Baltimore's not exactly going to the dogs, but it will seem that way when 325 of the top-winning purebred dogs in the United States high step into town this week. These champs, which may resemble fluffy marshmallows, small rats, hairy hounds and giant wolves to the uninitiated, will be competing for best in show honors Tuesday at the American Kennel Club's National Invitational Dog Championship at the Baltimore Arena.
Adding to the excitement will be TV cameras. This is the first dog show to be taped for network viewing and will air on CBS (WBAL-TV, Channel 11) at 2 p.m. April 26.
"We're thrilled about the [dog] show," says Wayne Cavanaugh, AKC's director of communications. "We'll be able to get to the general public about responsible dog ownership with public service announcements."
In its 108-year history, the AKC, the largest all-breed registry in the world, has sponsored only two other dog shows. Both were held in Philadelphia, one in 1926 to honor the sesquicentennial of the United States and the other in 1984 to honor the AKC's own 100-year anniversary.
Baltimore was chosen as the site by the International Management Group, which is producing the event, primarily because of the Baltimore Arena and the availability of hotels and transportation. "They had enjoyed great success working with the staff at the Arena in the past and didn't want to try something new," Mr. Cavanaugh says.
However, Maryland dog lovers -- or dog oglers -- won't have to wait for the TV show to see the gathering of all 133 AKC breeds. Some of the more unusual ones are the Chinese crested -- which looks something like a Chihuahua, hairless except for a fluff about its head and feet -- as well as the petit basset griffon Vendeen with the legs and look of a basset hound with wire hair. (True aficionados call him by his initials: a P.B.G.V.)
Eight Doberman pinschers make up the largest entry by breed at the show, followed by seven each of Pembroke Welsh corgis (the tailless corgis), Pomeranians, Afghan hounds and cocker spaniels. There are six Old English sheepdogs, bouvier des Flandres, Dalmatians and whippets.
In standard dog shows, best-of-breed competitions are held first and the winners go on to compete in one of seven group classifications: sporting, non-sporting, terrier, toy, herding, hound and working groups. Top winners are those who achieve the most points for wins in dog shows. The number of points they win is governed by the number of dogs they defeat. When a dog is campaigned all year, winning best of breeds, best in shows and national specialties, that dog is a multiple winner, a top dog.
What makes this show special, too, is the prize money. Almost $50,400 in prize money will be awarded winners. The dog that wins best in show will take more than $10,000. "This is the most we know about," says Mr. Cavanaugh of the cash prizes. Most shows award ribbons and trophies. Very few offer money, he says.
Some 400 invitations were sent to owners of the 1991 top-winning dogs, which included 13 dogs from Maryland, of which 11 accepted. The state canines range from pugs to mastiffs.
Judges for the show -- 21 in all -- are coming from all over the country. Two are Marylanders, Melbourne T. L. Downing of Timonium, who chose best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club show, one of the most prestigious in the dog world, in New York this year, and Anne Clark of Centreville, also a Westminster best in show judge.
Highlights for spectators at the show will include a visit by Lassie, the collie of Hollywood fame. The dog will make an official appearance from 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the show.
Spectators can also find out which breed best suits their lifestyle by feeding information about themselves into the Pedigree Selectadog computer. (The show is being presented by Pedigree Dog Food.) The multimedia state-of-the-art video system helps match potential owners to the breed best suited for them.
Just answer questions asked on the screen and -- voila! -- you can go right out and pick up your brand of Fido.
American Kennel Club's National Invitational Dog Championship will be held Tuesday at the Baltimore Arena. Preliminaries begin at noon; finals at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $7.50, $15, $20. Tickets are available at the door or by calling Ticketmaster (410) 481-SEAT. (People who bought tickets marked 7:30 p.m. preliminaries also may get in at noon.) Call (410) 347-2010.