Pet Tales: Kennel Club show gives dogs a chance to shine

It was a very big day out for a puppy. Ghita was in the company of nearly 1,000 dogs and hundreds of people, including strangers who watched her every move and ran their hands all over her wire-haired, orange-and-white coat. Ghita wagged her tail and made eye contact with everyone who talked to her. She seemed to be enjoying herself at the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association dog show in Monroeville, where she was entered with her American Kennel Club name, Sweetbriar's Junebug.

I met her last Sunday as she waited in line to have an official picture taken after winning Best of Breed over eight other Spinoni Italiani (yes, that's the Italian plural!). On this day, the best dog was Ghita, which is what Camille Mackey calls her at their home in Ben Avon. The win was astounding because it was Ghita's first show, and she's only 10 months old.

This is why I love going to dog shows. The Fuocos are a one-dog family, but on show days I can meet and enjoy so many dogs -- and the (usually) nice people who own them and are happy to share them with others.

No one was happier for Ghita's win than her breeders, Dan and Dana Graff of Sewickley. Breeders count it as a personal victory when one of their offspring wins -- even when the dog they sold beats the dogs they own.

Ghita, and most of the show dogs, are much-loved pets, and no one's getting rich by breeding and showing dogs. If they're doing it right, their bills, including the genetic screening tests for breeding dogs and bitches, will exceed any money they "make" selling puppies. The costs of "campaigning" a dog in shows around the country can be as much as $100,000 a year.

"It's a very expensive hobby," Mrs. Graff said. They've been breeding and showing the Italian hunting dogs for 10 years.

The Spinone Italiano is a pointer and "Italy's all-purpose hunting dog," according to the American Kennel Club website.

Mrs. Graff says they are "sweet, gentle and intelligent." Although bred to hunt birds in the mountains and marshes of the Piedmont, "they are generally quiet and independent when indoors. They thrive on exercise but are understanding when that's delayed at times."

Like all responsible breeders, she is quick to admit her breed is not for everyone. They are big (22-27 inches at the shoulder), they shed and may drool into their wiry beards, "so they aren't enjoyed by those who depend on a tidy dog," she said.

While Ghita and many other puppies started their show career last weekend, dogs such as Tucker are at the top of their game. Last year, Grand Champion Trinity's Tucked Under His Wing, 3, was the No. 1 cocker spaniel in the country, based on the number of dogs he defeated in competition.

Tucker caught my eye because he's a cocker, like our dog, Pablo. But Pablo's parti-color coat is clipped short. Tucker's coat -- what many would call blond and what the cocker people call "buff" -- was full and flowing to the ground as he swept around the show ring. Judges liked him, too, placing him first in the sporting group on Saturday and third on Sunday.

Tucker was just as adorable and friendly as Pablo. Breeder-owner-handler Stacy Dobmeier let me pet him. (Show etiquette tip: Don't undo hours of grooming by petting a long-haired dog before the judging). Tucker rolled onto his back for a belly rub.

On my way out of the show, a big puppy looked at me. The German shorthaired pointer wagged his tail, so I met and petted Classic Sierra's Flash Lightning. Owner-breeder-handler Candace Heller of Washington, Pa., said they had a good day. In his second show, the 10-month-old puppy won 1 point toward his "champion" title. He needs 14 more points.

For some people the thrill of showing never gets old. Ms. Heller said this is her 32nd year.

Easter bake sale

Animal Friends' volunteers have been baking up a storm to benefit homeless dogs, cats and rabbits. The sale is 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. next Saturday at the Ohio Township shelter, 562 Camp Horne Road, 15237.

Easter Bunny photos

People are invited to bring their own cameras and take a photograph of their children and pets with the Easter Bunny from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at the recently opened PawSpa Resort in Overbrook. A $5 donation will benefit FosterCat Inc., an all-volunteer group that works to get permanent homes for cats and kittens.

The recently opened doggie day care/boarding/grooming facility is at 1701 Saw Mill Run Blvd. (Route 51). Call 412-444-7020 for more information.

Pit bulls on TV

A famous dog trainer/television personality is sticking up for underdogs in "Cesar Millan: Love My Pit Bull." The Nat Geo "WILD" special is at 9 p.m. Friday. Mr. Millan owns many dogs, and one of them, a pit bull named Junior, will appear with him in this show.

Pit bulls and other "bully breeds" aren't really bullies at all, according to the press release. "It's not just pit bulls -- but also humans -- that need to be trained," Mr. Millan says. His show will include a history of bully breeds, going back to the 1800s when they were farms dogs that herded livestock and baby-sat children.

President Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller and Gen. George Patton owned bullies, and in the first four decades of the 1900s, pit bulls were one of the most popular family pets in the United States.

"Often abused or abandoned, today pit bulls are euthanized at a far higher rate than any other dog," according to Mr. Millan's release. "Overbreeding, improper training and neglect force about 1 million pit bulls to be put down each year -- more than 2,000 a day."

Some people love Mr. Millan and others hate him, which is quite similar to public opinion on pit bulls. Some trainers said Mr. Millan's methods are harsh and not positive enough. Others say he takes on -- and saves -- tough dogs that others would euthanize.

His one-hour defense of pit bulls and other bully breeds could be very important for these dogs, because when Cesar Millan speaks, many people listen. I just hope the viewing audience includes people who fear or hate pit bulls.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, or 412-263-3064.