Without a doubt, it’s Betsey Lynch and Wren.The 2016 AKC National Agility Championship had its own Steven Harvey Miss Universe moment on Sunday when the wrong dog was announced as the 8″ Champion. Officials initially declared Michael Fitch and Bing the winners, gave them a victory lap, and had them pose for pictures with AKC Director Carrie DeYoung before reversing their decision and awarding Betsey Lynch the championship. While it might not have been clear to the audience in the stands, as one of the two 4LeggedFlix livestream commentators, I literally had a front row seat as the drama unfolded.
As Betsey stepped to the line, the leading time was held by Michael’s toy fox terrier Burway’s Bing Bang who had put in a tremendous run clocked at 39.72 seconds. As the top seed after three preliminary runs, Wren had earned the privilege of running as the last dog in the class.
Wren opened with a clean first half of the course. When she reached the dogwalk, Wren leapt high off the contact, just barely getting her rear feet into the contact zone. The judge called it as a miss, however, the second judge, whose sole responsibility is to judge the down contact on the dogwalk, overruled the initial call, at which point the main judge signalled to the scoring table to remove the fault, all while Wren was finishing the course. Even with this distraction, Betsey managed to push through the last few obstacles with a time of 39.70, two 1/100ths of a second faster than Bing.
As a commentator, my table was a few feet outside of the ring looking directly at the down plank of the dogwalk, less than ten feet away. The live stream audience heard me and John Nys comment that Wren’s rear feet hit the yellow zone. We noted the initial call and subsequent reversal, and then determined that Wren’s time was the winner.
After an official huddle, the second place dog, Bing, was incorrectly sent out for a victory lap. After another short official conference, Wren was declared the correct winner and given a victory lap.
As difficult as this situation must have been for Betsey and Michael, it actually represents a triumph for the two-judge system. Running contacts can be difficult to see and call for the judge on the floor who is often running along with the handler and must be in a position to properly officiate the rest of the course. A second, stationary judge positioned with a perfect view of the contact ensures the best possible call.
This incident also serves as a cautionary tale for every agility competitor. In sports, coaches teach their athletes to play until the whistle blows. During the course of this year’s finals, I saw several mistakes caused by handlers looking around to see if their dogwalk or teeter had been called by the judge. If Betsey had let the judge’s calls distract her, she may not have become the national champion that she is today.