Westminster entries’ special storiesextend far outside the show ring

America just couldn’t get enough of Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show action last month. Millions watched the 135th renewal of the second oldest continuous sporting event in this country for two nights, while record numbers connected to social-media sites Facebook and Twitter throughout both days to get their fix.


They were tracking local favorites, breed and group results and just about anything Westminster.


But many of these 2,500-plus champions come to Westminster with a gaudy resume outside the show ring, from endurance sled-dog racing to sitting alongside and comforting  a seriously ill young child or senior in a hospital or hospice in or near its hometown.  And a bit of the bizarre, too.


Here are vignettes of some of those entries:


“To show at Westminster was a long-time dream of my husband who passed away in November 2010. . . . Into our second year of showing he became ill with leukemia and that restricted the shows we could attend. Knowing the closing date was coming up soon, before he passed away he made me promise to get our dogs entered. Mind you they were not in the invited Top Five, as we barely showed in 2010 because Mike was so sick. But when they did show they did well. So I entered, and now I am living out his dream. What a joy this will be. We have three border collies entered.  . . . I’m sure he will be watching.”


Holly Guy, Greensboro, N.C.

Wyatt, a Rhodesian Ridgeback owned by Janice Wolfe, of Wyckoff, N.J., is a busy dog outside the show ring. Here, he gives special attention to 8-year-old Katherine Webb, of Oldsmar, Fla., who suffers from Aspergers syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Young Webb has been challenged in many social aspects, but has seen considerable improvement and confidence due to her interactions with Wyatt. Merlin's Kids (www.MerlinsKids.org) is training a service dog for Webb.


“Wyatt (Rhodesian Ridgeback) won the 2010 AKC ACE Award for working with autistic children and is the spokesdog and evaluator for www.MerlinsKIDS.org, which provides free service dogs for special-needs children.

 Wyatt finished his championship as a puppy and competed at Westminster in 2010 at the tender age of 1. Wyatt’s best friend is Dr. Temple Grandlin, with whom I am co-authoring a book/DVD for special-needs children, based on sessions done with Wyatt. Wyatt and I taped a pilot for a TV show about Wyatt’s unique abilities to help special-needs children. Wyatt loves children and other animals and is always the consummate gentleman.”


Janice Wolfe, Wyckoff, N.J.


“Didn’t think he (Brig-Brig, a Chihuahua) would make it when born, as his weight was only 1.2 ounces. We tube-fed him until he could take his mom on his own. Who would have thought he would be a grand champion.”


Ken Stowell and Alison Fackelman, Holiday, Fla.


“As America’s No. 3 standard poodle, we are extremely proud of our girl Inge. . . . For us it (Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show) is the crowning achievement of a year’s worth of showing, and a dream come true. Inge will be whisked away from Houston to New York City via her Uncle Milton’s private jet along with her handler and her handler’s assistant, her personal veterinarian, her photographer, and, of course, her parents (myself and my husband).”


Holly and Arvid Sundbeck, Beach City, Texas


“Dash (Norwich terrier) and his brother are both entered. I will be bringing a group of high-school students with me. I run a Canine Science program in an agricultural high school in Walpole, Mass., which is one of five in the U.S., three of which are in Massachusetts and one each in Philadelphia and Chicago. The students learn how to groom and train dogs as part of their classes. If they choose Animal Science they can major in Canine Science, Equine Science, Veterinary Assisting, Marine Science, Research and Biotechnology or Farm Management. Animal Science is the largest major in the school. To come to New York, the students raised approximately $2,000 doing a dog wash last fall.”


Lori Pelletier, Exeter, R.I.


“Beren (Great Pyrenees) won his championship in three days! . . . He is a working livestock guardian dog when not being shown. He protects goats. He is also a BIG member of our small community. We live in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest. He goes to work with us each day and many of the locals come in to see him at our computer store. The local paper keeps the community informed of Beren’s progress in showing. We take a walk most every day, and that includes a stop at the local health-food store where he goes in and says hi to Erica, the owner. We stop at the local antique store to say hi to his friend Judy. We go to the bank and he goes in to say hi to everyone there. Then back down main street where all driving by, wave at him or say hi. He is a local celebrity and he knows it. He is quite the ham! He also visits the local nursing home to see the patients there.”


Jacqueline Wood, Willow Springs, MO   

Gulliver, who won his breed at Westminster over 12 other Leonbergers in February, takes a photo-op break following a surprise party for therapy-dog teams at the University of Virginia School of Medicine Kluge Children's Rehabilitation Center late last month. He is shown with his owner, Nancy Austin, of Dyke, Va., left, and Karen Johnson, director of the center's pet-therapy program. The Leonberger was one of six new breeds featured at America's premier dog show.


“Gulliver was the first Leonberger to finish both his AKC Championship and Grand Championship. He finished 2010 as the No. 1 in AKC Breed and All Breed Points. He is active and one of the favorite therapy dogs for several years at University of Virginia’s Children’s Rehabilitation Center, earning the Leonberger Therapy Award and the Therapy Dogs International Award. He brings smiles to kids suffering everything from broken arms to severe autism, and has been known to give the kids his show ribbons. Everyone is Gulliver’s friend, except the bears and coyotes he chases on his Virginia Blue Ridge Mountain home, accompanied by his son, Huck. Oh, and he does enjoy swimming, a good mud wallow, and he loves those Leonberger gals a lot too!”


Harry and Nancy Austin, Dyke, VA

“Chewee (Leonberger) loves to act on stage. He just finished 15 performances as Sandy, in the play ‘Annie.’ He loves to take stage directions and interact with the cast members. Chewee loves dressing in
costumes and to pose in front of mirrors. He is also a Delta Society Pet Partner and works at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. He enjoys meeting people and making them smile. Chewee is also a geese chaser. He is registered with the county as a geese chaser for the golf courses in Nassau County. He loves chasing the geese but he knows he is not allowed to run on the greens. Chewee helps in community fundraisers and loves to lead the village parades. He is very well known in our community and the children love him.”


Morgan Avila Williams and Karen Locke, Lynbrook, N.Y.


“James Dean is a very special Clumber spaniel. When James Dean was 6-months-old his human mom (Natanya, Sutherland’s wife) was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After surgery and weeks in the hospital, she returned home. James never lets her out of his sight. He sleeps on the floor of their bathroom with direct sight of his mom. As soon as he returns home from traveling to shows he returns to her side and is completely happy. 


“One day James Dean’s “mom” was choking and no one was in the house. The dog ran out to the garage and barked at our son until he knew that something was wrong. James Dean alerted him to go into the house, where he assisted his mom. He is a star in our family.”


Craig Sutherland, Rossmoor, Calif. 


“Kinky (Alaskan Malamute) is a sled dog first and foremost, logging over 15,000 miles in harness before even starting her show career in January 2010. Many of those miles were run in lead in front of a 12-16 all Malamute

Kinky, an Alaskan Malamute, front left, leads Montanan Twila Baker's team during a sled-dog event at Mount Hood, Ore. Kinky, who competed in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last month in New York City, ran more than 15,000 miles in harness before starting her show career in January 2010.

 team. . . . We live off-grid in the mountains of Montana, raise Icelandic sheep, Angora goats, and amazing sled dogs. Our nearest neighbors are 10-plus miles away and we have hundreds of miles of trails in our backyard.

“Our training starts in September and continues through June, averaging 3,000 to 4,000 miles each year on the trails. Malamutes, however, are not racing dogs. They are Clydesdales of the sledding world, and comparing them to the dogs that run the Iditarod is like comparing the Budweiser team to the Thoroughbreds that run at the Derby.


“Kinky is retired from the team now to be bred.”


Twila Baker, Garrison, Mont.


“Trooper (Pyrenean shepherd) is a blood sugar alert dog. He started working on his own at age 4 months. We were at an all-breed dog expo and he suddenly became very protective of me. Moments later my vision started to shut down and I realized what he was trying to tell me. After I had some juice and my blood sugar was on the rise, he was back to his normal, friendly self. Since then, he has alerted me well before I am aware that there is a problem.”


Trudi Kimm, Haymarket, Va.


“On June 30, 2010, Uber (Pharaoh hound) was bitten four times by a copperhead snake. He was in the ICU for three days. At one point the doctors asked me to make a decision to put him down. I said give him one more night. They did and he got a blood transfusion and he turned it around. His registered name (Ch. Xo Uber  Alles, SC) means “superior above all” and well this young guy proved that by going from death’s door to going to our first Westminster Dog Show! There also was a page on Facebook started to help with his bills ($2,500). Dog people across the world who we had never met came together and paid so much that I had left-over funds that I paid forward to other sick and injured sighthounds.”


Bekki  Pina, Lithonia, Ga.


 “Gideon (Beauceron) is a 2½ -year-old certified search-and-rescue dog for the Klamath Falls (Ore.) Sheriff’s Search and Rescue unit. We do not show very often and we were surprised to find ourselves invited to

Marlene Palmer, of Klamath Falls, Ore., and Gideon, her 2 1/2-year-old Beauceron, are members of a volunteer unit that performs search-and-rescue work for the Klamath County Sheriff's Office. The unit trains weekly and sometimes two or three times a week year-round. Gideon was one of nine Beaucerons competing in breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

 Westminster. He was also the ‘cover dog’ for the 2010 American Beauceron Club calendar.


“Gideon was the youngest dog to certify for Wilderness Air Scent in Klamath County when he was just over 1 year-old. On one of his official searches, while he was looking for a lost mushroom hunter, Gideon cleared 106 acres of deep woods, thick brush, steep hills and ravines. After returning to base camp he was ready to start another assignment still full of search energy. We were happy to hear the lost person was found (at another location) within 30 minutes of our return.


“Gideon is an energetic and confident boy who is not one to go around bush but runs right through the thick of things. His nickname became the ‘Bionic Boy.’


“We (our dog unit) train our dogs at least once a week and sometimes two or three times a week year-round. On one of these trainings (three weeks before Westminster) Gideon ran into a barbed-wire fence and sustained a 7-inch cut on his shoulder about one quarter inch deep. Thanks to the good work of my vet, he has healed well enough to compete in the ring.”


Marlene Palmer, Klamath Falls, Ore.
“While other little girls grew up wanting to go to the Miss America pageant, I grew up wanting to compete at Westminster! After a devastating kennel fire in 2002 and losing my six show dogs (basset hounds), I thought that I would never show dogs again. But all my friends from the canine world would not allow that. Some bought me new grooming and show supplies. Two gave me dogs to show, and they gently edged me back to the show ring.


“Going back to dog shows and getting this smooth dachshund pulled my life back together. I always said before I ended my dog-show career I wanted to walk around the green carpet of Westminster at least once. Having wonderful dog-show friends brought that possibility back to the table. And having Toby (named after singer Toby Keith), made my dream come true.”


Michelle Pierce, Mountain Pine, Ark.


Devon (Rhodesian Ridgeback) has been a Top Ten Ridgeback for the last two years despite limited showing. Devon’s primary responsibility is that of a companion dog to his owner who is under hospice care. His handlers


Jane and Greg Myers, are convinced he has the ability to detect cancer, as he has only broken his stack on two occasions in his show career, and in both instances the judges had cancer.   


Editor’s note: (Multiple studies have shown that dogs can be trained to detect through scent different forms of cancer.)


Now Devon spends his days on his owner’s bed, providing love and companionship.


Lisa Campbell, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.