Western Pa. dog show fosters memories for owners
Coleen McGee hopes no one notices her.
“A good handler is never seen,” says McGee of Elizabeth, who will be handling 10 dogs at the Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association show April 2 and 3 at the Monroeville Convention Center. More than 860 dogs will compete.
“I know that sounds crazy, but I have handled 13 dogs before,” McGee says. “Each dog is different, but that’s part of the challenge.”
McGee co-owns some of the dogs.
“I love this show because it’s local,” she says. “Because it’s close to home, more people you know get to see you and the dogs. It’s also convenient for the dogs, because you don’t have to keep them overnight in a hotel.”
The Western Pennsylvania Kennel Association held its first dog show Oct. 21 to 22, 1938, at the Hunt Armory in Shadyside. A member of the American Kennel Club, the group was chartered May 5, 1933, and incorporated as a nonprofit organization on July 12, 1938.
“We are considered one of the premier shows,” says show chairman Tom Oelschlager of Nottingham Township, Washington County. “I enjoy being a part of this show. I have always felt that you have to give back to the sport you love.”
This is a really good event, agrees Barbara Alderman of Moon, an all-breed judge who has worked shows all over the world. It’s a great opportunity for locals to compete, she says, or just come and watch and see how it’s done.
Like McGee, Pat Zapf of Sewickley will be taking multiple dogs — four Australian shepherds — to the show. She says she likes this show because she doesn’t have to drive far and she goes with friends.
“It’s like a big family because I know a lot of the people who will be there,” Zapf says. “I have friends in other states who don’t have a local dog show they can go to, so we are lucky here in Pittsburgh that we have one. I love what I do. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t love it.”
The love between owner, breeder or handler and the dog is a big part of doing shows like this, says Anya Dobratz of Swissvale, who will be taking her 3-year-old German shepherd, Cowboy. They do everything together.
“It’s about spending time with my dog,” Dobratz says. “They only live for a short period of time, so you can make memories with them at the dog shows. This one is nice because my friends who aren’t dog people can come and see what a show is all about. Of course, everyone wants to win, but it’s also about the overall experience for you and your dog.”
These shows are the perfect opportunity for people who might want to buy a dog to get to know many of the breeds and to see what really goes on behind the scenes of a dog show, Dobratz says. “They can see how much we love our dogs and that we don’t profit from this,” she says. “It’s a labor of love.”
It certainly is, agrees Debbie Lawrence of Natrona Heights. She and her husband, Skip, who is the dog’s handler, own a female Irish setter, Paige, who is nearly 3. This will be the canine’s first show since she was a baby, Debbie Lawrence says.
“It’s a lot of work and dedication,” she says. “Hey, she has better hair-care products than I do. We will see how she does. This show is great because it’s a chance for her to get her feet wet at a local show.”
Skip Lawrence says he is enjoying this part of his retirement. He just goes with the flow and hopes Paige does well. It’s about the experience, he says.
Anne Trosky of Murrysville agrees. Trosky co-owns Indi, a 4-year-old Shetland sheepdog, with her husband, Bill, and Barb Westerman of Columbus, Ohio.
“This is a great show because it’s local, but also because it features dogs from out-of-state, too,” Anne Trosky says. “There is a high level of quality entries. It’s a very well-managed show and a large show. There will be lots of breeds there.”
Competing for the prize of top canine requires continued commitment to training and keeping the animal in good physical condition and well-groomed, Trosky says.
“These shows are a chance to showcase your dog and, in our case, go for a grand championship,” she says. “It’s a way to continue this journey we have entered. Our co-ownership with Barb works well, because showing dogs takes a lot of combined effort. We work well together. It’s been an amazing partnership.”
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at email@example.com or 412-320-7889.