Bac may be scruffy and sweet on the outside, but inside sits the heart of a winner.
PHOTO: FRED LOPEZ
His American Kennel Club-registered name is GCH Alpha Natura Bacchus CA CM2. But to those who know and love this endearing, energetic 9-year-old pup, he’s simply Bac. At home, his show dog status and prestigious awards mean nothing as he races through the house ready to greet strangers and offer slobbery kisses to whoever wants them.
According to his owner Deanna Donohue of Double D Picards & German Wirehaired Pointers in Umatilla, Bac is a part of the family.
“I think one of the most common misconceptions is show dogs don’t have good lives,” she says as she affectionately scratches behind Bac’s ears. “But mine live a great life. When Bac’s at home, he just gets to be a dog.”
Still, Bac isn’t your average four-legged companion; he’s rare in breed and in accomplishments. His rustic, scruffy appearance may make you think he’s just some shaggy mutt, but looks can be deceiving. Bac is a berger Picard (pronounced “bare-zhay pee-car”), an old, extraordinary French herding breed. These charming dogs were brought to near-extinction during World Wars I and II due to heavy fighting in the Picardy region of France, which is where the breed originated. And while fanciers have made incredible strides to rebuild the Picard population, there are only around 4,000 in the world.
The AKC believes the current influx of Picards into North America is due to better communication between European breeders and American buyers thanks to the Internet. However, the popular 2005 movie “Because of Winn-Dixie” may also have something to do with it since the dog featured in the film was a Picard.
Nevertheless, Deanna’s love affair with this magnificent breed happened long before they became mainstream. She was working as a flight attendant for United Airlines when she encountered her first Picard in a pub in London.
“I’ll never forget, this guy walked in with this big, shaggy blond dog and sat at the bar. Then the dog stood up and placed his paws on the bar,” she says.
Thinking it was a mutt of some sort, Deanna was quickly corrected when the gentleman informed her it was a berger Picard. Almost instantaneously, she decided she had to have one, and she’s been an owner and breeder of Picards ever since.
“I got into showing because I really wanted to breed,” she says, “and while I have a good eye for structure, I wanted it confirmed by a judge.”
Over the years, there have been a number of well performing Picards in the show dog world, but Bac has garnered an impressive amount of recognition that’s currently unmatched.
“Bac has done more for the breed in North America than any other dog,” Deanna says. “He’s made history.”
For example, Bac was the first and only Picard to win best in show during the Gateway Nationals at Purina Farms in October 2012, defeating more than 1,800 dogs. He also became the first Picard to win best of breed at the Eukanuba National Championship in 2013 and was the first Picard to finish in the United Kennel Club top 10 at No. 6.
Then in July, the berger Picard officially enter the AKC herding group and Bac made AKC history by becoming the first group winning Picard. He went on to become the first male berger Picard champion that same month after only two weekends of showing and the first male grand champion two weeks later.
However, the most exciting accomplishment for Bac was being the first of five Picards to be invited to compete for the first time in the 2016 Westminster Kennel Club dog show this past February. Accompanied by Deanna and his handler Billy Rodriguez, Bac put on quite the show in New York City. He didn’t win best of breed, but Deanna says he most certainly was the crowd favorite.
“I was so proud of him. The crowd didn’t even know him, but they loved him,” she says. “When they did announce the winner, the crowd went silent, but Bac had no idea he didn’t win. He was still his usual happy self. It would have been great to add to his resume, but I can’t fault him for the performance he gave. He was spot-on.”
With Westminster behind him, Bac is now officially retired. He may do the occasional show or some sheep herding competitions with his original handler and Deanna’s husband, Rick, but his main focus will be on producing more top dogs.
Deanna plans to breed him this summer with her other Picard, Matilda. Matilda is also an award-winning dog; she won an award of merit at Westminster this year with her handler, Deanna’s 14-year-old niece Billie Green who is one of the top junior handlers in the country.
When the decision is made to breed, Deanna is very eager to let people know it’s not about the money. She truly loves and cares for her dogs and is more concerned about their health and matching puppies to the right homes than making a profit.
“My dogs’ health is checked before choosing to breed them. I also have every person I sell to sign a contract that says if for any reason they can’t care for their dog anymore it must come back to me,” she says. “I match each dog to a person’s needs and I interview every potential owner. One time I had someone who wanted to buy one of my puppies, but after looking at his home on Google Earth, I saw he had like 70 kennels in his backyard and realized he was probably a puppy mill, so I refused to sell to him. Then I took it a step further and warned everyone else I knew who breed Picards.”
Even in cases when things have happened beyond Deanna’s control, she’s made it a point to do what’s right before anything else. For example, when a Picard she sold to a couple died four years later from a tumor, she told them she would give—not sell—them another puppy when they were ready. And when a lady suffering from multiple sclerosis called her from California in search of Picard as a companion dog, she sacrificed time and money to be sure the woman received the right dog for her specific needs.
“It’s more than just selling a dog. Picards are beautiful, wonderful dogs and because of them, I’ve made some great friends for life. For me, it’s a commitment for life,” she says.
And as for Bac, there isn’t enough she can say about him. It’s been an exciting journey to raise a champion, and now, Bac gets to enjoy the rest of his years knowing he’s left his paw mark in Picard history.
“He’s just that once-in-a-lifetime dog,” Deanna says.