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When Jeff Wells came across a posting about a stray, injured puppy in 2021, he never could’ve imagined all that he and “Winston,” a 3-year-old All-American Dog, would be to each other. From a difficult start to becoming Wells’s found agility partner, Wells and Winston’s bond is special in every way.

Just a year after seeing the AKC National Agility Championship on ESPN, Wells and Winston are competing themselves. On March 14 to 17 in Perry, Georgia, these agile teams of dogs and handlers will compete to get into the finals, which will air later on ESPN, and Winston and Wells could end up on the same broadcast that got them started in agility.

A Fated Meeting

Wells, who is a real estate agent in San Antonio, Texas, was at home with no power during the Great Freeze of 2021 when he saw a neighborhood posting about a dog that was found in a ditch. It was some of the coldest weather that Texas had ever experienced, with historic temperature lows. The woman who’d posted was asking if someone could get the dog out of the freezing conditions. Wells, a half hour away, told her to contact him if no one responded, and sure enough, later that day, he was getting in his truck to see if he could get to this dog.

“The roads were so bad, it took probably an hour and a half to drive what would normally be 20 to 30 minutes,” Wells says. Even after he arrived, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to get down to the dog and get him out. But he did. “He literally jumped into my arms. He smelled horrible, he’d been living on the street,” Wells says. “He was eating out of a local dumpster there, and managed to survive on his own.” But it didn’t deter Wells — he and Winston had an instant connection, and he immediately knew he was keeping him.

The weather made it difficult for Wells to get him the help he needed immediately. Winston was barely 6 months old, had a broken leg, and had been out in the cold for over a month at least. “Once we got him nutritionally healthy, that’s when he really started to have a lot of energy,” Wells says. “We noticed he was pretty smart and started to pick up on things quickly.”

Channeling His Energy Into Agility

After Winston’s broken leg healed, Wells started looking for outlets for his energy. He instantly knew Winston was smart: he potty-trained him in just a few hours. “I just happened to be flipping through TV stations one day and saw the AKC [Agility] Nationals on ESPN, and thought, ‘wow, that would be really cool to do,'” Wells recalls. “He’s very athletic, so it seemed like something that he was good at, so that started it.” Wells had no idea how to get involved in agility, and didn’t know who to talk to. He’d never done dog sports before, and when no one got back to him, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

In the summer of 2021, around Winston’s first birthday, Wells began building his own agility courses in his backyard. “I ordered a book on Amazon for agility and just kind of started reading through that,” he says. “I built jumps for us to practice on, and started training him, learning things.”

Jeffrey Wells

A year after he found Winston, they went to their first agility trial together. Despite there being obstacles that they didn’t yet train on, Winston won in his class. They spent the weekend doing anything that they could. “I emailed the show secretary and asked what can we enter? So I entered in Premiere and all kinds of stuff that we had no business entering,” Wells laughs.

Catherine Laria and Debbie Moore, who’d been doing agility for a long time, saw potential in Winston and Wells’ teamwork. “They pulled us aside and said, ‘Hey, you guys are pretty darn far ahead, but don’t really know what you’re doing,'” Wells says. “‘Let us work with you a little bit, and it’ll make a big difference.'” And so, their training with Laria and Moore began. Soon after, Winston was almost perfect. And he was. In just seven months, he earned his first MACH, and didn’t stop there. Wells and Winston (MACH Winston Wells MXB MJB MFB TQX T2B2) kept competing, and qualified for the 2024 — and 2025 — AKC National Agility Championship.

Supporting Each Other and the Community

Kristen Wells

In more ways that one, Winston and Wells changed each other’s lives. Where Wells saved Winston’s life as a puppy, Winston soon showed that he had a deep understanding of Wells, who is an Army combat veteran. “I carry a lot of mental things as a result of that, like PTSD,” Wells says. “[Winston] legitimately keeps me grounded and focused, and helps me deal with a lot.” The competition has made a huge difference in Wells’ life, giving him structure and something to focus energy towards. Though Winston never completed service dog training and wasn’t intended to be one, he’s changed Wells’ life. “He literally detects when an episode’s going to happen, and he will remove me from those situations,” Wells says. “That’s just something that he kind of learned how to do. There was never any training or anything like that.”

Doing agility with Winston has made such a difference for Wells that he wanted to share it with other people going through the same thing. Wells started a veteran’s agility group in San Antonio, called “Winston’s Warriors,” trying to spread awareness for the sport locally. “Agility and the other AKC sports, what it’s done for me mentally has been very powerful,” Wells says. It’s only been a few months since they started, but they’ve got a good group, with Laria coming in and donating her time to help train the teams.

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Movie Stardom That Mirrored Real Life

Winston and Wells don’t just keep busy with agility competitions. Wells’ friend was recently cast in a war short film — one that they needed a dog for. “By pure coincidence, the movie was set in Iraq, which is exactly where I was stationed when I was there,” Wells says. Before they knew it, they were flying to New Mexico to shoot a movie, despite neither of them having any prior experience.

Because the movie was about war, there was a lot of action involved, including some filming at night. Wells was in charge of directing Winston, and quickly found that it wasn’t that different from agility. “Many of the agility techniques that we had already learned and trained we used for the movie,” Wells explains. “You train your dog to operate and communicate a distance with verbals and hand signals, and that’s exactly what needed to be done in the movie. He would be out in front of the camera, and I would be behind the camera, controlling certain movements.”

Jeffrey Wells


Their agility training prepared them for that experience, without ever realizing it would be something they’d do together. “Winston just nailed it,” Wells says.

Building a Legacy for Winston Through Agility

Now, coming up on their first AKC National Agility Championship together, two years after watching that ESPN broadcast, things feel pretty full circle for Wells. “It’s been something that we’ve strived for a long time, and I visualized a lot of time what it’d be like to take him up to that start line,” he says. “It’ll mean a lot more knowing what we’ve been through and how far he’s come.”

Wells is hoping that they’ll continue their winning streak at the AKC National Agility Championship. “I don’t know how we’re going to do, but I obviously believe in him,” he says. “I feel very good about where we’re at right now, but anything can happen in a big competition like that.”

Regardless of how they do, Wells can confidently say that his bond with Winston is like no other. Despite having dogs his whole life, he’s never had a connection like he does to Winston. “It’s hard to explain. He’s able to read me in ways that nobody else can,” Wells says, reflecting on their journeys to get to one another. “We don’t know how or why, but he was injured and managed to survive, meal to meal. I was in a situation in combat where we were in one of the most dangerous areas, and never knew whether we would survive when we left the gate.”

Jeffrey Wells

They found their way to each other, and it’s something that Wells will forever be grateful for. “Part of what I wanted to do with [Winston’s Warriors] is create some sort of legacy for him, because he’s done so much to change my life,” Wells says. “The only difficult thing is that dogs don’t live as long as we do, so when they’re here, we just have to enjoy every minute of it.”

The 2024 AKC National Agility Championship will air on ESPN2 on May 5 at 9am ET. Watch these fast, agile teams to see the winners crowned in each height division!