Belle Starr is a bitch and she has the trophies to prove it. The 3-year-old Australian Shepherd, “Wookstock’s Belle Starr Little Girl,” won best of breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb.11.
When she’s not on the competition circuit — which now takes up most of her time — Belle romps around with eight other Aussies at Woodstock Kennel in Shingle Springs, owned by breeder Linda Buell. This is her year and she’ll be gone a lot.
“She’s done well every year but she needed a little more maturity,” said Buell. “Now she’s got that. She’s the number one female in the U.S. this year and the win at Westminster is going to be a big push for her.”
Belle was chosen best of breed at the Westminster and represented her breed in the herding class. Megan Hof, professional handler from Citrus Heights, showed Belle who loves the limelight and applause.
“She is bomb-proof,” said Hof. “Never nervous — a train can go by and she won’t be affected at all — not even when the cameras zoom in on her.”
Belle’s excellent conformation, her love of performing and her effortless, floating stride have earned her award after award, beginning when she was only a puppy.
“We start training and are already entering them to show at 2 to 4 months, just to get them used to it.,” said Buell.
In 2009, Belle took best of breed puppy five times, had numerous best of winners, winner’s bitch and best of breed awards in 2010 and took the United States Australian Shepherd Association/American Kennel Club Nationals as best of winners in 2011, along with many other bests.
In 2012 she won the award of excellence at the AKC Eukanuba Nationals and at the USASA/AKC National Specialty Show she earned an award of merit.
Buell has been breeding and showing Australian shepherds for 30 years, 18 of them at Woodstock Kennel, her home in Shingle Springs.
“I have always loved dogs growing up but my dad was allergic to them. I got my first dog at 14, a German shepherd, but when I found Aussies, that was it.”
Belle is just one of Woodstock’s winning Aussies who also compete in herding and agility.
Intelligent and mellow of temperament, Aussies were bred as stock dogs in the American West. They make good companions, search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, disaster dogs and are known for their trainability and eagerness to please.
“Aussies are a people pleasing breed and bond well with their people,” said Buell.
Despite her many awards, Belle’s journey to the Westminster with professional handler Megan Hof, was fraught with obstacles.
“You can see her coat is now short,” said Buell, fluffing Belle’s shiny fur. “Aussies lose their long coat about four months after coming into their heat cycle and we were just lucky that she held onto it long enough for Westminster.” The coat will grow back in eight weeks, just in time for more competition.
Another problem was the blizzard that shut down New York City with 18 inches of snow. Friday flights before Westminster were cancelled and rescheduled to Saturday.
“Some of the handlers I know from Southern California weren’t able to get to New York until Sunday night,” said Hof. Hof and Belle caught their flight from San Francisco on Saturday, in plenty of time before the Monday competition. Belle, a registered service animal, was able to fly in the cabin.
Most hotels around Madison Square Garden, where the Westminster is held, are dog friendly said Hof.
“They even turned the Grand Ballroom at the Pennsylvania Hotel, into a dog park. We couldn’t go anywhere in all that snow, so we had an area to walk and do other things indoors.”
Hof, 28, has been handling Belle since 2011 and does both grooming and handling to get Belle ready for showtime.
“I’ve been showing dogs since I was 5,” said Hof.
She and Belle don’t need to spend time practicing for competition.
“Belle knows what she is supposed to do,” said Hof. “She is so eager, she just puts her head down and pulls the leash to get started.”
After her big year in competition, Belle will most likely have her first litter of puppies and then move into the world of agility competition.
“We haven’t been able to do agility with her because she is not at home long enough but she will be awesome at it,” said Buell.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.