Best in Show: Pittsburgh-area dogs take shot at big time at Westminster
By Kellie B. Gormly
Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, 7:46 p.m.
Hollee Russell of Penn Township never has been to the huge Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, which is happening next week. Yes, it's a bit intimidating, but with her competing Rottweiler — Big Beach's Summer Lovin', more simply known as Josey — the experience should go smoothly and joyfully.
Josey is a 95-pound Rottie, but don't be fooled by her breadth: Josey is a “dollbaby” and “the most tolerant dog I've ever had,” Russell says.
Her dog qualified for the prestigious show on Feb. 10 and 11 at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan after earning champion status at a show last year in Fredericksburg, Va. The registered therapy dog enjoys dressing up in silly costumes like tutus, tiaras and bumblebees when she visits hospitals, nursing homes, schools and libraries. Josey's breeder pegged her as a show dog, but “I really didn't know the first thing about showing a dog,” says Russell, 38, a flight nurse. But, when she departs Feb. 8 on her road trip for New York City, Russell will be excited.
“I'm a little nervous,” she says. “We'll be pretty busy.”
The 138th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, presented by Purina Pro Plan, features some 2,840 dogs, representing 187 breeds and varieties from 49 states and 13 foreign countries. This year's show includes three new breeds officially recognized by the American Kennel Club: the rat terrier, the Portuguese podengo pequeno and the Chinook.
David Frei, who has co-hosted the event for 25 years, says that judges compare each dog to the written description of the ideal specimen of that breed, such as coat texture, height, ear shape and temperament.
People love the show because they want to see the “newest single-named celebrity in this world, and America's dog for the next year,” says Frei, who breeds Brittany and Cavalier King Charles spaniels and does some judging at the show.
Spectators also love “the entertainment value of 187 different breeds and varieties.”
“You're not going to see that walking down the street to your dog park,” Frei says. “There's also what I call the “alma mater factor ...” sitting with my Brittany, watching the show, I want to see the Brittany and root for the Brittany.”
Kathy Harrington, whose bearded collie dogs, Zack and Olivia, are competing, calls the Westminster show “the Super Bowl of dog shows.”
“This is the creme de la creme,” says Peters resident Harrington, who recently retired as principal of Pine-Richland Middle School. “This is a highly coveted dog show in Madison Square Garden. It's just exciting, in typical New York style. You've got the top dogs in the country competing. Competition is tough, and it is fierce. It's just very exciting. It's electric.”
This year's show will be the first time for Zack, whose official breeder name is Dunhill Steeler Nation, and the second for Olivia, otherwise known as Dunhill Celebration. Olivia, who has won many awards at other dog shows, works as a therapy dog at nursing homes and schools. Olivia became very popular at Pine-Richland Middle School, where she would come to visit with kids.
Show dogs, Harrington says, love being in the limelight.
“When they hear that applause and they see the people, just like a person, they love that attention,” she says. “They go out and strut their stuff, know what's happening and enjoy the ... excitement of it all.”
Meredith Wille, a veterinary technician in neurology, is bringing her pharaoh hound — Mia Bakhu Longlesson Runaway Bride V Hallam, who goes by Maggie — to the show. Wille, 42, of Brighton Heights has fantasized about taking a dog to the Westminster show since she was a young teen. She had planned on taking Maggie's littermate, Gilda, who died at age 2 from a rare blood disease. The breeder gave Maggie to Wille after Gilda's death and suggested she show the dog, which Maggie is bound to enjoy, Wille says.
“Maggie is so easygoing,” Wille says. “She's probably one of the best dogs for me to go with for a first time.
“The world is her oyster; she just takes it all in stride,” she says.
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 412-320-7824.
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