than their home countries. We have handlers from South Africa, Germany, and Brazil who will be at the event. In addition over half of the US World Team will be competing, several USBCHA Champions and Reserve Champions. Competition keeps getting tougher.

You’re the Executive Director of this event. What first got you interested in the VSDC?

I have been competing at the Vashon dog trials since 1999 when they first started on Vashon. A group of us decided to start them up with the intention of helping our community on the island raise money for all sorts of programs.

READ MOREVashon Sheepdog Trials Celebrate 7th Year in Washington

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What other activities can attendees expect to find at the VSDC?

Lots of local crafts, craft beers, and wonderful food! The Fiber Arts Village will be quite busy: In the Kid’s Activity area our Girl Scout troop will be teaching kids how to felt and will be making a variety of projects: spinning, carding, sheep shearing, an exhibit on the history of wool in the NW. We’ll also be celebrating Outdoor Knitting Day on Saturday June 10th so bring your needles!

Local Pipers will be entertaining us as the sheep are released to relax on the field. King Conservation District will be on hand with some amazing demonstrations, Temple Grandin will be speaking on Sunday June 11th at approximately 1:00pm (and signing books).

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This year’s judge is Peg Anderson, a World Trial top competitor. How do you decide on the judges each year?

We bring judges from around the globe to join us on Vashon. We want people who are strong competitors themselves and will always keep the sheep’s best interest and safety at the heart of the competition.

The sheep are from Anderson Family Ranch for the 2017 trials. What factors go into choosing the sheep for the event?

The Andersons have always supplied us with healthy beautiful sheep. We have the sheep trucked up in advance so they can relax and get comfortable in their new surroundings. We bring almost 300 head of sheep over on the ferries. Why so many? We want the sheep to compete only once per day or as close to that as possible. Again, it keeps the livestock comfortable, healthy, and happy.

The Anderson ranch is in the Willamette Valley which has rich green grasses like the field we compete upon. It is important that the sheep are somewhat accustomed to the terrain. We made the mistake of bringing sheep from the Blue Mountains one year and they were so used to scrub and sage, they set foot into the field and wanted to do nothing but nap and eat! Made for a very slow and tough competition.

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A limited number of tickets will be available at the gates, but due to expected high attendance rates, advance purchased tickets are recommended via the VSDC website, which also has detailed information on what to expect each day and how to travel to the island.

Be sure to keep an eye out for an exclusive Wide Open Pets review of the Vashon Sheepdog Classic later this month!

Have you ever been to a sheepdog trial? Tell us about it in the comments below!

All images via Vashon Sheepdog Classic.

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Vashon Sheepdog Trials to Host World-Famous Dr. Temple Grandin