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D.C., above, is a tricolor. The Monkses are from New York state and are staying in the Point Mallard campground.
Daily photo by John Godbey
D.C., above, is a tricolor. The Monkses are from New York state and are staying in the Point Mallard campground.

Sheltie shepherdess
Shetland sheepdog breeder, handler shares mobile home with 16 animals while competing in Decatur show

By Paul Huggins 340-2395

Imagine living in a house with 16 dogs — dogs that sleep inside every night.

Imagine that house doesn't have a back door to let all 64 legs escape into a fenced-in backyard, which doesn't exist either.

Now imagine living in close proximity with all those furry creatures 32 weekends of the year in a camper. Well, Sheila Monks' 39-foot motor home doesn't quite fit the stereotype of a camper, but you get the idea that it's a cramped living arrangement. Even a blind man's nose will know this is a traveling kennel the moment he steps aboard.

"This is my livelihood," said Monks, a Shetland sheepdog owner, breeder and professional handler.

That explains why she's willing to live with so many of the dogs. But why would she want to drive two days from upstate New York just to be in Decatur? There are plenty of other sheltie dog shows that are closer.

Well, she has 25 reasons. That's how many show points are available at the Shetland Sheepdog Specialty Cluster at Point Mallard Park.

It's a major dog show drawing competitors from 28 states, including Hawaii. There's a different competition each day from Wednesday through Sunday. Competition begins at 11 a.m. each day and generally ends about 4 p.m.

"It's five shows and it's all shelties," Monks said, describing the appeal of the event in which she's competing for the second straight year.

Earning points

Four of the shows offer four points for the top male and female of the day, and a fifth show will offer five points.

A dog needs points to earn a championship label, which in turn makes it more valuable for breeding. A dog needs 15 points to become a champion. A special dog can come to an event like Decatur's and become a champion in one long weekend.

"It's rare, but it does happen," said Alsie Fisher, show president.

Besides the points, Monks said, breeders like her seek sheltie specialty clusters because they find top performers with which their dogs can mate.

"And you know you're competing against the best," she added.

This includes her Onya, officially known as Champion Shield Crest Anastasia, which has won best of breed at 100 shows, the first black-and-white sheltie to reach the century mark.

Kathy Dziegiel came from Central Florida for the fourth time and said the Decatur event is one of the best she attends every year.

"The club is wonderful," she said of the Shetland Sheepdog Club of North Alabama.

Members continuously look for ways to make competitors feel welcome, such as providing two dinners during the event. The decorations are better than what she typically finds, she added.

"They always make it very enjoyable, win or lose," she said.

She brought five shelties this year, including Trevah, officially known as Champion Ozark Crest City Slicker, who has sired 52 champions, ranking sixth all-time.

Other clubs help

Though the event is in Decatur, two out-of-state clubs help the North Alabama club put on the event. A group from Memphis will handle Thursday's and Sunday's shows, and a club from Georgia will organize Friday's show.

Besides championship points, the top dogs will share more than $1,000 in prize money some days.

The show is essentially a beauty contest. Judges — a single one for each day — look for a sheltie with the best structure or conformation. Obedience and agility don't count here.

"Shelties are known for having a 'sweet face,' " Fisher said. "But these dogs are supposed to be for herding, and they've got to have a structure that looks like they can do that."

Because of its shape, color and coat, the sheltie often is mistakenly thought to be a miniature collie. The breed actually is a cross between a border collie and a variety of other small sporting dogs, Fisher said.

Herding dogs

They are natural herding dogs, but they are prized as companion pets, she said, because of their intelligence and loyalty.

Someone looking for a pet sheltie probably will spend $500 to $700 around Decatur. A show sheltie, however, typically will cost $5,000. Fisher said one of her dogs fetched an $80,000 offer from a Japanese breeder, which she turned down.

To her clients, the dogs are family members, so it's no wonder Fisher keeps a close eye on them at all times. Her dogs stay in outdoor pens during the day, and at night they come inside, where each has a portable kennel for sleeping.

It will get a little easier in a couple of weeks when they reach their annual winter destination near Ocala, Fla. There, she and her husband park their motor home on a fenced-in, 3-acre lot where the dogs can run free during the day.

Still, it's a cramped lifestyle and sometimes, Monks said, she has to go home to New York to relax. And even when she's not competing, she said, she feels a heavy burden of responsibility for her clients' pets.

"I have to turn down dinner invitations from other breeders after shows because I just can't leave them," she said.

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