Taking on the world – one Hawick woman and her dog

Monica Kerr and Kira. Dog agility.
Monica Kerr and Kira. Dog agility.

SHE may be pint-sized, but that doesn’t stop her being a champion – several times over.

Kira and owner Monica Kerr returned home to Hawick after being part of the Scottish team to take bronze in the dog agility open world championships near Bristol last month.

For Kira it’s all in a day’s work as she is a champion three times over and is the top agility dog of her size in Scotland – as she has been for the past five years.

Given that the relationship and body language nuances required to control an agility dog’s movements are right up there with those required for working collie trials, the duo’s achievements are all the more amazing because Kira is Monica’s first dog.

The idea came to her after she’d been dog-sitting her brother Stephen’s Jack Russell, Nip, while he was away on holiday.

“I was just wanting a dog to go walking with as I’d really enjoyed looking after my brother’s dog. I’d never had a dog before. The agility was just a bonus, I knew nothing about it, but we tried it and she was a natural at it.”

Back in 2000, Monica had been scuba-diving at St Abbs and was in a pub afterwards chatting when a woman said she had seen some dogs.

“From that we went to see them: Kira was the last bitch and nobody wanted her because she was small. I got her and she’s been the best of the litter.”

The pair have been doing agility – when the dog accurately hops over jumps, scales an A-frame, goes through a tunnel, bends in and out of poles and surmounts other obstacles – since 2003.

Kira became the first Jack Russell to be an agility champion and now has the right to be referred to as “agility champion Kira” because she has won a championship standard competition three times. She’s been the Scottish agility champion dog twice, in 2006 and 2010, the pair represented Scotland in the Nations Cup Kennel Club Festival three years ago and they have competed at Crufts five times.

“Kira’s done so much,” said the Minto Golf Club admin assistant.

Asked why Kira presumably loves her sport so much, Monica explained: “It’s her having fun with me. We’ve got a real bond and doing agility is time spent with me and it’s something that we do together.”

Agility is the fastest growing sport in the UK she said. Jack Russells are good at it, similarly poodles, but any breed can do it.

Monica explained: “It depends on what sort of temperament they’ve got, how laid back they are, though some dogs have a lot of drive – it just depends on how you do the sport yourself.

“We saw it on TV and I thought one day we could do that, and that’s it.”

She doesn’t know how she achieved the close bond she has with Kira and says it was always there.

Monica has three Jack Russells and trains three nights a week for about half an hour with her older dogs, Kira and Kes, both top grade seven competitors. The youngest, 18-month-old, Kayla, pops over equipment in her garden for about five minutes at any one time. And she trains with Colin and Trudy Davison at Dryburgh Abbey.

“They don’t realise it’s training, it’s just a game to them, it’s all play and we keep it fun for them. I give Kira directions with my shoulders.”

Kayla has been bumped straight into grade three, skipping one and two, because of her kennel-mate Kira – and she has won both classes she’s entered so far.

“She’s very small, but I’m hoping she is good enough to jump the low height of 300mm. At the moment she’s showing a lot of promise and I’ve had lots of good feedback about her,” said Monica.

She’d love to be at next year’s open world championships in Belgium and her aim is to carry on relishing her sport: “I really enjoy it. I would love for Kayla to do as well as Kira has done. Dogs really are man’s best friend – they give so much love and they don’t ask for anything back in return.”

At last month’s world open Kira, who leaps jumps of 35cm, the usual height for her size, was scaling 40cm obstacles.

“It was probably her swansong, she’s nearly 11. Anything we do now is for fun, but she’s still winning, still top of the league and just one of the dogs to beat.

“I felt very proud to be there and very proud to be Scottish. It was a great honour to be picked. I met new people and saw handlers from abroad. All the top handlers were there.

“I was shocked when we got bronze. It was a fantastic way to end what was a wonderful experience.”