Pet Tales: Rare breeds win hearts at dog show

Salina didn’t win any ribbons at the dog show last weekend, but she won a lot of hearts with her big brown eyes and wagging tail.

Canaan dogs Salina and Avi, Irish red and white setters Kairi and Tristan and dogue de Bordeaux Opie participated in “Meet the Breeds” last weekend at the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association Inc. show at the Monroeville Convention Center.

There were 854 dogs and 868 entries from 142 breeds in the Sunday show and 844 dogs and 859 entries from 139 breeds in the Saturday show. 

Usually we can look but can’t touch the show dogs, especially the “coated” breeds that need three to five hours of grooming. But at Meet the Breeds, we are encouraged to pet the dogs and talk to their owners.

The owners were wonderful ambassadors for their breeds. They were warm and welcoming to people who said they came to the show looking for information about a breed that will fit their family’s lifestyle.

A little girl warily eyed Opie, a 126-pound 11-month-old dogue de Bordeaux puppy who is much bigger than she is. 

“His favorite thing is when little girls pet him,” said owner Dennis Fitzgerald of Marshall.

Opie (Antheia’s Optimus Prime) rolled over onto his back, and the little girl giggled as she rubbed his belly.

Canaan dogs are the national dogs of Israel, explained David Golden of Falls Church, Va. He and his wife, Cynthia Dodson, own Salina, 11, and Avi, 2.

Avi (Grand Champion Pleasant Hill Avram of Carters Creek) is the No. 1 Canaan dog in the nation at AKC shows. Salina isn’t a show dog but came along as “an emotional support dog” for Avi, Mr. Golden joked.

Most people have never seen a Canaan dog in person. But years ago, you might have seen photos of John F. Kennedy Jr. walking his Canaan dog in Manhattan. That dog was Avi’s uncle, Mr. Golden said.

The dogs, which weigh 35-55 pounds, date back thousands of years. They were bred to herd sheep, and Avi has one-third of the competition points he needs to earn a herding title.

Canaan dogs are loving, loyal and very intelligent but “quite independent,” Mr. Golden said. “They learn extremely quickly but do not enjoy repetition.”

Shortly after Meet the Breeds, Avi won first place in the herding group, his third group win. That made him one of the seven contestants in the Best in Show competition, which was won by a Saluki named Snapple.

The first question asked by people who stopped to pet the beautiful Kairi and Tristan was: “What are they?”

They are Irish red and white setters. The breed is the forerunner of the better-known solid red Irish setters, explained Amanda Mowery, 23, of Tiffin Ohio. She came to the show with her mother, Rachelle Ehrman. She said her three children first became involved with show dogs and other animals with the 4-H program.

“We brought five dogs today and all are in the ribbons,” Mrs. Ehrman said.

Tristan was Best of Breed on Sunday.

Red and white setters are very versatile, Ms. Mowery said. “They can go from the (hunting) field to the show ring.”

They are high-energy pets that require a lot of exercise. Kairi and Tristan enjoyed the attention of strangers, including children.

“When you have a rare breed, it’s important to educate people,” Ms. Mowery said.

Visitors loved the Canaan dogs and the Irish red and white setters, but if they want one of their own, they’ll have a hard time getting one. Canaan dogs were No. 181 on the AKC registration list of 189 breeds for 2016. The setters were No. 142.

Best in Show

If you were wondering what a Saluki looks like, professional photographer Mark S. Kocab has it made it easy. He emailed to the Post-Gazette photos of Snapple (Grand Champion Starlite’s Made Of The Best Stuff on Earth), the dog he owns with his wife, Tina. Snapple won Sunday’s Best in Show title last weekend.

Salukis, the royal dog of Egypt, date back to 329 B.C., according to the AKC’s website. They are sight hounds, bred to hunt using their eyes rather than than noses. 

Snapple, a 5-year-old, has won Best in Show 28 times and lives in Kirtland, Ohio. On Sunday, Snapple beat a Canaan dog, s Shar-Pei, s smooth fox terrier, a great Pyrenees, a golden retriever and an affenpinscher. Best in Show last Saturday was a Pekingese, Grand Champion Pequest Pickwick.  

Local winners

A Bethel Park bloodhound named Higgs, handled by his owner, Kim Briglia, made his first appearance in Best in Show competition in the owner-handled category on Sunday. 

The 2-year-old, whose official name is Grand Champion The Magpie’s Critical Mass, appeared to be having fun in the show ring, baying loudly when the judge gave him top prize in the hound group.

Best In Show in the owner-handled competition went to a Rottweiler and reserve (second place) was a Yorkshire terrier.  

The owner-handled competition — which had 373 entries Sunday — gives dog owners the chance to compete without going up against professional handlers. Higgs and Ms. Briglia also competed in the the regular competition against professional handlers and was chosen Best of Breed on Sunday.In 2016, he was the No. 5 bloodhound nationally at AKC shows.  

The smallest and youngest handler in the terrier group competition Sunday was Talli Backos, 9, of Greensburg with her 2-year-old Parson Russell terrier, Henley (Champion Windy Ridge New Kid in Town). Though they didn’t “place” in the group Sunday, Talli has finished in the top four spots in group competition three times, said her mother, Dawn Backos.  

It was still a good day for the young girl, who won with another Parson Russell terrier, Bobbie Sue, 3, earning a grand champion title. Bobbie Sue is co-owned by Mrs. Backos, Talli and her sister, Alexandra Backos.

Dog shows are a family hobby for the Backos family. Alexandra started showing dogs at an early age and is now paid by other people to show their dogs.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.