February 12, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Bad toe sidelines Maine dog at championships

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com

NEW YORK – So there I stood early Monday morning, ankle-deep in cardigan Welsh corgis, asking anyone within earshot an increasingly puzzling question:

click image to enlarge

Porter, a cardigan Welsh corgi, is cared for by Diana Chou, assistant to Porter's handler, in the benching area at the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Pier 94 in New York City on Monday.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Fly, an Australian shepherd owned by Clara Gardner of Rockland, gets primped by handler Laura Liebenow Monday before being eliminated from the Best in Breed competition.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

Have you seen Porter?

"Who?" replied the small knot of Westminster Dog Show handlers, all about to enter Ring 5 in their business attire and sensible shoes and pockets filled with enough bait to coat a large pizza.

"Porter!" I persisted. "He's a cardigan Welsh corgi from Maine and he's supposed to be here for his first ever Westminster appearance – except he isn't."

Shrugs everywhere.

Porter, the 17-month-old rookie who only last week was posing for his pre-Westminster photo in the living room of his owner, Adrienne Harkavy of Cape Elizabeth, was a no-show.

"It's his toe," Harkavy later told me by telephone from her home, where she'd planned to watch her pride and joy compete in the world's largest canine show. "We're very disappointed."

You and me both.

"I think what happened was, he got bit by a spider at the hotel," explained Porter's professional handler, Juli Lacey-Black of the eastern Maine town of Mariaville.

Either that, she continued, or Porter cut his foot on a chunk of salt in the parking lot outside the Red Roof Inn in New Jersey where he encamped with Lacey-Black Sunday night.

"His whole leg swelled up, and luckily I was able to bring him to a friend who's a vet -- and he looked at him and gave him a shot," she said.

Which helped -- but not enough.

"He's much better, but he's still a little bit off," said Lacey-Black. "And we won't show him when he's off."

Tough break, Porter.

But the show must go on.

Take it from a first-time visitor to Westminster (or any other dog show, for that matter): This is a universe unto its own.

It's a world of blow driers and spray bottles, secret shampoo formulas and teeth cleaners, clippers and shavers, brushes that go this way and combs that go that, powdered chalk that can make a dog's coat whiter and colored rubber bands that can make a miniature poodle's ears look . . . just plain wrong.

And hair. Lots of hair.

Under rainy skies Monday morning, the first of more than 2,700 dogs representing 187 breeds from all 50 states and beyond converged on Pier 92 and Pier 94 overlooking the Hudson River.

They came by bus, taxi and the occasional limo to compete first by breed, then by group and finally for the coveted "Best in Show," live Tuesday evening on the USA Network.

Fly, an Australian shepherd owned by Clara Gardner of Rockland, was among the first through the door at 7 a.m.

"Right now, I'm cleaning out all the hair underneath her feet," explained handler Laura Liebenow of Greenfield, Mass., as she clipped away at Fly's already perfect paws. "After I get her all trimmed, I'll be blowing water in."

Come again?

"Like this," Liebenow said, flipping on a blow-drier with one hand and furiously pumping a spray bottle point-blank at Fly with another. "So literally, you're blowing water right in. See?"

It helps fluff Fly up.

Alas, it made no difference.

Fly, for the record, had it tough: Along with facing 42 other Aussie shepherds competing for best of breed (the winner would head crosstown to Monday evening's herding group finals in the limelight of Madison Square Garden), she drew the nationally famous judge James "Jimmy" Moses of Wentzville, Mo.

The same Jimmy Moses who was profiled in Sunday's New York Times under the headline "Judge for Westminster Dog Show Dismisses Doubts About Fairness."

Long story short, Fly didn't make the cut.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Janet Hartmann of California receives a kiss from Gunner, her bichon frise, while in the benching area on Monday at the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Porter, a Welsh Cardigan Corgi from Cape Elizabeth, owned by Jerry and Adrienne Harkavy, missed the Best of Breed competition Monday after being scratched because of a toe injury.

Gabe Souza / Staff Photographer


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