170 hairy pounds of independence

Wolfhounds: An Annapolis dog show celebrates a breed of big, friendly, unruly canine.

April 03, 2000|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

If dogs had slogans, the Irish wolfhound's probably would be "Question Authority."

The owners of more than 200 of the big, stately, Shetland pony-size dogs traveled to Annapolis yesterday from as far as Minnesota for the first day of the Potomac Valley Irish Wolfhound Club's 13th annual show.

But only 14 of them dared to sign up for the obedience trials, held inside a low picket fence on a grassy hill at Quiet Waters Park.

Wolfhound obedience trials are "only for the brave of heart or the slightly insane," said Donna Monahan of Williamstown, N.J. "Most people don't even attempt it."

Little wonder. When your ancestors were bred to lope across the moors and take down a wolf or a 6-foot-tall elk, turning figure-eights inside a show ring can seem a bit of a comedown, said wolfhound owner Dani Duniho of Laurel.

"There are lots of breeds that love to strut their stuff," said Duniho, executive director of the Maryland Downtown Development Association. "Wolf- hounds are not among them. They make it perfectly clear that they understand the futility of the exercise, and that they're just doing it to humor you."

Combining the speed of a greyhound and the size of a mastiff, standing nearly 3 feet tall at the shoulder and weighing as much as 170 pounds, the rough-coated, dark-eyed creatures are an imposing sight. Their intelligence is of the moody, poetical sort, and they're "more likely to serenade the moon than to bark at noises," say the anonymous authors of "The American Kennel Club's Complete Dog Book." They're independent by nature, said show Chairwoman Dee Van Nest of Annapolis.

An act of faith

Trying to put a wolfhound through its paces in front of an audience is an act of faith.

The first to give it a shot yesterday was Mary Ann Howell of Roxbury, N.Y., with 18-month-old Jamie in his first obedience trial. Following orders from judge Patricia A. Hess of Accokeek, the brindled animal was expected to heel, sit, lie down, stay and trot at his owner's heels through a series of turns and loops.

Jamie did most of that -- at his leisurely pace, in his free-spirited style. The six other dogs in the novice category were equally prone to improvisation. In the end, all seven were disqualified, to the dismay of 12-year-old Denise Howell, Mary Ann's daughter and Jamie's principal trainer.

What is the hardest part of training a wolfhound? she was asked.

"All of it, actually," Denise replied. "He's kind of stubborn."

`Doing it for me'

Last in the ring was Rose Kratzer of West Salem, Ohio, whose 4-year-old Tucker nonchalantly consented to leap over hurdles carrying a rubber dumbbell in his mouth.

"I don't think he enjoys it," said Kratzer before Tucker's performance, stroking the gray dog's long muzzle and floppy ears. "I think he's just doing it for me."

But Tucker drew the line at Kratzer's order to drop to the ground in midlope, and he too was disqualified.

"I see his point of view," Kratzer said later. "It's kind of like, `Walk, sit, drop. Walk, sit, drop. Tell me again why we're doing this?' "

Two-time winner

In the middle of the pack was Monahan, who won last year's trial with a female named Ceara and turned in a perfect performance yesterday with 2-year-old Nathan. For the second year in a row, the obedience trial trophy -- a pair of deer antlers on a wooden plaque-- will hang next to Monahan's fireplace.

"It's a dubious trophy except for the honor of it," Monahan said. "My friends walk in and say, `Oh, my God. What is that?' "

The show continues today with a best-of-breed competition.

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