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Get ready for the ‘Super Bowl’ of dog shows |
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Get ready for the ‘Super Bowl’ of dog shows

Rex Rutkoski
| Friday, February 10, 2017 11:27 a.m
Greensburg's Carl Myers with his Westminster-bound Dalmatian Logan.
Knoch High School student Chanel Lefever, 18, of Clinton Township, is going to her fourth Westminster, this year with her beagle, Mako.
Knoch High School student Chanel Lefever, 18, of Clinton Township, is going to her fourth Westminster, this year with her beagle, Mako.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Hollee Russell, of Penn Township, poses for a portrait with her Rottweiler Eastwood, at Bushy Run Battlefield in Penn Township, Pa. on Monday Feb. 06, 2017. Eastwood is a grand champion, and will be headed to the Westminster Dog Show in New York City this month.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Hollee Russell, of Penn Township, works to get her Rottweiler Eastwood into the correct confirmation pose, at Bushy Run Battlefield in Penn Township, Pa. on Monday Feb. 06, 2017. Eastwood is a grand champion, and will be headed to the Westminster Dog Show in New York City this month.
Helo is a Belgian Tervuren, owned by James Miller-Marques of Adams Township, Butler County.
Logan, a dalmatian, owned by Carl Myers of Greensburg.
​Jack Sirkoch of Penn Township, Butler County, who, with his wife Jane, are hobbyist breeders of papillons. They will be represented at Westminster by Elvis and Leo (above) starting Feb. 13.
​Jack Sirkoch of Penn Township, Butler County, who, with his wife Jane, are hobbyist breeders of Papillons. They will be represented at Westminster by Elvis (above) and Leo starting Feb. 13.
Monica Galley of Hempfield with Allie, her dachshund.
Monica Galley of Hempfield with Allie, her dachshund.
Sally O'Neill of Lower Burrell and her Irish setter, Kennedy.
Kennedy, an Irish setter owned by Sally O'Neill of Lower Burrell.
Jazzie is an akita owned by Patti Pulkowski of West Mifflin.
Jeffrey Hanlin
Handler Jillayne Karras of Irwin with Minx, an Australian shepherd she will present at Westminster for owner Pat Zapf of Franklin Park.

As far as local dog owners are concerned, this year’s Super Bowl hasn’t been “played” yet.

That happens for many Feb. 13 and 14 at the 141st annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City, with events at Madison Square Garden and Piers 92 / 94.

“Westminster is the Super Bowl of dog shows,” says dog owner Patti Pulkowski of West Mifflin, who is competing in her first one Feb. 14 with her beloved Jazzie, an akita who turns 3 in April.

“It is an honor. To have a dog that is eligible is awesome,” Pulkowski says. “I plan to have fun and just enjoy the experience. Anything that happens beyond that is a bonus.”

The legal assistant at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Pittsburgh has been involved in shows for the last two years and has two grand champions.

“Westminster is one of the oldest shows and carries the most prestige,” says Monica Galley of Hempfield, whose Allie is a 10-year-old dachshund. She will be in the ring Feb. 13 and 14. Allie, who is the first dachshund in the country to be nationally certified search and rescue K9 and to receive the American Kennel Club search and rescue wilderness title, was named in honor of Galley’s grandfather, who suffered from Alzheimer’s.

“We are a team and have worked very hard for all of her titles,” says Galley, who notes that Allie does the same work the bigs dogs do.

Galley, who has worked with purebreds for 37 years, laments that purebred dogs have in recent years come under fire for being “unhealthy and unnecessary.”

“I want to remove the stigma that many have attached to my sport and the dogs,” she says. “I want Allie and my two other up-and-coming dogs, Ada and Amauri, to be ambassadors of the benefits of purebred dogs and what is possible for these dogs to accomplish. And, if by any chance we do win or get any placement that will be icing on the cake.”

Galley, who participated in the 2005 Westminster, says that many show dogs have lost the ability to perform the jobs they were bred to do. “I want to bring that back. All of my dogs love working the field and their (search and rescue) jobs,” Galley says.

Regal beagle

Knoch High School senior, Chanel Lefever, 18, of Clinton, is going to her fourth Westminster

“Dogs, handlers and owners spend the entire previous year preparing for the opportunity to compete at Westminster,” she says. “It brings crowds from all over. Being able to be with the best of the best in one location is incredible. It makes me very proud as a breeder, owner and handler to be able to be part of it.”

Her beagle Mako, who is not yet 3, will be among more than 3,000 dogs competing in the events of Westminster Week, which includes the iconic all-breed dog show, the 4th annual Masters Agility Championship at Westminster and the 2nd annual Masters Obedience Championship.

Lefever and her mother and sister breed beagles and vizslas under the name Glade Mill Sporting & Hound.

Together they have bred many champions and grand champions in both breeds, including Mako who, last year, was awarded the placement “Select Bitch” at Westminster, meaning she was “the second nicest” female beagle entered in the show, according to the judges.

Mako and Chanel will be competing at Westminster in the best of breed competition and junior showmanship.

“Beagles are fantastic little dogs,” she says. “They are sweet, loving and incredibly funny. There is so much personality and energy packed into their little bodies. I think Mako perfectly embodies the description of the beagle being a ‘merry little hound’ and, at 2½ is still a little puppy.”

Lefever says her dogs are always first and foremost her companions and best friends. “If I didn’t enjoy my time with them, I wouldn’t be in this sport,” she says.

She acknowledges that she may have missed out on the “typical” teenage experience. “However, what I’ve gained from this unique and fantastic lifestyle is more than compensation for that,” she explains. “I travel the country and spend time with my dogs. My time in dog shows has taught me a sense of independence, and almost forced me to grow up faster than most. In the end, I feel like I’m almost ahead of people my age in terms of being prepared for the real world.”

Irish setter diva

Sally O’Neill of Lower Burrell, who has shown Irish setters for 11 years and participated several times at Westminster, believes this can be a great sport for young people. “It teaches so much responsibility and time management and it takes a lot of commitment,” she says.

Westminster is the dog show that everybody knows, she says. “But, when it comes down to it, this is what we do every weekend. The handlers dress fancier, but the dogs are required to perform the same as always.”

She is taking Kennedy, her 5-year-old Irish setter — “She is a diva who is happiest sitting on her mom’s lap on the couch.”

Cuddly rottweiler

This will be Hollee Russell’s second time taking part in Westminster.

“I never imagined I would have a dog in Westminster, so to have a second-generation dog (the rottweiler Eastwood) attending is really quite an unbelievable opportunity for me,” says the Harrison City resident.

She and her mom are attending.

“We are planning to make the most of it. For us, it is a fun and exciting opportunity to see the city and some wonderful dogs. However, we want to come home with a win,” says the flight nurse for STAT MedEvac says.

“Rottweilers are incredible dogs. People are sometimes quick to judge them due to their size and appearance, but they are loving dogs,” Russell says. “Eastwood cuddles and is a kisser.”

What she is most proud of, she says, is that Eastwood is a registered therapy dog with the Alliance of Therapy dogs. In her first year as a therapy dog, Eastwood completed 50 visits, including nursing homes, hospitals, schools, universities, libraries and even the Pittsburgh International Airport.

“Like her momma Josey, she tends to ‘dress up’ by wearing tutus and hair bows. She shares so much joy by bringing smiles to so many people. She truly is an ambassador for the Rottweiler breed.”

Russell says when Eastwood walks into the ring, her demeanor changes, “and she really struts her stuff.”

Australian shepherd family

The connection you feel with a dog is like none other, and being able to work together is an amazing experience, says Pat Zapf of Franklin Park, competing in conformation with four Australian shepherds this year —Trump (named for the card in bridge), Cree, Minx and Brazen.

Each dog has their own quirks, he says. “Some dogs truly have a personality you can read on their face. Some of these dogs will be so close in quality that it can be the narrowest thing that separates the winner and the rest of the pack.”

This is Zapf’s third year at Westminster. Trump and Minx will be handled by Jillayne Karras of Irwin.

“There is so much notoriety with this show that is unlike any other. You see some of the top dogs in the country and you compete against them,” he says. “A part of that is like having your 15 minutes of fame among the celebrities you have watched all year. But the reality is they are the same as the pampered pooch in my house, just happy, loving and loyal companions. But seeing them and competing with them is an honor nonetheless.”

Zapf says he finds satisfaction in his ability to “do sports” with his dogs. “They are members of my family, so to me this is like taking a child to soccer practice, only we do it together,” he says. “I hope they show well at Westminster and have a good time. That is all I can ask for of my dogs. But winning is nice.”

Breeding dalmatians

The real satisfaction for Carl Myers and his wife Kim of Greensburg is seeing the happy homes in which their dalmatian puppies are placed and watching them live long lives with a minimal of issues. The breeders-owners-handlers say that though they show their animals, “they are our family.”

“Overall improvement of the breed with each generation is the real draw. Showing your dog to a championship is an extension of proof by panels of judges, who are experienced breeders in their own right, that your breeding decisions are sound,” Carl Myers says.

Their dog Logan will be competing on Feb. 13. Westminster, he says, is one of the last sports or events on an elite level in which an amateur can compete on the same field as their pro counterpart.

Well-traveled papillons

Although Jack and Jane Sirkoch of Penn Township, Butler County, have had dogs that could have shown previously at Westminster, he says this year the stars aligned. “We have two exceptional AKC Grand Champions and felt this would be an opportunity of a lifetime.”

The couple are hobbyist breeders of papillons and will be represented by Elvis and Leo at Westminster.

“Many of our fur kids love the travel and the excitement of the show,” Jack Sirkoch says. “They have an intuitive sense of the exhibit and do strive to ‘show off’ when they are in the ring, some more than others as each has their own personality.”

Bronze-winning Belgian

Most participants enter Westminster only if they have a good dog that is well trained and is showing at its peak, explains Margie Marques of Adams Township, Butler County, breeder, co-owner and groomer. Her son, James Miller-Marques, is primary owner and handler of Helo, 5, a bronze grand champion who finished in the Top 10 for Belgian Tervuren show dogs in 2016. He will compete in best of breed at Westminster.

“Helo loves dog shows and he thinks he always does well,” Marques says.

“Part of the fun of the sport is going for the next challenge for Helo and me,” says Miller-Marques, who is a nuclear engineer. “Westminster is a challenge I thought it would be fun to go after.”

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

Cat invasion

For fans of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, the headlines might have been alarming.

“Cats crash Westminster dog show,” readers of the Denver Post learned.

“We are so far gone, so consumed by political correctness, that unwanted and potentially dangerous outsiders are poised to put one of our most cherished institutions at risk,” a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote. He called for a ban on feline entry, “until we can figure this thing out.”

But while this was not exactly fake news, it was also not exactly true. Cats are not about to tread on show dogs’ sovereign terrain or usurp their hold on prime-time television pageantry.

What is true: Cats will, for the first time in several years, be on display at a joint Westminster-American Kennel Club “meet the breeds” event on Feb. 11, where members of the public can learn about many dozens of dog breeds.

This year, out of the kindness of their canine-loving hearts, the American Kennel Club decided to bring back cats. Forty breeds of cats will also have booths. But the cats on display are “not just everyday regular felines,” an AKC spokeswoman said. They are designer breeds such as Maine coons and toygers, Nebelungs and Bengals.

— The Washington Post

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