Standing ringside at the New Zealand National Dog Show 2008 my stomach was doing flip-flops. Ash (NZ Ch Valkrista Alatna) was her usual confident self taking everything in her stride while I on the other hand was feeling extremely nervous. We had taken the Best of Breed award the day prior and were waiting to enter the ring for the Group Awards, which were to be followed by Best In Show. The atmosphere was electric with throngs of people lined up in their seats to watch the advents unfolding.

Flashing back to the day Ash became a part of our lives almost two years earlier I recalled the phone call I had made to Rose Madsen of Valkrista Swedish Vallhunds to enquire after her latest litter.  Rose promised to keep back two of the best bitch pups for me to select from when I returned from an overseas trip and I was impatient to get home.

On a bright day in Autumn I headed for Northland, and on pulling up to the cottage like home of Rose and Hans Madsen in Mangawhai and had been enthusiastically greeted by the their well known Swedish Vallhunds. We enjoyed tea in the conservatory as Rose's dogs relaxed at our feet and I waited to meet the two sweet little daughters of Ausled Classic Kangaroo (imp aust) and NZ & Aust Ch Leesway Man About Town (imp aust).  

The pups romped into the room and before I could blink my arms were filled by a mischievous vallhund puppy who had launched herself up onto my lap while the other settled contentedly under Rose's seat. After inspecting Ash and getting a good inspection back I looked at Rose, Rose was watching us with a smile and said "I believe she has the X Factor!"  We both broke into laughter at how she had chosen me. Rose had been thinking of calling the little pup 'Bumble Bee but as it transpired she named the whole litter after an ancient Native American tribe called the Athabascan hence the name Alatna.Ash walked into our lives and our hearts, a delightful, confident, sweet natured, mischievous pup, who from the word go became my special girl.

One morning Ian and I took Kindle and Ash down to Lake Wakatipu and Ash simply strolled into the water with no fuss or concern and waded out, that’s when we discovered we owned a water baby!  Ash's love of water grew and we often would take her and Kindle to the riverside for the afternoon.  It was not long before my funny girl showed us a new trick.  It appeared she loved shiny stones! It amused Ian and I to watch her dig away on the foreshore of pebbles looking for the shiniest of stones to bring back to create a little pile beside were I was sitting.  Not just any stone would do, like a magpie Ash was after the sparkle and there were plenty of shiny stones to find in the Arrow River rich with quartz type stone and gold.

This quite hilarious quirk became even funnier when being minded by my girlfriend while I was away one weekend Ash took it upon herself to make her way up onto my friend's dinning room table and was discovered plunging her head into the middle of the goldfish bowl.  My friend was startled and alarmed that Ash might be trying to catch and eat the fish!!   But it was quickly apparent that Ash had spied the sparkle of a shiny stone on the bottom of the bowl and made a beeline for it.  

The clever girl had even carefully lifted out the plastic underwater castle and set it on the table along side the bowl to get down to the coveted shiny stone. We still dissolve into fits of laughter over this particular antic to this day.  Please note goldfish may have been startled, but were not were harmed.

Ash can only be described as exceptionally smart even for a Swedish Vallhund. She took to training easily, enjoyed our sessions and picked up show training swiftly.  From very limited outings in the show ring Ash claimed at her very first day beau Baby Puppy of Group at an All Breeds Championship Show with the Australian judge remarking on how very nice she was and predicting 'she will go very far'. She carried on to win another 3 Baby of Puppies of Group, a Junior of Group (on the same day gaining her Championship Status) and many Best of Breeds at All Breeds Shows.

But here ringside at the 2008 National Show  my mind turned back to the present as I realised we were ready to go back in the ring for the age in Group Classes.  I looked about noting it was a very strong line up of working dogs that had all been judged as best of their respective breeds earlier.

In the ring Mr Paul Stanton of Sweden looked up and down the line and then started walking towards us.  I couldn’t believe it when he held out his hand to shake mine.  He had judged Ash as the best of the Intermediate of Group!!  I was elated as we left the ring on cloud nine.

I discovered the battery on my cell phone was flat and so it wasn't for another two hours that I was able to get to a phone.  The first person I dialed was Rose. "Rose I cried You will never guess!!?" She replied back "I've heard! I've heard!! Congratulations!!! I am so thrilled."  I tried hard to thank Rose for sending me such a lovely girl.  But Rose wouldn't have it saying 'Ah.. yes, but it was you and Ash Natalie,  you’re a great team together.'

Swedish judge Mr Paul Stanton, with Ash Christchurch 2008

An 'in group' win is a real achievement anywhere, especially with a rare breed but at New Zealand's National All Breeds Show a real triumph, and a win that I hope will one day be matched, placing Swedish Vallhund in New Zealand firmly on the map. We need to see more of our wonderful Swedish Vallhunds making it not just into the show ring but the agility ring, obedience, track and trial and what ever else they can turn their paws to.  A few of us are venturing out, some have been profiled on the club website previously.  But it would be magic to see more.

Ash as always is never far from my side, her favourite place is on the bed or on my lap, in the car or being a couch potato. A willing helper in the garden and a keen ball chaser.  She is, and will always be my girl, the girl that picked me, and stole my heart back on that fateful day in Rose's home in 2005.  

I would like to thank all the breeders involved especially Rose Madsen (who sadly passed away in 2010) for making it possible for my Ash to be here with me, the judges who recognised her many qualities and all the special friends we’ve made along the way for their support.  She certainly did go far.

(Editor's note: this submitted article has been abridged.)