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2016-01-27 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

When you watch the magnificent dogs run through their paces at the Westminster Kennel Club (WKC) Dog Show, you may be unaware of the incredible back stories and accomplishments that brought some contenders there, or major obstacles other dogs and handlers had to overcome to reach the pinnacle of canine competition.

The 140th WKC Dog Show will take place next month with over 3,000 dogs competing in three events. More than 2,750 dogs will be in the ALL Breed Show Mon., Feb. 15 and Tues., Feb. 16, culminating in the coveted Westminster Best In Show. A first -ever Masters Obedience Championship has been added on Mon., Feb. 15 with 35 of the top obedience dogs in the country, while the third annual Masters Agility Championship has its largest entry thus far with 330 dogs on Sat., Feb.13.

Let’s take a look at Obedience and Agility plus several remarkable bios of each event’s canine contenders:

Chester, a Berger Picard does an agility weave pole demo. 
Photo creditJack Grassa Chester, a Berger Picard does an agility weave pole demo. Photo creditJack Grassa 2016 WKC Obedience: Westminster invited the nation’s top 150 obedience dogs to this inaugural event, and accepted the first 35 responses. (One has since dropped out.) Just like Agility, mixed breed dogs are permitted by American Kennel Club (AKC) regulations to enter performance events. Obedience judging will take place during the day on Monday in Pier 94. Exercises include hand signals, retrieving over a high jump and scent discrimination. Obedience finals will not be televised. Out of 34 dogs, Golden Retrievers represent the largest breed entry with 13. Three Long Island Obediencetitled dogs will be there. “Margot,” a Selden Dobie, is a triple champion in breed, agility and obedience. “Bounce,” a Centereach Pomeranian, bounced from two previous homes because her intellect was not challenged, and “Pepsi,” a Levittown Lab, excels in agility and dock diving too.

There are out-of-state, multi-talented participants also. “Vega,” a Golden Retriever from Illinois, is a therapy dog in nursing homes. At his home, Vega retrieves the newspaper but is overzealous at times, and grabs the neighbors’ papers too. He can get a drink from the refrigerator and deliver it to his owners. He grabs a towel tied to the door, and then goes back to close the refrigerator. “Heart,” a Lab from NJ, has been on “Saturday Night Live.”

“Skylar,” another Golden from Maryland, helps her psychotherapist owner coach teens with ADHD, anxiety and depression, while “Tesla,” a Michigan German Shorthaired Pointer, brings joy to senior hospice patients as well as elementary children during reading programs.

2016 WKC Agility: Among this year’s 330 agility dogs are 26 mixed breeds, also known as “All-Americans” even though “Dobby,” a Corgi mix, was born in Australia. Qualifying runs take place during the day on Sat., Feb. 13 at Pier 94. As part of “Meet & Compete” on Saturday, the AKC will be hosting “Meet the Breeds” in Piers 92/94 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission gets you into both Agility and “Meet the Breeds.” Agility finals will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1 from 8 to 10 p.m.

Long Island WKC Agility dogs include “Dallas” and “Acela,” two Papillons, who live on a Peconic winery with their retired microbiologist owner/handler, and “Kinsale,” a Portuguese Water Dog from Roslyn, who visits palliative care units with his nurse owner/handler.

Agility is physically taxing to both dog and handler. Several teams had to overcome ailments before starting or continuing in the sport. “Tumble” and “Spin,” Aussies from Ohio, are also service dogs for their legally blind handler. After an Olympic figure skating coach retired for health reasons, she ventured into agility with “Teddy,” her Morky (Maltese/Yorkie). The partnership of the sport reminded her of her Ice Capade days. A NYC college student and “Honey,” her Scotty, both suffered from life-threatening illnesses. The student had a bone marrow transplant, and the Scotty had a congenital lack of skin disease that is often fatal. An 81-year-old great-grandmother, originally from Long Island, has returned to WKC with her Standard Poodle “Maggie.” Last year she was hospitalized with a virus right before the match, and “Maggie” was treated for an overlooked ankle fracture.

Some agility pups are rescued dogs. “Emma,” another All-American, was abandoned at an apartment when her owner fled an arrest warrant. A rescue group took her from a South Carolina shelter when her time was up, and placed her in foster care with an avid agility person in NJ. “Axyl,” a 10-year-old Border Collie, was found as a stray in Utah when he was one. He spent most of his life in NYC and Westchester perfecting his agility skills.

Agility dogs have impressive resumés. “Hailey,” a Boston Terrier mix from Rockland County, can perform more than 175 tricks which she used to entertain returning troops, and as pet therapy for families shattered by the Newtown tragedy. “Lucy” a Schnoodle from FL is her owner/handler’s seizure alert dog. When Lucy runs with her in races, even half marathons, she carries her owner’s epi-pen. Border Collie “Legend” loves kids. He gives agility demos for “Family Lives On,” a group that supports children who’ve lost a parent. He is also the unofficial mascot at the University of Penn Medical School. He accompanies his physician owner/handler to school where he acts as a stress buster for medical students.

And finally, my favorite from last week’s WKC press conference in the Garden lobby is “Chester,” a Berger Picard from NJ. He represents one of the seven newly AKC-recognized breeds that will show at WKC this year. A Berger Picard looks as if he stepped off a cartoonist’s easel. “Chester” is a WKC agility dog for the third time. His handler mom turned a blog into Chester’s published autobiography. He does modeling and acting. The Henson production crew created a Muppet in Chester’s likeness for a movie promo. Imagine being the inspiration for a Muppet. Only Chester knows how that honor feels.

Adoption Hopefuls at Babylon Town Shelter (631- 643-9270) Lamar St., W. Babylon: The cats are clamoring for equal time. “Indigo”5-512 is a lovely calico moved into the lobby, while “Lucky” 5-561 is gorgeous Russian Blue mix with an apple head. She is one of 21 cats removed after an eviction.

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