By KERRY BYRNES/Montana State News

The racers picked their lines.

Two inches of fresh powder covered the course as a nearby thermometer read 20 degrees. Though the sky remained gray with the prospect of more snow, visibility at the starting line proved excellent. The competitors yipped excitedly as they prepared to race under perfect conditions.

Corgis who won contests at the 'Corgis in the Snow'  event Saturday at the Heart of the Valley animal shelter eagerly await their prizes.

Corgis who won contests at the ‘Corgis in the Snow’ event Saturday at the Heart of the Valley animal shelter eagerly await their prizes.

The race official raised a megaphone to her lips.

“Three, two, one: Corgis run!”

In an instant, seven corgis tore across the field at mach speed. For four seconds, spectators watched from behind a fence as a mob of tan, white and black bodies bounded through the snow. The dogs ran so fast that their owners could barely discern which belonged to whom.

Reaching the finish line first was Tulip, a tri-colored corgi sporting a purple scarf around her neck. Many owners chose to outfit their corgis with some sort of scarf or sweater, in an effort to keep track of their dog in a sea of 70 near identical canines.

Such was the scene on Saturday at the Gallatin Valley Corgi Club’s second annual “Corgis in the Snow” event at Heart of the Valley animal shelter in Bozeman.

In a town known for its many black Labradors and other sporting dogs, corgi owners enthusiastically boast about the benefits of the breed.

“Corgis are very versatile dogs,” said Michele Koenig of Manhattan. It was Koenig who stood at the starting line, shouting into the megaphone as the corgis took off.

“They can hike, swim and make incredible family pets,” added Koenig, who owns three corgis.

In fact, her fastest corgi, Belle, herds the sheep on her owners’ property.

For those less familiar with the breed, it might seem strange to imagine corgis hiking on a trail or working on a ranch.

“The contemporary perception of corgis is that they are dogs of royalty,” Koenig said.

“They were actually bred specifically for herding. Their low profile and athletic build make them perfect for the job.”

Koenig is referring to the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the most popular of two corgi breeds and the preferred pet of Queen Elizabeth II. The lesser-known Cardigan Corgi is similar to the Pembroke, but possesses different characteristics: most notably, a tail.

Apparently the breed is also excellent for fundraisers.

“We wanted to give back to the community,” said Mandy Messman, an organizer of the event.

Messman estimated that more than 150 people attended the event where participants donated dog food in place of an admission fee. Bozeman pet shop Barkenhowell’s added 1,200 cans of dog food. All together, the donations filled the beds of two pickup trucks.

The corgi club will distribute donations among several animal welfare groups, including Heart of the Valley, the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, TinyTales K9 Rescue, the Dillon Humane Society and CorgiPals.

In addition to collecting food, the event featured four corgi-themed contests: the hot dog dig, biggest ears, biggest rear-end and best shedder. The prized event, however, was the “Great Corgi Race,” where top dogs competed in heats to reach the final race.

According to Messman, the Corgi Club formed in July 2012 after Barbara Vant Hull, of Belgrade, organized local corgi owners to march in the Sweet Pea Parade.

“We really just wanted to spend one-on-one time together,” Messman said.

As interest in the club grew, members quickly realized that their social events could benefit the community.

According to its website, the club organizes two events per year, Corgis in the Snow in February and the Sweet Pea Parade march in August.

Last August, the corgis marched in “Hairy Pawter” themed costumes, Messman said.

Corgi Club events are open to corgis, their owners and corgi-lovers alike, the website says. There is no formal membership; instead, corgi owners are asked to join the official email list, which provides updates on club happenings.

According to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) website, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi originated in Wales during the 12th century. Welsh for “dwarf dog,” farmers bred the corgi to herd cattle throughout the countryside.

It wasn’t until the 20th century – when Queen Elizabeth II purchased her first corgi – that people began to notice the quirky, big-eared breed.

The UK Daily Mail reported that the Queen has owned over 30 corgis since childhood. Since the 1930s, the public has been treated to images of the Queen walking her corgis through the lush grounds of Windsor Castle.

Jackie Roller, of Belgrade, named her corgi “Fergie,” after Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York.

“I thought ‘Fergie’ would be the perfect name for a dog associated with royalty,” Roller said, adding that people often mistake Fergie’s namesake for the female member of the Black-Eyed Peas.

Though Fergie didn’t participate in the race – “she would need a giant bag of treats to motivate her,” Roller said – she is a fast sprinter. Roller said Fergie could outrun the family’s other two dogs, a German shepherd and a Labrador.

Fergie, in her pink harness, looked like a traditional Pembroke Welsh Corgi. Her tan and white body looked disproportionately long compared to her short legs. Pointy ears formed large triangles above her head, where yellow eyes gleamed with energy. She appeared to smile, as her lips curved upward at the corners, revealing a long red tongue. As she turned away, her wide bottom shook a round ball of a tail.

According to the AKC website, Pembroke Welsh Corgis are born with “naturally docked” tails, meaning the tails are not altered to appear short and stubby.

As the event drew to a close, Koenig announced the winners of the contests and the race.

Skippy, a tan and white corgi sporting a black checkered scarf, won the hot dog dig. His owner received a treat bag that Skippy, and several other corgis, happily devoured.

The next prize went to Steve, a tri-colored corgi with sails for ears. He easily swept the competition in the biggest ears category.

Ruby and Doby, who left the event early, won biggest bottom and best shedder, respectively.

And finally, Tulip, the top racer, received her treat bag. She barely edged out Seamus, who finished second, to claim her first corgi race victory.

As Tulip and the other corgis snacked on their prizes, Koenig thanked participants for their support.

“We helped so many animals in need through our love of this breed. Let’s continue to do such great work.”

– Edited by Morgan Solomon

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