PALMER —The annual Alaska Dogs Gone Wild flyball tournament Aug. 26 at the Alaska State Fairgrounds drew in waves of dogs and trainers from across the state and even the Lower 48, each with their own story.

“Everyone’s goal here is to grow in the sport,” Alaska Dogs Gone Wild head coach Curtis Smith said.

Maija Doggett and her small, black and white dog, Buddy, had the most sentimental story to share this year.

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“It’s a very special story,” Smith said.

Buddy made his marks on Saturday, earning enough points to earn the title of a Flyball Dog, fulfilling a promise Doggett made to her father Phil Rhode shortly before he died last year.

“Mission accomplished,” Doggett said with tears welling in her eyes.

Buddy’s debut into the competitive flyball scene was the culmination of countless hours of training, teamwork and the loving bond of a lifetime.

“You can ask anybody he is the sweetest dog in the world. He loves everybody,” Doggett said.

Some of Rhode’s ashes are inside a special purple pouch on Buddy’s collar bearing a peace symbol.

“My dad loved the peace sign so I think he would be pretty happy about that,” Doggett said.

Training started in February of 2018, not long after Doggett adopted him from her father. She said that he told her that he wished that he entered Buddy in flyball. The night before he died, he asked if she would take Buddy and train him to be a flyball dog. She told him she would and the following day he succumbed to his Leukemia.

“He was really a nice guy,” Doggett said.

Doggett said that Buddy must’ve known this was his time to shine because he performed better during his debut to official flyball than he did during his training.

“It’s like,’ok, now I can pull out all the speed,’” Doggett said with a laugh.

Rhode’s favorite drink was root beer. Doggett said that she planned on celebrating that evening with everyone over root beer and Nutty Buddies. She said that she calls Buddy “Nutty Buddy.”

“So we’re going to have Phil’s Nutty Buddies and root beer to celebrate. Flyball people are crazy,” she said with a laugh.

Buddy was born deaf. His name was originally Beethoven. Dogett said her father determined the dog’s friendliness was his most prominent feature so he decided to name him Buddy.

“There’s not a living creature on the earth he doesn’t love... He’s a real sweety,” Dogget said.

One of Buddy’s all time favorite luxuries of life is getting his belly rubbed, according to Doggett. She said the belly rubs motivate much of his training. She said that after he earned his points, the crowd rubbed his belly for about 10 minutes. His friendly demeanour was contagious.

“That’s exactly how my dad was- minus the belly rubs,” Doggett said. “There’s not a single person anywhere who disliked my dad. He was one of those guys that everybody liked so Buddy was perfect for him… He’s everyone’s Buddy.”

Dooggett joined Alaska Dogs Gone Wild in October of 2004 and has been an active member ever since, training year round.

“I’m original. I’m the first responder. Curtis, he sent an email out to everybody he knew, asking if anyone wanted to play flyball in Alaska and I was the first one because I Googled it... and this email popped up and I’m like ‘oh my God! Yes. I want to play.’” Doggett said. “I’m still here.”

Based in Anchorage, Alaska Dogs Gone Wild has coordinated this tournament with multiple Alaskan teams participating for the last 14 years.

“We all love dogs. Dogs are the common denominator for us. But I think we all in this particular dog sport, and many of us compete in other dog sports as well, but I think the reason we all love this sport is because of the teamwork and the kind of family atmosphere,” Doggett said.

Teams from the Lower 48 usually come up for this tournament. This year, a Washington team called the Puget Hounds flew up here to compete.

Susan Lynch and her teammates camped out alongside other Alaskan flyball teams on the fairgrounds. The tournament last multiple days and acts almost like a dog-oriented festival with competitors cheering each other on.

“We work really well together. We socialize together. Anytime I travel, one of my flyball teammates takes care of my dogs. It’s like a village,” Doggett said.

Lynch said that three members of her team have family in Alaska and they’ve all had their own adventures around South Central. She said the the local teams have been very helpful in any and all their times of need, in spite of being the competition.

“I can’t say enough about the hospitality of all the local clubs up here,” Lynch said.

Buddy’s reputation preceded him and his name was known across the field of teams. From tent to tent, most of the people there knew about Buddy. Leslie Bryan and her daughter Ellie Bryan are on the Puget Hounds team. They said the team heard Buddy’s story and were very moved.

“We all cried,” Ellie said.

Doggett lives in Anchorage but her parents lived in Willow. That’s where her father connected with Buddy. A local musher offered him up because he thought Buddy was too small to pull a sled.

“I think he’s just perfect the way he is... and he’s perfect for Flyball,” Doggett said as she rubbed Buddy’s belly.

Contact reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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