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Westminster winner, playful pup

Lovable Thor is both, Zelbst says

Thor may have become Southwest Oklahoma's most decorated dog earlier this week at the famed Westminster Kennel Club Show at Madison Square Garden, but before that he was just a ranch dog with great bloodlines.

On Tuesday, he beat out 28 other Flat-Coated Retrievers to earn the prized Best of Breed at the Westminster Show, and that got him into the Best of Show competition later that day. 

In a matter of hours, he went from being the loyal companion of Cindy and John Zelbst at the U2 Ranch near Meers to one of the most decorated dogs of his breed in the world.

While his fame demands more shows during his peak years, he'd probably be just as happy back at the ranch where he lived a "normal" life after being born in a litter of eight to mom Dixie and dad Boudreaux.

During his early years Thor did everything from splashing around in the swimming pool to riding with John in the pickup to check cattle.

When he finishes his career as a show dog he'll return to that lifestyle he loves.

"He's just your normal dog, his parents were both prized dogs and his daddy Boudreaux was a champion in his own right," Cindy Zelbst said. "He just turned three but he'll always act like a puppy. The flat-coated retrievers are known as the Peter Pan of dog breeds; they never seem to grow up. His mother is 8 1/2 and she still acts like a puppy."

After Thor reached the age of 2, his life started to change.

First, he had to attend smaller American Kennel Club shows to get points to qualify for the larger shows like the Westminster Show.

"When he was about 15 months old we started taking him to shows and there are shows where you get major points or others that are single points. You have to reach 15 points and win two major championships with different judges. That's something they do to keep you from finding a judge that loves your dog and just follow them around.

"His first major championship was in the Fort Worth show and when we came home he just wanted to go play in the pool," she said. "In November I took him to my handler  Tiffany Knox  who is an all-breed handler. She handles not just these retrievers but other breeds as well.

"To get anywhere in this business  to really compete  you have to use a professional handler. The dogs are basically with the handler for most of the year."

It wasn't long after Thor went to Tulsa to work with the handler that Zelbst entered him in a big show in Orlando to test the waters.

"I entered him in the big show in Florida, it's the AKC National Championship Royal Canin show, and while he didn't win any awards, he showed well. He made the cut every day and it was against consistently more mature dogs.

"When it came time to enter Westminster I told Tiffany that I'd made the decision and it worked out pretty well."

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