February 10, 2013

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

(Continued from page 1)

Today's poll: Dog show

Do you watch the Westminster dog show?

Yes

No

View Results

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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

Which brings us to, shall we say, the underbelly of the dog show universe: At some point during this week's competition, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals will inevitably crash the event with its claim that dog shows and all they stand for are inherently wrong.

PETA also argues that purebred dogs actually cost shelter dogs their lives -- the idea being that if Westminster-type dogs didn't exist, the shelter dogs would have an easier time finding homes.

Try telling that to Jill Simmons, owner of Lush (aka "Lushie Plushie"), who regularly offers free scholarships to shelter and rescue dogs at her PoeticGold Farm canine training center in Falmouth.

Simmons, whose first word as a young child was "dog," is well aware of the controversy swirling around purebred dogs -- especially the "puppy mills and high-volume breeders" who pay no attention to the perils of inbreeding and thus give all purebreds a bad name.

But she insists that she and her fellow show-dog owners, far from being the problem, are actually a big part of the solution.

"The one constant in my life has been my deep love for this one breed," said Simmons, who sees responsible owners and breeders of golden retrievers as "trustees of the breed" rather than exploiters of it.

Newfie owner Bennett looks at it this way: If all dogs were allowed to run free and reproduce whenever and with whomever they wanted, there would be no more breeds.

"These guys wouldn't have enough food because they're too big," Bennett said, patting a well-fed Quincy's massive shoulder. "And the little guys would be food."

Leaving?

"Dingoes," replied Bennett. "You end up with a medium-size, dingo-like dog."

But enough about the controversy. Back to the wacky world of Westminster.

"Have you gotten used to people using the word 'bitch' yet?" asked Simmons.

Bless her for asking.

When you know next to nothing about dog shows, you simply don't expect to hear grown men and women toss the "b" word around without so much as a blush.

So yes, as Simmons assessed Lushie Plushie's home-state competition, it was still a little weird to hear her declare, "That Tassel is one beautiful bitch!"

(Having met Tassel, let me, ahem, second that opinion.)

But all the talk about bitches isn't the half of it.

With each visit, photographer Gabe Souza and I couldn't help but ask the dog owners if they'd seen "Best in Show" -- the hilarious 2000 film that takes Westminster and runs with it.

("Now tell me," queries TV announcer "Buck Laughlin" at one point, "which one of these dogs would you want to have as your wide receiver on your football team?")

They'd all seen it.

And?

"I loved it," said Patty Richards, owner of golden retriever Henry. And yes, she added, "there are a few people out there who take it to that limit."

"I think it was spot-on," agreed Bennett. "What they did was take all the people you might meet over the course of a dog's career and put them all in one show."

Added Adrienne Harkavy, who will watch Porter compete with the other corgis from her home office via live streaming on her computer, "There's a lot of truth in parody."

But truth, just like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder.

And as we traveled around these past two weeks patting all these four-legged wonders and chatting with their loving owners, Souza and I couldn't help but agree that we'd only just begun to cover this story.

So, fellow Mainers, good luck cleaning up after the blizzard.

We're going to Westminster. 

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

 

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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?

Yes

No

View Results