New breeds on parade at Western Pa. dog show


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Two owners of the winner of Best in Show at Saturday's Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association Annual Dog Show in Monroeville are from Murrysville, 20 minutes away from where the show was held.

But it turns out the winning dog -- a gleaming white, fluffy Bichon Frise known as Honor -- isn't just a local pretty face.

Thanks to his group win in February at the best-known dog show in the United States, the Westminster Kennel Club's show in New York City, Honor is now dog luminary and can command much larger stud fees.

But Paula Abbott, one of his Murrysville co-owners (the one wearing the purple sweat top with "Bichon Frise" printed on the back), was beaming Saturday as if Honor had just won Westminster all over again.

"This is what's so great: He got best in show here!" she said excitedly, minutes after the judge, Dana Cline, chose Honor, a finalist by virtue of having won the non-sporting group.

"He's a wonderful example of the breed," Mr. Cline, from Rockford, Ill., said.

He chose Honor over six other dogs for Best in Show: a Briard in the herding group, a toy poodle in the toy group, a Clumber spaniel in the sporting group, a standard schnauzer in the working group, a Norfolk terrier in the terrier group, and a beagle in the hound group.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime dog," said Lisa Bettis, Honor's Goshen, Wis.-based professional handler who showed the dog Saturday for the Abbotts and another co-owner. "He's one of those dogs who just has it."

It was the culmination of the first of two days of dog shows for the WPKA, which came into Saturday's show not expecting a large crowd on Easter weekend -- an unavoidable scheduling quirk because the American Kennel Club assigns each show a given weekend.

Typically the WPKA has drawn about 10,000 people over a non-Easter, two-day weekend in the past three years since it moved its show from the Downtown convention center to Monroeville. The move saved money as the economy slowed down and entrants dropped off.

But Nance Shields, WPKA's longtime president, said the bright, sunny Saturday resulted in a "day much better than we expected; 10,000 people were in here today."

It has been 75 years since the WPKA held its first show -- it missed two years of shows during World War II -- and the club doesn't expect anywhere near that many attendees today, Easter, when the number of dogs will drop, too, from 1,019 on Saturday to 873 today.

"These are all the die-hard dog lovers," said Patricia Barnyak, a Harrison City resident who was showing her Chow Chow named Lyric on Saturday. "They'll show on Easter, Christmas, any holiday, we don't care. We just like it so much."

Everyone comes to compete, and not one owner or handler said he or she wouldn't rather win. However, even those owners who didn't win or hadn't put down thousands of dollars for a dog and a professional handler all gave the same reasons for getting up at dawn and making sure every hair on their dog's coat was perfect Saturday.

"For the fun of it and to have fun with my dogs and meet people," said Sharon Gewecke of Delmont, who showed her Cardigan Corgi, True, on Saturday.

But if the fun is universal and winning it all an elusive dream for most, obtaining points is the pragmatic goal for nearly everyone at the show.

Each dog has a chance to win points -- as few as 1 and as many as 5 -- each show based on what he or she wins and how many dogs are in the breed class. If you accumulate 15 points and two major wins within the breed, your dog becomes an official "champion" category dog -- a fact that you can advertise if you are breeding your dog.

And once your dog becomes a "champion," if you can accumulate another 25 points and three more major wins within the breed, your dog is declared a "grand champion," which is even more prestigious.

With shows all over the country ever weekend, there are a lot of shows to earn points and, as a result, the die-hard owners and handlers eventually get their dogs qualified -- which is why there were quite a few "champions" and "grand champions" running around the Monroeville Convention Center.

Well-known breeds like golden retrievers still dominate entries -- 26 goldens were entered Saturday -- though many in the crowd were even more excited to see the new or emerging breeds that showed up in fewer numbers.

For example, three Berger Picards were entered Saturday. The once-nearly-extinct French herding dog has only recently gained preliminary recognition by the AKC and is still put in the "miscellaneous" category until it gains full approval.

But if you want to get a dog owner, handler or judge at a dog show into an excited discussion, try mentioning some of the new "designer" dog breeds Americans have been coming up with such as "labradoodles" -- a mix between a Labrador and a poodle -- or "puggle," a mix between a pug and a beagle.

"I don't know what's wrong with people," Ms. Barnyak said. "They call it a 'designer breed.' But what it is is a mutt. It takes generations and years of dedication to get the consistency in what is bred to call it a breed."

Robert Indeglia, a surgeon from Narragansett, R.I., who judged the Berger Picards at Saturday's show and has four breeds of dogs of his own at home, accepts that the Picards and others could eventually become full-fledged breeds.

But, he said, "the concern I have is they are coming up [as a breed] too fast. The three Picards I judged today were good quality, but, I'm not sure everyone out there knows what the standard is yet."

For many in the crowd Saturday, though, that's all so much insider baseball.

"I just like the beauty of the dog," said Steve Glover, a North Side resident who has an English bulldog and a Rottweiler at home. "I watch the big shows on TV, but you can only see them in the ring there. Here, I can go and talk to the owners and see the dogs up close. It's just fun."

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Sean D. Hamill: shamill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2579


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