By LISA PERKINS
TRAVERSE CITY — A bit unconventional, maybe, but tossing a tennis ball with a lacrosse stick prodded 7-year-old Emma into the pool.
Emma, a cocker spaniel, and her owner Bryan Hapeman used that tried and true method during the practice round at the National Cherry Festival’s Ultimate Air Dog competition on Thursday.
“That’s how we play around at home, and I’m a lot more accurate with it,” said Hapeman, who is visiting from Wrightsville Beach, N.C.
More than 100 dogs will compete in the eighth-annual event hosted by former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox. That’s up from 75 last year.
“What is really different is that more and more of them are local dogs. That lets us know that we are succeeding here, bringing out the community with first-time dogs,” he said.
Pat Wazny took advantage of her hometown access to audition 5-month-old Maui for a shot at jumping with the big boys. With a little coaxing, the pup stopped drinking pool water and took a quick plunge.
“She swam 30 feet the first time she was in the water, kind of unusual for beagles,” Wazny said.
Ken and Diane Harrison had no problem getting Jackson into the pool. The bigger challenge was coaxing him out.
“He just loves it,” said Ken, who practices with the 2-year-old lab mix rescue dog at their home on East Bay.
Tim Brock, of Traverse City, hopes the practice he put in with 4-year-old English setter Banjo will pay off.
“Last year she just did the practice round; this year we are hoping she beats her best of 18’ 11”, (and) we are trying to break the 20-foot mark,” he said.
The Ultimate Air Dog competition continues today at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and Saturday at 11 a.m. The final round will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Open Space.