Legendary field dog, breeder’s mysterious ban focus of trial testimony

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ST. THOMAS – No one could have ever guessed that the legacy of Belfield Silver would stretch beyond the field dog world, where the English pointer was a champion, to the inside of a courtroom.

Before his death at age 15, Belfield Silver won seven championships and was runner-up in 15 more, and had sired scores of valuable pups. The pointer was retired at age 10, only because his trainer wanted the dog to leave the sport with his sterling reputation intact. Belfield Silver finished an impressive third in its final competition.

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The dog was so dominant that it seemed Belfield Silver would be a shoo-in for one of the two annual slots named for the field dog hall of fame.

But for unclear reasons the year he was poised to be honoured, the hall of fame only named one dog for the first time – and it wasn’t Belfield Silver, his trainer Mike Hester said during his testimony at the first-degree murder retrial of Boris Panovski, 79.

“He ended up being one of the greatest dogs in the history of the sport,” Hester said.

At Panovski’s trial Monday, Hester, who was testifying from Nevin, N.C., was one of three witnesses who gave an insider’s view of the surprisingly lucrative field dog trial world and explained the dog’s link to Panovski, a one-time high-flying dog breeder who has pleaded not guilty to the shooting death of Donato Frigo, 70, a Toronto-area businessperson and field dog enthusiast.

He’s also pleaded not guilty to attempted murder by firearm of Frigo’s widow, Eva Willer Frigo. She was riding on horseback with her husband when they were ambushed on Sept. 14, 2014, at the Hullett Provincial Wildlife Area, north of Clinton, during annual field dog trials.

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Almost a decade later, and after a trial in Goderich in 2018, a successful appeal in 2021 and a venue change to Elgin County last year, Panovski is on trial again where the Crown has told Superior Court Justice Marc Garson, who is hearing the case alone, that the evidence will show the Frigos were the victims of Panovski’s long-standing grudge over the championship dog.

Belfield Silver factors into the case because until age seven, the dog was known as Panovski Silver, a name connecting back to Panovski, until owner Frigo had the name changed in February 2005.

A month earlier, Panovski, who had carved out a reputation as a dog breeder for wine magnate Gabe Magnotta and won two championships with a dog called Magnotta Red Ice Wine, was in Waynesboro, Ga., a town of about 6,000 and known as “the bird dog capital of the world” because the prestigious Georgia Field Dog Trials have been held there since 1903.

Garson heard testimony from Nell Mobley, 88, who headed up the event for more than 40 years and still holds a position on the executive while working part time at a funeral home. She said she met Panovski at the 2005 event when he came with three dogs for the competition.

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Testifying remotely from a Georgia courtroom, Mobley said she saw Panovski daily for the first few days of the event until Jan. 13, 2005, when “he was escorted out of (Burke) county by our local sheriffs.

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“All I know is what I heard, I was not an eyewitness to this,” she said. “He hasn’t been back to Burke County since then.”

However, Mobley said through questions from assistant Crown attorney Kelsey Good, Panovski called her twice – in 2008 and 2009 – asking her if she would use her influence and ask the sheriff to allow him “to come back and run dogs in the competition.”

“I told him I did not want to get involved in it,” Mobley said.

Frigo, she said, never competed in Waynesboro, but she met him at an event years after the Panovski incident.

Frigo owned Belfield Silver, having bought the dog from Panovski when it was 14-months-old and sent it to Hester to be trained.

Hester said he has known Panovski for 25 years, having met him at the Canadian championships and when Panovski was working for Frigo.

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Hester’s relationship with Frigo began later, when Frigo contacted him about evaluating and training a dog called Bud – who, after several months, based on Hester’s opinion, turned out to be a bird-dogging dud.

However, Hester began to train several of Frigo’s dogs, including then-named Panovski Silver. The dog’s first competition with Panovski was at the Canadian Open Championships when it was just nine-months-old and Hester began training the dog shortly after Frigo bought it.

Hester said the dog should never have been entered into competitions when it was so young. He took the dog to his North Carolina farm where he “allowed him to be a puppy again” before re-training it.

The dog earned a lot of money and a sought-after reputation, Hester said. When it was seven years-old, Frigo told him that the dog’s name was changed to Belfield Silver.

And in the April edition of American Field magazine, the go-to field dog journal, the name Belfield Silver appeared for the first time, listed as the winner in February 2005 of the United States Shooting Dog Invitational Championship, a month after Panovski was chased out of Burke County.

The trial continues on Tuesday.

jsims@postmedia.com

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