When Sol Sylvan steps out onto the agility course with one of his dogs at his side, he stands out.
First, there’s his skill.
He’s an accomplished handler and a trainer who teaches others to run their pups through obstacles, from tunnels to teeter boards.
Second, there’s his wide smile and natural warmth. The Kennewick man is the type who never met a stranger.
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And third — perhaps most notably — there’s his age.
Born during the Great Depression, the year President Franklin D. Roosevelt took office, Sylvan often is the oldest handler on the course.
“I’m rare,” Sylvan said with a laugh. “I’m not totally alone, but I’m rare.”
Heather Smith from the United States Dog Agility Association backs that up.
It’s not unusual to find people in their 60s and 70s taking part in agility competitions, she said. “But 80 is something else.”
Sylvan is 83 to be exact. And he shows no signs of slowing down.
A dog lover his entire life, he’s been involved in the dog agility world for about 15 years.
He got started thanks to Andy, a Belgian Malinois he adopted. The pup was hyperactive and chewed on just about anything he could get his paws on. He needed a job.
In agility competitions, dogs complete timed obstacle courses, jumping over hurdles, climbing ramps and negotiating tunnels, poles and teeter boards.
The sport tests the pup’s nimbleness and the person’s training and handling skills.
The way Sol taught me to teach (my dog) — he has a way of making it easy and fun. He’s a very encouraging man. He loves animals and loves seeing them succeed.
Linda L. Garcia, Kennewick
Sylvan has a wall full of ribbons that demonstrate his success. He also has a roster full of students who look to him for expertise.
Linda L. Garcia is among them. The Kennewick woman and her poodle-Chihuahua mix, Mr. Oso, have been going to Sylvan for a few months.
He has a special way with dogs, Garcia said. People too.
“He’s really patient with the people. We’re the ones who need to be taught,” she said.
“The way Sol taught me to teach (my dog) — he has a way of making it easy and fun,” Garcia said. “He’s a very encouraging man. He loves animals and loves seeing them succeed.”
Sylvan’s dog Andy died a few years back. He now has two rescue dogs, a Weimaraner named Gracie and a Staffordshire Bull Terrier-lab mix named Izzy, who compete with him.
He ran Gracie through a practice trial the other day, sending her leaping over hurdles and zipping through tunnels.
She was so well trained that she even negotiated part of the course at the command of a Herald reporter who had no experience in the agility world.
Gracie got a treat and some love from Sylvan after the demonstration.
He loves dogs, he said, because they “give unconditional love.”
And he’s fascinated by the way they think and see the world. He understands them better than most, he said.
How many 83-year-old men can do something like that? And for him to have such a passion for this, after retiring from his first passion, which was building, I think is just terrific.
Katherine Sylvan, Sol’s wife
Sylvan enjoys helping his students gain insight and understanding. “I like the teaching. I like seeing my students grow as they learn and do things with the dogs,” he said.
Sylvan retired in 2001 after a career building homes and apartment buildings and operating an apartment management company.
He and wife Katherine have four adult children and three grandchildren.
Katherine is proud of her husband’s dog agility work.
“How many 83-year-old men can do something like that?” she said. “And for him to have such a passion for this, after retiring from his first passion, which was building, I think is just terrific.”
Passion is the right word. Sylvan said he loves what he does.
That was clear the other day. On the course with Gracie, as she cleared the hurdles and charged through the tunnel, he wore a wide smile.
Gracie was nimble, and he looked happy.
Sylvan plans to take part in an agility competition next weekend. An American Kennel Club agility trail event is Sept. 9-11 at Horn Rapids Park in Richland.
To sign up for a class with Sylvan or get more information, call 509-221-1592.