Pet Tales: Local therapy dog seeks a Westminster show title




Hollee Russell was just looking for a second pet. She got all that and more with Josey, a Rottweiler who became an American Kennel Club champion at just 13 months old and then earned certification as a therapy dog. She has won titles in obedience competitions.

On Tuesday, Josey will compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, which many view as the most prestigious canine competition in the U.S. Only champions and grand champions can enter.

In the show ring, Josey is Champion Beach's Summer Lovin' and competes with a professional handler, Jessy Sutton of Philadelphia. The 2-year-old will face 31 top Rottweilers, including her father, Grand Champion Chancellor's Flirt's Hi Flyin' Gladiator, who was best of breed at Westminster in 2013 and 2012.

Ms. Russell, 38, of Harrison City, Westmoreland County, is a flight nurse with the STAT/ Medevac program at UPMC. She has always loved dogs, but Josey is her first show dog, and that came about by accident. She and her husband, Steve, have a much-loved Rottweiler named Laraque who was severely traumatized after surviving two horrific events -- a tornado and an attack by another dog.

"Laraque and I worked with a behaviorist who suggested we get a strong, confident bitch" as a second pet, Ms. Russell said. She traveled to Florida to get just the right puppy, and it worked.

"Laraque is much better. Josey has given him confidence," Ms. Russell said. "The breeder asked me if I could show Josey because she is so pretty. I said I'd try."

"Showing isn't cheap," Ms. Russell said, and she works full time as a registered nurse, so Josey generally goes to just one dog show each month. Top show dogs often compete every weekend, and many live and travel with their professional handlers.

Josey is a full-time pet. She lives at home with her family, and Ms. Russell always takes her to shows. Mr. Russell will miss Westminster, working and staying home with Laraque.

"Josey is a little bit of a princess. When she goes into the show ring, she struts and flirts," Ms. Russell said.

When Josey goes to hospitals and nursing homes, she wears a tiara, sunglasses and a hot pink tutu. Last year, she and Ms. Russell did 92 volunteer hours of therapy work at venues that include UPMC Presbyterian Hospital and the Children's Home & Lemieux Family Center in Pittsburgh.

"With children, she lays down so she is not taller than them," Ms. Russell said. "She gets on her back and asks for belly rubs."

Ms. Russell trained Josey for the therapy dog certification and obedience titles that include BN and RN -- beginner novice and rally novice. They train with the Westmoreland County Obedience & Training Center, whose members include many therapy dogs.

The trip to Manhattan "will be a girls road trip," she said. Her mother, Diana Shearer of Fresh Valley, Indiana County, will be traveling with them. They will meet up with Josey's breeder, Jackie Payne of Jacksonville, Fla.

You can follow the show on Monday and Tuesday at www.westminsterkennelclub.org and see part of it on television. The website has video of many classes and almost real-time results. Judging of the hound, toy, non-sporting and herding groups will be 8-11 p.m. Monday on CNBC. At 8 p.m. Tuesday, judging of the sporting, working and terrier groups will begin on USA Network. Best In Show will be awarded about 11 p.m.

Blood bank donations

The legacy of slain Pittsburgh K9 officer Rocco lives on as owners volunteer their dogs as blood donors.

More than 250 people called Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township last week. Last Saturday, 10 dogs came in to be screened as donors. Today, veterinarians will screen 26 new dogs. So far, 10 dogs have donated to the Rogan Rexford Animal Blood Bank.

There is always a need to have blood on hand, especially for grievously wounded dogs such as Rocco, who was stabbed in the back and had two surgeries and multiple blood transfusions. Blood is also needed for surgeries, cancer treatment, poisonings and many other conditions.

Canine donors are screened to ensure they are healthy and free of blood-borne diseases. Donors must be 1-7 years old and weigh more than 50 pounds.

For information on the free screenings, go to www.pvs-ec.com or the Rogan Rexford Animal Blood Bank page on Facebook or call 412-348-2588.

Snip, snip, hooray!

I didn't write that headline -- that's what Animal Friends put on their news release for spay and neuter specials for the entire month of February. The biggest bargains are $5 to neuter a male cat, $5 for a rabies vaccine, and $30 to spay a female pit bull or neuter a male pit bull.

Other "specials" include $35 to spay female cats and vaccinate for rabies. A $35 feral cat package includes spay or neuter, shots for rabies, and FVRCP (cat distemper), flea treatment and ear tip. Spaying for non-pitbull female dogs starts at $85, and neutering for non-pitbull male dogs starts at $70. To schedule an appointment call 412-847-7004.

The specials celebrate the 20th anniversary of World Spay Day, which is traditionally the last Tuesday in February.

B*tches Ball

World Spay Day will be celebrated Feb. 25, the actual day, by the Animal Rescue League Shelter & Wildlife Center. It's 6-10 p.m. at the Cruze Bar, 1600 Smallman St., Strip District. Tickets are $30 in advance and $40 at the door, which includes one free "Spay Breeze" drink, courtesy of White Diamond Vodka. Also, drink specials, hors d'oeuvres, raffles and give-aways.

No pets are invited to this unique event that includes "drag" performances and the crowning of Miss B*tchburgh.

Go to www.animalrescue.org/b-ball-tickets for advance orders or call 412-345-7300.

Valentine's party

Cupids & Canines is next Saturday at Cefalo's Nightclub, 428 Washington Ave. (Route 50), Carnegie (15106). It's a fundraiser for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

Tickets are $35 in advance or $45 at the door, and include $10,000 in gaming tickets for "casino tables" and more than $10,000 in door prizes. Desserts and coffee are included. There's a cash bar and live music by Five Guys Named Moe.

To order tickets, go to www.wpahumane.org or call 412-321-4625 extension 244.

Astounding fundraising

Bob and Janine Fragasso unleashed a whirlwind when they offered to match donations to the Animal Friends' Low Cost Spay/Neuter Program. They offered to give as much as $50,000 -- giving 50 cents for every dollar donated last November and December.

Their challenge raised $273,448. That will cover the cost of 3,900 low cost spays and neuters.

Mr. Fragasso, a longtime member of the Animal Friends board, also spearheaded a "Decembeard" project. He and his employees at Fragasso Financial Advisors and their strategic partner on the West Coast, LPL Financial, grew beards and collected donations. More than $35,000 was donated by LPL Financial.

Surgeries at the Ohio Township shelter in 2013 prevented 10,148 dogs, cats and rabbits from breeding and reproducing. That's the highest number of spay and neuter surgeries in the history of Animal Friends, founded in 1943. More than 100,000 animals have been altered since 1993.

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