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Courageous border collie wins Midwest Farm Dog of the Year from AFBF
 
By TIM ALEXANDER
Illinois Correspondent

BELVIDERE, Ill. — Rayne, a six-year-old border collie who helps keep a small herd of Belted Galloway cows in line on her owner’s Belvidere farm has been recognized as one of the country’s top farm dogs. Owned by Juile and Terry Willis of Sunnybrook Farms, the dog was the Midwest Region winner of Nestle-Purina’s “Farm Dog of the Year” competition during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s virtual annual convention, held in January.
“When our last border collie died we didn’t get another dog right away. I have always felt that the right dog finds you, and she did,” said Julie Willis. “My sister told me about seeing the dog on Craig’s List, but I was skeptical of getting a dog off of Craig’s List and (the dog) was in Ottumwa, Iowa. When I saw her picture I drove five hours one way to get her.”
Terry Wills came across an invitation to enter farm dogs into the third annual AFBF-Nestle Purina PetCare contest when browsing farm bureau news items online. Terry told wife Julie about the contest, thinking back to a couple of instances that seemed to distinguish the collie as a special kind of dog. 
“One day I went to let the bulls out of the lot into the grassy area, and two bulls decided to lock heads and I was cornered. Rayne jumped forward, and one of the bulls threw the other bull and smashed (the dog’s) foot,” said Julie. “The bottom of her foot looked like hamburger and was already getting infected. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she stayed for a week, they ended up cutting off part of her foot and pads. But she is doing good, and she is still always there like my shadow when I am doing my chores.”
Rayne is also participates in nosework competitions, which is a sport in which dogs detect certain odors. She has had training as a therapy dog, and has visited nursing homes and residences to visit with shut-ins. “When my mom got dementia she was able to go into that facility, and before COVID she was going into local schools for their reading nights. We were scheduled to do more in-school reading, but that’s now on hold,” Julie said.   
After answering a few required questions online and submitting an essay extolling Rayne’s virtues as a farm dog, along with photographs and video, the Willis family settled back into their daily routine and didn’t give their submission much more thought. But while at the World Beef Expo last fall Julie Willis received a strange call on their phone identified as coming from Washington, D.C. 
“I answered it and it was from the people with the dog contest saying that Rayne was in the top four, according to regions. I had to go outside and sit down. Farming is very stressful and it has been especially stressful for this past year. I had to go sit down because I couldn’t believe it, it was so amazing,” she recalled. 
Though Rayne is no longer called on for heavy work in freezing temperatures and rough conditions due to her slight disability (she wears a special boot), the faithful collie can always be found nearby when chores need done, such as trimming the long hair of the family’s Belted Galloway herd in advance of show competition. “She will always be curled up in the hay in the corner of the barn, keeping an eye on everything,” Julie said. 
Rayne and the other three regional runners-up received $1,000 in prize money, a trophy plate and a bonus-sized basket of Purina pet food products. The national winner of the 2021 Farm Bureau Farm Dog of the Year award is Bindi, an Australian shepherd owned by New York Farm Bureau member Sonja Galley. Bindi and her people received $5,000 in prize money, a trophy plate and a full year’s supply of dog food. 
“We’re proud to partner with Purina for the third annual Farm Dog of the Year contest, celebrating hardworking farm and ranch dogs and the role they play in helping farmers and ranchers produce our sustainable food supply,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “From rounding up livestock to chasing off predators, a farm dog’s work is never done.”
The contest celebrates farm dogs that work alongside farmers and ranchers to produce nutritious food for families and their pets across America. The contest is popular with farmers and the general public alike, reaching nearly 400,000 users on social media through People’s Choice Pup, according to an AFBF news release.
2/1/2021