Dog relay stars straining at the leash to perform at family pet extravaganza

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An award-winning dog relay team which pawed its way to glory in both the European and British Championships this month has been announced as one of the star attractions at a veterinary group’s family pet event.

The Wilmslow Wild Dogs Flyball Team, which scooped silver and bronze trophies at the prestigious European Flyball Championships in Ipswich at the start of August, will be demonstrating its racing finesse at the eagerly-awaited Pets on the Hill event, organised by the independently-owned Willows Veterinary Group.

The large scale pet festival, which is being held at Kelsall Hill Equestrian Centre on Organsdale Farm in Tarporley on September 25, is the perfect venue for the pooches to showcase their speed and agility that have secured them a series of sporting accolades and a place at the final of Crufts – twice.

Their most recent pieces of silverware came from the British Championships, held at Catton Hall near Walton-on-Trent in Derbyshire, when they won two of the three divisions they were entered in, beating five other teams in each to scoop the top slots.

What makes their success even more incredible is the fact that many of the canine stars were previously rescued from dog homes and have thrived since finding new loving families.

Springer Spaniel ‘Tilly’, who was rehomed from a dogs’ home just 18 months ago, was among the silver medal winners in her team’s division at the European championships while the aptly named ‘Mary’, who was abandoned at a set of railings one Christmas with her three puppies, was one of the successful members of the British Championship squad.

“A lot of dogs end up in rescue homes because they’re working dogs,” said team captain Janice Pickup, from Wilmslow, who founded the club 10 years ago.

“There are an awful lot of border collies in rescue because they have gone to a home where they haven’t had a job to do. They’re working dogs and they need to be given enough exercise or they’ll start to have problems through no fault of their own and end up in a rescue centre.

“Once they’re given a job to do their lives are turned around. They have a purpose again but our dogs are still family members, they’re not just racing machines, and they live at home and sleep on our beds.

“We have a couple of real characters on our team who have the ‘awww’ factor. It’s a very exciting sport and the race can be close. All of our dogs have different qualities; some are fast and some are very consistent. While we’re by no means the quickest team overall, we do very well in our divisions.”

“We have lots of different breeds in our team, not just Border Collies, but terriers, spaniels, staffies and crossbreeds. Most dogs can do flyball providing that they are healthy and they must be over 12 months old to start training.”

Flyball racing consists of two teams of four dogs competing against each other in a relay-style race involving four hurdles. After leaping over the hurdles, the dogs must retrieve a tennis ball from a spring-loaded box before re-jumping all of the obstacles.

The dogs race side by side in two lanes and the first team which successfully completes the course without any mistakes wins. Individual dogs competing in British Flyball Association competitions receive points for each competition and can qualify for various awards depending on the success of their career.

Janice, a freelance lecturer in equine studies, said the sport was a great way for owners to bond with their pets, especially if they’d been rehomed from a dog rescue centre.

The club, which trains weekly at Hazel Grove High School in Hazel Grove, Greater Manchester, has around 18 competition standard dogs on its books and a further 18 dogs in training. The club also holds regular beginner courses which anybody can join which help it to uncover the flyball stars of the future.

“There’s a great community atmosphere within the club and the sport has really enhanced the social lives and wellbeing of many of our members,” said the former veterinary nurse, who previously worked at Willows Veterinary Group-owned Ashbrook Equine Hospital in Knutsford.

“The social aspect of flyball is really important to the club. We go away together at weekends and have social events such as barbecues, without the sport many of us would be at a loss.”

Pets on the Hill is a new event born out of the independently-owned Willows Veterinary Group’s hugely successful Pets in the Park event which has outgrown its former site at Marbury Park in Northwich.

Scores of pet lovers from across Cheshire are expected to descend on the event, on Sunday, September 25, to get involved in the many animal-related activities available which include dog fashion shows, a creepy crawly tent where children can come face to face with tarantulas and snakes, ferret racing and pet-related trade stalls.

Willows Veterinary Group offers a wealth of knowledge and expertise through 24 small animal practices, a referral veterinary hospital, two equine centres and a five-office farm practice which are located across Cheshire and into the Wirral and Staffordshire. Willows is accredited by The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons.

It is the first time the Wilmslow Wild Dogs Flyball Team has appeared at the group’s family fun events and the canine athletes will certainly enjoy being the centre of attention.

As well as watching the dogs demonstrate their speed, dog owners will also be able to have a go themselves with their own pets and raise money for the club’s designated charity, Lancashire-based Homeless Hounds.

Janice’s own prized pooches, nine-year-old collie-crosses Jinx and Daisy-May, who were both among the silver medal winning team at the European Championships although Daisy-May was ‘on the bench’, will be among the furry performers.

Her eldest dog, a border collie called Skye, is also a highly-decorated retired flyball champion herself, winning countless medals as well as the British Flyball Association’s prestigious Chica Chicana Award after clocking up an impressive 40,000 points during her career.

But it was after rescuing her very first flyball dog, a border collie called Sally who sadly passed away last year, that Janice was first introduced to the idea of flyball. Initially signing her pet up for obedience lessons, she soon discovered Sally had much more to offer than sitting and heeling on demand.

“She was a very sensitive dog and she didn’t have a very good start in life but she was so sharp and turned out to be a great flyball competitor,” said Janice, who lives with her partner Simon.

“It’s very rewarding to see the turnaround. Any dog can do this.”

For more information about Pets on the Hill go to

For more information about The Wilmslow Wild Dogs Flyball Team go to , find them on Facebook or contact Janice on 07850 066522

Video link here of Wilmslow Wild Dogs Flyball Team in a training session.

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