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June 24, 2013

Canine freestyle gives Fraser woman, grandson common hobby

By Nico Rubello
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Fraser resident Christine Kloski, her 4-year-old English shepherd Ally and her 6-year-old grandson Zack Howey have found common ground in canine musical freestyle competitions hosted by the World Canine Freestyle Organization. Pictured here, the trio performed a Zorro-themed routine this past fall.
Dressed in costume, Zack Howey and his grandmother’s dog, Ally, perform “paws up,” in which Ally places her front paws on Howey’s toy rifle. The move was part of a medal-winning patriotic-themed routine performed in May to Toby Keith’s song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.”
 

FRASER — What do one Fraser woman, her 6-year-old grandson and her pet dog all have in common?

The answer: They all love to dance.

Christine Kloski and her grandson have always been close.  How could they not be? Kloski and her husband, Bill, have been babysitting their young grandson, Zack Howey, since he was an infant.

But the canine freestyle competitions in which they participate with Kloski’s 4-year-old English shepherd, Ally, gave them something to do together during the after-school hours Howey spends at their Fraser home.

For those not familiar with it, musical canine freestyle features people in costume and their dogs performing choreographed routines to music.

“It’s mostly about sharing and bonding with your pet,” said Patie Ventre, founder of the World Canine Freestyle Organization. “If you don’t have a very positive relationship (with the dog), you certainly can’t perform a beautiful dance routine, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.”

The object of the program is to display the dog and handler in a creative, innovative and original dance, using music and intricate movements to show teamwork, costuming, athleticism and style interpreting the theme of the music.

“It’s fun,” said Kloski, who participated in her first canine musical freestyle competition in November. “I’ve always liked to dance.”

Watching his grandmother practice the routines last fall, Howey decided that he, too, wanted to participate. The grandmother-and-grandson pair soon after choreographed a Zorro-themed routine featuring Howey as Zorro, Kloski as the villain and a “swordfight,” during which Ally weaved between their legs and leaped over their toy swords.

“It’s something we can do together,” Kloski said.

It’s also a reason to introduce Howey to new things, she added. Zorro, for instance, was something she remembered from her youth.

In May, Howey and Ally won first-place awards in his “junior beginner” class for performing a patriotic, military-themed routine to Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” at a World Canine Freestyle Organization-sanctioned competition in Davisburg, Mich. The Freestyle Fanatics, a club within the Michigan Canine Freestyle Dance Club, sponsored the event, called the Motown Bow Wow Boogie.

Howey qualified both days and earned numerous awards, including an award for best audience integration and a Junior Musical Freestyle title. Judges score the routines based on criteria such as precision, difficulty of the moves, choreography, showmanship, costume and props, and the attitude of the dog.

Howey, an elementary-schooler with an active imagination and an aspiration to become an actor, said he landed on the Toby Keith song after hearing it on the radio one day.

“I heard this song and I’m like, ‘Yes, this is the one I’m going to dance to,’” he said while wearing a cowboy hat, a sword tucked in his belt, a toy pistol holstered at his side and a toy rifle in hand. He had just watched a documentary about General George Custer, Kloski explained aside, adding, “He’s a history buff.”

Howey has always had an uncanny way with Ally, Kloski said. When he was 3 years old, he was playing with a toy piano and began pointing to keys. Where he pointed, Ally would press the key with her nose.

“She’s my pal,” Howey added.

Their routines are practiced one trick at a time. Kloski holds out a treat and repeats a command — “in, in, in” or “zip, zip, zip” — and Ally responds accordingly. Dogs tend to get bored easily, so you can’t practice too long at any one time, she explained.

“You teach each move individually. Then you put a couple moves together, and then you keep adding to that,” she added. “And you always want to be playing music while you’re teaching.”

Ventre said the dog has to know the routine inside out. Sometimes, the owner forgets the steps, but the dog remembers, she added.

All dog breeds are capable of participating, but whether they do depends on how well the owner understands the breed and what training method works for their dog, she said.

With the help of corporate sponsors, Ventre hosted her first-ever canine freestyle show in 1993 in Tennessee. The participants, she said, took what was supposed to be a public demonstration of obedience exercises above and beyond that. “I was shocked,” she said. “It was awesome. I fell in love with it.”

Today, the members of the World Canine Freestyle Organization number in the thousands, spread throughout the world.  While there are other canine freestyle organizations around the globe, Ventre said the WCFO is the largest.

The WCFO shows are largely held on a state and regional basis — it would be expensive to fly dogs around the world to compete — though participants have been known to cross state lines for competitions. International competitions are conducted by video feeds.

In the metro Detroit area, there are two shows annually: the Motown Bow Wow Boogie in the spring and the Awesome Pawsome in the fall. Both take place in Davisburg.

When they’re not practicing or competing, Kloski takes Ally, a licensed therapy dog, to the Sanctuary at Fraser Villa senior living facility every other week.

“Her favorite is going to the nursing home,” Kloski said. “She is amazing. She really is.”

To view video of their routines, go to YouTube and search for “Chris Kloski.” For more information about the WCFO, visit www.worldcaninefreestyle.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Nico Rubello at nrubello@candgnews.com or at (586)279-1118.