By Ranny Green
They’re called Westminster Newsmakers not for their feats in the show ring, but for putting their feet in other fields of endeavor.
They competed in America’s iconic dog show last month at Madison Square Garden, but their resumes aren’t simply about breed wins, group placements and best-in-show numbers.
It’s about their tenderness around sick children and ailing geriatric patients; their assistance to law-enforcement in the field; their uncanny ability to quell kids in crisis and help others to appreciate reading; and simply having that keen sense of discerning their owners’ moods and knowing how to make things better.
Here are vignettes of several special Westminster entries:
An Australian shepherd owned by Maryjean Shaffer, Altadena, Calif.
Photo by Jack Grassa
Maryjean Shaffer, of Altadena, Calif., answers questions at a Westminster Kennel Club press conference about her long trip to recover her late brother’s stolen 1979 Corvette. Her co-pilot on the adventure was Quazar, an Australian shepherd, which earned its American Kennel Club championship along the way.
Before this pair hit The Road to Westminster they were partners on the The Stolen Corvette Circuit, as Shaffer likes to call it.
In January 2011, Westminster 2012 was the furthest thing on Shaffer’s mind. Two of her best friends, her Aussie shepherd Rascal and her brother Robert, had died recently. In addition, Robert’s home was ransacked and his 1979 Corvette stolen.
The police exhausted every lead, but the “crazed” Shaffer wouldn’t let it go. “I couldn’t,” she says. “It was Robert’s prized possession and I saw it as a part of him. I had to go for it.” So she packed her van with a wide mix of essentials and hit to road, with Quazar, her faithful red-merle cow dog.
At each stop, she scrutinized craigslist, Facebook and other forms of social media, making “friends” with suspects and setting up appointments to “look” at hundreds of Corvettes in both the “seediest and poshest” parts of towns across the country.
She entered Quazar in dog shows along the way “to keep my sanity.” In the process, Quazar finished his American Kennel Club championship, along with a couple of other titles, and served as Shaffer’s protector, too. “His positive never-give-up attitude is what got me through the toughest year of my life,” she says.
At one point their quest took a strange twist. “I had a chance to work cattle on a large ranch in the Heartland. I sent Quazar way out on a ‘gather.’ He was out of sight for several minutes, and then I saw him in a distance bringing back a mom and her calf to the herd, then bringing all of them in.
“I experienced an epiphany, a sudden realization that I was going about everything wrong. Here was my little co-pilot effortlessly bringing back lost cows, operating on instinct and in complete harmony with his environment. It was strange, but my whole attitude turned around. I stopped looking at everyone as a suspect, and realized I needed to stop being so intense, just go more with my intuition,” she explains.
Her search then evolved into more of a “spiritual journey of a girl and her dog.” Quazar began feeling at home during every stop, enjoying the experience. “Doing dog shows refueled my energy, too,” Shaffer confesses, “and somehow I knew we were gonna find that car.”
Shaffer, a musician, might think of becoming a detective, for 10 months after this adventure began in Southern California she found her brother’s Corvette in Indianapolis. The criminal is awaiting trial.
A Tibetan terrier owned by Brenda Algar, of Landenberg, Pa., and Nikkie Kinziger, of Green Bay, Wis.
Photo by Jack Grassa.
Sydney, a Tibetan terrier, certainly didn’t look like this after being mauled by a bobcat in December 2007 in the backyard of its former Maine home. The dog completed a rags-to-riches comeback last June, winning best-in-show at the Tibetan Terrier Club of America National Specialty last May. Its proud owner, Brenda Algar, of Landenberg, Penn., sits alongside her.
On Dec. 15, 2007, three days after her second birthday, Sydney was badly mauled by a bobcat in Algar’s fenced backyard in Maine. She underwent two emergency surgeries to save her life and another on her front left leg. Despite beating all the survival odds, she suffered severe nerve damage to the limb and it appeared she would be forced to walk with a pronounced limp or drag the leg, eventually resulting in amputation.
Unquestionably, her show days were over, everyone thought. About six weeks later, she was allowed to put weight on the leg and taken out into the yard where she had been attacked. “I put her down and waited to see what she would be able to do,” recalls Algar. “After a few tentative steps, she broke into a full TT (Tibetan terrier) zoom around the yard, finally collapsing in a heap 20 minutes later. Clearly, Sydney had other, much bigger, plans for herself.”
By late 2008, Sydney was back in the Specials show ring, finishing the year in the breed Top 20 after only nine shows. She continued to progress from 2009-2011, culminated by taking Best in Show at the Tibetan Terrier Club of America National Specialty in May 2011.
“She’s a very special dog,” says Algar, a social worker, “with incredible spirit, courage and undeniable heart.”
A Shiba Inu, owned by Dwane, Susan and Jenny Anderson, of Anchorage, Alaska
Photo by Sandra Dukes.
Nami, a Shiba Inu owned and handled by Susan Anderson, of Anchorage, Alaska, keeps an attentive eye on her owner in the ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last month. Nami is a service dog and assists Anderson in working with a Job’s Daughters group at home.
Outside the show ring, Nami is one busy dog. She performs in lure coursing with sighthounds and has dabbled with carting amidst working dogs, even though her cart isn’t much bigger than a shoe box.
Nami, the 12th Shiba to attain a Rally Excellent title, also competes in the Obedience ring and is entered in her first Agility trial this spring. Her credentials also include a Canine Good Citizen Dog designation.
While Nami thrives on canine competitions, she is at her best as a therapy dog, with a specialty in geriatrics. “She visits shut-ins at various rehabilitation centers and recently my mom in ICU,” says Susan Anderson. “Nami also aided my diabetic father and assists my 90-year-old mother in closing drawers, cabinet doors, dishwasher, refrigerator and the back door when she comes back inside from her outside exercise.”
Her mellow temperament makes her a natural as a therapy dog, Anderson insists. “She selected geriatrics as her passion. On her visits, she never puts a paw on an elderly person’s skin, knowing it is fragile. On the flip side, she doesn’t do well with severely challenged individuals, who have a tendency to become very vocal or grab her.”
Nami and Susan Anderson are also active in a Job’s Daughters group Anderson mentors. “Nami is a steadying influence on the girls,” Anderson explains, “some of who are battling major stress. Most of the girls are from disadvantaged families, where animals are disposable. Nami and I show that animals are part of a forever family. But my emphasis here is all about making wise decisions regarding owner care, comfort and commitment of their pets. These are lifetime lessons that can serve these girls well, and Nami is my teaching assistant throughout.”
A Weimaraner, owned by Dan Stallings, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Photo by Steve Surfman.
Handler Rusty Howard, of Vandalia, Ohio, steadies Maverick, a rescue Weimaraner owned by Dan Stallings, of Virginia Beach, Va., in the Westminster breed ring. Stallings purchased the emaciated, unsocialized dog off a craigslist posting two years and saw it earn a championship seven months later.
The hero in this rags-to-riches story is Stallings, who rescued the now 5-year-old Weimaraner from a 24/7 life in a crate and off craigslist two years ago, after being alerted to the listing by a friend. “He was 25 pounds underweight and in horrible condition. He had a staph infection on his nose, a pressure sore on his chest, his nails were grotesquely long and his paws and tail were raw from self-mutilation,” recalls Stallings.
Upon setting eyes on the dog, Stallings’ only concern was getting him out of there. “I was able to convince the owner to let me have him with his papers for a small re-homing fee,” says Stallings.
But plenty of challenges loomed. “I spent weeks rebuilding his food drive and treating his nose, paws and tail daily for infection,” explains Stallings. While his physical ailments were front and center, his psyche was another matter. That’s where plenty of TLC, exercise and socialization were high on Stallings’ priority list for Maverick.
And it paid off quickly. Five months later in Maverick’s second conformation outing, he took a breed title, then followed that up by finishing his championship in four weekends.
After acquiring Maverick and examining his paperwork, Stallings contacted the breeder, Jan Lowe, in British Columbia. He discovered she had desperately been trying to get the dog back, but the owner had moved and would not return her calls or e-mails. Since then, he has kept Lowe abreast of Maverick’s progress and cultivated a strong friendship.
Maverick cannot go out on the show circuit like regular campaigners because of his previous treatment and the prospect of prolonged crating at the sites. “He shuts down, so he can only show when I deliver him ringside for his handler. I have shown him a few times in his handler’s absence, but I prefer to have a professional handler (Rusty Howard) on him because I want him to have the best chance to win and show well.
“I tell everyone who knows Mav. You may not end up with a show-winning champion, but when you open up your home and your heart to a rescue, you’ll certainly feel like one and you’ll be your dog’s hero for the rest of your life.”
A golden retriever, owned by Sharmin Dominke, of Redmond
Photo by Sandra Dukes.
Sydney, a search-and-rescue golden retriever outside the show ring, is gaited by Carol Hoare, of Colville, in breed competition at the recent Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Sydney is owned by Sharmin Dominke, of Redmond.
The fifth pick in a litter of six, Sydney is a versatile sporting dog that feels just at home in the ring as the field. Dominke, a dental hygienist, has been involved in search-and-rescue work with FEMA and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Dept. but recently embarked on independent track where she and Sydney are registered with the National Association of Search and Rescue and the Department of Emergency Management.
Sydney is the third dog Dominke has trained for search-and-rescue. “Being able to show a dog is just an added bonus,” she emphasizes, “for I really want a dog I can work in the field. And being toy crazy is a No. 1 requirement.”
Westminster represented a break of sorts for the 3-year-old Sydney, who was qualified at age 2 for disaster, urban and wilderness search. Keeping Sydney sharp involves group (twice monthly) and individual training. “I also constantly work on obedience, especially ‘stays’ and keep up her ‘real world agility,’ with ladders, tunnels, teeter-totters and other exercises.”
In 2009 Sydney was credited with one live find when two Boy Scouts became separated from their group on Mount Rainier. Sydney found the pair the following day after they spent a night together in the snow. On another outing in Southern Washington, the dog located bone fragments in an area where teenagers discovered a skull.
Sydney’s skills don’t stop there. She accompanies Dominke to Totem Lake Family Dentistry, where she helps comfort young patients who become nervous about procedures they are facing.
The field dog adapted well to the Big Apple last month, winning the Long Island Golden Retriever Specialty before Westminster, then maneuvering through the large crowds within Madison Square Garden without missing a beat. She was awarded Best Opposite Sex in the hotly contested breed ring of 32 entries.
Around her breed-ring outing, Sydney spent the entire day on the grooming table being admired by large crowds and posing for pictures, says Dominke. “And when it was time, she had no problem falling asleep, stretched out full length on the table amidst all of the chaos.”
A Pyrenean shepherd, owned by Patricia Princehouse, of Chardon, Ohio
Photo by Jack Grassa.
Patricia Princehouse, of Chardon, Ohio, has found a way to complement the sport of dogs with teaching at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Her Pyrenean shepherds, like Zed here, have been involved in several genetics research projects. She obtained her first Pyr sheps in 1983.
Princehouse, who teaches evolutionary biology and the history of science at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, has found a way to complement education with her love of dogs.
One of the premier Pyrenean shepherd breeders in North America, she is the only American to be given an honorary lifetime membership in the French Great Pyrenees and Pyr Shepherd Club.
“The Great Pyrenees was my first breed,” she says. “I have had a life-long fascination with animals and decided in the fifth grade that I wanted to show dogs. My parents were not too keen on the idea, but eventually relented, bought me some quality show dogs and let me take them to shows. I got my first Pyr sheps in 1983, returning to France after a school exchange program.
Because her scientific background informs her work with dogs and vice-versa, she and her dogs have been involved with several mathematically-oriented genetics research projects. “One of my top priorities is to help other breeders learn more about genetics, especially population genetics,” she says.
On May 8, at the school, she will present a public lecture entitled “On the Origin of Dogs: Barking Up the Evolutionary Tree.”
Her 9½-year-old Zed was the first American Kennel Club champion in the breed, finishing in three consecutive shows on one weekend. Zed exudes incredible versatility outside the show ring, too, competing in herding and rally and is a certified therapy dog.