At Westminster dog show, a display of dogs and devotion

At Westminster dog show, a display of dogs and devotion

/ 02:19 PM May 14, 2024

At Westminster dog show, a display of dogs and devotion

Handler Willy Santiago competes with Afghan Hound Zaida during breed group judging at the 148th Westminster Kennel Club Dog show, Monday, May 13, 2024, at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York. Associated Press

NEW YORK — Less than three years ago, Mary Ann and David Giordano were taking turns lying on the living room floor with their Afghan hound Frankie, hand-feeding the desperately ill dog anything she would eat.

She had developed severe kidney problems after contracting Lyme disease, despite being on medication meant to repel ticks that carry the bacteria that cause it. Veterinarians weren’t sure she would survive.


Yet on Monday, Frankie was at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, healthy and ready to compete. She would face off against over a dozen other Afghan hounds — including Zaida, the winner of last month’s World Dog Show in Croatia — for a chance to advance to the next round of the United States’ most prestigious canine event.


READ: Trumpet is the first bloodhound to win US Westminster dog show

“It was really tough,” Mary Ann Giordano said, her voice halting as she described Frankie’s eight-month ordeal. “But she made it.”

For all the pooch pageantry of Westminster — the coiffed poodles, the top-knotted toy dogs, the formality of dogs trotting around a ring — it’s also an illustration of the bond people form with dogs, and what each will do for the other.

Monday marked the start of the traditional judging that leads to the best in show prize, to be awarded Tuesday night at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Selection of seven finalists began Monday night; each represents a group of breeds, such as hounds or herding dogs.

One is Louis, an Afghan hound that bested Zaida, Frankie, her littermate Belle and others to win the breed.

READ: US Westminster show will name the top dog this week


“This breed’s supposed to be ‘the king of dogs,’ and he knows he is,” handler and co-owner Alicia Jones said.

Other finalists include Sage, a miniature poodle who gave “100%” in the ring, as handler Kaz Hosaka put it; Mercedes, a big-winning German shepherd whose handler, Kent Boyles, led another German shepherd to a best in show trophy in 2017; and Comet, a shih tzu who took the top prize at last year’s huge, televised American Kennel Club National Championship.

“He’s just everything you would want in a shih tzu,” co-owner, breeder and handler Luke Ehricht said after Comet won his breed Monday morning. With a flowing coat like a vanilla-and-caramel ice cream sundae that’s melting onto the table, the dog looked up at his handler with the tender expression that’s prized in the breed.

“He’s a very sweet, loving dog” who knows when it’s time to perform and when it’s time to relax and play, said Ehricht, of Monclova, Ohio.

Three more finalists will be chosen Tuesday night before all seven vie for best in show.

The 2,500-plus first-round entrants range from tiny Yorkshire terriers to towering Irish wolfhounds. There are bushy old English sheepdogs, hairless Xoloitzcuintlis, massive mastiffs, lean Azawakhs and a newly added breed, the Lancashire heeler, represented Monday by a single contestant named Mando.

If he knew a lot was riding on his little shoulders, he didn’t show it as he made a tail-wagging appearance in the televised semifinals. Nor did he appear to mind going it alone earlier in the first-round ring, where someone in the audience yelled, “Yay! History!”

“He just has a rock-star attitude,” handler Jessica Plourde said afterward.

The show also was a first for Alfredo Delgado and Maria Davila, who had traveled from Juncos, Puerto Rico, with their French bulldog, Duncan.

Their path started when Delgado’s brother found a lost Frenchie. It was soon reunited with its owner, but Delgado was intrigued by the breed.

Fast-forward some years, and he was in the Westminster ring as Duncan’s breeder, owner and handler, with Davila cheering him on.

“We made a dream come true to be here,” Davila said afterward. “To share with experienced people in the ring — that was awesome.”

In a nearby grooming tent, Valarie Cheimis petted Csoki, a puli, ahead of ring time.

The Hungarian herding breed sports long, thick cords that form naturally, though owners aid the process by separating them. They become so dense that the dogs can take 24 hours to dry after a bath – and that’s with an array of box fans and sometimes even a portable dehumidifier, Cheimis said.

Why go through all that?

“These are fun dogs. They’re full of personality,” Cheimis said. Sure, they can be stubborn and barky, Cheimis said, but they’re also endearing — Csoki looks after her geese and chickens at home in Kingfield, Maine, even lying down next to the goslings.

Mister, a bloodhound who won a merit award in his breed Monday, also puts his breed’s ancient instincts to work. He’s qualified to trail missing people, though his calls so far have been resolved before he got into the field, said co-owner, breeder and handler Renee Wagner, of Niagara Falls, New York.

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The 148th Westminster show kicked off Saturday with an agility competition — won by a mixed-breed dog for the first time since Westminster added the event in 2014. Nimble, the winner, was handled by Cynthia Hornor, who took the trophy with a border collie last year.

TAGS: animals, Dogs

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