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Canine Capers: Rearing A Champion Dog

Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Wayne Gretzky, Mar/Apr 97

(continued from page 3)

All of the dogs are beautiful, flawless to the untrained eye. There's a dalmatian bitch that moves well, a wire-haired fox Terrier that draws applause, a toy Manchester terrier with a perfect shape. In the end, according to some of the off-duty judges, it comes down to three: the dalmatian, Fizz and Kasper. Of course, the ring judge may have another opinion, and only hers counts. Finally, Penny the dalmatian--the top-ranked Non-Sporting dog in the United States and No. 4 among all breeds--is named the winner. AKC vice president of communications Wayne Cavanaugh, who judges dogs internationally, nods. "She wanted it more," he says. "On this day, she was just the better dog. You could see her out there begging for it."

It is Penny's 58th career Best in Show. Dennis McCoy, who handles her for owner Isabel Robson of Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, carries her to a makeshift dais where the requisite photograph is taken. Tonight, McCoy and his dog will have about six seconds of exposure on the local news.

On Sunday at the Conyers show, Glenn Lycan's worries about the Siberian husky judge prove unfounded. Kasper advances, as does Fizz. In the Herding group, Fizz is up against a highly regarded Belgian Tervuren--and a judge, Virginia Hampton, with a reputation for the unorthodox. "You never know what she's going to do," Rawls says with a wince, but on this afternoon she does just what Rawls wants, and Fizz is out of his group and back to competing for Best in Show.

"You could tell that today he was even better than yesterday," says Goizueta, who is back, too, with an even snazzier sport coat. "You know, it was exactly one year ago in this very building that Fizz was named Best in Show." But so was Kasper, that same weekend, and today the Siberian is looking unbeatable. Despite the presence of a sculpted rottweiler, Kasper saunters through his group competition to loud applause.

Sunday's final judge is Arlene Thompson-Brown, one of the dog world's colorful characters. A former copywriter and broadcaster for Mutual and CBS radio, she lives alone in Florida. She has been married to a French count, an Englishman, an Australian and four Americans. All seven are dead. "I'm out of the market from now on," she says. "I'm sticking to dogs."

As the finalists parade past, Thompson-Brown studies them intently. Saturday night, she had pored over the guidelines for many of the major breeds, refreshing the images of perfection in her mind. Now she sizes up the dogs as they pass, mentally removing one after another from contention, as though this were a dance contest and she was tapping each on the shoulder with an unseen hand. Her specialties this weekend have ranged from beagles and borzois in the Hound group to Working Dogs such as Akitas, Alaskan malamutes and the frightening-sounding giant schnauzers, so a Siberian husky isn't far out of her range. Whether that's a positive or negative for Kasper, Glenn Lycan can't say.

Three of the seven finalists are the Lycans'. As usual, Glenn shows Kasper and Rebecca handles Fizz, while Eddie the terrier is taken in by Jane Austin-Myers, a handler from Tampa, Florida, who at Westminster last year guided a clumber spaniel named Brady (a.k.a. CH Clussexx Country Sunrise) to Best in Show. Of the seven, four are repeats from Saturday's Best in Show, including Kasper, Fizz and the dalmatian, but the judge is different, and so is the dynamic. "It's like a golf game," whispers Betty Leininger. "Even if you play the same course every day, each time out is totally different." Thompson-Brown waits for what seems like an eternity, walking past each entry one last time, pausing in front of the dalmatian, lingering over a cocker spaniel. It is a game trying to read her thoughts.

"It might be Kasper," Rawls guesses--and it is. Thompson-Brown gestures his way and, for the 19th time in his career, Kasper has won Best in Show, beating out the rest of the 1,500-odd dogs registered here. Glenn Lycan, his forehead bathed in sweat, exhales audibly. "I was sure she was looking at the cocker spaniel behind me," he says. Kasper, perhaps picking up on Glenn's exultation, lets out his first yelp of the weekend. He's celebrating, too.

Kasper doesn't know it, but this will be his last visit to Atlanta. After February, following one more try at Westminster, he was retired. "That'll be four years," Chuck Charlton says. "That's long enough for any dog." But the Lycans wonder if Kasper will be able to adapt to the idleness, for each time he hears the door to the portable kennel open, he leaps to his feet with a wagging tail, ready to hit the road. Instead, he'll have to be content with breeding, passing on that faultless carriage, those shining eyes and maybe a genetic defect or two to the next generation. Ready or not, he'll doze in the sun and nibble at meals with no worries about his waistline, living a dog's life.

Bruce Schoenfeld writes on topics ranging from wine to bullfighting from his home in Colorado.

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