The Sopris Sun

Dog Agility Championships dedicated to local Bill Lukes

By Megan Tackett
Special to the Sopris Sun

Carbondale’s canine population is going to see quite the boom this weekend, starting Sept. 21: more than 90 dogs of all breeds and sizes will be accompanying their handlers to compete in the Dogs on Course in North America National Dog Agility Championships (DOCNA) at North Face Park.

Competitors and their dogs will undergo several timed obstacle-course events, including snakes and ladders, jumpers and time gambles.

“And then there’s the North American Challenge, which is the main event of the championships,” said Jim Mills, owner of DOCNA and organizer of the championships. “Only dogs that have qualified over the year get to run in it. It’s a more difficult standard course with automatic elimination, so the handler must be extremely careful and also extremely fast.”

While the focus is mostly on the dogs, this year’s championships will also remember the local man who is arguably the reason behind Carbondale hosting the event: Bill Lukes.

“Bill was a longtime competitor who first initially sent me the request to do the [DOCNA] championships in Carbondale. We were leaning toward doing them in Vegas or Utah, and Bill sent me some information on Carbondale,” Mills said.

Lukes passed away in February of this year. A lifelong dog lover, he became active in the agility and rescue communities, especially after retiring from his career as an architect.

“He was just a kind, gentle soul,” Seth Sachson, executive director at the Aspen Animal Shelter, said of Lukes. “He had a true love — not just for his dogs, but [for] dogs in general.”

While absolutely a competition of mental and physical skill for both the handlers and their dogs, the DOCNA agility championships are not limited to only fully abled participants. Inclusivity is near and dear to Mills, who volunteers with special-needs organizations throughout the year when not actively managing DOCNA.

“We do have some physically challenged dogs that will be at the event — in the past we’ve had dogs that have had three legs,” Mills said.

One of Lukes’s dogs, a border collie named Bo, competed in the 2012 DOCNA Championships, despite only having a few months to live with cancer. Bo also had impaired eyesight, but the setback slowed down neither handler nor dog.

“My fondest memories of [Lukes] was constantly seeing him walking around the Aspen Business Center with his dog,” Sachson said about the Doggles — branded goggles specifically to fit dogs — that Bo usually donned. Bo was one of four border collies that Lukes owned during his life, and three out of the four were agility competitors.

This year’s dedication is a fitting legacy for the man that worked tirelessly for the Valley’s canines: he volunteered with Colorado Animal Rescue and, after successfully bidding for the DOCNA Championships to move to Carbondale, actively helped coordinate the event.

“[Lukes] helped us coordinate bringing all the competitor items to Carbondale that we were sending: we needed places for equipment to go; we needed places to work our raffles. Bill was instrumental,” Mills said.

That work continues to pay off for the community, said Jeff Jackel, who served as the Carbondale Parks and Recreation director when Lukes first approached him about hosting the DOCNA Championships. “It’s been very successful. It’s growing every year,” he said. “These dog handlers that are coming, they’re staying in the lodging; they’re buying gas; they’re eating at our restaurants. It’s definitely a boost to our local economy.”

Andrea Stewart, executive director of Carbondale’s Chamber of Commerce, agrees.

“I think it’s going to be great,” she said of the upcoming championships. “We are anticipating a larger crowd.” The DOCNA Championships aren’t the only events happening this weekend, she pointed out: Oktoberfest and the Celtic Fest are both occurring downtown. “So when [the handlers] are not competing, they can see what the town looks like during an in-town event. So there’s going to be a lot of hustle and bustle in the little town of Carbondale,” she said, noting that she expects to see an increase in sales and lodging taxes over the weekend.

Competitions are free to the public and start at 8 a.m. Friday’s and Saturday’s competitions will end at 5 p.m., and Sunday will come to a close at 2 p.m. The North America Challenge will kick off Saturday’s contests.

“It’s encouraged that you come without dogs because we don’t want to distract the dogs that are within the ring,” Mills said of the weekend’s events. “Bring shade and chairs. Come enjoy the incredible dogs that are there.”