Monday, Feb. 15
Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding Groups
7-8 p.m. live on USA Network
8-10 p.m. live on CNBC
Tuesday, Feb. 16
Sporting, Working and Terrier Groups, Best In Show
7-10 p.m. live on USA Network
Not even a painful love triangle could keep Daimler's Caviar Dreams from vying for that coveted silver-plated trophy at Madison Square Garden.
The silver and black keeshond (pronounced kayz-hawnd), a lovable ball of fur also known as Parker, nearly lost an eye as a 1-year-old when a jealous dog attacked him for walking too close to the fairer sex. One $3,000 surgery later, and Parker was again ready to compete with the nation's most elite purebreds.
Now he's set to join five other suburban pooches in New York City for the 134th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The two-day event, which starts Monday, features 2,500 dogs spanning 173 different breeds and varieties.
"Parker's lower right eye rim isn't normal, but luckily the left side is the judges' side," owner Diane Benz of Lake Zurich said. "The things we do for these dogs ... I guess we're gluttons for punishment."
Entering the world of dog showing was natural for Benz and her husband, Terry, who grew up both animal and sports fanatics. Their young puppies go to obedience school and are immediately socialized, accompanying the couple to parks, restaurants and even the hardware store.
Once they turn 6 months old, they enter dog shows - where the Benzes now spend up to three-fourths of their weekends. Between travel costs, hotels, food and chew toys, they estimate their passion costs about $50,000 annually.
"It takes many years of hard work, study and practice that allow us to be at the level of dog showing with Parker at Westminster," Benz said.
That level of commitment is typical for many show dog owners. Rankings are based on wins and the number of other dogs defeated, so a single career could span hundreds of events. Exposure and name recognition with the right judges can also go a long way. Some owners even buy advertisements in industry magazines publicizing their dogs and notable wins.
Jim Kinney and his wife, Lorrie, decided to sacrifice much more than money in the spirit of competition. The Inverness couple sent Rider, a Norwich terrier who in the ring goes by Huntwood's Joy Ride of Moorcroft, to live with his handler until he stops showing around age 5.
"We want that bond between dog and handler to be there so Rider isn't looking around for us at shows," Kinney said. "We miss him, but it's a short window of time you can show. He'll be back sleeping on the bed with us in no time."
Not even 2 years old, Rider is still immature and competed in only a handful of shows last year. But Kinney predicts future Westminster success: Rider's great- great-grandfather, Willum, won Best in Show in 1994. His photograph hangs in the halls of the arena.
In 2010, three breeds newly-recognized by the American Kennel Club will compete at the Big W for the first time ever: the Irish Red and White Setter in the Sporting Group, and the Pyrenean Shepherd and the Norwegian Buhund in the Herding Group.
The top five ranked dogs in each breed are invited, but any purebred with American Kennel Club Championship status is eligible to enter until the 2,500-dog limit is met. Breeds are judged during the day, with the winners moving on to group competition in the evening.
On Tuesday, when the winners have been chosen in the seven groups - Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding - will meet in the final countdown for Best of Show.
Of course, traveling to New York in February is no easy feat either. In 2006, Carol Samp's flight was canceled due to snow and she had to drive from Wheeling to New York at the eleventh hour. This year, she and border terrier Hunny are driving again, in part because airline tickets for dogs can cost more than their owners.'
Samp packed three crates - one for the car, arena and hotel. Unlike other breeds, not much grooming equipment is needed. Border terriers' coats are plucked by hand in order to keep the hair coarse and in layers, she said.
Alyssa Weber, a Jacobs High School freshman from Lake in the Hills, is a handler with five years experience who will compete in the junior sportsmanship division. The top four receive scholarship money. She's showing Charlie, an English cocker spaniel who goes by Telltale Hot Damm.
Weber has taught herself a lot of tricks, including how to best show off the neck, pull up the ears and perfectly place the feet. Charlie's not highly ranked, but Weber said anything can happen at Westminster, where the pair has competed twice before.
"Charlie is goofy at home but all business at shows," Weber said. "I need to try to be as mellow as him."
Giselle, a long coat Chihuahua from Long Grove, and Ruger, an American Staffordshire terrier from Aurora, are also competing.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.