DOUGLAS — The secrets of this champion from Wyoming are about to be unleashed.
He runs 3-4 miles a day, eats a low-fat, high-protein diet heavy on chicken and sweet potatoes, and drools something similar to super glue.
Meet Rowan, the No. 3 Bracco Italiano breed of dog in the nation. In May, this champion specimen of one of the oldest pointing breeds of hounds is headed to New York City to strut his stuff in front of the eagle-eyed judges at the world-renowned Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
And for the past year he has been turning heads at other competitions, chronicled on American Kennel Club TV, and adored by fans on the streets of Douglas as owner Jenni Nieft walks him around the block or allows him to stick his head out the window of her car.
“I was at the four-way light down by Family Dollar, and I am sitting there and the light is red,” Nieft told Cowboy State Daily. “I have the back windows down so he can stick his big old head out and the car next to me was like — ‘Rowan!’”
Such is the life for the canine version of Clark Kent who lives normally for much of the month — even trying to crowd his master off her bed at night with his 85 pounds. But at shows, he transforms into a super dog.
He keeps bringing home ribbons, including three Best of Shows from competitions in Colorado. In one of those competitions, he bested 1,100 other dogs.
Beat No. 1 Dog at National Breed Championships
At the American Kennel Club National Championships in Orlando, Florida, in December, he beat the No. 1 dog in his breed three days out of four in a competition.
Nieft said Rowan’s qualification for Westminster is unreal.
“When you start showing dogs it’s like, someday, someday I’m going to go watch,” she said. “You never think that it’s truly going to happen.”
But Rowan’s story could not happen without Nieft’s friendship with fellow dog lovers Paul and Mary Johnson of Douglas. As a hunter, Paul said he has trained many dogs over the years, but Mary became interested in finding a Bracco Italiano because she likes their look. The dogs have only been in the U.S. since 2007.
The Bracco Italiano breed can be traced back to the times of Christ, Paul Johnson said. They are depicted in paintings from that era and were the first pointing breed of hunting dogs in Europe — typically used to hunt pheasant.
The Johnsons acquired Rowan’s mother in 2014 from a breeder in Colorado. When they visited the breeder, Paul saw one pup he wanted, but a different pup, Mosey, went and sat in Mary’s lap.
“That’s all it took,” Paul Johnson said.
He started training Mosey and at 11 months the Johnsons were showing her and she was winning competitions. In 2015, she won the national competition for the breed.
“She also was winning every hunting competition I put her in,” Paul Johnson said.
When it was time to breed Mosey, whose grandfather was a champion in Europe, they looked for a top dog and found him in France. They were sent his frozen semen. To impregnate their dog they needed help and turned to Nieft, who has expertise in that. She also runs a dog grooming business and has raised and shown Beagles for years.
As Mosey’s pregnancy came to term, the Johnsons reached out again to Nieft, who agreed to help, but because of her work hours offered the expertise of her son, Sam Mittleider, who grew up helping her. It was Sam who ended up being at the Johnson home when the puppies started coming. When there were complications, he called his mom. Nieft advised the Johnsons to take their dog to the vet.
They did. Mosey had a C-section and 10 “beautiful, happy puppies.”
The Johnsons wanted to reward Nieft and her son. She suggested the Johnsons just “throw her son a bone” thinking they would give him $50 to help at college.
Instead, they offered him Rowan. Initially, Nieft refused because of her Beagles and the fact her son was in college. But Sam was persistent, and she relented under the condition he allow her to train the dog and show him — something she loves to do.
“I’ve shown dogs for close to 30 years,” Nieft said. “And when Sam was a little guy, he started showing dogs with me.”
The Johnsons said they secretly knew that was going to happen, and that was part of the reason for their gift.
‘Professional And All Business’
Paul Johnson characterized the Bracco breed as very sensitive, smart and people friendly.
“You can get them to do almost anything,” he said. “These are very versatile dogs.”
Nieft said as Rowan grew, she and her son knew they had a special dog.
“You watch this dog in the show ring and he is an entirely different dog than he is right now,” she said. “He is very professional, he is all business.”
For the competitions, Nieft said she has a professional dog handler, and friend Natasha Wilson of Colorado put Rowan through his routine, which involves running with the dog.
“We travel to shows together, we’re friends,” she said. “And she saw him in my kitchen one day and said, ‘What’s this?’”
Wilson started showing Rowan in dog shows before the breed was recognized by the AKC in 2022 and allowed to compete with the other breeds.
At an AKC show, the various breeds first compete with each other with judges eyeing how well the dog matches its breed standards. When a dog comes in first against its own breed, it advances to compete in one of seven group classifications. As a hunting dog, Rowan moves on to compete in the sporting class. The dog who wins the sporting class and other group classification winners then go on to compete for the grand prize, Best in Show.
Preparation For New York
Preparation for New York will involve a few more competitions to keep Rowan’s performance level honed. The trip to New York is not cheap. Nieft said some competitors she knows have budgets of $250,000 or more and have their dogs in competitions around the country weekly.
She can’t afford that kind of schedule. Rowan competes 10-12 times a year.
For the New York trip, Douglas is showing support. Two metal chairs with Wyoming designs will be auctioned, a raffle is being planned, as well as other fundraisers.
Nieft plans to drive Rowan out in her car. The Johnsons and Wilson will fly to New York.
And if Rowan wins it all?
“I’m going to need an AED (automated external defibrillator), someone is going to have to know CPR,” Nieft said.
Dale Killingbeck can reached at: Dale@CowboyStateDaily.com
Dale Killingbeck can be reached at email@example.com.