Dynamic Duo

A sibling team of dog trainers wins awards and attention

November 8, 2009 in The Miami Herald/Neighbors by Sue Arrowsmith

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At the Finlays' Pinecrest home, the f-word is not allowed. That's ``f'' for Frisbee.

The slightest mention of the word makes Gunnar, an Australian shepherd who can snatch flying discs in mid air in record time, ``flip out.''

The Finlays -- and their dogs -- are not your typical family.

Consider their road trips.

They often consist of mom, dad and two kids packed into a motor home to compete in dog challenges across the country. The children, Tommy, 14, and Meagan, 17, are award-winning trainers.

The two siblings have won more than 100 awards. They have been featured on ESPN, ABC and The Late Show with David Letterman.

Last month, Meagan and her hyperactive border collie, aptly named Pistol, won the eastern regional Agility competition at the 11th Purina Incredible Dog Challenge, a series of televised competitions that showcase exceptional canine athletes in five core events: Dog Diving, Freestyle Flying Disc, Agility Competition, Jack Russell Hurdle Racing and Weave Poles.

``The people are great, it a great atmosphere and you get that adrenaline rush,'' Meagan said. ``Even if you lose, you don't mind because the person you lost to is such a good person.''

When she was just 10, Meagan decided she wanted to train dogs. It happened one day when she visited the Miami Seaquarium with her mother, Michelle. She saw a performance involving dogs and later approached one of the trainers, Lourdes Edlin, who eventually took her on as an apprentice.

``The minute I finished my first run at my first competition, I said, `I want to do this for a long time. It's so much fun,' '' Meagan told ESPN last year.

That day at the Seaquarium was the push that sent the ball rolling, but all the winning ribbons might not have materialized if not for an unpleasant incident. About 10 years ago, Michelle was robbed near their home.

That prompted the family to get Zoe, their first dog, to protect the house.
The black lab, which turned out to be more loopy that aggressive, became Meagan's first competition partner.

The other canine star in the family is a Bull Mastiff named Bandit, now retired, but once a show dog that was featured in ads and commercials with celebrities, such as Cedric the Entertainer.
Because of his large size and easy nature, he sometimes gets cornered by Gunnar and Pistol, both Herding breed dogs.

Tommy competes with Gunnar at the super pro division, after surpassing all the junior levels. In 2005, he won the Canine Frisbee Florida State Championship in Jacksonville. The freestyle disc competition is judged on distance, time and accuracy. To make up for his lack of size and power compared to his competitors, Tommy worked hard to improve his accuracy.

He also puts on a show, pitching Frisbees to popular catchy songs, such as Bad to the Bone.
``When you see kids compete with the adults, it's really impressive,'' said dad Scott.

At Gulliver Preparatory School in Pinecrest, the kids excel as well. Meagan heads the Japanese Club, plays the piano and tutors children at a Japanese-language school in Westchester.

Tommy, an avid gamer, is also learning Japanese, enjoys working on engineering projects and is on the Gulliver golf team.

To keep the dogs in top shape, the Finlays' backyard is rigged with an obstacle course that includes 60 weave poles for Pistol to practice. In the front yard, Tommy works with Gunnar three times a week.

In addition, Michelle takes the dogs walking and swimming while the kids are at school.
Meagan is glad that her mom gives the pooches extra attention.

``It's hard work, but you can't just leave your dog hanging,'' Meagan said. ``Your dog is your partner.''

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