Interview with Lea Bertsch, Breeder of Scalloway Collies
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Where do you live? What is your breed? What is your kennel name? Do you have a website? How long have you been in dogs? How long have you been breeding dogs? Who are some of your best-known dogs?
Lea Bertsch: Born and raised in Houston, Texas, I spent 40 years getting out and moving to Austin in the Hill Country for almost 30 years. I retired to the Waco, Texas, area last year where the slower pace has been wonderful. My kennel name is Scalloway—named after a town in Scotland. I originally had Shetland Sheepdbogs, until my 6-year-old daughter wanted a Collie. I made her save up her money for two years and then we got our first Collie, “Lassie,” of course, from a breeder named Debbie Price with Capella Collies. Both of my daughters showed their Collies in Junior Showmanship.
Since then, for the last 25 years, I have been breeding, raising, and showing Collies in Conformation, Obedience, Rally, Herding, and Scent Work, and I hope to continue to Agility. I have three generations of Versatility Collies that I am so proud of, but three stand out. The seven performance titles earned by Int. & Am. CH Scalloway’s Elaborate Eve CD RN HT PT CGC TKN FDC, ROM were received within a five-week period at age 11. “Eve” had only two litters of eight and received her ROM when 12 of them completed their Championships. Her daughter, “Diana,” Int. & Am. GCH Scalloway’s The Huntress CD RN HT PT CGC TKN, a near ROM, received her titles in a six-week period in 2023, finishing her CD, RN, and PT at the National this past spring.
Eve’s son is Int. & Am. GCHP Scalloway’s Lion Hunter CD RN HT PT CGC TKN FDC who also received his RN and HT performance titles this past spring at the National. “Samson” was the No. 1 Rough Collie according to one statistics system for 2018, 2019 & 2020 and a Top Ten Collie (No. 8, 2018; No. 6, 2019; No. 8, 2020) according to the Collie Club of America statistics. Altogether, I have put championships and other performance titles on about 40 Collies. Since I started in Shelties when I was in my early 20’s, I put championship and performance titles on a handful before going into Collies.
As a Breeder, can you share your thoughts on your breed today? Is breed type strong? Are there things to be concerned about? Are there any health-related issues? Have you worked with breeders overseas? Are pet homes typically available for your breed?
Lea Bertsch: I think breed type can be very subjective, even though there is one Breed Standard. Many breeders have a certain look about them in their line. I do think there is a divide in Collies where you have those breeders who focus more on head and expression, and those who focus more on structure and function. It is very hard to find the total package, but I think most breeders are trying.
We have several health-related issues in Collies and a wonderful organization called the “Collie Health Foundation.” CHF is heading up the charge for research and information about our Collie issues. The main issue is with Collie Eye Anomaly (CEA) where they are dealing with eye issues such as colobomas, but also Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and many other related eye issues. DM and DMS are under the genetic research that is high on their list of concerns.
I think it essential for a breeder to include all health issues they know about when selling to a pet home. I think it is important to try to maintain contact with the buyers, so if anyone has future issues they will feel free to contact their dog’s breeder. Not only is it important to know if one of your puppies develops an unknown issue, it is important to be able to help that buyer find help to deal with any issues. Plus, I want any buyer to feel they can always contact me for general support. It is important to me that I try to get as many pet buyers into the sports and activities that are currently available.
As an Exhibitor, can you comment on recent entries in your breed? Are majors available in your area? Does your breed often participate in Companion and Performance events? How can newcomers in your breed be encouraged to join the sport of dogs?
Lea Bertsch: Entries in Collies have been declining since I first began in dogs. There are so many activities and sports available now than when I first started. It is a very expensive hobby. There are not but a handful of show enthusiast breeders left in the entire state of Texas. Majors are very hard to get—we are lucky to make a major in one sex or the other. Even at specialties, there have been shows where there is but a single entry. I think the quality of the dogs shown in Breed are good, some exceptional, but there just aren’t many. I think, eventually, dog shows will go to a judge evaluation like in international shows where they will have to write a critique, because there just won’t be enough dogs to compete against each other.
There are many Collies competing in the performance events, and often, this is where newcomers begin. I try to encourage all my buyers to join a club or enter an event. Often, I offer to show their dogs for them to get them started. I wish there were more facilities and individuals willing to train our newcomers than are available today. Here in Texas, it is almost always a necessity to have an indoor facility because of the excessive heat.
I think the individual dog clubs are shrinking and members are aging out. There is so much entertainment on the Internet, and getting out and working with your dog just doesn’t seem to be much of a priority. The dog clubs I belong to are struggling to get and keep members, but they are doing it with classes and education. Adding Internet and having online access helps a great deal in keeping people involved. Our clubs have members coming online from a 50-100-mile radius, which really helps them attend.
What are the biggest challenges facing the dog show community as a whole and how can we address them? And finally, what are some of the positive changes you’ve seen in your breed and in the dog show community as a whole over the past decade?
Lea Bertsch: The biggest challenge for the dog show community is getting and keeping members in the clubs who will encourage newcomers to get into the sport. Expenses will be a major factor for new dog enthusiasts. It may need to be necessary to get corporate sponsors to keep costs down. Access to facilities/venues will be essential. When I started in the dog world, there was only Obedience, Conformation, Junior Showmanship, Herding, Tracking, and Field Trials.
Since then, there is Agility, Rally, Scent Work, Barn Hunt, Fast CAT, Lure Coursing, Dock Diving, Trick Dog, and more generalized Canine Good Citizen events. I have probably left off a few. So, many of the newer events have brought in all kinds of participants, not just the Conformation/Breeders. Owner-Handled has been a big draw in keeping participants involved in the Conformation ring. I do think judging for the Groups should be more inclusive and not be awards for just the Professional Handlers. I think judges need to look for and encourage non-professional handlers who are presenting nice dogs. The reality is that Breeder/Owner/Handlers get very disillusioned when only the Professional Handlers are awarded placements.
I think motels/hotels/Airbnbs that take dogs are shrinking and this is also impacting the show world. Many of us bring multiple dogs, and lodging is becoming an issue when we have to travel so far for a show.
I think pet activists have really been detrimental and have made many turn away from the purebred sports. There needs to be more awareness of how these extremists have been detrimental to the dog world in general. They have so many resources and have mislead the public about the negative effects of breeding purebred dogs. If all dogs were spayed or neutered, breeds would die-off within 20 or so years. Numerous studies have shown the positive mental health results of owning pets. It would be a sad world if we didn’t have our companions.
I think the most positive change I have seen in Collies has been the interest in a greater variety of areas where our dogs can compete. AKC has done a good job in bringing in new events and activities. The sky is the limit in our versatile breed.