Libertyville event invites pooches into the water

People love dogs. Dogs love water.

That means people and their canine friends will probably enjoy the Dog Days of Summer in Libertyville, where Fido and his master get to play "catch the toy" in the water.

It's really much more than that, though. For three days, DockDogs, a national organization, will hold aquatic competition semifinals for dogs that will jump in the water and retrieve toys. The winners head to the nationals later this summer, and competitors come from around the nation.

"But the most fun is when the nonprofessional jumping dogs, the family dogs, get to take part in the fun jump," local business owner Bill Kaiser said.

Kaiser has produced the show for eight years; it is being presented this year by the village of Libertyville, he said. It runs July 7-10 next to and inside Cook Park in downtown Libertyville.

Registration begins at noon July 7 for anyone with a dog who wants to try getting it to jump off a 40-foot dock and into a 27,000-gallon pool of water to retrieve a toy.

The fee is $15 per pup.

From noon to 2 p.m., owners can practice with their dogs in an open pool, and then at 2 and 4 p.m., the canines hit the waves at the official pool, competing for 15 coveted spots at the July 8 nonprofessional finals.

Wayne Messmer will sing the national anthem at 6 p.m. July 8, then Libertyville Mayor Terry Weppler will throw out the first ball to start the competition. That night, one of the remaining 15 contestants will become Libertyville's Big Air Dog.

"We handicap them according to size," Kaiser said.

One year, a miniature pinscher, only about 2 feet long and weighing less than 20 pounds, took the gold, he said. Judges take crowd appeal into account when choosing the winner, he said.

"It's really the most fun time because it's your neighbors' dogs that are jumping. People bring their friends. We had over 1,500 people watch the opening ceremonies when Wayne Messmer sang two years ago. It's a really big show," Kaiser said.

"The funny thing is a lot of the dogs don't want to jump in at first, so the crowd has to get them going."

And if the dog just won't go in, the owner gets to take it down into the water via a ramp to get it used to the water.

Over the years, several dozen beginning dog jumpers have joined the DockDogs club to turn their canines into professionals. A German shepherd from Libertyville made it into the nationals one year, Kaiser said.

Spectators can observe the professional dog heats, called waves, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 8 to 10.

DockDogs administrator Teresa Reeves said the canine aquatic events feature three disciplines: the big air, with electronic scoring for distance; the speed retrieve, which requires the dog to retrieve a foam rubber toy suspended 2 inches above the water; and the extreme vertical, a high-jump sport.

Other events will be held July 9-10 at Cook Park, including a sheriff's police K-9 demonstration at noon July 9.

"They put on a tremendous educational forum with the dogs," Kaiser said. "They have the suits on where dogs attack them. They show drug sniffing."

At 9 a.m. July 10, the Libertyville Running Club is sponsoring a free fun dog walk.

Thirty vendors will sell food, including coffee and hot dogs, of course, as well as boutique items for dogs.

Local pet rescue groups will also be at the event.

"The big thing about Dog Days is education, rescue and helping people discover Libertyville," Kaiser said.

Kaiser said he continues to produce the event because of a man he met who was walking through the park with a cane during Dog Days.

"He was partially blind, and he told me within a year, he would be 100 percent blind. He asked me if I would take him down to see the dog jumping. I took him down there. He had the best time in the world."

The next year, Kaiser saw him again.

"He was blind and asked me if I could take him down to watch the dogs. Along the way, we passed the rescue groups. He sat down, and they just kept bringing the dogs over to him. I started to cry.

"That's the reason I keep doing it, because for me, in life, when you do small things, they are so big to other people."

Kaiser said his friend is getting a guide dog to help him make his way through Libertyville.

Sheryl DeVore is a freelance reporter for the News-Sun.

Dog Days of Summer

When: July 7-10

Where: Church Street between Milwaukee and Brainard avenues, Libertyville

Tickets: Free; $15 entrance fee per dog

Information: 847-612-1231; facebook.com/Dog-Days-of-Summer-Libertyville-1546350612332399

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