By Gordon Woodworth & Mark Frost, Chronicle News Editor & Editor
Getting up at 4 a.m. and driving from Greenwich to New York City on Saturday, Feb. 13, proved well worth it for Wendy Cerilli and Holster, her six-year-old Australian Shepherd.
Holster won the Masters Agility Championship at the famed Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden.
The agility competition, in its third year at Westminster, has each dog race an obstacle course, with jumps, tunnels, ramps and close-set vertical posts that dogs must weave their way through.
“It’s a big trip,” Heidi told The Chronicle. “I almost didn’t go. My husband talked me into it.”
Husband Dave Cerilli said, “We got up at 4 in the morning so we could get a parking space at Pier 92.”
The Cerillis — who operate the ambitious High Goal Farm dog training and show facility in Greenwich — brought not just one but four of their 12 Aussies to compete, including:
- Pico, a rescue dog, who “is lightning fast, but not as fast across the big equipment like Holster. I won’t push him. He would panic. I have to et him cruise.”
- Colt, Holster’s half-brother, “not as fast as the others but almost always perfect.”
- Jockey, Holster’s son, “a wild child.”
- And Holster. “Holster is my anchor dog,” said Wendy. “If I push him, the only mistake he’ll make, he might drop a bar (knock over a bar). He won’t lose his marbles.” She said Holster is “a very devoted, hard-working dog” with a mind of his own.
Holster did best, finishing 10th overall after the two preliminary rounds
For the finals, one dog from each breed, plus one mixed breed, qualify. Holster was the Australian Shepherd.
In agility, “Border Collies usually win, but Aussies are right there behind them,” said the Cerillis.
At Westminster, the top nine during preliminaries, were, in order, a Golden Retriever, a Border Collie, a Nova Scotia Toler (Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever) and then, in places 4 through 9, Border Collies, then, Holster, 10th.
In the championship that night, Holster “came out of the block running really fast,” Wendy said. “He was incredibly good.”
Dave, watching, said, “The course was tight. It took consistency to win. The other dogs beat themselves.”
Holster “listened to me and did all of the equipment perfectly,” Wendy said, finishing a flawless run in 35.10 seconds.
Dave notes, “A couple of people just nicked the bar and that’s five seconds. It they go off course, it can be 10 seconds.”
Why Holster needed Central Park
Wendy told show officials, “I was especially pleased that he was so fast tonight because he’s a country dog, not a city dog, and he’s a little nervous being in the city.
Wendy notes, “We had to walk all the way to Central Park from our hotel for him to go to the bathroom. He needed real grass. Holster had to go to Central Park to poop.”
Being in the big city for Holster, says Wendy, “can be overwhelming and I wasn’t sure it would impact his speed. We’re thrilled that it didn’t.”
Has the victory changed Wendy’s life?
“Yes and no,” she said. “No, because I still have to pick up poop. Yes, because everybody seems to know who Holster is.”
Dogs and agility competitions are Wendy’s career. The Cerillis’ High Goal Farm operates year-round indoors in a massive steel-frame building.
It generates its revenue by Wendy’s training dogs and handlers in agility, and by renting the facility for agility competitions.
Wendy teaches agility to 100 dogs and their handlers a week. The handlers range in age from “kids to people in their 80s.”
Dave said the handler has to communicate so much to the dog and everything matters — “where to put your hand, where to stand, what to say, what influctuation to your voice.”
As for renting the building out, Dave said, “We had 23 shows (competitions) last year; 23 weekends the place was full.” He said events can draw up to 160 people and 200 dogs.
Dave has a separate career as a rep for Absolute Plastics LLC, selling packaging to restaurant chains and food distributors.
He said High Goal Farm is thriving. “We’ve been sold out since we opened. We’re not really looking for new people.”
Wendy’s first goal: ‘Lion trainer’
Wendy is a Skidmore College grad with a degree in psychology and business, but that her focus has always been animals.
The first job she wanted was “as a lion trainer, when I was in kindergarten.”
“When Wendy and I first got together,” says Dave, “she was into horses.”
Now the Cerillis have 11 cats, 12 dogs, 3 horses and 1 rabbit. All 12 dogs compete in agility. Dave notes that Wendy “runs all 12 of them differently.”
The dogs are still family pets. Seven sleep on the Cerillis’ bed. “I’m like Gulliver with the Lilliputians holding me down,” says Dave.
How did High Goal Farm end up in rural Greenwich? Dave says they decided, “Let’s live where we vacation — Lake George, Saratoga. We love Washington County too.”
Will the victory at Westminster increase the business?
“It could,” said Wendy, “but right now we’re turning a lot of people away as it is. This sure brings notoriety, but our business is pretty much where we want it to be.”
Will Holster’s newfound fame could attract attention from other breeders? “It could, but I wouldn’t allow him to breed with a mediocre dog,” said Wendy.
Said Dave, “When we breed dogs, we make sure they want to compete with them.”
Wendy told Westminster officials that Holster “is a dog that always tries to be good and right. His love for the game, his love for playing drives him to succeed.”
She says of his victory, “he knew he was fabulous. He was enjoying all of the attention. He got lots of hugs and kisses and special dog cookies he likes.”
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