May 27th, 2024

At Westminster dog show, a display of dogs and devotion

By Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press on May 13, 2024.

NEW YORK (AP) – Less than three years ago, Mary Ann and David Giordano were taking turns lying on the living room floor with their Afghan hound Frankie, hand-feeding the desperately ill dog anything she would eat.

She had developed severe kidney problems after contracting Lyme disease, despite being on medications meant to repel the ticks that carry the bacteria that cause it. Veterinarians weren’t sure she would survive.

Yet on Monday, Frankie was at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, healthy and ready to compete. She would face off against over a dozen other Afghan hounds – including the winner of last month’s World Dog Show in Croatia – for a chance to advance to the next round of the United States’ most prestigious canine event.

“It was really tough,” Mary Ann Giordano said, her voice halting as she described Frankie’s eight-monthlong ordeal. “But she made it.”

For all the pooch pageantry of Westminster – the coiffed poodles, the top-knotted toy dogs, the formality of dogs trotting around a ring – it’s also an illustration of the bond people form with dogs, and what each will do for the other.

Like setting up an array of box fans and even a portable dehumidifier to get a puli’s long, thick cords dry after a bath, a process that can take 24 hours, in Valarie Cheimis’ experience. The cords form naturally, though owners aid the process by separating them.

Why go through all that?

“These are fun dogs. They’re full of personality,” Cheimis said as she petted Csoki, one of her pulik (the proper plural), ahead of ring time.

Sure, the Hungarian herding breed can be stubborn and barky, Cheimis said, but Csoki also looks after her geese and chickens at home in Kingfield, Maine, even lying down next to the goslings.

Mister, a bloodhound who won a merit award in his breed Monday, also puts his breed’s ancient instincts to work. He’s qualified to trail missing people, though his calls so far have been resolved before they got into the field, said co-owner, breeder and handler Renee Wagner, of Niagara Falls, New York.

The 148th Westminster show kicked off Saturday with an agility competition – won by a mixed-breed dog for the first time since Westminster added the event in 2014. Nimble, the winner, was handled by Cynthia Hornor, who took the trophy with a border collie last year.

Monday marked the start of the traditional judging that leads to the best in show prize, to be awarded Tuesday night. Semifinals begin Monday night, pitting the winners of each breed against others in their “group,” such as hounds or herding dogs.

The 2,500-plus first-round entrants range from tiny Yorkshire terriers to towering great Danes. They include a newly added breed, the Lancashire heeler, represented Monday by a single contestant named Mando.

If he knew a lot was riding on his little shoulders, he didn’t show it as he appeared in the first-round ring and someone in the audience yelled, “Yay! History!”

“He just has a rock-star attitude,” handler Jessica Plourde said afterward.

The show also was a first for Alfredo Delgado and Maria Davila, who had traveled from Juncos, Puerto Rico, with their French bulldog, Duncan.

Their path started when Delgado’s brother found a lost Frenchie. It was soon reunited with its owner, but Delgado was intrigued by the breed.

Fast-forward some years, and he was in the Westminster ring as Duncan’s breeder, owner and handler, with Davila cheering him on.

“We made a dream come true to be here,” Davila said afterward. “To share with experienced people in the ring – that was awesome.”

Westminster routinely attracts a roster of dog showing’s heavy hitters. This year’s field includes Stache, a Sealyham terrier who won the National Dog Show televised last Thanksgiving, and Comet, a shih tzu who won the huge American Kennel Club National Championship that was televised on Dec. 31.

Comet is “just everything you would want in a shih tzu,” co-owner, breeder and handler Luke Ehricht said after Comet won his breed Monday morning. With a flowing coat like a vanilla-and-caramel ice cream sundae that’s melting onto the table, the dog looked up at his handler with the sweet expression that’s prized in the breed.

“He’s a very sweet, loving dog” who knows when it’s time to perform and when it’s time to relax, said Ehricht, of Monclova, Ohio.

Later, Frankie, the recovered Afghan hound, and her littermate Belle stood side-by-side in their breed’s ring. So did the Giordanos, an Annandale, New Jersey, couple who have been side-by-side since high school. David handled Frankie, while his wife led Belle.

Both dogs took jaunty spins around the ring, but neither won. Nor did the recent World Dog Show winner, named Zaida. The ribbon went to another highly ranked Afghan, named Louis.

“This breed’s supposed to be “˜the king of dogs,’ and he knows he is,” handler and co-owner Alicia Jones said.

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