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You probably don’t immediately think of farms when you see dogs gliding about a conformation ring under the watchful eye of a judge. And on the other side, it can be hard to imagine a farm dog traversing his 100-acre farm or working the crowd at a nearby petting zoo in the conformation ring. But 6-year-old “Perogie” the Bernese Mountain Dog, does both and more in 24 hours.

“He basically lives in two worlds,” says Sally Wolfgang, Perogie’s co-owner, of Bucks County, PA. Despite his success in the ring, Perogie was a late bloomer when it came to conformation. Wolfgang didn’t start training Perogie for dog shows and working with a professional handler until he was 5 years old.

Instant Celebrity on the Farm

Charis Matey, Wolfgang’s neighbor and Perogie’s co-owner, purchased the dog from a Polish breeder when he was a puppy. “I was drawn to what a cute, fluffy puppy he was in Facebook photos,” she says. “As soon as I spotted those photos, I contacted the breeder and told her I wanted him.”

Matey lives on a farm and has a traveling petting zoo, Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo. She was looking for a dog that could be not only a watchdog and companion, but one that she could also bring along on petting zoo visits for birthday parties, fundraisers, carnivals, corporate events, picnics, and more.

perogie bernese mountain dog getting attention at owner Matey's petting zoo
Charis Matey

Perogie turned out to be all of that and more, becoming the magnet and center of attention at most of these events. “Children are always on the ground rubbing his belly,” Matey says. “While he is very laid back, Perogie has that ‘I’m here, so you can devote your attention to me’ attitude.”

Bringing Neighbors Together

Matey knew he was a star in his own way, but it wasn’t until 2022, when a friend introduced her to Wolfgang, that they recognized his show potential.

“When I first set eyes on Perogie, I knew he was special,” recalls Wolfgang, who has owned Bernese Mountain Dogs for 18 years. “I offered to co-own, train, and show him.” Matey, despite never having shown dogs and knowing little about the conformation world, agreed. “She had a gem and didn’t know it,” Wolfgang says. “Perogie met her needs on the farm and with the traveling petting zoo.”

The neighbors, who may never have met otherwise, started the process of signing a co-ownership agreement for Perogie. The only problem? Where the dog would live. Matey was initially opposed to Perogie living away from her with Wolfgang, as he had been her companion full-time for many years.

perogie bernese mountain dog with co-owners Sally Wolfgang and Charis Matey
Brad Matey

Since Matey had never co-owned a dog and wasn’t familiar with conformation handling, it took her a moment to get on board. “Once I convinced her that he needed to live with and build a relationship with the person who would train and show him, she understood,” Wolfgang says.

From the Farm to the Show Ring

Perogie had been his own boss for five years, sleeping between the barn and the house and doing what he pleased. Wolfgang recognized that he needed basic training with a strong hand and skill set. “I am not a dog trainer,” Wolfgang explains. “I can show and finish a young dog that I have worked with or that lives with me.” He knew he’d need to do a lot of training with the adult dog to get him comfortable showing and being handled.

During early training, Wolfgang gradually brought in conformation skills and the show scene into Perogie’s life. “I would take him to shows,” she recalls, “and he just wanted to drag me back to the van. He wanted nothing to do with it.”

By July 2022, Wolfgang felt they were ready. She handled him in a few more events before professional handler Bobbi Kinley-Blewitt took over in late August 2023. Even with limited showing, Perogie earned his championship in August 2023 under Kinley-Blewett’s tutelage. Two months later, he took Best in Specialty at the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of Northeastern Illinois independent regional specialty.

A Professional Handler for Perogie

Wolfgang, a full-time pharmacist and senior product manager, also has a farm of her own. On top of her work, she runs a 40-acre farm with horses, chickens, and several Bernese Mountain Dogs. And still, she makes time for Perogie.

Although Wolfgang had intended on being Perogie’s conformation handler, she wasn’t able to devote the time that was necessary. This included the strict training schedule, as well as being on the road, traveling to shows.

She knew of Kinley-Blewitt through the Bernese Mountain Dog community. Like Wolfgang, she was also a longtime Berner owner, and is very passionate about the breed. “Bobbi is a far better handler,” Wolfgang says, “and is highly respected in the Bernese Mountain Dog world.”

perogie bernese mountain dog on the conformation podium after one of his first wins.
Terri Hirsch

Matey says that Perogie has adapted well to travel, training, and trust. “I want to compliment Bobbi and Sally for their efforts. I could have never imagined it,” Matey says. “When he returns home, it’s like he has never missed a beat, and he’s ready to go to work.”

A Typical Day on the Farm

Matey notes that this “sweet and loving” dog is the perfect fit for the farm. Perogie has never had any fights or confrontations with the farm animals, or the 35 different species of zoo animals they have.

A typical day on the farm for Perogie has him accompanying Matey to the pastures while feeding the sheep and cows, barking at visitors, and sleeping under the pine trees.

“Last summer, my three domestic turkeys went a bit further down my lane than they normally do. I was taking care of the wallabies at the time and not paying attention to the turkeys,” Matey recalls. “Perogie thought they were leaving and came running back to me barking. At first, I didn’t know what he was barking about, but I stopped what I was doing, and we walked back toward the house. At that point, he took off, running down the road to show me where they went. Eventually, we were able to direct them back to their barn.”

Perogie is a vigilant farm dog, and his smart and attentive nature makes him the perfect extra-hand that Matey often needs on the farm. A few years ago, Matey recalls taking care of an orphan lamb in the house and bottle feeding it. “Perogie decided he needed to be the lamb’s protector. Whenever we were back in the house, he would not let the lamb out of his sight.” Every night, Perogie would sleep with him until he was big enough to be on his own in the barn.

perogie bernese mountain dog laying on the floor getting his belly rubbed.
Sally Wolfgang

Perogie from Poland

The backstory to Perogie’s name comes from his origins, but is also influenced by the farm. Matey explains, “We frequently name animals in the petting zoo after food, as the children like those names.” And since Perogie, Bernese Mountain Dog, came from Poland, “Pierogi,” the name of the popular European country’s dish, seemed to fit.

Perogie has done more for Matey and Wolfgang than just excelling on the farm and in the ring. He’s also brought the neighbors closer together and strengthened their bond in a way they could’ve never imagined. The co-owners agree that Perogie is a vibrant, multi-talented dog. “It’s a fairy-tale story with a Cinderella touch,” they say.