Annual show draws more than 3,000 dogs and their handlers to Duluth
It's a dog-eat-dog world, they say, and certainly competition plays a role at a dog show. "Some people think handlers always win," Doug Carlson said after guiding an Airedale named Kiera through her paces. "Well, it's our job to know what judges ...
It's a dog-eat-dog world, they say, and certainly competition plays a role at a dog show.
"Some people think handlers always win," Doug Carlson said after guiding an Airedale named Kiera through her paces. "Well, it's our job to know what judges like."
Carlson, of Savage, Minn., was standing amid a mass of people and pups in the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's Pioneer Hall on Saturday morning. It was the third day of the Duluth Kennel Club and Twin Ports Dog Training Club's annual show, which concludes today.
More than 3,000 dogs comprising more than 100 breeds, from Afghan hounds to Russian wolfhounds to French bulldogs, are entered. There's even a "miscellaneous breed" that hasn't yet been accepted by the American Kennel Club: a miniature American shepherd.
"It's the first time I've seen them," said Vicki Russell of Duluth, the show's chairwoman. "That's pretty interesting, and it's fun to watch."
Pioneer Hall and the old Arena were awash in well-behaved, eager-to-please dogs being groomed, resting quietly in cages and being shown in one of the rings under the watchful eyes of judges. Almost all of the handlers were dressed in business attire.
"It's a gentlemen's sport," Carlson explained. "You're in there to show off for the judge. (You do) whatever you can do to make that judge like your dog the best."
Kiera won among the females of the breed but lost out overall among Airedales to a male that also was shown by Carlson's company, which handles dogs for owners at shows across the country. "We did very well," he said. "That's our goal."
Carlson spends about nine out of 10 weekends at dog shows, mostly within an eight- to 10-hour drive of the Twin Cities. But his company goes to all of the biggest shows, including the famous Westminster Kennel Club show in New York. Several years ago, they showed a dog that won in the terrier group at that show.
Carlson and his company's other handlers have dogs of their own, but they are almost always showing other people's dogs. Among the dogs they're showing in Duluth are a bloodhound owned by someone in California and a shih tzu whose owner is in Taiwan.
It's a worldwide sport, said Roger Hartinger, 77. He and his wife, Paula, also 77, travel the world to judge dog shows. The Cincinnati couple are certified to judge all breeds, a process that takes about 25 years, Roger Hartinger said.
People involved in dog shows are like an extended family, particularly their fellow judges, he said. They avoid fraternizing with handlers.
"But so many of these people we know," he said. "So many. Since we know so many of them, it doesn't make any difference in the ring. It's easier to judge dogs than people anyway."
Professional handlers do tend to have an edge, Hartinger said. A good handler can make a dog look better than it is.
"It's a skill that you develop," he said. "Some people are naturals at it, and some people aren't. And you see some people that they'll never be any good at it because they're klutzes."
But it's not just a world for professionals.
Brenna Plude of Duluth and her 8-year-old Shetland sheepdog Halo were participating in the agility and obedience portion of the show. Plude has cerebral palsy and is legally blind, so Halo also serves as her seeing-eye dog.
Plude loves dogs in general. She volunteers every week at the Animal Allies shelter and collects cans to earn money that she donates to the shelter. She has entered Halo in the show for six or seven years, but doesn't enter any other shows.
Halo has won ribbons in the past but wasn't quite at the top of her game this year, said Evelyn Pleus, a personal care assistant for Plude. "She had an off year," Pleus said.
Halo, standing attentively next to Plude's wheelchair, didn't seem disappointed. Neither was Plude.
"I'm still proud of her," she said.