Barney did not become a wonder dog just by being the best-looking male Australian cattle dog in the United States.
It started with his conception.
“We got the frozen semen of the world’s No. 1 Australian cattle dog and had it placed in the mother, who we own,” said Julie Pulliam, Barney’s Enumclaw owner/trainer/handler.
Just 21/2 years old, with the registered name of OnTheGo’s Here’s Lookin’ At Ya, Barney will fly to New York on Sunday and compete Monday and Tuesday in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
His chances of being named best of breed at the nation’s foremost dog show? He finished 2013 ranked No. 2 in the country. No. 1? Some California bitch named Sobe.
The wonder of Barney is that he’s around to compete at all.
“I work full time, so we don’t go to as many shows as dogs with full-time handlers, like Sobe,” Pulliam said. “You build point totals by winning or placing high in dog shows. The more shows you go to and win, the more points.”
Last September, a week after Pulliam pulled a calf muscle in the ring with Barney, he was good to go but she was not.
“I called a friend who’s a handler and asked her to take him to a show in Shelton,” Pulliam said. “It was the only time he’d ever been to a show without me, and we’d been doing shows since he was 6 months old.”
The friend drove Barney to Shelton but afterward failed to latch the crate correctly. Barney pushed the door open and, Pulliam believes, went looking for her.
Nothing on Barney’s Enumclaw acreage looked remotely like the wilds of Shelton. He disappeared into nearby woods.
Pulliam was frantic. She ran ads in a local paper, hired a dog tracker. She started a Facebook page — Find Barney! — that quickly picked up 43,000 likes and a lot of sightings.
“I went through swamp and brush and forest for three days looking for him, and social media made a difference,” she said. “People saw him near the community college, then near a senior citizen home.”
“We consolidated our search there.”
Sure enough, they spotted Barney on day four. Just as important, Barney saw Pulliam — and came flying.
“Barney was as happy as I was,” Pulliam said. “It was a very rural, very wooded area near a busy highway. We were fortunate.”
The experience changed Barney the wonder dog.
“He doesn’t leave my side when I’m home and sleeps on the floor at the foot of my bed every night,” she said.
Now that he’s survived Shelton, Barney will take on New York.
“I’ll probably put him in a taxi and drive him around Times Square, just to get him used to it,” Pulliam said.
She is 55 and has shown dogs the past 10 years, after showing horses for 25 years. When she and Barney walk onto the green carpet of the Westminster, they won’t be competing with Sobe or any other dog.
In conformation competitions, each dog competes with a judge’s mental image of the ideal breed type as outlined by individual breed standards.
Barney will have to watch his demeanor, walk with confidence, stand tall and alert when asked, and ignore thousands of dog lovers crowding the stands.
An unrequested bark? A scratch behind the ear while being judged? Unthinkable for a wonder dog.
Barney, his owner says, genuinely seems to love the attention of competition.
“He even stands still when he sees a camera come out,” Pulliam said.
The ranking of a dog like Barney, who is unneutered, can impact the value of his semen for those looking to create the perfect Aussie.
Over the years, Pulliam has sold show dogs. Barney won’t be among those.
“There’s not enough money in the world to buy Barney,” she said. “He’s our family’s dog, and we’ve developed a special bond.”
Barney enjoys the shows, the travel, the attention. What makes him happiest?
“If Barney had his way, he would play fetch for the rest of his life,” Pulliam said. “Every night when I get home, we play ball.”
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638