Danielle O'Neill had both a rookie and a battle-tested veteran in her corner.
The rookie was Zephyr, appearing in freestyle competition for the first time. The veteran was Zeek, a previous world-championship qualifier.
Zephyr and Zeek, both Border Collies, were among the dogs who chased and caught flying discs Sunday as part of the Ashley Whippet Invitational qualifying event in Naperville. The competition included a freestyle segment in which the owners and dogs performed a throw-and-catch routine to music.
The dogs and their owners were vying for a chance to play in the AWI world championship event later this month near St. Louis. The event is named after the dog who popularized the sport during the 1970s.
O'Neill, a veterinarian assistant and in-home dog trainer from Dayton, Ohio, said she was proud of Zephyr's freestyle performance Sunday, but it was Zeek she was pinning her hopes on.
"Zeek is my rock," O'Neill said. "He's qualified for the championship before, he's just wonderful to work with. I'm looking forward to getting out there with him."
O'Neill said she was drawn to canine flying-disc competitions, in part, because teams often get their dogs from shelters and rescues.
A small crowd of onlookers, of both the human and canine varieties, gathered at the Grand Pavilion to watch Sunday's competition.
"Actually, I came by because my son heard all the barking," said Naperville resident Karen Mulcahey, pushing her 14-month-old son, Charlie, in a stroller. "He loves watching dogs, so he's had a blast here so far."
The event was one of the special activities held Sunday as part of the Naperville Jaycees Last Fling, a four-day community festival that continues Monday along the Riverwalk in downtown Naperville. Carnival rides and a full slate of live music are also part of the fest.
"Even though so many kids have already gone back to school, I think Labor Day is still seen as the 'official' end of summer," said Janice Duffy, who was watching her 10-year-old granddaughter, Sheila, enjoy the "Moby Dick" carnival ride. "So it's nice to have something like this to do."
For details on the final day's events, go to lastfling.org.