SCOTT, N.Y. — A baying beagle and a 13-year-old girl will compete among approximately 800 contestants at the American Kennel Club Agility Invitational in California this weekend.

Mary Cope, daughter of former Moultrians Lisa and Maurice Cope, has worked hard with Katie, her beagle, to advance to this point, practicing agility runs in her yard several times a week and keeping Katie in peak condition.

Her dedication has paid off: The pair is the No. 1 ranked agility team in the nation in the beagle breed.

Mary is the granddaughter of the late Ken and Evelyn Cope. Her uncles are Jerome Cope and David Moseley, and she’s the niece of Coe Littleton, all of Moultrie.

Mary said she hopes their performance this weekend advances them to the finals.

Doing so would mean the duo will appear on the Animal Planet TV network in February, competing against other dogs in Katie's class, which is 8-inch shoulder height, to be Invitational champion.

It would also be a high point in what has been for Mary a pursuit of half a lifetime. Mary has been showing dogs since she was 7 years old.

Mary's passion began when she was exposed to the world of dog agility competitions at age 6 with her mother, Lisa Cope, who had been competing since 1994.

"I liked the idea of doing a sport that involved your animals because I've always loved animals," Mary said. She said that unlike soccer or field hockey or track, dog agility is a team sport where she can rely on her pet in the competition.

At age 7, Mary showed a beagle with her mother and then when she turned 8, she got Katie.

Katie was ready to be shown by the time Mary was 10, and both Lisa and Mary describe her as a hard-working, eager-to-please dog.

Mary says she loves the competitions, where she stands out because of her young age and her excitable dog, who bays at her during the courses.

Mary describes dog agility as a fun sport that is full of good-natured competition. If she beats a friend by two-hundredths of a second, the two will tease each other but the banter encourages them to improve, said Mary.

Mary says being invited to the competition today and Sunday in Long Beach is an honor, regardless of the outcome.

"The chance alone is a reward in and of itself," she said.

Mary and Katie were ranked No. 1 beagle agility pair in the nation after their performance at agility shows in the year between July 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, when they attained over 1,600 qualifying points, about 200 points higher than the second-place dog.

AKC Public Relations Director Christina Duffney said last year Katie was ranked No. 4 in AKC agility and over the lifetime of the AKC agility program, Katie is ranked as the No. 10 beagle.

Points are achieved based on the number of seconds it takes to complete a run, with points given to each second ahead of the standard time set by the AKC.

The agility-competition is broken into two segments. One is a standard obstacle course in which dogs have to exhibit proper training, restraint and agility by running over seesaws and up and down painted safety zones on obstacles. The dogs have to jump obstacles in the other segment.

Both are done at the direction of the trainer, taking subtle cues from the person's body language, watching their feet, shoulders and hand signals.

Mary said Katie watches her closely for direction on where to run next, and she has to make sure she is in the proper location to give her watchful dog the next cue.

"Once you get really good and experienced at running a dog, it's like speaking a foreign language, it just comes to you," said Mary, a straight-A student.

Mary's days begin at 6 a.m. when she wakes up to care for her 15 show chickens she also raises, walk the family's three dogs, and feed her parakeet before going to school. Mary is also kept busy with field hockey practice in the fall, track practice in the spring and skiing in the winter.

She fits in agility training about four times a week, between these obligations and her homework assignments.

Mary attends agility classes once a week and she is focused on preparing Katie for the Invitational but she also enjoys the social aspect of the dog shows.

Mary has made many friends among the adults she competes with, saying it has been a maturing experience for her.

"The people are incredibly nice and so supportive and I have so many friends," Mary said. "I have more really close friends at the dog shows than I do at school," Mary said.

Mary said running her dog in the ring is the biggest reward of all.

"It is so much fun, and people say I'm such a good handler and I love her. Just doing if is the biggest reward, being able to run on the course and have fun with her," Mary said.

This relationship on the course has carried over to their connection as pet and owner, said Mary. She said she has gotten to know her dog on a different level than she would have if she didn’t train with her.

"You have a little connection. We learn from each other, now I know what she wants, which is usually a cookie, and she knows how to get it,” Mary said.

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