Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Flings With Fame 

Jo-anne Nielson was looking for a longtime companion, someone who shared her interests--moonlit walks on the beach, playing Frisbee in the park. Just when she thought she had turned over every rock and squeaky toy, she found that special someone in her front yard, rummaging through the trash.

Fine-boned and limber, Nielson's partner--a fetching young bitch named Riffraff--can jump really high and enjoys drinking from the garden hose. A Frisbee Ybermutt, she's "part yellow lab, part kangaroo, and part Goofy," says Nielson. Since they met four years ago, the pair have been inseparable, traveling from Maple Heights to Indiana for the regional Disc Championships, where they owned seventeenth place. Riffraff wore a jester's collar trimmed in tinkling bells and balanced a Frisbee on her substantial snout in time to generic circus music (a scandalous choice; most competitors choose rock and roll).

"My dog's the only one I have ever seen who could catch the Frisbee with her paws," confides Nielson, who will share tips for spinning discs to dogs during a Frisbee dog clinic held Saturday in conjunction with the Animal Protective League's Dogwalk.

The annual walk, which last year brought in about $70,000 for the local APL, is an organizational marvel. Baby pools are lined up at six water stations to allow hot hounds to cool off, and an air-conditioned ambulance provided by a Cleveland funeral home serves as a chill zone for out-of-breath Bowsers. Though about seven hundred schnauzers, setters, and Heinz 57s on leashes take part in the six-mile walk (including about fifty or sixty from the APL shelter for dogless people to walk), Dogwalk planner Susan Ross says taming the beasts is the least of her problems.

"Knock wood, we've never had any fights," says Ross. "A lot of times when they get into an environment where there's so many, they think, 'Maybe I'll just behave.'" The only truly fierce competition comes during the dog/owner look-alike contest. "Last year, one boy actually gave himself a mohawk and gave his dog a mohawk," she recalls.

But at more formal Frisbee functions, things can get dicey: masters doing one-handed handstands, legs spread-eagled for their pets to leap through, and aerial combinations involving piggyback rides. The rules are modified for ankle-biters: "There's a lady with a Yorkie who takes these little tiny Frisbees and puts them under her leg," says Nielson. "She does the same kind of tricks that other people do standing up, but she does them sitting down."

Willowick resident Jim Van Cise, a friend of Nielson's whose dog, Tasker, placed tenth in the regionals, says his big dream is to perform with Tasker at halftime at the new Browns stadium. "There's a guy who performs at Cleveland Rockers games," he says breathlessly, "and his dog wears special shoes for traction on the wood floor."

After attending the world Frisbee dog finals as a spectator, Van Cise set out to find a dog with gumption and get-up, as well as the hillbilly ability to lie down on the porch and do nothing. "My dog is a mix, so he has some mellow characteristics in him, too," says Van Cise. For a Frisbee chaser, sloth is a virtue: A purebred work dog like a border collie would probably want to herd the audience, rather than perform for them.

Van Cise and Tasker practice about twenty minutes at a time, several times a day. Finding a park without "No Dogs Allowed" signs was their first hurdle. "If I walk a block to Eastlake, there's no signs," says Van Cise. "We don't leave any land mines, so hopefully no one will mind."

Next came the conditioning. First item on the menu: Don't sniff other dogs' butts. "We try to go to as many different parks as we can," says Van Cise. "You want to get him used to distractions, properly socialized, and properly aggressive." And no staring at mutts with mohawks: It ain't polite.


The 8th Annual APL Dogwalk begins with registration at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Polo Field in the Metroparks South Chagrin Reservation, off Chagrin River Road and Route 8. The walk starts at 9:30 a.m.; minimum donation is $20. Call 216-771-4616.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

More by Laura Putre

Read the Digital Print Issue

December 1, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation