Years after falling in love with one of the world's most robust breeds of dog, an Upper Arlington woman's decision to step into the show ring now has her beloved Brody gunning for No. 1.
As a nightshift nurse at a Columbus hospital some years ago, Janice Ackers frequently heard her coworker and friend, Brian Ham, talk about the gentle giants he and his wife, Mary, raised at RedBarn Mastiffs in Cardington.
But it wasn't until Ham brought a 10-month-old puppy to work that Ackers became smitten herself.
She proceeded to "prance," she said, to the nearest ATM and withdrew money that she would moments later slap down on a hospital desk and, without solicitation, request to buy the dog.
That pup, named Taco, was the first foray into English Mastiff ownership for Janice and Scott Ackers of Upper Arlington. Janice noted she had to ask Scott's "forgiveness, not permission," in regard to the purchase.
"I just had to have him," she wrote about Taco on her blog, www.RedbarnSideAckersMastiffs.com.
Some years later, Scott and Ham would surprise Janice by presenting her an 8-month-old rescued English Mastiff who would be named Bell, and who three months later, became the first dog Janice took into a competitive show ring.
Bell eventually became a champion, and then came Brody, who was adopted because Taco and the Ackers' mixed chow/husky, Kelly, both died in early 2012.
Now 26 months old, Brody stands nearly 35 inches tall and weighs in at close to 220 pounds.
Janice soon retired Bell to devote her handling duties -- which she maintains herself rather than entrust to a professional -- to Brody, a natural in the show ring.
The result has been nothing short of remarkable to Janice, who has seen Brody grow from a playful puppy to moving up the American Kennel Club (AKC) ranks from "champion," to "grand champion" and now "bronze champion."
He currently is ranked No. 5 nationally among English Mastiffs.
"He was the No. 1 puppy in 2013," she said. "I've only been showing about two and a half years, which is really new, and people are blown away and shocked at how well we're doing."
In the past six months, Janice and Brody have traveled to 12 different shows, mostly to places within three-hour drives from Columbus.
She said she's had to upsize her car, and added, "I don't even want to add it up because I don't want to know" when asked how much she spends on dog food, veterinary bills and show travel.
"My husband says, 'Why are we doing it?' " she said. "It's because I love it."
In addition to Ham, who took her to her first dog show, Janice credited Cassie Kneeland of Johnstown for inspiring her to stick with competitive showing.
After overhearing a then-13-year-old Kneeland complaining about idle time at a show, she invited the teen to take Bell into the ring.
"She ended up getting a five-point major, which is like the highest number you could get and she beat the champion," she said.
Now, Janice said, she's honed her own handling style and Brody takes care of much of the rest.
"The size of his head is a good attribute," she said. "They like to see a big, wrinkly head, but not too wrinkly.
"They also like to see a long, straight back. They call it a strong top line, and he's got it."
She said Brody's fluid movements also set him apart, and he's so popular among coworkers at the Ohio State University Ross Heart Hospital that they often turn up to cheer at competitions.
"I call them Brody's Roadies," she said. "That's his fan club."
Originally, she had her sights set on a Top 20 ranking for Brody, but as he gained acclaim, she's now focused on an invitation to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the nation's preeminent dog show and one that is nationally televised.
Brody will go if he's a Top 5 champion, based on the number of dogs he defeats at AKC-licensed shows through Oct. 31.
"That's kind of my pie-in-the-sky goal," she said.
Although Brody's chances appear good, Janice said she's satisfied with the strides he's made in competition, and with her own progress as a handler.
She also noted that Brody's "starting to get calls from girls" -- dog show talk for his breeding potential -- and she's excited about the prospects for Sir Bozwell, Brody and Bell's 6-month-old son.
"We're extremely proud," she said. "One of the things I'm most proud of is that, since January, I've been the only person taking Brody into the ring.
"We try to have a good time. It's been an amazing journey."