Ponca goes to the dogs

Ponca goes to the dogs
The third annual Missouri River Outdoor Expo, held Sept. 22-23 at Ponca State Park on the outskirts of Ponca, NE, was certain to attract thousands of visitors.

Its organizers help guarantee a strong turnout by including the a Splash Dogs dock jumping competition in the itinerary of all there was to do and see last weekend.

The rules of the event were simple. Dogs and their owners climb up on to a platform overlooking a 25-foot long tank of water.

With a little coaxing, usually brought about by an owner throwing a toy in the tank, each dog takes a flying leap into the water.

The canine who jumps the farthest is the winner.

Nearly every dog who competed Saturday morning had never been part of such an event. They had never been around so many people – and so many dogs – at the same time.

It didn't take long for most of the four-legged competitors to get comfortable with the whole idea of leaping into a refreshing tank of cool water, however, especially late Saturday morning, when temperatures began climbing close to 90 degrees.

Cory Wieseler of Ponca and his 3-year-old black lab Husker decided to give the competition a try.

Husker had already proven his leaping ability – at home he enjoys jumping off a boat dock into the Missouri.

"We came out here a little bit early this morning, when they let us try out the dock (and practice)," Cory said. "It just took him a little bit of time to get used to it. The clear water was a bit deceiving."

Practice paid off for Husker. Full of confidence, he took a running leap into the tank, and was airborne for 20 feet-6 inches before splashdown.

"He's never done it again, and he knew he could get out there," Cory said. Husker had never jumped in a competition like this before, "but we all know that he's high strung, and this seemed like the perfect event for him."

Lori Butler of Pender, NE, was accompanied by Beau, her 6-year-old Chesapeake Bay Retriever, to the Splash Dogs competition.

"We never been in anything like this, and when we came down here this morning, he wouldn't jump off the dock," Lori said.

Once Beau eventually realized the tank below the dock was full of clear water, his instincts to take a refreshing dip took over.

Lori's dog placed fourth in the junior division, with a jump of 11 feet-11 inches.

Jeremy Cuofol of Laurel, NE watched as his 4-year-old chocolate lab, Gunner, gained confidence with every jump.

"He was a little leery the first few jumps, but now he just wants to run up the ramp and go constantly," he said. "He loves it."

Jeremy describes his dog as being "a bit too young and a bit too hyper" to take hunting yet. Gunner definitely showed that he was excited to be part of Ponca's festivities Saturday.

"He goes nuts. Someday he'll calm down and we'll go hunting," Jeremy said. "He's had a great time today, but there are a lot of dogs to distract him.

"He's never been around this many dogs."

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