Dogs have their day

Four-day Howard show draws breeds from around the region

November 26, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,[Sun reporter]

The longhaired Lhasa apsos seemed eerily unfazed, sitting on waist-high tables as groomers blow-dryed them with vacuum-like devices.

Women with dabs of Vaseline on their fingers scampered after bull mastiffs, eager to put a shine on their little black noses. Men combed what looked like baby powder into the snow-white coats of Great Pyrenees.

Some dogs barked, whined and whimpered in anticipation of their big moment in the ring. Others, like the cuddly Pembroke Welsh corgi sprawled on his back alongside Ring 11, seemed very Zen about the whole thing.

And the odor? Think one part fried fair food to four parts Humane Society.

The sights, sounds and smells of a dog show take some getting used to.

Since Friday, canines of all sorts have taken over the Howard County Fairgrounds in West Friendship for one of the largest dog shows in Maryland. Yesterday was Day 2 of the four-day Turkey Cluster All-Breed Dog Show, hosted by kennel clubs across the state.

More than 2,100 dogs, from Afghan hounds and boxers to Shih Tzus and Yorkshire terriers, entered yesterday, with about the same number expected today. Human crowd totals are harder to calculate. Organizers estimate two to four people for each dog.

The American Kennel Club-sanctioned event drew professional handlers wearing crisp suits and game faces. But also circulating through the large arenas were plenty of curious dog-loving families, oohing and ahhing at the primped pups.

John Hannum, a show organizer, recommends that show newcomers pair up with seasoned show-goers to navigate the seeming chaos.

Breed competitions run simultaneously throughout the day, which can seem overwhelming to everyone but the dogs. (Just after noon, a pack of poodles waited patiently alongside Ring 4 as the West Highland white terriers finished strutting their stuff.)

Winners from each of the 148 breed categories then compete in one of seven groups - toy, hound, sporting, for example. And those winners advance to the coveted "Best of Show" competition.

The same setup plays out each of the four days.

Like the competition, many of the dogs need a bit of explanation.

"Let's be honest. There are some strange-looking dogs here," Hannum said. "You need someone who can tell what that weird breed is."

A cocker spaniel might be easy to picture, but there were 10 other spaniel varieties in yesterday's show, including the Irish water spaniel, which looks more like an unkempt poodle.

Those large silver dogs with bangs covering their eyes were briards. And the greyhound-like runners that seemed to have skipped Thanksgiving dinner were whippets.

Hannum pointed out a lumbering Star Wars-ish creature named Gomez as "unusual."

The dog's owner, Xavier Grahn, said the 150-pound, shaggy black-and-white Landseer Newfoundland was only there to provide "moral support" for the more traditional Newfoundlands, grizzly bear-looking dogs with shiny black coats.

"I'm afraid he'd get laughed out of the show if he tried to enter," Grahn said.

The seemingly endless breed competitions are broken by a few other kinds of shows, such as obedience and agility. And yesterday, the Boogie Woogie BowWows - two red-clad women and their sequin-collared dogs - performed a dance skit to the tune of holiday favorites.

Joan Rose and Tucker, her long-haired dachshund, and Lynn Franklin and Sam, her standard poodle, did the soft-shoe to "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."

"He's a real ham," Rose said of Tucker, as she held the dog in her arms and urged him to wave to passers-by.

And tomorrow evening is the main event to end all other main events.

The "Best of Show" winners from each of the four days (which conceivably could be the same dog) will compete for the first-ever "Best of Cluster" title - truly the top dog.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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