Melissa Heeter introduces thousands annually to disc dog sport
by Marie Nesmith
Apr 03, 2011 | 2985 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
For Melissa Heeter, a lifelong passion for animals has turned into a successful career.

Since entering the disc dog sport, the Rydal resident has become the first female to win a world championship and now is a member of the Purina Incredible Dog Team. As the owner of WOOF! Sports USA, she organizes events that draw top competitors from across the world.

With the U.S. Disc Dog Southern Nationals and the U.S. Disc Dog National and World Finals, she also has introduced thousands of spectators to the sport. While both competitions used to be held in Bartow County, the National and World Finals will remain at Dellinger Park in October, but the U.S. Disc Dog Southern Nationals is returning to its previous venue, the Atlanta Dogwood Festival April 15 to 17.

Occupation: Dog trainer, performer and professional spokesman

City of residence: Rydal

Age: 44

Family: Married to Steven Heeter for more than 21 years, five dogs

Education: Diploma from Pinconning High School in Pinconning, Mich., certificate in graphic arts and marketing from Bay-Arenac Skill Center, and attended Kennesaw State University for two years

Q: When and how did you starting working with dogs?

A: Growing up on a farm in Michigan, I learned how to train and compete with horses in barrel racing, reining, western pleasure and had always trained our family farm dogs to become great family pets, protect the farm, and [be] great companions. After getting my first border collie and [he] destroyed my house, chewing a hole in my couch, and [opening] the pantry door shaking every dry good in my living room, I decided my dog was bored and needed a job. So, from the day the flying disc came into his life is the day his destructiveness went away.

Q: How did you get to be part of the Purina Incredible Dog Team?

A. After winning the 1997 Canine Frisbee disc World Championships, in Washington, D.C., and becoming the first woman World Champion, Nestle Purina Pet Care company started asking me to be one of their spokesman dog trainers on several rescue tours, which led to an invitation to be a Purina Incredible Dog Team member over five years ago.

Q: What breed of dogs do you have and how long have you cared for them?

A: Currently, I have four border collies and one Australian cattle dog mix. The border collies I had since they were born and the cattle dog I rescued when she was 1 year old.

Q: What was your first competition like?

A: The first competition was at a Bark in the Park, a fundraiser for a Humane Society, and I entered the best trick contest and my husband, Steven, entered the disc dog competition. Well, I won the trick contest, by teaching my dog Cody how to cover up with a blanket and Steven won second place in the disc dog contest. When we returned home we realized that after a day at the park and chasing a flying disc, Cody went right to sleep and his bad behaviors disappeared by giving him a natural job -- chasing prey. So, chasing a tennis ball is fun, but anticipating the flight pattern of the disc is even more challenging.

Q: What is the most challenging part about performing?

A: The most challenging part of performing is making sure that I keep the fetching game fun for me and my dogs. Oh, and of course, trying to be innovative in the freestyle flying disc choreographed routines. With the sport expanding by leaps and bounds worldwide, I need to keep that creative edge for me and my dogs' routines.

Q: What did it mean to you to become the 1997 Canine Frisbee disc World Champion?

A: Competing at horse shows was amazing and so much fun growing up on the farm. However, becoming the first woman World Champion in the 23-year history of the sport and making history really gave me an opportunity to turn my hobby of training dogs for dog sports into a career.

Q: As owner of WOOF! Sports USA, what has been your most notable professional accomplishment?

A: One of the most notable accomplishments is having my company, WOOF! Sports USA, host the USDDN Disc Dog World Finals right here in Cartersville, Ga., every October at Dellinger Park. As the International Judging Director of the USDDN and traveling, volunteering, judging and performing worldwide -- USA, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands -- it truly is amazing how the Cartersville and Bartow Country community had supported our Disc Dog World Finals.

Q: What do you enjoy most about organizing events that feature top teams from around the world?

A: One of the most enjoyable things about hosting tournaments with teams from around the world is sharing my love for my dogs, their companionships and my love for working as a team with my canine partner with other dog sports lovers.

Q: What can the public gain by watching these performances?

A: The average pet owner can realize, that even me, a dog trainer and canine Frisbee disc World Champion, started just like them ... having to learn how to work with your own dog's ability and traits and to earn that special bond that you and your dog can have.

Q: What is your favorite meal?

A: Well, my favorite meal is just about anything at Wes-Man's Restaurant in White, Ga.

Q: What do you like to do in your spare time (hobbies)?

A: Volunteer at the Etowah Valley Humane Society. I am working with Bryan Canty, EVHS director, on the new Homeless Pets Club's in Bartow County Schools. This is an amazing program which will teach kids of all ages how to support their local homeless pet population by starting a Homeless Pets Club in their school. Kids are our future pet owners. Kids who become a member of a Homeless Pets Club will learn responsible pet ownership, volunteering, self-confidence and social communication skills.

Q: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?

A: My training field, Flying Dog Field.