It’s a dog’s life for Scott Earl, 54, a BIM technician (building information modeling; “basically drafting,” he says) with Fawley Bryant Architecture in Bradenton. He, his wife Dawn and their three canines—miniature Australian shepherd Kylie, Australian shepherd mix Dazy (“as in crazy Daisy”) and rat terrier Cody—spend every spare minute competing in the sport of flyball.
Flyball is “basically a relay race, a drag race for dogs,” Earl explains. Four canines careen one at a time in a lane at top speed over a series of hurdles to a box with a spring-loaded tennis ball, then race back to deliver the ball to their handler. Some 400 teams and 6,500 dogs blessed with speed and focus—from Chihuahuas to Great Danes—participate, according to the North American Flyball Association.
In this area, three teams practice weekly at the Sarasota Obedience Center in east Manatee County. The Earls are members of the Barkaholics, whose 12 handlers and 22 dogs compete in monthly tournaments across Florida and travel each October to Indianapolis for the nationals, where they race against a thousand dogs. (The Barkaholics took first place in their division last year and were interviewed on NBC Nightly News, partly, Earl says, because they travel with a portable tiki bar.) The team’s name conveys their passion. “Flyball becomes an addiction,” says Earl. “We started one dog to have fun with it. Next thing you know we have three dogs competing.”
Earl says flyball is more for his dogs than himself. “It gives them a job, basically,” he says. “We practice every Sunday morning and they know what that day is. When we’re loading the car to go to a tournament, they get excited.”
He and Dawn get a lot out of it, too. Earl says they plan to retire in a few years and travel the country with Kylie, Dazy and Cody, racing with different teams.