Published in 2015 by The St. Ignace NewsDownload PDF
A beagle in Moran has become an International Field Champion, one of only eight such dogs living in the Midwest and the only one in the Upper Peninsula. Her name is Big Creek Nobarz, and she overcame a life-threatening illness to earn the coveted distinction in an Ontario competition November 30. For her owner, Mike Johnson, the achievement is the story of a dog’s remarkable recovery, and for the whole Johnson family, the training of these competition dogs has become a shared pursuit.
To be considered international field champions, dogs have to win first place in three American and two Canadian field trials in addition to earning points in both countries. All trials have to be certified by that country’s kennel club as an eligible test of the dogs’ hunting skills. Points are given for each dog’s display technique as well as their overall placement.
“These dogs are athletes who have to be trained every day,” Mr. Johnson said. “They have to be strong, they have to have great stamina, but most of all they have to be smart and have the confidence to stand up to a whole pack of dogs.”
For Nobarz, the effort to earn the title was threatened by illness. After securing first place wins in both the United States and Canada, the dog became ill in August 2012. She inhaled the tassel of a piece of grass while she was out running and it lodged in her lung, making her too sick to run, even around the Johnson property. She was treated with antibiotics for nine months when Mr. Johnson and the veterinarian discussed euthanizing her that upcoming spring. In a final effort to save the dog’s life, the veterinarian tried one last combination of antibiotics. To everyone’s surprise, the treatment worked.
Nobarz began to train again and won her second Canadian competition in May 2013.
“She ran eight hours and fifteen minutes on the weekend.” said Mr. Johnson. “I thought I would have to bury her. It was incredible”
“It’s like a little miracle,” said his wife, Neva.
Nobarz went on to claim the rest of her first place wins and several other top finishes, securing her final point and a third place ribbon.
Since then, she’s been retired from field trials, although she’s still running every day, training the Johnson family’s younger dogs by example. Mr. Johnson has 10 beagles for competition in field trials. He also has nine bird dogs and an additional six beagles that he’s training for other people.
He first began working with dogs as a boy, alongside his father. Years ago, he trained beagles for field trials with the help of his daughters, Randi and Mandi. When Mr. Johnson retired from the Michigan State Police 11 years ago, he began training bird dogs again.
“A few people who remembered me from before asked if I would train dogs for them,” he said. “As the grandkids started getting involved, to make it fun for them, I started looking for some competition-worthy dogs. It’s a family thing all around.”
Mr. Johnson’s right-hand men are his young grandsons Hogan and Colt Fettig. He is teaching them about the dogs. Hogan joins his grandfather on the road most weekends while the competitions are in sway and marshals for some of the competitions, carrying disqualified dogs off the field. Both boys join their grandfather on his 40-acre property in Moran, exercising, training, and caring for the dogs.
Mandi Johnson marshals, as well. Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s twoyear old granddaughter, Andi Wender, will also learn about the sport and joins the crew when they attend field trials near Escanaba, where she lives.
“It’s fun. The grandkids pick out a lot of the names and they all have the dogs that they consider theirs,” Mr. Johnson said. “That’s how we’re divvying up the ribbons.”
Little Andi has a ribbon, won by her favorite, Lady, which she carries to daycare with her. Hogan and Colt have hung all of Nobarz’s ribbons up in their bedroom.
“It’s hard to tell who loves it more and who’s prouder of the dogs,” Mrs. Johnson said.
Nobarz was bred by Harold Janiszewski of West Branch and given to Mr. Johnson by friend John DeWyse of Au Gres, on the condition that she meet her full potential.
“People probably wouldn’t think that we have a world-class dog like this here in Moran, but we do,” Mr. Johnson said. “It’s one out of ten thousand beagles that makes international field champion. We’re real proud of her.”