February 10, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Path to Westminster goes through Maine, wags say

Enough about the snow already.

Today's poll: Dog show

Do you watch the Westminster dog show?



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Lush, a golden retriever, jumps for a training toy swung by owner Jill Simmons in their Falmouth driveway. Lush will be among the Maine dogs competing in the Westminster dog show in New York City this week.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Let's talk dogs.

Just about a year ago, the missus and I and our trusty golden retriever, Fairbanks, were snuggled around the woodstove watching live coverage of the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show -- also known as the most dazzling and occasionally bizarre assemblage of canines ever to trot across the television screen.

"You should write about this sometime," said my wife as the climactic "Best in Show" competition neared its nail-biting conclusion. "I'll bet there are dogs from Maine down there."

She bet right.

As you shovel out from Maine's worst winter storm evah, take a minute to meet Henry, Tassel, Lush, Porter, Quincy and Fly.

Roads and runways permitting, they'll all be in New York City by Monday morning to see how they measure up against 3,021 other pooches -- sorry, I meant purebred masterpieces -- in what is by all accounts the Super Bowl of dog shows.

Henry (from Jay), Tassel (Lebanon) and Lush (Falmouth) are all golden retrievers. Porter (Cape Elizabeth) is a Cardigan Welsh corgi, Quincy (Washington) is a Newfoundland and Fly (Rockland) is an Australian shepherd.

Welcome to their world.

"Put it in perspective," advised Maryterese Russo, who owns Tassel and is the only owner among the six Mainers who will handle her own dog at Westminster. (The others hire professional handlers for this harder-than-it-looks task.)

"It's a dog," continued Russo. "It's a dog show. And it's supposed to be fun."

Easy for her to say.

For starters, Westminster is complicated. Very complicated.

It's called a "conformation" show, meaning the dogs aren't judged against one another, but rather against the standard for perfection in their particular breed.

It works like this: The dogs, all multiple-time winners on the show circuit before they can even apply for Westminster, first will be judged in the breed competitions at cavernous Piers 92 and 94 on Manhattan's West Side.

The winner of each breed will then go on to the "group" competition, in which types of dogs (hounds, herders, working ...) square off for a spot in the "Best in Show" extravaganza Tuesday evening at Madison Square Garden.

In other words, let's not get our hopes up here.

"Even if he were 3 years old, 'best in show' would be so far beyond my expectations," said Adrienne Harkavy, owner of 17-month-old corgi Porter. "It's not even an aspiration."

Or, as Harkavy's husband, Jerry, put it with a chuckle last week, "I just hope he doesn't pee on the carpet or bite the judge."

Still, Maine's entries aren't exactly lightweights.

Take Quincy the Newfie, for example.

"He was ranked 12th in the country in 2012," said Todd Bennett, who, along with his wife, Sue Mendleson, owns the massive, black beauty. "And he's beaten all of them at one time or another except No. 1 and No. 2."

Meaning Quincy, who likes to get muddy around his central Maine paradise when he's not trying to impress the judges, actually has a shot.

Then there's Fly, the Aussie shepherd.

On the one hand, according to owner Clara Gardner, Fly's favorite pastime is to hop up on the couch in her Rockland home and get her belly rubbed.

On the other, Fly and her professional handler get around.

"She went out on the circuit," said Gardner. "She started in Massachusetts and went to New York ... Indiana ... Salt Lake City, Utah ... Scottsdale, Arizona ... Southern California, mid-California, northern California ... Oregon ... back to Missouri ... back to Michigan ... and then she came home."

And, we can only presume, slept for a month.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Gabe Souza

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Quincy, a Newfoundland, receives a hug from owner Todd Bennett while playing at their Washington home. Quincy was ranked 12th in the country for his breed in 2012 and will be competing in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

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Patty Richards plays with Henry, her 5-year-old golden retriever, at her Jay home.

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Maryterese Russo trains her golden retriever, Tassel, in the front yard of her Lebanon home. Russo will handle Tassel herself at the Westminster dog show this week.

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Vern Clark and his wife, Clara Gardner, hold a poster for their Australian shepherd Fly at their kennel in Rockland.

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Today's poll: Dog show

Do you watch the Westminster dog show?



View Results