**Guest post from Ellen B.**
A member of the Drs. Foster & Smith family had quite a year in 2011. Matt Stelter is also a breeder of champion Collies. A Collie he bred and co-owns was the #1 Rough Collie in the U.S.A. last year!
Matt began working in the warehouse here in Rhinelander, Wisconsin at the age of 16. He was already very active in the Collie breed at that time. In the 20 years since, he has developed Wyndlair Collies into an internationally known Collie kennel. You can see pictures of many of the Wyndlair Collies on Facebook. Matt and his wife, Anita, are both AKC-licensed dog judges in addition to being active Collie breeders. This past year, Grand Champion Wyndlair Cherokee Vindication, or “Vinnie” as he is known, became one of the crowning achievements for Wyndlair.
To tell the story of Vinnie, you actually have to step-back to the early 1990’s. It was at that time that Matt sold a bouncing blue merle puppy to a 9-year-old girl from Chicago named Renee Rizzo (later to become Renee Beals). Renee was a very young aspiring junior handler with a love of the Collie breed. The puppy would grow-up to become Champion Wyndlair Blue Cherokee, affectionately known as “Rookie.” Together, Renee and Rookie went on to become the most successful junior handling team in Collie breed history. Their record included three CCA National Best Junior Handler awards, a finalist at the Westminster Dog Show, and Renee qualified for an expenses-paid trip to Crufts in England, the world’s largest dog show.
Renee then patiently waited 10 years for another blue merle Collie from Wyndlair that could make all of her dreams in the dog show world come true. “Vinnie” was born in June of 2009. He had a very successful puppy campaign, completing his American championship just after his first birthday. While still shy of his second birthday, Vinnie came back out to the dog shows in early 2011 where he proceeded to go on a nearly unfathomable run, winning 16 Specialty Best of Breed wins from coast-to-coast. A specialty show is a single-breed show, judged by the most respected people in the breed, and they attract the strongest quality entries. Vinnie capped off his spring specialty season by winning an Award of Merit at the 2011 CCA Nationals in Tulsa, OK, being one of only three males recognized with the award.
Ironically, Vinnie’s specialty show success had not actually been a primary goal of Renee’s, as her background was primarily in the all-breed dog show world, as seen on the nationally-televised dog shows like Westminster, the AKC Eukanuba Invitational, and the National Dog Show. After the spring specialty season was over, Renee pointed Vinnie toward her lifetime dream of an All-Breed Best In Show. She didn’t have to wait long before that goal was achieved, as she won her first Best In Show in July of 2011. Vinnie finished the year winning an amazing three Best In Shows, as well as 10 Herding Group 1st. He finished 2011 as the #1 Collie in all ranking systems, defeating well over 5,000 dogs, and defeating more than twice the number of Collies as the second place Collie. Vinnie was also just a few points shy of the Top 20 Herding Dogs in the U.S.A.
What has made Renee & Vinnie’s year even more special is that Vinnie is also just a regular dog. He is Renee’s “only child.” He lives in the house with her, he goes rollerblading in the neighborhood, and he does everything else a normal dog does. In a sport that is usually dominated by professional handlers, affluent owners, large kennels, and expensive advertising campaigns, Renee & Vinnie defied all of the odds in their surge to #1. Vinnie didn’t have any of the advantages of a national advertising campaign that most top-ranked dogs do in popular periodicals like the Canine Chronicle, Dog News & Showsite Magazine. Renee is newly married and she and her husband recently purchased their first home. She works for their family business and is paying for her husband to finish school, along with Vinnie’s entries and travel expenses. It really has been a David & Goliath story to watch unfold.
For 2012, Renee & Vinnie are going to continue down their exciting road. With a small expense budget, they will do what they can to keep Vinnie ranked with the top Collies in the country. Next month, they will be competing on the floor of the famed Madison Square Garden at the Westminster Dog Show. We at Drs. Foster & Smith will be hoping he can win the coveted Best of Breed award, and earn his moment on national television in the Herding Group competition!
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