A Santa Monica resident and his blond Labrador retriever, Bailey, have discovered a hobby that brings them both great satisfaction — competing in Frisbee events.
Joel Zucker and Bailey are in their first year of competing in dog and handler Frisbee events. In the four competitions in which they have participated, they have placed either first or second.
“Bailey just loves it,” Zucker says. “He loves chasing down the Frisbee and bringing it back to me.”
Zucker is a technology professional who has had ample time to compete this year due to difficulty securing a job in the technology field.
Two-year-old Bailey, who weighs 72 pounds, is usually one of, if not the, heaviest dog in the Frisbee competitions.
“Lighter dogs, like Border collies and Australian sheep dogs are usually the dogs we’re competing against,” says Zucker.
These dogs are typically 25 to 35 pounds, about 40 pounds lighter than Bailey.
According to his handler, Bailey is just as fast as many of the lighter dogs, if not faster in a straight line.
If not running straight, and required to make sharp turns, Bailey is at a disadvantage with the other dogs.
This is where Zucker comes into play. He has to throw a fairly straight Frisbee in order to capitalize on Bailey’s speed.
Zucker and Bailey have qualified to compete in Madison, Wisconsin for the ESPN Great Outdoor Games, Friday, July 9th.
But Zucker is not quite sure how he will finance the trip.
“I have bought two tickets on American Airlines, but in order to do that I had to spend money I was going to pay my taxes with.”
Zucker says Bailey will be able to fly next to him on the flight because he is considered a “celebrity dog” and qualifies to receive special flying privileges most dogs only dream of. He gets to fly in the passenger section of the plane, rather than crated up underneath.
“I’ll probably strap him down with the seat belt in his seat during takeoff, then he’ll probably just lie on the floor,” said Zucker.
He says Bailey’s favorite place to play Frisbee is on the beach in Malibu.
Zucker got involved in competing with Bailey after stumbling across a freestyle Frisbee competition for dogs in Anaheim that was posted on the Internet.
Zucker says he immediately became motivated to enter similar events because they are usually free and just about anyone can sign up.
The event in which the Zucker and Bailey team will be competing at the ESPN Great Outdoor Games is a distance Frisbee throw and retrieval.
In this competition, each team has three minutes in which to throw and retrieve the Frisbee three times.
The farthest throw of the three counts. The dog must remain behind the handler until the Frisbee is thrown.
Then, once the Frisbee is out of the handler’s hand, the dog can begin to run.
The dog must catch the Frisbee before it hits the ground and return the Frisbee to the handler.
The retrieving aspect of the competition comes naturally to Bailey, according to Zucker.
As a Labrador retriever, Bailey enjoys retrieving just about anything, including the afternoon mail.
Zucker says that Bailey will wait for the mail carrier to arrive, allow the mail to be placed in his mouth and carry the mail to Zucker.
“Sometimes a new mailman is a bit surprised to find Bailey waiting outside and demanding the mail,” said Zucker.
Zucker, who has a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, plans on returning to UCLA in the near future in pursuit of a Ph.D. in cognitive science.
Zucker says he has contacted several dog-related companies seeking sponsorship and so far two companies have offered support, including Natural Balance Dog Food, which has offered to give Zucker and Bailey a six-month supply of dog food, and a company called Greenies, which has offered a year’s supply of Greenies, a vegetable dog snack.
The prize money offered at some of the larger national Frisbee competitions ranges from about $1,000 for a first-place finish to a few hundred dollars to the last-place finishers.
As for winning in the competition, Zucker says:
“You never know. It’s all based on elimination rounds and we just have to keep making the cut for three or four rounds. Bailey is an incredible animal.”
Information on Bailey: http//espn.go.com/gog04/