Not just for show Dogs at weekend trials are ownersâ�?�? loyal companions By David Lias
Plain Talk While Saint Bernards and Portugese Water Dogs lumbered across one part of the Clay County Fairgrounds in Vermillion Saturday, diminutive Chihuhuas and Toy Fox Terriers prepared to accompany their owners into a ring at the annual Sioux Valley Kennel Club Dog Show and Obedience Trials. The event was held Saturday and Sunday, June 27-28, and brought an armada of motor homes and other vehicles from all over the country to Vermillion, as dog lovers descended on the city. Typically, over 1,000 canines and 160 different breeds participate in the annual show. Wendy Gascoigne, Altoona, WI, demonstrated how the show is for both dogs and people of all types and sizes. Wendy, a petite woman who stands approximately 5 feet tall, accompanied Levi, her 156-pound, 2-year-old Newfoundland. When he's standing tall on all fours, the top of Levi's head reaches above Wendy's waist. Levi matched Wendy's weight when he was only six months old. Wendy and Levi seem to be an unlikely duo. There weren't many owners at last weekend's show who were nearly overshadowed by their dogs. For Wendy, however, Levi is a perfect match. "I just love the personalities of Newfoundlands," she said. "They're outgoing, they're great with children, they make a wonderful family pet and they are very social." Levi has turned out to be the perfect companion for Wendy. "He lives at home with me, and he goes to work with me," she said. "Pretty much wherever I am, Levi is." The Newfoundland breed are categorized as working dogs. They are masters at long-distance swimming, Wendy said, and have a natural instinct to rescue people from water. Levi, like other dogs of his breed, is large and strong, possessing a heavy coat to protect him from icy waters. "They originated out of Canada," she said, adding that Levi is most fond of the winter season in Wisconsin. "He has his own bedroom, and it's kept at 65 degrees in there for him all year long. He loves to go in the lake and swim, and if he's missing, check behind the shower curtain. He's usually laying in the bathtub." As Levi lay panting in the cool grass under a tent near the show rings, Christy Collins, Bloomingdale, MI, prepared to accompany Taylor, her female Briard, to her vehicle to fetch some water. Taylor isn't massive in size, Levi. But Briards are best known as muscular herding dogs that sport a coarse, long, slightly wavy double coat. Taylor's hair is six or more inches long in places; her face features a shaggy beard and eyebrows, with the fur on her ears clipped so that it cascades from them into the rest of the coat. "I've owned her since she was six months old," Christy said. "You usually have to brush her coat at least once a week. If you don't keep on top of brushing it, it will mat." Taylor is currently a rookie in the world of dog shows. "She's just starting out," Christy said. "We usually try to go out about one weekend a month, and then next year, we'll be out full time." Christy admits she is attracted to smart dogs, and Taylor fits that bill. "Briards are very smart. They can outthink you, and they are beautiful dogs," she said. "They are also very loyal. I really enjoy the breed." Taylor's beauty comes not only from her long coat, but also from the graceful way she moves. Briards are known for their elegant, agile gait that makes it seem their feet don't touch the ground when they walk and run. Taylor won best of breed honors during Sunday afternoon's show. "She's a wonderful dog," Christy said. Sherry Geurts, Marshall, MN, came to Vermillion accompanied by a dog that's no stranger to the hunting scene in South Dakota. Izzy is a 2-year-old chocolate labrador. "I own seven labradors – five chocolates and two black ones," Sherry said. "This girl – I bred her; I have her mother, and she was the only female puppy out of the first litter I ever bred, and I was keeping her no matter what she looked like." She added that she always had the intention to show Izzy. "She is turning out to be a nice old show dog for me," Sherry said. "I'm real pleased with her." Izzy is just finishing up her first year as a show dog. During Saturday's competition, she received best of opposite sex honors in her breed. On Sunday, she received best of breed and best of winners' honors. The versatility of labradors first attracted Sherry to the breed. "They can hunt, they can lay beside you, you can put their leash on a 2-year-old child's hand and they'll walk calmly and gently, but if you plan to go hunting, once you get your gun out, they're ready and willing to go," she said. "You can sit on the couch, and they're going to sit their beside you either on the floor or on the couch. "They're intelligent, they're people pleasers, and they are easy to care for – they are a 'wash and wear' dog," Sherry said with a laugh. "A well-bred labrador is also known for his or her fine temperment. They'll bark when somebody drives up, but they certainly aren't going to be tearing anyone's leg off." Jane Gentzen, Tempe, AZ, teaches high school math in Arizona. When school is session, she participates in dog shows in the southwestern United States, not far from home. The break in the school year gave her an opportunity to take Sassy, her 11-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, and three other dogs of that breed to shows throughout the Midwest, including last weekend's event in Vermillion. Rhodesian Ridgebacks are indigenous to indigenous to southern Africa, and were once used to hunt lions. This is most likely why this breed is known for its bravery and willingness to take on anything. "They were bred to hunt and protect people from whatever came out of the African bush," Jane said. "The judge told me she thought her movement was outstanding, and many judges have said that about her already." She has owned, bred and shown Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs for 23 years. "I'm the breeder and co-owner of several Ridgebacks – probably under 20 dogs. Some of them live with the co-owners, and I have four that live at home with me," Jane said. She has gained nearly enough expertise on this particular breed of dog to qualify as an American Kennel Club (AKC) judge. "I have to judge one more match, and once I do that, I send my application in (to be a judge)," Jane said. "There are some other things you have to do, and then you become approved by AKC to judge one breed." Saturday afternoon, Sassy won a non-regular competition at Vermillion's show. "It's not for AKC points, but the club does this to encourage people to bring out puppies to their show. It encourages novice owners and breeders to keep going with their puppies. The club does it to encourage puppies to be entered into the show," she said. Jane can describe her nearly quarter-century love for this breed of dog with one word: courage. "They are clean, courageous, loyal dogs," she said. "I like the fact that I don't have to do all the grooming that all of my fellow exhibitors have to do," noting that Ridgebacks have a short, copper-colored coat. "I also like the fact that these dogs are good with children; I bought mine when my daughters were both young and they would protect without being aggressive. "They are not a dog you can train to attack," Jane said, "but they will protect you with their life. They'll put themselves between whatever they perceive as danger and you. "It would be very, very rare that they would ever bite to protect you, but they will if they have to," she said. Ridgebacks, she said, are good hunting dogs, but also make good house dogs. "They will 'counter-surf;' they like to put their noses on the counter to smell what's up there," Jane said. "They make good family dogs, and I breed for sound temperaments, and I really like that."