Dining

A Mexican Oasis

Tita’s offers traditional Mexican fare with a local twist.

Wee Pause for Applause has been having fun performing around town and all over the mid-Island for years now. They can often be seen appearing in local parades and outdoor events, such as the Fall Fair, as well as putting on demonstrations for schools and senior care homes. In addition to appearing locally, they also participate in Canine Freestyle competitions that take place in various places throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“As a group we really enjoy the competitions,” says Gentleman, “but we always have to travel or send our videos in. So recently, during an informal get-together with other Island freestylers, we decided that it was about time to have a competition here on the Island.”

With that thought in mind, the group got together to discuss a location—they decided on the Comox Valley. “We were really proud and happy about, and it will be held at a wonderful venue in the Native Sons Hall,” Gentleman says.

Dancing Dog

Dancing dog.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

The Island Fling will take place on the afternoon of October 19, with the Vancouver-based group Paws 2 Dance sanctioning the event. The organizers anticipate that this first Island competition will attract participants from all over Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Alberta and western US.

“In order for the awards that will be won to be credible, we have to be affiliated with an organization that offers titles,” Gentleman says, explaining the choice of Paws 2 Dance as the sponsoring organization. “They gave us some seed money and our judges are coming from them. Ray Underwood was one of the originators of Freestyle in the 1990s, and he will be one of the judges.

“So the entries go through Paws 2 Dance and they will keep a record so that they know who has passed, and the people who achieve a title will get an award through them.”

While different sanctioning organizations have their own particular interpretations of what is needed to achieve certain titles, they are all based upon the relationship between the handler and their dog during the performance of their routine.

The judging of the performance focuses on a number of components, including heeling position of the dog, dog attitude and workability, movement with the music, smooth transitions, a variety of moves and pace as well as coverage of the entire ring area (which is typically 30×60 feet). The handler is also evaluated for their ease of movement and composure in the ring.

Within the competition there are various levels at which the handlers and dogs compete—for example, Junior, Novice, Intermediate and Advanced—so beginners don’t have to compete against more experienced teams. The more advanced the level, the longer the performance and the dogs are expected to participate off-leash. Most levels offer the opportunity for dog and handler to compete individually or as part of a team.

Like many sports that are viewed by the general public, participants must behave with appropriate sportsmanship, and respectful treatment of the dogs is mandatory. Likewise, dogs are expected to be kept under control at all times and should not be aggressive. Dogs also have to be healthy and over the age of six months.

The local people involved in organizing the Fling hope this competition will be just the first of many to be held on the Island, with groups from other areas continuing the event in the coming years. And, of course, they hope the contest will garner more attention for the sport and draw in new members and participants.

Gentleman feels that the more that people know about Freestyle, the more they will see that it is a great sport for people and dogs alike. “People of all ages and abilities are able to enjoy the sport. It is very special to watch a junior out on the floor with their dog, just enjoying themselves. It is amazing how creative young people can be devising new moves that no one else has thought of.

“I’m 74 years old now and hope to be doing this with my dogs for many more years to come,” Gentleman adds, noting that the oldest person she knows practicing Freestyle is in their 80s. “The older person’s movements may not be as graceful or agile as those done by young people in their 20s,” she says, “but we have just as much fun and success.”

And according to Gentleman, it doesn’t matter if you have two left feet—or four left paws. “You don’t have to be a ‘dancer’ to enjoy doing a routine, you just have to be able to move to the music. Freestyle also can accommodate both people and dogs with handicaps. I know of Freestylers who work with their dog from their wheelchair or walker. The dogs really don’t care as long as they are doing things with their person.”

Magi Schoffield-Reid, another member of Wee Paws for Applause, agrees that people and dogs of any age can enjoy the sport. As a choreographer and instructor of Freestyle, she has worked with a broad range of people and she currently coaches a new group called the Island K9 Freestylers, whose ages range from 25 to 60-plus.

“They just started working together last September and we entered our first competition in April and we got first place in Cloverdale,” says Schoffield-Reid proudly. “Right now we are going to be working on a new routine for the upcoming year.”

She is currently holding classes in the upper level of the Cumberland Cultural Centre on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Like many of the participants, her involvement in the sport was a coming together of two of her passions. “I’ve always danced and I’ve taught a lot of dancing, so that is the part that I really enjoy. I like the choreography and making it look like a real dance between the dog and the handler,” she explains. “And I’ve been training my dogs for about 15 years, so it was a combination of the two. Once I saw other people doing it, I decided I could combine the two and have a good time with it.”

And how do the dogs like it? Schoffield-Reid says her five dogs all love it. “The dogs really do enjoy themselves because everywhere we go they get to have fun, have a treat and feel special… so it really is most enjoyable for the dogs, the handlers and the audience.”

Gentleman agrees wholeheartedly. “The dogs really seem to like it. I’ve got two very different kinds of dogs and they both have fun with it. As soon as I turn the music on, my one dog is right at my side and she wants to get started right away. Of course, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that we give a lot of positive reinforcement, pet them and say how good they are.”

And, as she says, it’s amazing what a dog will do for a little piece of cheese.

The Island Fling will be held at the Native Sons Hall on October 19 starting at 1 pm. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.


For more information about the event contact Glenda Gentleman at sheltiewink@shaw.ca.

To find out more about Canine Freestyle classes email Magi Schoffield-Reid at magi44@shaw.ca.
As the dancers line up waiting for the music to commence, advice
the sense of excitement is palpable. One last check on the outfits—vests done up, shoelaces tied, collars straight. With the first couple beats, a half dozen partners jump right into their performance. Finally, they get to put their practice to work.

Moving around the show area flawlessly, you can catch a glimpse of some of the dancers counting time as they execute their choreography…1, 2, 3, 4… 1, 2, 3, 4….

Working hard to maintain their synchronicity, the troupe carries out a number of classic elements—inward side passes, 360 degree turns, forward figure eights, high stepping, left and right pivots—finishing with the ever-popular heel–sit–stay.

Come again?

Yes, the heel–sit–stay is a staple of any performance when it comes to Canine Freestyle, a dance craze that has gone to the dogs.

A little more “dancing with the strays” than Dancing with the Stars, Freestyle is a relatively new dog sport that combines basic obedience training with the added dance elements of composition, choreography and costuming.

Of course, the dogs that are in the ring this day at the Comox Valley Fall Fair are hardly strays. It is easy to see that there is more than a little bit of love and pampering that goes on between the dogs and their handlers in each and every performance.

As noted, Canine Freestyle is a choreographed dance performed to music by handlers and their dogs. The dance can be done either as part of a larger group or as a solo. The objective is to present the bond between dog and owner in an original dance, using intricate movements to display artistry, athleticism, style and teamwork while interpreting the theme of the chosen music.

Put another way, it’s a pretty fun excuse to get a little exercise, chat with friends and get your groove on while hanging with your dog. Little wonder that interest in the sport is growing worldwide.

While the majority of organizations in North America are in the East, particularly in the States, BC is believed to be where the sport first originated in the 1990s. Within the Comox Valley alone, there are a couple of different dance groups, as well as less formal recreation classes.

Glenda Gentleman is one of the original members of a group called Wee Paws for Applause that has been doing Freestyle since 2000.

“Our group got started after attending a dog show at Tradex in Abbotsford. There were some people doing drill work with some bigger dogs and we thought that we should show them that little dogs can do it as well as big dogs,” she says.

Drawing on their personal experience—two of the four members of Wee Paws for Applause are obedience trainers and one is a choreographer of human dancers—they put together a couple of different routines. Sounds easy enough, but we are talking about getting a total of 24 feet and paws in synch here.

While most of us wouldn’t know where to even begin, Gentleman says it actually isn’t too tricky if you follow a couple basic guidelines.

“The first thing is to pick a piece of music that you enjoy and seems to be the right kind of beat for your dog,” she says. “If you have a great big dog that moves kind of slowly you don’t want to have a piece that is too quick, because they won’t be able to keep up. So you pick some music that is appropriate.

“The next thing is to teach your dog some tricks. The dogs that have had a little bit of obedience training and have learned to respond to their owners and they know that sit means sit; they manage much better and have more fun.

“Then you teach yourself some steps to go along with the music, and you just coordinate the three. So it is a blend of the music and movement of the dog and the handler. The key thing is the relationship that you develop with your dog and having fun.”

Wee Pause for Applause has been having fun performing around town and all over the mid-Island for years now. They can often be seen appearing in local parades and outdoor events, such as the Fall Fair, as well as putting on demonstrations for schools and senior care homes. In addition to appearing locally, they also participate in Canine Freestyle competitions that take place in various places throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“As a group we really enjoy the competitions,” says Gentleman, “but we always have to travel or send our videos in. So recently, during an informal get-together with other Island freestylers, we decided that it was about time to have a competition here on the Island.”

With that thought in mind, the group got together to discuss a location—they decided on the Comox Valley. “We were really proud and happy about, and it will be held at a wonderful venue in the Native Sons Hall,” Gentleman says.

The Island Fling will take place on the afternoon of October 19, with the Vancouver-based group Paws 2 Dance sanctioning the event. The organizers anticipate that this first Island competition will attract participants from all over Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland, Alberta and western US.

“In order for the awards that will be won to be credible, we have to be affiliated with an organization that offers titles,” Gentleman says, explaining the choice of Paws 2 Dance as the sponsoring organization. “They gave us some seed money and our judges are coming from them. Ray Underwood was one of the originators of Freestyle in the 1990s, and he will be one of the judges.

“So the entries go through Paws 2 Dance and they will keep a record so that they know who has passed, and the people who achieve a title will get an award through them.”

While different sanctioning organizations have their own particular interpretations of what is needed to achieve certain titles, they are all based upon the relationship between the handler and their dog during the performance of their routine.

The judging of the performance focuses on a number of components, including heeling position of the dog, dog attitude and workability, movement with the music, smooth transitions, a variety of moves and pace as well as coverage of the entire ring area (which is typically 30×60 feet). The handler is also evaluated for their ease of movement and composure in the ring.

Within the competition there are various levels at which the handlers and dogs compete—for example, Junior, Novice, Intermediate and Advanced—so beginners don’t have to compete against more experienced teams. The more advanced the level, the longer the performance and the dogs are expected to participate off-leash. Most levels offer the opportunity for dog and handler to compete individually or as part of a team.

Like many sports that are viewed by the general public, participants must behave with appropriate sportsmanship, and respectful treatment of the dogs is mandatory. Likewise, dogs are expected to be kept under control at all times and should not be aggressive. Dogs also have to be healthy and over the age of six months.

The local people involved in organizing the Fling hope this competition will be just the first of many to be held on the Island, with groups from other areas continuing the event in the coming years. And, of course, they hope the contest will garner more attention for the sport and draw in new members and participants.

Gentleman feels that the more that people know about Freestyle, the more they will see that it is a great sport for people and dogs alike. “People of all ages and abilities are able to enjoy the sport. It is very special to watch a junior out on the floor with their dog, just enjoying themselves. It is amazing how creative young people can be devising new moves that no one else has thought of.

“I’m 74 years old now and hope to be doing this with my dogs for many more years to come,” Gentleman adds, noting that the oldest person she knows practicing Freestyle is in their 80s. “The older person’s movements may not be as graceful or agile as those done by young people in their 20s,” she says, “but we have just as much fun and success.”

And according to Gentleman, it doesn’t matter if you have two left feet—or four left paws. “You don’t have to be a ‘dancer’ to enjoy doing a routine, you just have to be able to move to the music. Freestyle also can accommodate both people and dogs with handicaps. I know of Freestylers who work with their dog from their wheelchair or walker. The dogs really don’t care as long as they are doing things with their person.”

Magi Schoffield-Reid, another member of Wee Paws for Applause, agrees that people and dogs of any age can enjoy the sport. As a choreographer and instructor of Freestyle, she has worked with a broad range of people and she currently coaches a new group called the Island K9 Freestylers, whose ages range from 25 to 60-plus.

“They just started working together last September and we entered our first competition in April and we got first place in Cloverdale,” says Schoffield-Reid proudly. “Right now we are going to be working on a new routine for the upcoming year.”

She is currently holding classes in the upper level of the Cumberland Cultural Centre on Tuesday evenings at 7:00 p.m. Like many of the participants, her involvement in the sport was a coming together of two of her passions. “I’ve always danced and I’ve taught a lot of dancing, so that is the part that I really enjoy. I like the choreography and making it look like a real dance between the dog and the handler,” she explains. “And I’ve been training my dogs for about 15 years, so it was a combination of the two. Once I saw other people doing it, I decided I could combine the two and have a good time with it.”

And how do the dogs like it? Schoffield-Reid says her five dogs all love it. “The dogs really do enjoy themselves because everywhere we go they get to have fun, have a treat and feel special… so it really is most enjoyable for the dogs, the handlers and the audience.”

Gentleman agrees wholeheartedly. “The dogs really seem to like it. I’ve got two very different kinds of dogs and they both have fun with it. As soon as I turn the music on, my one dog is right at my side and she wants to get started right away. Of course, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that we give a lot of positive reinforcement, pet them and say how good they are.”

And, as she says, it’s amazing what a dog will do for a little piece of cheese.

The Island Fling will be held at the Native Sons Hall on October 19 starting at 1 pm. Admission is free and everyone is welcome.


For more information about the event contact Glenda Gentleman at sheltiewink@shaw.ca.

To find out more about Canine Freestyle classes email Magi Schoffield-Reid at magi44@shaw.ca.
They’re the Comox Valley’s unsung heroes. Working for the most part in the remote Vancouver Island wilderness or during the dead of the night, neurologist
they stay well below the radar of most local residents. They’re the ones that you never want to have to rely on, but the ones you sure will be grateful for if you ever do. They’re Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue, and they’re always on duty.

CVGSAR member Paul Berry performs a water rescue during one of the group’s weekly practices.

CVGSAR member Paul Berry performs a water rescue during one of the group’s weekly practices.

Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Comox Valley Ground Search and Rescue (CVGSAR) is responsible for search, rescue and recovery missions in a massive area that spans the Comox Valley from Oyster River in the north to Cook Creek in the south, and from the rugged backcountry of Strathcona Park to the outlying islands of Georgia Strait.

“We’re responsible for any lost or injured person on the ground, in a lake or in a river within that search area,” says CVGSAR president Paul Berry. “We’re the quiet emergency service provider in the community.

“Most of our searches start out like a children’s story,” he adds, referencing a comment made by one of the organization’s longest-serving volunteers. “‘It was a dark and stormy night…”

Another reason you’ve likely never heard of CVGSAR is because the search and rescue limelight, as it were, is more often captured by high-profile air or marine rescues that are handled by CFB Comox’s 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron. The CVGSAR team, however, is more than happy with its low profile in the community.

“The group is not the sort of group that blows its own horn,” Berry says, acknowledging that there is no shortage of humbling moments in their line of work. “They’re pretty quiet and modest about what they do.”

The CVGSAR team is comprised of 62 volunteers who are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s a dedicated group, some members of which have been involved with the organization since its inception in 1974, with an almost equal distribution of men and women from a wide range of backgrounds, Berry says.

“We range from university students in their 20s to a couple of members in their 70s. One is a retired general, so it’s a real diverse group of people coming from many different professional backgrounds. We have people from the military, emergency services, plumbers, secretaries, bank tellers, everything under the sun.”

Berry stresses that CVGSAR members are “true volunteers.” Unlike volunteer firefighters, he says, CVGSAR volunteers never receive any compensation. They’re also responsible for buying their own equipment, which he says can cost up to $1,000, and unlike other emergency service providers, they are not eligible for any tax rebates for expenses incurred through their service.

That doesn’t stop the committed group of volunteers from donating an incredible amount of time to the cause, however. “Last year we had around 45 members and it was around 15,000 or 16,000 hours that the group committed over the course of the year in training and calls,” Berry says, adding that there is a lot more time that never gets recorded. “It’s a pretty big time commitment.”

Although many of the searches or recovery missions the team undertakes involve inherent dangers, Berry says the safety of the team is always paramount. In fact, in more than 30 years of service, CVGSAR has never had a member killed or seriously injured despite the many hazardous situations in which team members have been placed in the line of duty.“I think that says something about the level of training and the management of the searches,” he says. “You train to minimize those risks, and at times if conditions are hazardous we won’t put teams in. It’s technical and it’s dangerous, but it’s a great team to be part of.”

Every CVGSAR member must undergo a comprehensive 72-hour basic training program prior to responding to any calls. The course materials, defined by the Justice Institute of BC and the Provincial Emergency Program, consist of everything from first aid and basic search techniques to communications, wilderness survival, helicopter operations, avalanche awareness and rope training. In essence, the course covers all the skills required to be a certified ground search and rescue technician in British Columbia. Team members then have the option of signing on to one of the organization’s specialist teams, such as swift water rescue or avalanche response.

In addition to this extensive initial training, the entire 62-member CVGSAR team trains for three hours every Wednesday evening.

“It’s a cyclic training schedule,” says Berry, “so we review a lot of the basic skills on a regular basis. Map and compass navigation, GPS (global positioning system) and first aid are key things that we review regularly. We also try to provide search scenarios that give team leaders and specialist teams the opportunity to practice their skills on a regular basis. Then the specialist teams practice on additional nights as well.”