Rick and Susan Waits have lived in Cherokee County for 37 years. Their kids grew up here, and Susan taught at Johnson, Woodstock and Hickory Flat elementary schools. In addition to raising their kids here, the Woodstock couple reared River, a 5-year-old German shepherd who won Best of Breed and first place in the herding group, beating more than 456 dogs, at the 146th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in June.
Rick and Susan, watching the show — held in Tarrytown, New York — from home, were ecstatic. In his four-year career, River has won multiple regional shows. He also won the National Speciality for German shepherds in 2020.
Most American Kennel Club dog shows have a spot for any dog of any age, whether titled or not. The Westminster show only lets AKC champions show. “We’re deeply humbled by this win. To go this far [final seven for Best in Show] at Westminster is a conformation dog show person’s dream,” Rick said.
River, a name chosen by Rick and Susan, fittingly seems to flow like a current when he moves (www.youtube.com/watch?v=4G5D3dxVjY0).
His full name — GCHG CH Gem-N-I River of Urloved CGC — begins with AKC titles that stand for Grand Champion Gold Champion, and Gem-N-I comes from the kennel he was born in. Urloved is Rick and Susan’s kennel name, and CGC stands for Canine Good Citizen.
River’s handler, Lenny Brown, lives in Jasper. Through December, he will continue showing River as often as 12 times per week. “We would like to give highest credit to Lenny,” Rick said. “He is, in our opinion, the epitome of excellence and the best professional German shepherd handler in the country right now.”
Including Rick, there were three co-breeders on this German shepherd litter. Rick and Susan attribute much of the success of River to Lee Jewell, who was the main breeder of the litter and owned the mother, as well as co-breeder Barbara Stamper. “We are so thankful for them. They are super caring dog people,” Rick said.
The couple, married for 48 years, are dog lovers. They started out with shelties, and bred in the 1970s. “We’ve been showing dogs in conformation for six years,” Rick said. “When we started showing, we didn’t know much. We thank the fancy [professionals and hobbyists who are invested in the sport of showing dogs in judged competitions] for guiding us along. It’s a tremendous honor to have this win at the second-longest continuously held sporting event in the U.S.”
Rick described River as so fun to be with: “He’s pure love. If you’re sitting or laying down, he presses his head against yours to hug you.”
River’s future is very bright. He has grown into a beautiful, mature, noble, masculine German shepherd, what Brown calls the look of eagles. “We want people to see him as more than a show dog. It’s not just beauty, it’s brains, too,” Rick said. “He’s extremely smart. Going forward, we’ll work with him to get more performance titles on the back end of his name.”