There were arguably no more deserving winners at the New Zealand Sheep Dog Trial Championships than South Otago’s Paul Collins and Sky.
The pair claimed a hometown victory in the long head section of the championships, with the Warepa course “just over the fence” from where Collins farms a 1200 sheep and beef property. But had the cards fallen differently, neither Collins nor Sky would have been around to contest the event.
About three years ago Collins was diagnosed with stomach cancer and given between five months and two years to live.
He said he was lucky enough to meet the criteria for surgery, a 12-hour operation that was carried out in Hamilton.
Collins had half his stomach removed, with about 4.5kg of tumours and stomach taken out during the operation. He required further surgery after a brief relapse in August last year but said he is now on the road to recovery.
“You’ve got to make the most of every day and you certainly appreciate every day more. You hope like hell it doesn’t come back but you just never know,” he said.
Not long after Collins’ illness, Sky was seriously injured when she got between two fighting bulls while herding cattle.
The now six-year-old “smashed her shoulder”. After a lengthy recuperation, Sky was on the road to recovery only to get hit by a motorcycle and dislocate a shoulder. Months later, while still recuperating, she ate rat poison and, again, almost died.
“She’s bloody lucky to be here. I didn’t know if she’d be able to work again after the accidents but we had some very good vets. This might be her last competition but we’ll see how she goes through winter.
“As far as me getting sick and the dog having all her injuries, it’s pretty remarkable that we got the result we did.”
Collins said he was thrilled to pick up his first national title, after 23 years of trying. It was all the more special that family and friends were there to watch and support him.
“Home field advantage helped. It wasn’t the first time she had run on that course. There was definitely luck involved but you make your own luck as well.”
Collins first got into trialling through mustering stock and reasoned “if you’ve got dogs you might as well have good ones”.
As for the future, Collins said he is going to take things as they come but would love to pick up another title. He reckons dog trialling is a bit like life and you have to celebrate the successes and positives when they come along.
“It was a big week of celebrations because you see guys from around the country that you don’t see very often. The beers certainly tasted very good.
“I’m enjoying the win but it’s a great leveller, the old dog trials. The next time you can go along and get nothing. You can go from hero to zero pretty quick.”