The 2017 Vashon Sheepdog Classic included a forum with Dr. Temple Grandin, live bagpipe music, and plenty of Border Collie puppies.
Ever since I read Dr. Temple Grandin's "Animals in Translation" while swinging in a monkey-poo-stained hammock in a bamboo hut in Ecuador, I have been infatuated and constantly inspired by the accomplished scientist, strong woman, and animal and autism spokesperson. On Sunday, June 11, I met one of my heroes.
The Vashon Sheepdog Classic (VSDC) hosted Dr. Temple Grandin for its 2017 trials and sold out for the first time in the history of the competition. Over 4,000 people were estimated to have walked through the gates on Sunday at Misty Isle Farms in Vashon Island, Washington. That's when Dr. Grandin spoke, but the trials were a four-day event. Dr. Grandin also lectured on animal behavior for another sold out event at the Vashon Center for the Arts the night prior.
Julie Forbes, radio host for The Dog Show, was the commentator for the trials and also interviewed Dr. Grandin, who then answered audience questions. Many children raised their hands to ask questions, including one little boy who asked why there were so many sheep.
Dr. Grandin spoke to both her knowledge of animal behavior as well as her childhood, growing up with autism. She encouraged parents of autistic children and the kids themselves to work, work, work, telling them that they need to learn how to be responsible. She said;
"I want to see the kids that are different be successful."
Dr. Grandin, who says she "thinks in pictures," emphasized that it is important to get away from words when working with animals. Like herself, she said they live in a "sensory-based world, not a word-based world." She said;
"Animals pick up on confidence and intent."
But it wasn't just Dr. Temple Grandin that drew crowds to last week's affair. Handlers, dogs, and spectators have been attending the event for years.
Lee Lumb of Coldstream, British Columbia has been a handler for more than 25 years. I asked her what is the most difficult phase of a run. She said;
"It depends on the sheep and the terrain. Shedding, for example, takes confidence to turn and hold the sheep off. Penning can be difficult because some sheep just don't like to be penned."
Lumb went on to describe how even the first phase, the outrun, can be tricky.
"Today's course is about 425 yards, but some outruns are 700 or 800 yards, and you lose the ability to communicate with your dog."
I was about to ask what kind of rewards the dogs get after a run, but then one of the canine competitors finished. In front of the handler area sat a large feeding trough bowl filled with water. All of the dogs made a habit of not just drinking the water, but flopping right down in it after they finished competing. Many of them received plentiful head scratches from their handler at the same time.
Media Director Maria Glanz said the VSDC had 300 sheep at the trials, though only five were on a run at a time, and sheep were only run a maximum of twice a day. Halfway through the day, all 300 sheep were let out into the pasture to graze while four young musicians played bagpipes. The sheep came from Anderson Ranch in Brownsville, Oregon.
I also had the pleasure of meeting a litter of five-month old Border Collie puppies who played non-stop, as puppies do. Every handler I spoke to mentioned the importance of starting training when the dogs are young.
While many of the directional calls are standardized among handlers--such as "come by" for go left and "away to me" for go right--there is also some originality involved. Whistling is common, with each handler coming up with his or her own tune. Some handlers use a special whistle while others rely on their fingers.
In addition to the sheepdog trials themselves, the VSDC draws thousands of families to its Fiber Arts Village, managed by Myra Willingham for the past six years. She told Wide Open Pets:
"We teach how wool gets from the sheep to clothing with hands-on activities that teach families and kids."
The Fiber Arts Village included sheep shearing demonstrations and a weaving tent, as well as an area for learning how to spin wool yarn.
The 2018 VSDC certainly has big shoes to fill, but it's not likely that people will ever stop coming. Locals and travelers have been going to the event for years. It's something the island community looks forward to hosting annually, and the VSDC remains a notable way to kick off summer in the Pacific Northwest.
Have you ever been to a sheepdog trial? Tell us about it in the comments below!
All photos via Lindy Mc Photography.
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