Foster is a 4-year-old Australian heeler who was acquired at the 2001 Lodi Pet Fair from Animal Friends Connection. Now he's a world champion Frisbee chaser. Foster and his owner, Lodi resident Steve Malmlov, won the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championship recently in Scottsdale, Ariz. And this is a dog that nearly died in July.
Foster swallowed a small round toy the size of a doughnut in January. It stayed in his stomach for six months, and he got really sick in July.
Malmlov took the dog to Oakwood Veterinary Hospital in Woodbridge, but they couldn't find the toy through X-rays. However, they found it through ultrasound. Surgeons opened Foster's stomach and took the toy out.
"He was on his deathbed for about a week," Malmlov said.
Nevertheless, Foster wanted to go out and play Frisbee the day after he left the hospital, Malmlov said. It took some effort for Malmlov and his wife, Donna, to keep Foster home to recuperate.
But come November, Foster was ready to compete with the best Frisbee-catching dogs in the world.
Foster runs down a Frisbee the same way the St. Louis Cardinals' Jim Edmonds runs down a fly ball in center field. He can go left, right or back to catch the spheroid. Malmlov can throw the Frisbee 45 to 50 feet.
Foster would jump on his master's shoulders, leap off and catch the Frisbee in mid-air. He'd also catch a toss from a Frisbee that went through Malmlov's legs. Another time he turned 360 degrees before making the catch.
"The contest itself is ultimate drama," Malmlov said. "I know what an Olympic athlete goes through as far as pressure goes."
The three-day event is based on total points, much like a golf tournament. Dogs are judged on drive and athleticism, ingenuity, and sequences and flow.
Foster placed second on the first day of the tournament, but he took over the top spot on the second day. Going into the final round, he had a mere 1.2-point lead. The lucky part, Malmlov said, was that being in first place meant that he and Foster had the luxury of competing last, meaning they knew exactly what they had to do to win.
The Lodi team had to get more than 8.5 points to win. They won going away with 11.5 points.
The November contest in Scottsdale featured about 25 American competitors and 11 from Japan, where people are fanatic about Frisbee-catching dogs.
"In Japan, they've got a magazine devoted to the sport," Malmlov said.
Foster has the nickname "Scaredy-Cat, Cry Baby, Bedwetting Mama's Boy," Malmlov said Sunday, wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, "It's a dog eat disc world."
Foster is afraid of small dogs like toy poodles and small children, he'll constantly put his head on the shoulder of Malmlov's wife, Donna, he drools a lot and whines when he doesn't get his way.
Foster also has the nickname "Mr. Dribbles."
Malmlov, a printer in Modesto, got into the sport through his wife. Before they met, Donna was competing with her dog, Ashley, a 7-year-old Queensland Heeler-Australian-Mexican hairless mix. Ashley, also acquired from Animal Friends Connection, has fur on her top side and smooth skin on her belly. Ashley has retired from competition because of an injury.
Donna Malmlov, an eight-year Lodi resident and marketing director for CJK Associates, which owns several Burger King and Applebee's franchises, was involved in a Stockton Frisbee dog club. She met Malmlov a short time later, and he got hooked as well.
The couple has a third dog, Sydney, a female who they adopted from a Modesto animal shelter. She was on the verge of being euthanized a year and a half ago at the shelter when the Malmlovs took her home. The same weekend Foster became a world champion last month, the younger Sydney took second place at a different event.
"We really want to promote the sport and promote animal adoption," Malmlov said.
But there doesn't seem to be great popularity in Northern California, Donna Malmlov said. There seems to be more interest in Southern California and Colorado.
The couple wants to offer free training sessions to get more people interested in having their dogs learn to catch Frisbees. For more information, call 369-5983.