Royal treatment in a dog's world Crufts: About 6 million Britons are expected to watch today as a new dog monarch is crowned at Crufts, "the world's greatest dog show."

March 09, 1997|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BIRMINGHAM, England -- Kasenga Kambo of Madukani is beat.

The 15-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback lies on a carpet in his wooden stall and tries to get 40 winks. Yet all around him swirls Crufts, "the world's greatest dog show." Border terriers are barking, Salukis are strutting and bloodhounds are drooling.

"He's just a rookie," says Dorothy Watson, Kasenga Kambo of Madukani's owner. "It has been a long, long day. I think he's fed up."

Crufts, which ends today, is not for the meek. The annual four-day celebration of everything canine is the British dog world's answer to the Super Bowl.

The scale of this thing is nearly beyond belief, from litter areas the size of long jump pits to the acres of artificial turf spread across 32 competition rings.

We're talking 18,933 dogs judged in 166 breed classes.

Another 3,500 dogs compete in categories such as obedience, fly ball and heel work to music, the dog show's answer to ice dancing.

Today's "best in show" final is so popular that it has been sold out since October. For those who can't get in, the British Broadcasting Corp. will provide the finish live. About 6 million Britons are expected to watch as a new dog monarch is crowned. Oh, and 100,000 spectators over the four-day event will pay up to $13 a ticket to glimpse the super dogs.

"We're the biggest dog show in the world," says Brian Leonard, a spokesman for Crufts.

The event was founded in 1891 by dog food salesman Charles Cruft, who oversaw the show until his death in 1938. His widow operated the show for one year before selling out to the Kennel Club of Britain.

Crufts has always catered to royals and commoners alike. Queen Victoria had dogs entered on her behalf. So did her son, then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Some judge actually gave the prince's dog only a second-place prize.

The show has grown larger and more lucrative each year, moving from London to Birmingham in 1991. Some of the old-timers miss the drafty London venues, where owners and dogs were often dressed in wool coats.

"In the old days, it was just a dog show," said Gwen Newbury, who has attended every Crufts since 1956. "Now, it's a mall."

Although the Kennel Club plows all profits back into the operation -- and dog research -- Crufts is a showcase of commercialism, where companies line up to sell their wares to Britain's dog-loving masses.

This is a world of $700 standing canine hair dryers, dental programs, conditioners, collars, flea powders, dog beds and dog coats.

You want dog food? They're giving away free samples by the bucketful. Looking for homeopathic remedies? They've got those, too.

Dog novels, dog paintings and dog tea sets all are for sale.

"You do know that we're absolutely potty for animals," says Gill Dickinson, proprietor of a pet shop named Absolutely Animals.

Despite the commercialism, Crufts is still about dogs and their owners.

In one corner of the hall, Carol Clack and about 300 of her closest friends are holding a retirement party for Rosebank Magic Sunshine, an 11-year-old working sheep dog who has taken home 18 obedience prizes in her time. Champagne flows. Retirement cards are opened and tacked on a wall. Charlie Brown cards are especially popular. Someone even hands over an ornately decorated retirement cake that shows the dog, nicknamed Tasha, standing by a lake.

Tasha is fast asleep in her cage.

"I won't work her anymore," Clack says. "I will take her to shows."

In another part of the arena, Frances Smith-King strides around with Bribilca Doodle Dooley, the Shaquille O'Neal of Irish wolfhounds. Paddy, as he is more commonly known, is the size of a pony. He weighs 176 pounds. His shoulders are 38 1/2 inches wide.

Paddy basically goes wherever he wants.

"He's cheaper to keep than a man, and he's much better behaved," Smith-King says. "He was born in Scotland, raised on porridge, and he likes his soup. You should see him lap up leek and potato. And he really goes for cream of cauliflower."

Sue Cogdell and Karen Bingham are spending a good four hours fussing over their Afghan hounds, which look like walking shag carpets. Combing an Afghan is a two-person job. People actually take pictures as the women work on the dogs.

"We're using a conditioner that balding men use to try to have their hair grow back," Bingham says. "We have to get rid of the static."

Finally, meet 91-year-old Angel Negal, who has been bringing dogs to Crufts since 1934.

He gripes about the high cost of entrance fees -- $28 a dog -- the judging and the commercialism. But he wouldn't miss Crufts for the world. Why, he has a miniature smooth-haired dachshund that could be a year or two away from a top award. And he plans to stick around to turn his contender into a champ.

"I do this for the competition," Negal says, sitting back in his lawn chair after a hard day of show sport. "I mean, all you get is a piece of cardboard with a prize written on it. But I do appreciate that cardboard."

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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