A spare bedroom at the vicarage in Sutton Bridge could be the springboard for a celebrated win at Crufts.
Dog trainer, musician and vicar’s wife Christina Oxtoby and her blue merle, tri-colour Border Collie, Eze, are competing in the heelwork to music freestyle competition on March 6.
Simply qualifying puts Christina (36) and Eze in the top ten in Britain and they are spending as many moments as they can in the spare bedroom polishing the close work in their programme.
They are also practising in a barn at Grantham for their big day.
Christina said: “I am just happy to be there. My aim is that Eze and I manage to work in such a big environment as a team and do the best we can – and, to be honest, anything above that is a bonus.
“It was a dream for 12 years to get there with different dogs so just to be there I kind of feel we have won already.”
Another of Christina’s dogs, a great Great Dane called Ru, will be in the spotlight at Crufts too, giving performances for a third year as part of the dog activities display team.
He’s the only dog of his breed involved in heelwork to music and is known nationally as “the dancing Dane”.
Christina wasn’t allowed a pet dog as a child – partly, she suspects, because her mum was “always terrified of dogs”.
She said: “I wanted a dog for over 20 years before I got my first one. As as child, I taught my guinea pig to sit up and beg and to come when he was called in the garden.”
She says dogs adore doing heelwork and it helps build a great relationship between the owner and the dog.
“They absolutely love it,” she said. “They are using their brains and it’s on a reward basis so they come away feeling they are very clever and it also keeps them really fit.”
One of Christina’s biggest supporters was her mum-in-law Carol, who sadly died from cancer. Carol had always pledged to go to Crufts if Christina ever competed there, but she will be there in spirit – Christina will wear Carol’s name on her arm along with that of a beloved former dog, Caleb.
All of Christina’s dogs have had biblical names.
lThe competitions from Birmingham NEC will be streamed on Crufts website.