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By Alexander Oliveira
Hometown Weekly Reporter
A number of unleashed dogs tore through the Needham Public Library on Tuesday, November 27, leaving children, parents, and staff, shocked and bewildered. With eyes wide and mouths agape, onlookers watched as four barking border collies leapt and sprinted at blurring speeds across the library’s community room.
The dog catchers weren’t called, however, because these dogs were anything but intruders run amok. On the contrary, they were members of Mike Piazza’s High Flying Dog Show, and some of the most talented canines in the world.
For twenty years, Mike Piazza has been a dog trainer, a competitor and a performer in a sport known as Disc Dog (alternatively Frisbee Dog). At its base level, the sport consists of a trainer tossing a Frisbee, which is then caught and retrieved by his or her dog. This is no backyard tennis ball toss with Winn-Dixie, however; Piazza’s dogs performed their catches in midair, leaping, flipping, upside-down, two at a time, and running at speeds that have been clocked up to 35 MPH.
Chattering in anticipation, kids and parents encircled the community room as unseen dogs yipped and yelped beyond a closed door. Commanding a swath of open floor, Piazza paced center stage with a Frisbee in hand as Bullet, a slight dog with an ashen, just-back-from-a-roll-in-the-fireplace look, intently followed the disc in Piazza’s hand with her feet and eyes.
“Bullet used the be the highest jumping dog in the world, but she’s eight years old now and just had eye surgery, so I attach bells to her Frisbees so she can hear them and still find them.”
With a gentle toss, the toothed Frisbee jangled through the air as Bullet trotted beneath. With a ring, the Frisbee hit the floor, and Bullet darted to the sound to pick up the disc. “Let’s have some applause for Bullet,” Piazza said, leading Bullet out of the room, “but now the show starts.”
A blur of fur erupted across the room as Piazza opened a door and released Maui, a blue-eyed collie sporting a Red Sox jersey, who immediately launched into a series of jaw dropping feats. With Piazza faking throws, Maui kept his eyes on the prize, leaping through the air to nab the Frisbee when it was finally released. Piazza then began tossing Frisbees straight up, while Maui sprung into the air and caught them with a full body-flip on the way down.
“My dogs are all related,” Piazza said, “they’re all cousins from the same breeder in Tennessee.” Border collies, Piazza explained, are working dogs. “That’s why I use them. They were bred to herd sheep. They need a job to do all day, or they go crazy. My dogs’ job isn’t sheep, it’s playing Frisbee all day.”
Then out came Mojo (fittingly clad in a tie-dye shirt), the puppy of the group. Lying down on his back, Piazza tossed a Frisbee as Mojo lunged over him and snagged the disc out of the air. Following Mojo was Chaos, the fastest of the crew, who at a full sprint outdoors can run as fast as 35 MPH. With Piazza pitching a disc low and fast, Chaos slung his body to the ground and tore off with blurred legs, skidding to a halt, Frisbee in mouth, before an audience that had risen from crossed legs to knees and feet in excitement.
A Needham native, Piazza was performing on home turf. “My first job was over at the movie theater,” he said. “Now I do a hundred-fifty shows a year with the dogs. I’ve performed during the Patriots’ halftime, minor league baseball teams… I even wound up on Animal Planet once.”
Finally, after a grand finale of simultaneous midair flips from Maui and Mojo, Piazza let the eager crowd rush center stage for a long line of photo-ops, face time, and plenty of petting with the friendly dogs.