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It takes dedication to handle dogs at shows

When Jim Hale broke his neck in a car accident in 1983, he knew his days of competing with his hunting dogs were over. Little did he realize, however, that his days in the show ring with a new breed -- bulldogs -- were just about to begin. More t...

Junior handler
Ashlyn Reuter of Rose Creek, Minn., holds her Penbroke Welsh corgi at the Duluth Kennel Club dog show at the DECC on Friday. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

When Jim Hale broke his neck in a car accident in 1983, he knew his days of competing with his hunting dogs were over.

Little did he realize, however, that his days in the show ring with a new breed -- bulldogs -- were just about to begin.

More than a quarter-century later, on Friday, Hale, from Apple Valley, Minn., took the award for top male bulldog at the Duluth Kennel Club dog show with his 10-month-old puppy, Hales Angels Mo-Buddy Does It Like Amos.

Mo, as he is known, was shown by Hale in his motorized wheelchair and is one of about 50 dogs Hale has shown since his former wife brought home a 12-week-old puppy soon after his accident.

"It was a complete surprise," said Hale, recalling the day he met bulldog pup Windsor. "Actually, when she first came in with the dog, I said, 'What the heck is that?' and she said, 'That's your new buddy.'

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"It took us about 10 minutes to bond, and that was that. I will never own another breed of dog."

Hale said he does not have a problem maneuvering around the show ring in his motorized chair, although some of the dogs are wary.

"I try to go over to the other people before the class so the dogs can smell the chair and get used to it," he said.

Hale's 26-year dedication to showing is a familiar story among the breeders, owners and handlers competing in the four-day show at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center this weekend.

From the junior handlers ages 11 and up, to the professional handlers responsible for dozens of dogs at a time, the Duluth Kennel Club show is populated by those with a passion for pooches.

Saginaw resident Barb Peterson took the best in breed award for her Cardigan Welsh corgi Mick (show name: Vermillion's Rolling Stone), having shown corgis and soft-coated wheaten terriers since 1986.

"There are several things," she said, explaining the attraction of the show ring. "Winning. To have fun. Proving that your dog is worthy of being bred. ...

"Then it's a social event. We make friends and, for many of us, dog shows are our vacations."

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Professional handler Lori Wilson, who lives in Clever, Mo., on the two to three days each week that she is not traveling to dog shows to exhibit other people's dogs, brought 10 dogs to Duluth.

On Friday morning, she saw Fendi, one of the several whippets she brought, qualify as a champion. Waiting patiently for their turn in the ring back at Wilson's grooming table were a couple of dachshunds, Norwegian elkhounds and a Rhodesian ridgeback.

"It's a 24-7 job because most professional handlers are extremely dedicated," said Wilson, who trained her first dog at age 6. "When you show a special champion for a couple of years, you get very attached to them and it's hard to send them home [to their owner]. There are a lot of emotional highs and lows at that level of competition, and the dogs are right there with you."

For junior handlers Ashlyn Reuter, 11, from Rose Creek, Minn., and Dallas Babcock, 16, from near Brainerd, a career in the world of showing is just starting.

Reuter was named the best junior handler in Thursday's show and got into the sport by helping her mom, who is a breeder of golden retrievers.

"I like being with the dogs and just hanging out with them and watching them," Reuter said.

Babcock, who has been showing dogs for about five years, said she often was asked to help out in the adult classes by people who had brought multiple dogs.

"Some of my friends from school, when they say they are hanging out, and I say I'm going to a dog show, they say, 'That sounds boring,' but I don't think it's boring. I love it," she said. "People think you just run in circles, but when you think about it, it's really a lot more than that. You learn a lot about the dogs and a lot about people. It's a good social thing, I think."

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The two girls agreed on the best part of showing: "Winning!" they said, with big grins.

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