Photos by Laurie Gregory, Jumoke Photography
By Ranny Green
When future winners look at the American Kennel Club Lure Coursing Championships trophy during their year with the hardware and see Katie Campbell and Chief’s (Taji’s hAfrican Chief) names inscribed for 2014 they will only be viewing a microcosm of the story.
While the 1½-year-old basenji’s breathtaking run over a 1,384-yard course on a late-summer morning near North Bend against a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Kaia was flawless and one for the ages, it would not have happened without the incredible teamwork of Chief’s tribe in the days – and months –- beforehand.
“There are a lot of people involved in this win,” says Campbell, of Seattle, “and each of their names should be on the trophy.”
To paraphrase the African proverb, “It takes a village . . . ,” Team Chief’s win represented the first time a basenji or an area dog has won the coveted title – in September contested over the gently rolling Meadowbrook Farm grassy terrain that is inhabited by 300-400 Roosevelt elk most of the year.
Carol Chittum, event trial chair, says, “Naturally shy, they (elk) come out at night to feed. Their hooves leave pie-plate-sized impressions in the earth which are disguised by the grass. These ‘dents’ made the footing very challenging for the faster hounds.
”Winners of this event on fields of this nature are typically hounds who are extremely fit and who have enormous drive.”
Chief’s route into the six-dog best-in-field competition began earlier this summer when Campbell’s friend, Holly Hamilton, a Cincinnati basenji breeder met the dog while in Seattle to judge a lure-coursing event. “I was immediately enamored with Chief because he was so easy going and friendly,” she recalls. “I stayed at Katie’s for part of the trip and got to know him quite well.”
When one of her breeding stock came into season during Hamilton’s stay in Seattle she discussed potential stud dogs with Campbell and it was decided the half-African Chief would be an excellent mate. During his stay in Cincinnati, Chief, along with several of Hamilton’s dogs were taken to a local National Oval Track Racing Association (NOTRA) track, where the dogs start out of a box and chase a lure around the track.
“I was really impressed with his speed and drive,” Hamilton recalls, “especially since he had never raced before and told my friends Chief would likely be an incredible courser. He earned eight points toward a NOTRA title and I let Katie know I saw plenty of coursing potential in him. Sometimes I just have a gut instinct that a dog is going to be good. I’ve been coursing basenjis since 1997 and I am a lure-coursing judge.”
Despite oozing with potential and piling up eight NOTRA points, Chief was no step further along in qualifying for the AKC national, however.
In stepped Mary Ellen Chaffin, another Campbell friend, who was going lure coursing in Junction City, Ore., in early August. “When I heard from Holly how much Chief enjoyed racing, I wanted him to have the chance to course and race more. Even though I never imagined Katie would trust me with one of her dogs, I offered to take Chief to Oregon for the last trial to qualify for the AKC National Lure Coursing Championships and she agreed to let me run him there.” Campbell was judging at another show in Lacey that weekend, hence could not accompany Chief to Junction City. Chief earned three points there and qualified for the North Bend nationals.
“If Holly and Mary Ellen hadn’t been so insistent and proactive,” Campbell says, “Chief would have never had the chance to run for the AKC championship.”
Fast forward a month:
Campbell was in St. Louis judging the Ibizan hound national specialty the weekend of the AKC National Lure Coursing Championships (Sept. 13-14), leaving the 24-pound, red-and-white basenji’s care and guidance to Team Chief. Another friend, Barbara Reisinger, went to Campbell’s West Seattle home to pick up the dog and a second Campbell entry Friday. Sept. 12, bringing them to the grounds in North Bend, where they were to camp out with Chaffin for the weekend.
However, Chaffin injured her back late that night and up stepped Brenda Phillips and Sarah Smith-Falkner, Campbell friends and a contingent of others (some from other breeds) who cared for the dogs throughout the next day, feeding them and running them (the first day of breed competition).
Phillips and Smith-Falkner tag-teamed roles Saturday with Chief, the former checking him for inspection and the latter preparing him for each run and making certain he wore the appropriate colored jacket, and then cooled him down after each outing.
Reisinger assisted with the warm-up process, too, on Saturday. That involved easy walking and/or trotting to dynamic, moving stretches, then spine massage and vertebrae movement just like a fine-tuned athlete. This was followed by plenty of verbal emotional support before he was handed off to Smith-Falkner to run.
Phillips adds, “After the trial Saturday, I continued to make certain all the dogs were cared for – walked, fed, watered and situated in shady locations and when it cooled off I provided them blankets to keep them warm for the night.”
Campbell returned home late Saturday night from St. Louis and arrived at the grounds early Sunday morning for the final day of breed competition and scheduled best-in-field runs.
Saturday and Sunday’s best of the best (breed) overall winners advanced to the best-in-field finale, which was scheduled for late Sunday afternoon. However, equipment issues and darkness forced the championship to be conducted Monday for the safety of all entries.
Three of the four judges, however, had flight reservations to return home and were forced to leave Sunday night.
The Monday pairings, done by a random draw and with only one judge, had a greyhound vs. a whippet, basenji (Chief) vs. a Rhodesian Ridgeback and an Ibizan hound vs. a Saluki. Each is scored in five categories – endurance, speed, agility, how it follows the lure and overall ability, says Bob Mason, AKC director of lure coursing.
Asked if having only a single judge presented a problem, Mason replied, “No, not all. The AKC rule book stipulates the event can be conducted with one or two judges and I had the authority to appoint another from the personnel on hand, if needed.
“Everything went marvelously well despite the fact we were forced to move the best-in- field competition to Monday.”
“Every dog has its day,” said Campbell, “and everything lined up nicely for Chief by drawing the Ridgeback (owned and bred by Julie and Sheri Eschilling, of Salem, Ore.). Chief represented his breed, my breeding program and his half native (African) parentage beautifully.”
When asked how this ranked among her thrills in years of conformation and dog-sport activities with the breed, Campbell responded, “It gives new meaning to friendships and commitment. It is truly one of my top competitive achievements.”
As opposed to conformation, the lure coursing owner/handler does not have control of the dog after each run begins. That’s when the dog’s innate traits and focus kick in.
“Lure coursing allows the owner-handler to preserve the breed’s functionality,” Campbell adds. “I could see a smile on Chief’s face through all of his runs. He was thriving in his element. And win or lose, nothing makes a breeder-owner-handler happier.”
Adds Chittum, “Chief is one of the most outstanding representatives of his breed I have seen in 32 years of participating in lure coursing in 30 states and two foreign countries. His runoff here was extraordinary.”
Says Beth Levine, field trial secretary, “Chief is a young, strong, fit dog who was bred to the standard for his breed to have the conformation, athleticism and temperament to excel at this sport, which is a simulation of the type of work sighthounds were originally bred to perform. This national championship is a three-part event and requires dogs to be presented at their utmost physical fitness and stamina to run the long, challenging courses without tiring.
“Chief was fortunate to draw a Rhodesian Ridgeback for his best-of-the-best run, and managed to match him stride-for-stride even though his opponent was a much larger dog. He ran a superior course judged against the basenji ideal, but even more, he ran a superior course judged against the bigger, longer-striding opponent. He really earned that win.”
Stats and facts
The AKC National Lure Coursing Championships drew 119 dogs from 10 breeds, with whippets boasting the largest entry of 24, followed by basenjis, Ibizan hounds and Pharaoh hounds at 19 each. Washington and Oregon topped the state entries but others traveled from Maryland, Ohio, Arkansas and Colorado.
This marked the first year a Cirneco dell’Etna, an ancient Italian breed, was entered.
The AKC National Lure Coursing Championships originated in 1995 but there were several years when it was not conducted.
The AKC requires the NLCC trials Best of Breed course be a minimum of 800 yards and the Best in Field layout a minimum of 1,200 yards.
This was the second AKC NLCC hosted by the Cascade Coursing Club at Meadowbrook Farm. The previous one was in 2008 with an almost identical entry total.
There are 20 AKC and Foundation Stock Service breeds eligible to compete in AKC lure coursing. To be eligible, each dog must be 1 year or older.