Juice the Border Collie stares intensely at the blue target bobbing in the water as only a Border Collie can, straining and flexing with every muscle to escape the grasp of owner Stephanie Malone, and dive straight into the pool.
“Get it,” Stephanie cries, lets go and Juice rockets off the platform like he is shot out of a cannon, streaks across the 21-foot-long pool and SPLAT — pushes a wall of water out of the pool and — right into my face.
Oh well, I was already drenched in the steady, cold rain on this early Saturday morning at Fiesta Parade Floats, a premier float builder.
I love watching dock diving, and have gotten soaked many times from viewing up close. But this has to be the most unorthodox dock-diving experience ever.
Juice, Stephanie and nearly a dozen other dog and handler teams are practicing atop a two-story high parade float. But this is not just any parade float, it is the Natural Balance Pet Food’s third and latest over the top, fun-filled dog-boarding entry in the Tournament of Roses Parade. Last year’s float claimed the Guinness Book record as the longest, and at 35 tons — about half from the water — this year’s rolling structure lays claim to the heaviest float ever.
The dock-diving and skimboarding dogs on the float beat out more than one hundred others for the chance to splash their stuff before the 1 million people who will line the parade route in Pasadena on Jan. 1, and tens of millions more on TV.
It is two weeks until the parade and the float is just metal structure and bare plywood, but the dogs need this practice to get used to the unusual arrangement, shortened launch pads and sometimes jerking movement as we roll down a business park street.
There is much yipping and yiping as the dogs jockey to get a turn, and the owners are equally excited.
“This is a dream come true,” says Heather McKenney, whose English Bulldog, Hollywood, will be skimboarding. Heather comes from a family of longtime Rose Parade enthusiasts, locals who camp out overnight every year to get a curbside view. “Last year Hollywood was only 3 months old and sat on my lap as we watched the parade. We loved seeing the Natural Balance snowboarding float, but I never thought Hollywood and I would be here on the float this year.”
In the next two weeks the float gets live flowers, transforming it into a lush paradise. At the two-story top five dogs will take turns leaping into a pool and below skimboarding dogs will jet across a beach.
The winning dogs team up with the world-famous Bulldog board crew, trained by Ron Davis and led by Tillman, the “World’s Fastest Skateboarding Dog,” along with his Natural Balance sidekicks Rose and Sully. They are joined by Lyle, trained by Lexi Beermann.
Here is a quick look at some of the winning dogs that will be performing with them on the float:
Juice, 2 years old, began dock diving as soon as it was allowed, at 6 months, said owner Malone, who does agility and dock diving in her home town of Las Vegas. Does Juice enjoy diving? “Juice loves the water so much it almost killed him,” Malone says. She took the Border Collie to a barbecue party and the dog spent too much time in the pool and had to be treated for water toxicity. Malone didn’t mind one bit traveling from Vegas to the Los Angeles area for the trials and practices, and this is her first visit to the parade. “I’m super excited.”
Sammi Jane was a scared 2-year-old rescue dog when Megan LaRue took the Labrador Retriever home to San Clemente, just to foster her. But sweet Sammi J stole the heart of the trainer, who owns SoCal K9 Training.
Henry may be 9 years old, but the rescued Chesapeake Bay Retriever is an elite jumper, full of energy. In early December Henry and owner Barbara Henderson from San Diego practiced at the Natural Balance headquarters in Pacoima and then drove to Long Beach to compete in a dock-diving event. Henry took third place, soaring 28 feet. In 2010 Henry was inducted into the DockDog Hall of Fame.
Stanley, another rescue dog and Chesapeake Bay Retriever, is owned by Craig Haverstick. He enjoys the water so much that he sometimes doesn’t want to come out of the pool during diving events.
Sydney, a 10-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, is owned by Perry Collier. The rescue dog competes in DockDog events.
DogChannel will present a fun video of the practice, and interviews with some of the trainers. Check your TV listings for local broadcast on Jan. 1.