Dog Day Afternoons Print E-mail

The Daily Times
November 13, 2009

Ruth Williams knows bulldogs. She can tell you all about the brawny breed. Known for thick shoulders and a massive short-faced head, the bulldog’s gait is a loose-jointed, shuffling, sidewise motion.

They are one of the most popular breeds in America thanks to their lovable, gentle disposition and playful wrinkles. They’ve got more folds than a concertina.

Williams showed her first bulldog at age eight. Back then, her father Thomas was president-elect of the Bulldog Club of America. More than three decades later Ruth earned the same honor. She has been judging their muscular physique and agreeable temperament for 20 years.

This weekend the longtime Upper Darby resident will be presiding in the show ring over bulldogs and dalmatians at the 2009 Kennel Club of Philadelphia Dog (KCP) shows at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks in Montgomery County.
The Bulldog Club requested Williams from among all judges nationwide to judge the national specialty show this Saturday and Sunday.

“You’re looking for a powerful presence — one with good ears, a spiked tail, appealing wrinkles, a good expression, a nice gait and the top line is everything in a bulldog,” related Williams, who was recently named as an American Kennel Club (AKC) delegate for the prestigious Bryn Mawr Kennel Club.

“It’s all about putting your hands on the dog and feeling what’s under that fur. Judges do have certain preferences. Still, if it’s a dog that’s good and sound, it’s anybody’s game.”

Show airs on Thanksgiving

More than 2,000 of America’s top show dogs will take to the show rings in two all-breed, benched dog shows at one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious dog events. On Saturday, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia hosts the National Dog Show Presented by Purina that will air Thanksgiving Day on NBC.

On Sunday, the Kennel Club presents another complete show, with 150-plus breeds competing for Best in Show, and a wide variety of demonstration events, entertainment and educational programs.

On Saturday (from 1-6 p.m.) television cameras will tape the group and best in show competitions that will be broadcast at noon, right after the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It’s the world’s most widely watched dog show — over twice the combined audiences of the next two most widely watched dog shows. The two-hour taped special is expected to reach an audience approaching 20 million viewers.

Both Saturday and Sunday dogs in more than 150 breeds and varieties will be judged individually in 12 rings according to the recognized standards for the breed. Around 2 p.m. breed winners advance to group judging in the main show ring— Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting and Herding. The group winners vie for the coveted title —— “Best in Show.”

John O’Hurley will again host the NBC television special. Perhaps best known for playing J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” O’Hurley is a passionate dog lover who has authored two humorous books about canines. His sidekick is David Frei, the longtime co-host of the popular Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. A breeder-owner-handler and judge, Frei has enjoyed much competitive success with his Afghan Hounds and Brittanys.

“Just as in any athletic endeavor there is an air of confidence about these dogs, a certain balance,” Frei explains. “Some dogs just have a presence in the ring. Kind of like the dog saying ‘I own this ground I’m standing over,’ but they have to back that up with performance.”

A history in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has been at the forefront of the purebred dog world, hosting a major dog event as far back as 1876 at the Centennial Exposition. The Kennel Club of Philadelphia even predates the American Kennel Club that was organized in 1884. This year the club introduced the three newest breeds to be recognized — Irish Red and White Setters, Norwegian Buhunds, and Pyrenean Shepherds.

After bouncing around to four different locations during recent years, the National Dog Show appears to have found a permanent home in Oaks, near Valley Forge. Annually, the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and The National Dog Show Presented by Purina make a donation of at least $10,000 to the Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

A dog that has full registration with the AKC is eligible to participate in many of the 20,000 events offered by the AKC and its affiliated clubs each year, though some events are breed-specific.

The National Dog Show is just one of six benched shows held annually in the U.S. Spectators can stroll backstage to watch a myriad of breeds get pampered, coddled and primped for the show ring. Some dogs simply sleep in their crates between showings. Most surprisingly, there is very little barking considering how many dogs are in one exhibit hall. But best, visitors looking to acquire a certain breed can quiz devoted dog handlers about a breed’s energy level, intelligence, or potential health problems.

Here come the Brittanys

Growing up in Frazier, Pa., Joe Christner’s stepfather operated a kennel for Brittanys, a breed of hunting dogs. As a teenager he watched as one of the kennel’s bitches evolved into a show champion. After a break of nearly four decades, Christner is back in the game.

For the past three years he’s been showing Sam, a liver colored Brittany. Under the tutelage of handler Gina Currier of Zionsville, Pa. Sam was awarded Best of Breed at the 2008 KCP show.

“Some of my friends I’ve known for years think I’m nuts,” confessed Christner, age 56, a resident of Swarthmore. “But I’ve also had others who come to the shows and they just love it. I treat the shows like a mini-vacation.

“At the shows, opposing owners are very friendly. We’re talking all things Brittany. For the handlers it can be pretty competitive. You want to see your dog get the blue ribbon, but if I don’t that’s okay too.”


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