ugly little dog," Debbie Mills remembered thinking about
the first time she saw an Australian Shepherd. "They
looked like hyenas, all speckled up," she said.
Almost 15 years
after she first spotted an "Aussie," Mills established
Milwin Kennel for the purposes of showing and breeding those
speckled canines. And now she considers them anything but
uglyMills has a knack for raising champions.
takes one look around Mills' home and kennel grounds to see
how much she appreciates the breed, which, incidentally, does
not come from the Land Down Under.
adorn her refrigerator. Ceramic Aussies of various sizes and
colors line her bookshelves. Home-baked treats await consumption
inside an Aussie cookie jar.
At first glance,
the playpen in the large outbuilding appears well-equipped
for a human infant. It is currently the stomping ground of
"Chad," the sole remaining puppy from a litter whelped
shortly after the contested presidential election. The other
two were quickly adopted, but Mills saw something special
in this blue merle pup.
career is still up in the air as Mills waits to see if his
mottled nose will darken and his testicles will drop. If they
do, she plans to add the youngster to her personal Aussie
"family" residing at Milwin.
Mills began her experience with Australian Shepherds in the
stock dog category. She got her first Aussie in 1978 and in
1981 one of her bitches gave birth to a litter of stock dogs.
Aussies were developed
in the United States to work as herding dogs on ranches. It
is possible the breed's name was derived from an ancestor,
a Spanish dog that traveled to Australia with Basque Shepherds.
the dogs as "loyal and intelligent," Mills also
said that they are "high energy and demanding,"
qualities that might explain why some animals end up in Aussie
Rescue programs or humane shelters. "They can be destructive
because they are so smart," Mills said.
and grounds are exceptionally clean and the dogs have an expansive
fenced area to run. "Some people actually have doggie
treadmills," Mills said. Exercise is important, both
for the animal's health and for the show judges to detect
good muscle tone, she said. The air conditioned kennel house
eve sports a couch and televisionpresumably for Mills.
The dogs begin
their show careers at an early age. Mills trains them to enjoy
the rigors of the circuit by clipping their nails, bathing
and grooming them when they are young. Every Tuesday night,
they travel to a "handling class" in Warrenton to
learn the ropes of becoming a show dog.
it," Mills said about her traveling dogs. She takes them
all over the country, sometimes attending shows every weekend
she said. The dogs that aren't off to the show are boarded
with a neighbor or Mills' mother.
Before they are
ready to compete or change hands, the Aussies must undergo
an orthopedic x-ray to rule out hip dysplasia, certification
form a veterinary opthmologist stating they are free of hereditary
eye problems and DNA testing to certify their pedigrees, Mills
Mills' dogs all
have lengthy show names. AKC/ASCA CH. Bayshore Tradition of
Milwin or "Travis," is a black tri-color Aussie
with a respectable string of wins in the ring. Most recently,
he won Reserve Winner's Dog at the 2000 USASA National Specialty.
AKC/ASCA CH. Davlin Milwin Double Trouble, or "Emmie"
is a blue merle who ranked second in the national AKC group
standings in 1996she is Chad's dam. Other Milwin kennel
residents are Legend, Myla, and Jill.
I breed is with a purpose," Mills said. Milwin Kennel
usually only produces one or two litters per year and screens
potential owners. Aussies generally have six to eight puppies
in a litter.
sell a million puppies," Mills mused. "This is not
a puppy mill."
Instead she concentrates
most of her energy on the breed shows. "There isn't much
money to be made showing the dogs," said Mills, a staffing
coordinator at Culpeper Regional Hospital. "I'd like
to do this all the time, but it wouldn't pay the bills"
a labor of love," Mills added.
Mills enjoys friendships
she makes with other Aussie owners. "Some of my very
best friends are my competitors in the ring," she said.
She also spends a good deal of time researching pedigrees
and learning more about canine reproduction and health. She
is also considering branching out into Border Collies.
Mills said she
can't share all of her "secrets" for producing top
quality show dogs, but offered a few tips.
I don't get dog food from the grocery store," she said.
The dogs require an all natural diet with animal protein and
fat for their coats. Mills purchases 1, 000 pounds of food
every six weeks.
the dogs are chalked with a mixture of baby powder and cornstarch.
"We hope in the end we'll make this gorgeous dog look
like it hasn't been groomed," she said.
are AKC and ASCA registered. Milwin's males are occasionally
used as studs for other breeders. For more information, contact
Debbie Mills at (540) 923-4239 or visit: http://www.milwinkennel.com.
© 2001 The Madison County Eagle.