There are many sides to Justin, a 6-year-old collie from Puyallup.
He’s a service dog, but for most of his life he’s been a show dog, competing across the state and country with his owner, 41-year-old Diane Munford.
“He’s a very good dog,” said Munford, a Puyallup resident. “He’s very obedient. He’s very, very smart.”
Those skills were rewarded when Munford received an invitation last summer to compete in the 2019 Westminster Dog Show in New York, scheduled for Feb. 11-12.
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The invitation came as a surprise to Munford, who didn’t know Justin had been ranked one of the Top 5 smooth (short-haired) collies in breed standings by the Canine Chronicle.
“I always dreamed to go but never thought I would really get there,” Munford said.
Established in 1877, the Westminster Kennel Club is America’s oldest organization and invites the top five dogs in each breed to compete in the annual Westminster Dog Show.
In hindsight, the invitation shouldn’t have been a surprise. From the beginning, training came easily to Justin.
Munford bought the dog when he was only a year old with the intent to train him as a service dog for her son, 19-year-old Robert. Munford entered into an agreement with the breeder to show Justin as a way of socialization.
Justin’s breeder picked out his name, too: “Markos Just-n-time-4-showtime.” Munford shortened it to “Justin.”
Munford wasn’t new to showing dogs. She showed rough (long-haired) collies in the past, and showing dogs runs in her family.
“My grandparents showed springers and their dog went to Madison Square Garden and won the sporting group,” she said.
She also owns her own business, Diane’s Pet Grooming, out of Dee’s Doggie Do’s in South Hill.
Justin did so well in shows that she continued to show him. Last year, Munford started training him as a service dog, too.
“He goes to restaurants, and he goes shopping, and everywhere my son goes, he goes, as a medical alert dog, and then shows on the weekends,” Munford said.
“I had planned to retire his show career when school started in September, but when I found out he was ranked, I decided to finish out the year.”
Justin wears a vest labeled “service dog” and responds to Robert’s medical conditions. He can anticipate Robert’s needs and can help him find a safe environment in the midst of any medical attack. When his vest goes on, Justin means business.
“Take off the vest, and he’s a completely different dog,” Robert Munford said. “He’d probably jumped up on you if he didn’t have the vest.”
When the vest is off, Justin likes to be active, showing off tricks like jumping, crawling and shaking his paw. Foot rubs are his favorite, Robert said.
Come February, they’ll fly to New York for the show, where Justin will compete against other collies like him.
After the show?
“He’s going to start retiring and being more service dog,” Munford said.