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Dawn Strumbel's poodle Kaili sits with several of the award she won as a show dog at her Duluth home. The red, white, and blue ribbons are for Best in Show. The purple and yellow ribbons are for best of breed at speciality shows. (Clint Austin /

Line of champions: Duluth Kennel Club’s dog show returns this weekend

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Line of champions: Duluth Kennel Club’s dog show returns this weekend
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Grandma is an award-winning Westminster alum, a real show girl who loves to perform. She’s got a silver stole-like coat, booties, hair swept up in a ponytail atop her small head. She’s retired now, but still, every time she senses that there is an upcoming show: 


“She goes ballistic,” owner Dawn Strumbel said.

Father is retired, too. Jeter, named for the Olympic sprinter, fared well and was a Best in Specialty show winner when he was young. He claimed a few other victories, too, but his slap-happiness didn’t play well in the ring.

These days, he’s more of a stud.

Now eyes are on Lizzy, the third in a genealogical line of champions. At nine and a half months, the miniature poodle recently was Best in Specialty winner at the Kettle Moraine KC All Breed Dog Show in West Bend, Wis., keeping alive the family tradition of dog show success.

“It’s not a common thing,” Strumbel said of having three generations of specialty winners. “It’s fantastic for me.”

Lizzy is one of the competitors in the Duluth Kennel Club’s All Breed Confirmation and Obedience Show, which started Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

The four-day event will include more than 825 dogs each day and more than 150 breeds, according to show chairwoman Barb Peterson. Dogs travel to the DECC from around the world, but most of the competitors are from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The event is open to the public, and breeders are available to answer questions when they aren’t obviously engaged — but keep your own, noncompetition dogs at home, Peterson said.


Grandma Kaili is at the top of Lizzy’s family tree. In 2010, the miniature poodle won best female of her breed at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She earned an invitation after she was named the No. 1 miniature poodle in the country in 2009.

Kaili was a DIY story, a little puppy that could. She didn’t have the financial backing that it sometimes takes to get a dog noticed, Strumbel said.

As Kaili picked up traction, her image graced the pages of the dog show trades like Poodle Variety, Dogs in Review, Show Sight and The Chronicle. She also hit the mainstream, with a spread in Martha Stewart Living magazine.

That’s the way it is in the dog world, Peterson said.

“It’s about the only sporting event where the novice can walk in with an (American Kennel Club) registered dog and compete with top professionals and they do have a chance of winning,” Peterson said.

These days, she’s busy growing out her fur for veteran competitions next year. Three weeks ago, she gave birth to her final litter. The hand-sized poodle puppies spent a recent mid-morning playing piggy-back in a whelping cage off Strumbel’s kitchen.

“Kaili is a natural-born show dog,” Strumbel said. “She’s a tomboy. You see the poodle clips and think she’s a princess, but she’ll slog with the best of them. But she wants to be in the ring. She’s a natural.”

There’s a certain amount of dog-eye that went into picking the pup. Strumbel earned pick of the litter as a thank-you for helping out at Amity Valley Kennels.

“(Kaili) stood out, attitude-wise,” Strumbel said. “Structurally, size … it wasn’t a hard choice. Watching her move, they just catch your eye.”

Lizzy shares a good-natured sensibility with her grandmother.

“On the floor, she wants to be your best friend; she’s a goofball,” Strumbel said. “On the table, she’s very reserved. She’s just a joy.”


Poodle people, Strumbel said, tend to be the first to arrive at dog shows and the last to leave. The day includes getting acquainted with the ring and then beginning a grooming process that involves brushing out the poodles’ hair and using hairspray to keep it in place. (Lizzy’s pick: Aussie hairspray).

During the competition, the dogs are judged according to the American Kennel Club’s breed standard, which considers the poodle’s height, positioning and color of its eyes, the clip of the coat, its gait, temperament and more.

Winning dogs continue to advance through the competition to the Best in Show round.

When it’s over, the poodles’ hairbands are removed and they’re brushed out.

Strumbel’s dogs compete regionally a couple of times a month. When Kaili was at her peak, Strumbel took her to 89 shows.

Lizzy is at the beginning of this.

Strumbel calls it a hobby, but used air quotes when she said the word.

“Breeding isn’t easy,” she said. “We put a lot of time and money into it. But it’s all for the betterment of the breed. In the end, it’s a hobby that you have to thoroughly enjoy.

“It’s everything. It’s wonderful.”


What: Duluth Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show

When: All breed dog shows run from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., followed by Best in Show

Where: Pioneer Hall, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center

Christa Lawler
(218) 279-5536