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Don't stop believin': Journey of Colorado Springs headed to Westminster dog show

February 8, 2017 Updated: February 9, 2017 at 6:01 am
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Laura Bergstraser and her show dog, Journey, are pictured behind Faith Covenant Church on Tuesday, February 7, 2017. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Journey, a locally bred grand-champion collie, performs unfazed under the critical eye of the world's top dog show judges.

But offer up a nibble of cheese or a bit of steak, and her composure may crumble.

The collie, owned by mother-daughter dog breeding duo Shelley and Laura Bergstraser, will go snout-to-snout with some of the world's top pooches next week in the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York.

"A dog like this just goes in and says, 'There is no other dog on the field. Look at me,'" said Shelley Bergstraser, who has been breeding collies for more than 30 years.

The 6-year-old, 53-pound collie bears little resemblance to Lassie, with a "smooth," or short, coat of black, speckled gray, cream and gold.

Like many of the Bergstrasers' collies, including her 2-year-old puppy Zeppelin, Journey is named after a classic rock band. She splits her time between Shelley Bergstraser's property near the Colorado Springs Airport and Laura Bergstraser's 60-acre estate east of Castle Rock in Franktown.

Journey tends to curry favor with judges for her small, almond-shaped eyes - one brown and one blue - and the gentle slope of her muzzle from her forehead to her nose.

At Westminster, canines are evaluated by their conformity to a set of breed standards - related to a dog's physical form, movement and demeanor - outlined by the American Kennel Club, the Bergstrasers said.

"Breeds like this are supposed to be bold and happy and confident," Shelley Bergstraser said.

Journey is no exception. Her owners described her as tenacious, dominant and energetic.

"She's a tough cookie," said Laura Bergstraser. But, "when she really decides she loves you, she really lets all of her guard down," she added.

The pooch, also experienced in agility and herding, often appears in obedience class demonstrations for Shelley Bergstraser's dog training business, Canine Solutions.

To qualify for Westminster, Journey ranked among the top five collies in the nation at last year's dog shows. She won best of breed at the American Kennel Club National Championship in 2015 and again in 2016.

The collie competed in Westminster last year, but did not place. Her grandmother, Tegan, won best of breed at the show three years ago.

"She's got big shoes to fill," Laura Bergstraser said.

The Bergstrasers and Journey will fly to New York on Friday, three days before the dog is scheduled to compete at Madison Square Garden against other collies for best of breed and, if she qualifies, against other breeds for best in show.

Colorado Springs is the birthplace of another - slightly fluffier - past Westminster contestant.

Swagger, an Old English sheepdog from Black Forest, won best of group in the herding class in 2015 and was runner-up for best in show two years earlier, said owner Colton Johnson.

Swagger has since retired. But Johnson, a husband and father, said the Westminster victories were among his most prized achievements, behind getting married and having children.

"It's a starting ground and an ending point for a lot of really famous dogs," said Johnson. "There are thousands and thousands of people. There's nothing like it."

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Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108

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