Dog show hobby leads to big time
It’s like a rookie pitcher toeing the rubber for Game 7 of the World Series.
A private being asked to stand in for a four-star general.
And yet, the bright lights and felt carpet inside New York’s Madison Square Garden don’t seem to faze Keelyn Smith, 13, as she prepares to compete in America’s biggest dog show next month.
“It’s really fun,” Keelyn said breathlessly as she held Monica, a Ruffian Shetland sheepdog, who will be competing at the Westminster Kennel Club’s 128th annual show Feb. 9 and 10.
“It’s a hobby,” she said, “though I’d say a pretty expensive one.”
Considering that some of Westminster’s crowd tilts toward men in tweed jackets and bob-coiffed women donning pleated pantsuits, Keelyn Smith signals a nod to Westminster as a chance to have fun.
The fun begins with Keelyn’s Westminster entrant, who competes under the name “Ruffian Everybody Loves Friends.” The dog’s call name is a tribute to one of the show’s stars, played by Courteney Cox Arquette.
Unlike many of her competitors, who crisscross the globe competing for purses and prizes in shows from Milan to Anchorage, Keelyn’s new passion blossomed just this summer. The Gold Country Kennel Club’s Labor Day dog show was one of her first, where she secured fourth place. At Westminster, she will be competing for the first time in the “open class” division after placing out of the “novice junior class” category.
The 2003 Westminster show had 2,600 entrants and 159 breeds. A Kerry blue terrier, “Mick,” handled by Bill McFadden, won best in show.
Monica, with her white underbelly and flecks of brown and black, turned Keelyn into a winner.
“Every kid has a niche, and I think she’s found it,” said Keelyn’s mother, Carol.
Though some dog owners are prone to feeding their show animals chilled bottled water and organically grown food, Keelyn happily feeds her dog off-the-shelf premium food and the occasional baked chicken-and-garlic dinner. She uses chalk on the dog’s feet and neck to keep it cool and her sister’s mousse and gel to keep Monica’s hair shiny.
“I think I used this stuff on my hair this morning,” Keelyn joked last week.
All of Monica’s accouterments, including creams, brushes and the mousse, are kept in a silver strongbox that goes wherever the dog does.
As for obsessive dog owners who transport their competitors in hermetically controlled environments and feed them Evian with an eye-dropper, Carol laughs.
“All I can say is those dogs must be really inbred. Monica’s really durable.
If you have a good dog that’s built to the breed, there’s not much you need to do.”
Someday, Keelyn’s parents may buy a recreational vehicle, which will help the family continue its passion. Keelyn’s sister, Jill, 9, plans to start showing dogs next year as a novice junior class handler.
No word on whether Delaney, Keelyn’s 7-year-old sister, will follow suit.
For Keelyn, an eighth-grader with a 4.0 grade-point average at Pleasant Valley School, coming to the “Big Apple” is itself a sweet deal, as the family has plans to view “Beauty and the Beast” in the heart of New York.
As any athlete or competitor will tell you, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.
When asked if she’d be back next year, Keelyn paused, then, like a true veteran, smiled. “I’m working on it.”
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