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This noble animal is named Rock Falls Colonel. He is potentially America's all-time top dog. Despite his current eminence as the top winning setter in history, it is remarkable that he was and is, from his birth on, a household pet. The majority of high-ranking show dogs traditionally sacrifice their home life to the pursuit of blue ribbons. They spend much of their time traveling from show to show in de luxe crates, cared for by professional handlers, often not seeing their owners for months at a time. But the Colonel is handled by his amateur master and mistress, Mr. and Mrs. William T. Holt of Richmond, Va., and lives at home as a member of the family.
AN UNDREAMED-OF RECORD
A veteran of 173 shows since his first in 1951, the Colonel has won best-in-breed in 162, best-of-group in 152 and best-in-show in 90. He was awarded more best-in-show ribbons than any other dog in 1952 and 1953, but last year was overtaken by the boxer Bang Away of Sirrah Crest who now has a total of 100 BIS awards. In the further course of his lifetime, however, it is more than likely that the Colonel will pass Bang Away's record-breaking mark and go on to a BIS record heretofore undreamed of in the dog world.
To the Holts who have no children, breeding dogs and showing them is a hobby and labor of love. They do not employ professional breeders and handlers and they go out of their way to make their animals members of the household, regardless of their successes. This attitude toward a sport which at best is mostly professional is exemplified in their treatment of the Colonel.
He was born on May 22, 1948 at Rock Falls, the Holts' 24-acre estate outside Richmond, Va. "Even as a puppy," says Holt, "he carried his head high, was dignified and had the majestic stance and mannerisms of an old Southern colonel. That's how he got his name." At eight weeks, Holt started him on a gradual and gentle training routine which has continued ever since. By lavishing him with praise and petting, Holt taught him to associate proper show behavior with his master's subsequent approval, which helps to account for one of the Colonel's outstanding attributes: his utter relaxation in the ring.
Of necessity the Holts have to watch the Colonel's diet and keep his weight down to a svelte 72 pounds. They feed him once a day on a pound of ground beef with hog lard and some kibbled dog food. His thick coat is carefully brushed for a half-hour each day. On the road, he travels in the Holt's black Cadillac sedan, which has the back seat removed so that he can relax on a foam rubber cushion.
The Colonel, who has his own room and double bed in the Holt home, has become a connoisseur of mattresses. Once, for instance, the only accommodation available at a motel was a room with a regular bed with a good mattress and a makeshift bunk with a lumpy one. The Colonel tested both, and chose the good one. What's more, he refused to budge and Holt finally retreated to the lumpy one.
It is this member-of-the-family treatment, Holt claims, which is responsible for the Colonel's durability as a top show dog. He seems to thrive on the dog show grind, picking his feet up high and almost prancing whenever the crowd applauds. "He is just a natural showman—a real ham," Holt says of him fondly.
Offers of more than $25,000 have been made for the Colonel but he is not for sale. It has cost the Holts about $5,000, including travel and show costs, to make him what he is. The silver trophies he has won are worth about $10,000 and fill the Holt house. Mrs. Holt is making two quilts out of some of his winning ribbons, of which she has a barrel full.
Nearly every day fan mail arrives for the Colonel from people of all ages. One 16-year-old girl wrote that she was madly in love with him. The same can truthfully be said about his owners. Mr. and Mrs. Holt think the Colonel has about two more years ahead of him as a top winner and they intend to continue entering him in shows until he has passed Bang Away's record and has undisputedly become the "all time world's greatest show dog."