Western Pa. Kennel Association Dog Show draws contestants from all over

| Wednesday, April 2, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Crystal Bennett's two bulldogs — 6-month-old male Zorro, imported from Spain, and female Moscato — are getting all gussied up for this weekend's Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association annual dog show, and for the dogs, competing in the show is not a chore but a doggone joy.

“They absolutely adore it,” says Bennett, 52, of Bridgewater, Beaver County. Her two pooches both are red and white, work as therapy dogs and participate in parades. “The bulldogs are like 2-year-old children in fur suits. They are like toddlers — some like to go everywhere and do everything.

“I do it because the dogs love it, and I like to make the dogs happy,” says Bennett, comparing the show to a doggie Honey Boo Boo pageant. “It's like a beauty pageant. ... I like making the dogs happy.”

Moscato, Bennett says, “just struts around like she owns the ring.”

The two-day show — with separate competitions on April 5 and 6 — features some 1,200 dogs from all around the country, say organizers from the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association, a member club of the national American Kennel Club. Only about 20 percent of the dogs competing at this show come from the Pittsburgh area, says Tom Oelschlager, president of the kennel association and show chairman. Entrants need not live in the area of the contest they attend, and many people try their luck at different shows.

“That shows you how geographically large dog shows are,” says Oelschlager, who goes by “Tommy O.” People and their canine contestants “go to the dog shows because of who is judging.”

Oelschlager, who occasionally breeds and sells Siberian huskies, joined the club in 1975, and the show already had been going on for at least three decades. He is not showing his dogs at this show because club board members cannot do that. The dog-showing hobby can be time-consuming, but people who are into it absolutely love it, he says.

“It's a passion, and we all say that once you get the bug, you get the bug,” says Oelschlager, 60, of Nottingham, Washington County.

The February national dog show, televised from Madison Square Garden in New York City, sparks interest in the business for many people, who then want to attend dog shows in person, he says.

“You certainly have those people ... who just love dog shows and ... they come once a year,” Oelschlager says. “It makes their whole day for them. ... It's a chance for them to see all these different breeds together.”

At the Pittsburgh-area dog show, held at Monroeville Convention Center, visitors can see competing dogs up close and even pet them, with handlers' permission. Spectators can learn about the many different dog breeds, shop for pet-related goods at onsite merchants, and maybe get inspired to get their own puppy or dog in the future.

“There's hardly anybody at a ... dog show that's not willing to spend the time with somebody,” Oelschlager says.

Dog shows benefit everyone: the dogs, their owners/handlers and the spectators, says Bennett, who breeds bulldogs occasionally as a hobby.

“We like to educate the public on what a bulldog should look like,” she says. “The bulldogs enjoy the ring. They love the crowd clapping for them.”

For members of the public, they can simply come and enjoy watching the show and learn a lot, Bennett says.

“It's like watching cricket,” she says. “If you don't understand it, at least, you can see what the dogs are supposed to look like and be like.”

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