- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

HOWELL, Mich. (AP) - He’s a high-flying athlete whose leaping ability rivals that of a young Michael Jordan.

And he has twice as many legs.

“This is something he’s always done,” said Howell resident Susanne Sparano of her Labrador retriever, Cooper, and his ability to leap after balls, flying discs and all manner of objects.

Three-year-old Cooper will be in Atlanta next week for an invitation-only contest that will pit him against the best of America’s high-flying canines, according to the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus (https://bit.ly/1l5aJD4 ).

He earned his invitation to the eastern regionals of the Purina ProPlan Incredible Dog Challenge through his performance in preliminary competitions.

But his story could have turned out much differently.

Sparano and her husband, Victor, already owned a Labrador when an acquaintance approached her about adopting Cooper.

The man, a U.S. Marine, was being deployed to Afghanistan and his wife and son were moving to a military base where the dog would be unwelcome.

Desperate, the man brought Cooper to the Staples store where Sparano works.

For the Marine, it was a last-ditch effort at finding Cooper a home before turning him over to a shelter.

For Sparano, it was love at first sight.

She “didn’t even think twice” about bringing him home with her.

Luckily, her husband and, more importantly, Remington, their then-2-year-old chocolate Lab, felt the same.

“I call him his big brother,” Sparano said. “He saw Remington and he just followed along.”

Remington will be also be in Atlanta, hoping to qualify for one of the last open spots in the April 4-5 event.

The Sparanos maintain an active outdoor lifestyle, and their dogs are a big part of it.

The two Labradors are inseparable, Sparano said, whether tagging along on family hikes or running around in the yard. They even get into trouble together, she noted.

Cooper also uses the walks to show off his considerable tracking skills.

Even in this winter’s subzero temperatures, Sparano said, he’s been able to pick up and follow almost any scent.

Both dogs are natural leapers, and the couple only trains them lightly.

“We don’t want to wear them out,” Sparano said.

But the Sparanos are busy several weekends a year in taking them to competitions.

“Our lives pretty much revolve around them,” Sparano said.

Through their lifestyle, they’ve made a new group of friends, including former Detroit Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox, who owns Ultimate Air Dogs, a nationally recognized jumping team.

“We see him quite a bit,” she said of Wilcox, a member of the Tigers’ 1984 World Champions.

It’s a lifestyle that, like Cooper, came to them almost entirely by chance.

“Someone saw Remington jumping off a dock one day and said he’d be a natural for competitions like this,” Sparano said.

So, after some research, they signed their dogs up.

The upcoming competition will be held at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, site of the 1996 Summer Games.

That is appropriate because organizers call the event a kind of canine Olympics. It features competitions in several events, from agility drills and dock diving to aerial chases.

Cooper will compete in the Fetch-It event, which tests how far a dog can leap.

Round by round, dogs jump over water toward a goal post moved increasingly farther away.

Winners advance to the national finals, to be held in October at Purina Farms, an outdoor event center outside St. Louis.

The 2013 finals were videotaped and shown just before this year’s Super Bowl on NBC.

Last year’s Fetch-It champion reached 23 feet, a distance Cooper just might be able to reach.

With his extraordinary legs, and nose, he’s already smelling victory.


Information from: Livingston County Daily Press & Argus, https://www.livingstondaily.com

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