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Local dog wins National Championship

By BETH ALSTON
beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — There’s a celebrity among us: FC-AFC Keeno’s Gizmo, LM. Known as Gizmo, the seven-year-old black Labrador Retriever is owned by Bruce and Betty Hall of Americus. Gizmo is happy. He smiles a lot and greets visitors enthusiastically. Gizmo loves to be petted. Gizmo is a beautiful canine and highly intelligent.
While all the aforementioned is true, what really sets Gizmo apart is that in mid-November, he won the National Field Championship in Corning, Calif., and that makes him Top Dog in the U.S.A.
On a recent visit to Pinetree Farms, between Plains and Smithville in rural Sumter County, Bruce Hall told the Times-Recorder about Gizmo.
Hall said Gizmo was handled by Al Arthur, a professional dog trainer from Lincolnton, Ga., during the championship competition, as he, Hall, was recovering from triple-bypass heart surgery.
“I’m not sure if the Lord was looking after Al or looking after me, because maybe if I’d run him [Gizmo] he wouldn’t have won,” he said.
According to k9densolutions.com, there is little information regarding the training of dogs prior to World War I. Dogs prior to the war were primarily viewed as work dogs, not pets. During the war, only the alpha dogs were trained. Following the war, the military dog trainers returned to civilian life and went to work, leaving their dogs at home.
According to the website, in the late 1930s, the American Kennel Club introduced obedience training in the United States, and competition obedience took place during World War II, during which  dogs were an important asset.
Retrievers are bred with the instinct to retrieve, and can be trained to do remarkable things. It is a popular pastime in the U.S. today, albeit an expensive one.
Hall took the time to explain how a dog competition works. He said that, “In the retriever game, there are two things you are.”
“You’re a Field Champion and an Amateur Field Champion (AFC) or you’re one of each,” he said. “To be a Field Champion, you have to win an Open Stake and get five points somehow … For the  AFC, you have to have won an Amateur and you have to have 15 points. Only amateurs can compete in that. In the Field Champion, it’s professionals and amateurs. The National Championship, which is held every year, is dogs that have won a Open and gotten two points … and that qualifies them for the Nationals. This year of out probably 5,000 dogs in the country, there were 120 that qualified. And 98 of those entered the Nationals.”
Hall explained that some people don’t enter the Nationals because the site is too distant or their dog is injured or for whatever reason.
Hall shared Gizmo’s story. He purchased the dog at the age of 16 months from a man in Kentucky, who was a friend of Hall’s.
“He does this, raises young dogs and, if he thinks they’re real good, he’ll sell them. He called me about Gizmo. I was over in South Carolina at a field trial when he called.”
Hall stopped and picked up Gizmo on his return trip to Sumter County. The first day he had the dog, he said he ran him on a water blind on the pond at his farm … “which he shouldn’t have been able to do, but he did it better than anybody out there.”
The following day, Hall took Gizmo to a farm in Leesburg and ran a much more complex and difficult water blind.
“He did it better than any of the open dogs there. I made up my mind then I was buying him. He ended up being, that year, the number three Derby dog in the United States,” he said.
Hall explained that every time a dog places in a Derby, he gets points. Derby competition is only for dogs up to two months old.
“[It] was really astonishing since I didn’t run him that much,” Hall said. “The next year, when he was three, I won an Open with him which again was astonishing because that doesn’t happen very much.”
Hall said that same year, a friend who owns another farm in the local area carried Gizmo to Wisconsin and ran him in an Open, and won it.
“Well, that gave him his Field Championship at four years of age,” Hall  said. “Then, probably a month after that, I won another Open with him  which … [gave Gizmo] his Amateur Field Championship. He had all of it.”
Hall is proud of Gizmo and it’s apparent when he speaks of the dog.
“He’s just been a phenomenal dog. This year he was number three in the country for all age points of all the dogs running,” he said.
Hall commented that he missed some field trials due to his heart surgery, but if he hadn’t that Gizmo probably would have been number one.
“He’s always been a good dog,” he said. “But the end of last year and all of this year, he’s been a great dog.”
Gizmo is trained mostly at Pinetree Farms from September to May. Hall said he built the farms just for training his dogs. He said he’s retired, and doesn’t play golf or fish anymore.
“I love my dogs,” he said unequivocally.
He owns 10 Labs  and is currently training four. He has two puppies in Patterson, Ga., with a professional dog trainer, and has another puppy being trained here in Sumter County by a trainer who lives in Terrell County. And he has another puppy with a trainer in Florida.
“At my age, it’s hard for me to keep up with the young ones,” he said with a laugh. “ They move so fast, so I give them to somebody else. After they’re a little more controllable, I take them,” he adds.
Hall said he’s been involved with field trial dogs for 47 years.
“The problem was, except for the past eight or nine years, I had to work for a living,” he said, and could only do it part-time. Having also been involved in offshore fishing, Hall said his wife told him he was going to have to decide between dogs or fishing.
Hall said five field trials are held at the farm every year with 250 dogs and 75 people at each trial, as well as a hunt test.
“This sport has evolved,” Hall said.
“It’s unbelievable what these dogs can do,” he said, pulling up the  map on the Internet of what Gizmo did in his tests. In the 10th test, Gizmo was the only dog to step on every single bird.
“According to the judges … going into the 10th series, there were only two dogs in contention, him [Gizmo] and another dog from out west somewhere. He [the other dog] hunted two birds, and Gizmo stepped on all four,” Hall said with relish and big grin.
Hall explains that Gizmo has no vacation. He and the other dogs can’t stay in Sumter County during the summer months because there are “too many rattlesnakes and too much heat,” so in May, Hall takes Gizmo and the other dogs to their home in Maryland for June and part of July. Then he and his wife load their Airstream camper and the dogs and go to Michigan and Minnesota for six weeks.
After the interview, Hall did the big reveal, bringing Gizmo out. Gizmo was undeniably happy to see his owner as well as his guests. He ran from Hall to the Times-Recorder people, smiling constantly.
It’s evident from Gizmo’s Championship status as well as his demeanor, that this dog is not only intelligent but has heart. He embraces life and all the joys it brings every day: a romp with his owner, his training, food, rest and fun time.
“He’s never had a day in his life that he wasn’t happy,” Hall said.
And that’s the real reward for the Top Dog in the U.S.A.

Gizmo and his handler Al Arthur in Gizmo’s official Championship photograph.

Gizmo and his handler Al Arthur in Gizmo’s official Championship photograph.