An Alabama farm dog stole the hearts of canine lovers throughout the country during the American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Farm Dog of the Year contest.
Sue, a blue heeler mixed-breed dog owned by Kim and Phil Slay of Five Points, won the People’s Choice Pup Award for the most online votes in the contest. She and other finalists were announced during the AFBF annual meeting Jan. 19 in Austin, Texas. Although she wasn’t the overall winner — that title went to an Australian shepherd from Utah — Sue was among four finalists in the nationwide contest sponsored by AFBF and Nestle Purina.
“If there’s a better dog than Sue, I would sure like to meet ‘em,” said Phil, stroking Sue’s head as she rested on the back of his truck. “I’ve had hundreds of dogs and helped train probably a thousand dogs, but I’ve never seen one as smart as her. It’s like she’s almost human. She understands exactly what I’m telling her.”
A panel of judges with expertise in the pet care industry, veterinary medicine and communications reviewed 80 nominations to select the Farm Dog of the Year and finalists.
Dogs were judged on their helpfulness to the farmer and his/her family, playfulness and their role in making life better on and off the farm. AFBF members submitted written responses to questions, photos and video clips to nominate their dogs for Farm Dog of the Year.
Four runners-up in the contest each received $1,000 in prize money, a trophy plate and Purina products.
As the People’s Choice Pup, Sue also won bragging rights, a $50 gift card and additional Purina products.
The contest celebrated farm dogs that work alongside farmers and ranchers to produce food for families and pets across America. It caught the attention of more than 100,000 social media followers who voted, commented, shared or liked their favorite dog.
“I have to give Kim the credit for filling out the application and taking the photos,” Phil said. “We had a lot of friends who helped Sue win. We had the Alabama Farmers Federation helping us on social media, and we also had a lot of friends help who have gotten to know Sue around town and at National Barrel Horse Association shows.”
Federation Multimedia Content Director Marlee Moore praised the Slays’ grassroots approach to garnering social media support for Sue.
“Social media gives farmers simple, effective platforms to share stories of life on the farm with friends, neighbors and consumers,” said Moore, who manages the Federation’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. “Kim and Phil took that to heart. Their willingness to promote Sue’s adventures allowed her story to reach thousands of people across America. That’s the power of social media.”
Sue is a fixture around the Chambers County town where the Slays raise cattle, sheep, hay and greenhouse tomatoes. The couple has three children, Zac, 24, Hannah, 22, and Audra,18.
The Slays were Alabama’s Outstanding Young Farm Family in 1995 and remain active in the Federation. Phil is chairman of the Federation State Beef Committee and is a board member and former president of the Chambers County Farmers Federation.
Kim, who is a teacher and primary farmer for the Slay’s greenhouse tomatoes, is active in the local Women’s Leaders Committee.
Sue is Phil’s constant companion. Riding in the front seat of his pickup truck, she accompanies him to the bank, parts store, feed store, horse shows and cattle-loading pens.
“She helps me work cattle through the alley and into the chute, when otherwise it would be pretty tough by myself,” Phil said. “If I’ve got a cow missing in the pasture, I can send Sue into the woods, and she’ll find it.”
In addition to farm duties, Sue is a therapy dog of sorts, Phil said. He described the 8-year-old dog as his psychologist who helps lift his spirits, makes him smile and helps him keep life in perspective.
Sue also shares her love with children at special needs rodeos and with adults who live at a nearby mental health facility.
“I tell people we are a one man and one dog and pony show, and Sue is my public relations manager,” Phil said. “She loves everybody, and everybody loves her.”