Dog owner will have her day
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monday morning, 2,721 competitors and their handlers will take the field in one of the longest-running championships in the country: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
This year marks the Kennel Club's 137th annual show. For diehard purebred canine lovers and the people who spend much of their free time showing dogs, the Westminster Dog Show is the World Series, the Super Bowl.
Charleston resident Kim Rowley understands that she's not the first West Virginian to take a dog to the Westminster Dog Show. She's not even the only local to be taking a dog this year.
"But there are only seven from West Virginia going this year," she said. "And George is the only toy fox terrier from West Virginia."
George is Rowley's dog. Going to the show in New York is a first for both of them, though it's been a longer road to get there for Rowley.
The 46-year-old said she's a lifelong dog lover and a huge fan of the Westminster show, but didn't get into training and showing dogs until she was in her 20s. Aside from taking animals to shows, Rowley also did obedience training and trained dogs to detect human remains.
She said she worked with a variety of breeds over the years.
"I got started with Dalmatians, then decided to go small."
The reasons, she pointed out, are obvious. Dalmatians are larger dogs, require larger equipment and just take up more space, which would be a consideration in her modest West Side house.
However, she said, it wasn't easy to get away from bigger dogs. Because she was known to work with Dalmatians, people sometimes came by her house to drop off rescue dogs.
Her husband, Mark, said, "We had a police officer knock on our door and told us he had a Dalmatian in his car."
Still, Rowley said she had to give them up.
George isn't the first dog Rowley has tried to get to the Westminster show, but she acknowledged circumstances have lined up better. Partly this has to do with getting George qualified to compete.
Getting qualified involves racking up points and awards at other dog shows, which Rowley said George did early on.
"I finished getting him qualified before he was a year old," she said. "We've spent the past six months or so cooling our heels and waiting to go."
Rowley added that qualifying is easier now, not that it's much of a comfort. The association that lowered the standards to allow more dogs in also increased the number of dogs that could compete.
George will be competing in best of breed, which is basically a beauty contest. Judges use a stringent system of qualifications that includes physical characteristics, how the animal moves (its gait) and even the perceived temperament of the dog.
The dogs are not so much rated against each other, but rather against what the kennel club has determined is the ideal specimen of a particular breed.
Rowley said it's more complicated than it sounds. What is considered ideal for one breed of dog might not be considered ideal for another, and trainers have to raise their dogs to conform to the judging guidelines.
Rowley wasn't sure about George's chances at winning, but winning isn't necessarily the point. Just getting to the show is something of an honor, though she acknowledges it's not the kind of thing everyone will get.
"Being part of this is on my bucket list," she said. "I've wanted this since I was a little girl."
Still, if George were to take the top prize over the other eight dogs in his category, Rowley would get possession of a nice trophy, which she could keep if George won two more times.
Rowley said there's not much money in showing dogs, though dog breeders do quite well selling them to people who want to get into showing animals.
She said she knew dog breeders who sold toy fox terrier pups with the potential to become winning show dogs for as much as $2,500 each.
"And that's just for a dog with the potential to be a show dog," she said. "Sometimes the dog you get turns out not to be pretty enough, and you're out the money."
Rowley said she lucked out. George was given to her by a breeder in Kentucky, which only sounds like a bargain. Rowley explained that she spends a lot of money showing her dogs.
"It's nothing for me to spend three or four hundred dollars in a weekend at a show," she said. "And that's just on food and lodging. The trip to New York is going to cost me $500 just for a place to stay."
In fact, Rowley felt pretty lucky that she could swing the trip this year. She said she's come close to going to the show before, but she couldn't work out where to stay.
But she doesn't regret it much. Rowley knows she loses money with her dogs, but justified it by saying raising, training and showing dogs is one of her life's passions.
"The way I see it, I don't smoke, I don't go to bars, do drugs or do crafts. Raising shows dogs is my craft."
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.