JACKSON TWP — Beating out hundreds of other dogs to earn Best in Show at a competition is hard to accomplish.
Winning three such distinctions is nearly unheard of — but not for Ron Luster Jr.
The Jackson Township resident and his rough collie, CH Heatherfield Legacy Of Love, recently was awarded that title for the third time during a competition in Michigan. It was the next in a line of victories as Luster prepares for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show next month in New York City.
Luster, along with his mother, Heather Luster, run L&L Kennels in Zelienople and breed and show rough collies under the Heatherfield Collies name. Ron Luster said he grew up around dogs, competing in various hunting and field trial competitions.
The Lusters first found success in 2013, when Heather's collie, GCH Heatherfield Marilyn Monroe, received Select Bitch award in the rough collie breed/variety judging at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Nearly six years later, Marilyn Monroe is in the later stages of her career at age 9. However, she has mothered two successful dogs — CH Heatherfield Legacy Of Love and CH Wait A Cotton Pickin' Minute.
Ron Luster said Legacy of Love has won three Best in Show awards at shows in Ohio, Michigan and New York. This includes two “owner-handled” Best in Show awards, which means the dog is handled by its owner and not a professional handler.
Meanwhile, “Cotton” — as her brother is affectionately called — participated at last year's Westminster show, the first time an all-white collie was part of the competition.
The pair will travel with the Lusters to New York City for this year's event, which is scheduled Feb. 11.
In the meantime, training is under way as Ron Luster works each day with the pair, including a daily exercise regimen.
Luster said once the day of the show arrives, the longer the day, the better it will be. That's because the dogs must pass through a series of competitions on their way to earning a potential Best in Show designation.
He said a typical show day starts around 8 a.m. and includes a full round of grooming. This includes brushing out fur and powdering the pup's feet. Following a nap, the first judging of the day takes place, and is followed by another nap.
If the dog makes it to the group ring, a second round of judging takes place. If successful at that stage, the dog will compete for the Best in Show title, with naps and more grooming in between contests.
Luster said the day can be long, as thousands of dogs take part in the larger competitions. He said success in those competitions falls on the dog itself and not so much the handler.
“Your training and time you put into it is part of it,” he said. “But the dog itself has to like it, and they have to have that personality to say, 'Look at me' and love being in the spotlight.”