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Local labrador mix heading to dock dog competition

STERLING – A Sterling man and his youngest doglete are heading to Georgia next week to compete in a doggie Olympics of sorts.

Jeff Kuchel, 50, and Phoenix, his Belgian Malinois/black lab mix, will compete Saturday in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge Eastern Regional.

Although this is only her first year as a dock dog, Phoenix was invited by Purina to compete. They are among only five other pairs in the U.S. and Canada that got the invite, Kuchel said.

At 18 months, Phoenix, whom Kuchel adopted from an “oops” litter in southern Alabama, will be the youngest dog in the competition, he said. “She’s a baby still; there are a lot of dogs that are seasoned veterans” at this event.

Her talisman is a white mark resembling a phoenix emblazoned on her furry chest.

“How can she not be great at dock sports, when she has wings?” he said.

She’s also a hard worker, Kuchel said Saturday while at Sinnissippi Park, where he was working on her obedience skills. She’s “very focused ... very intense.”

Although she performs all types of dock sports, this time, Phoenix will be competing only in the Fetch It! event, which features dogs galloping down a dock and diving into a pool while attempting to catch a bumper dangling 4 foot above the water’s surface.

The bumper starts out at 16 feet beyond the dock’s end and advances a foot at at time; the dog that jumps the farthest and catches the bumper wins.

Phoenix’s personal best so far is 19 feet.

The day’s events will be streamed live at and will be taped for a national TV airing sometime in May or June. Winners advance to the national finals in St. Louis in October.

Other dog sporting events that day will include dog diving, freestyle flying disc, head-to-head weave poles, Jack Russell hurdle racing and agility.

Kuchel, who works for the Illinois Department of Transportation in Dixon, has two other dock dogs: Fletcher, 8, and Maggie, 6, both yellow labs. He spends much of his free time training his trio at Oppold Marina in Sterling.

Fletcher also is a therapy dog for KSB Hospital in Dixon.

Watch online

Go to to learn more about Saturday's competition, which will be streamed live at and taped for a national TV airing sometime in May or June.

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