While it’s no Westminster, the annual dog show pulls in big league breeders competing alongside dedicated hobbyists. A sanctioned event, the show is an early stepping stone to rack up coveted points on the American Kennel Club dog show circuit.
Competitors clearly came with their game on, or in some cases, their portable fans on, aimed to keep their dogs cool as they waited their turn to run the mats.
Some dog show equipment is universal, like a lapel pocket stuffed with treats or a grooming comb tucked behind the owner’s ear.
But some breeds necessitate their own distinct paraphernalia. Owners of Saint Bernards were quick on the draw with slobber rags kept at the ready in their back pocket. A proud couple who owned a boxer wheeled a cooler of iced-down chamois cloths behind them all day, giving their dog a wipe-down to bring out his coat’s luster each time he stepped in the ring. And a pampered long-haired Skye Terrier spent the day lounging on its own rolling throne, carpeted in red velvet no less, with a pile of ribbons beside it.
Fiona Norton from Haywood County relishes the bi-annual shows of the Western Carolina Dog Fanciers as a chance to mingle with other Irish Wolfhound owners, who collectively bask in the glory of owning a dog that’s bigger than they are.
“We have a connection and all know each other. It happens with all the breeds. There is a real social network,” Norton said.
It’s especially fun to track down other owners who got their dog from the same breeder and compare notes. The dogs seems to like the interaction as much as their owners.
“It is good for their socialization to meet other dogs and other people and keep their mind going,” Norton said.
No matter how many shows she attends, Norton never loses a sense of awe at the incredible diversity of breeds.
“It is so magnificent,” Norton said.
And each breed has its fans.
“Some people just like having a Scottish Terrier or a Dalmatian. Some people like hunting dogs or herding dogs,” Norton said.
For Norton, the first generation daughter of Irish immigrants, owning an Irish Wolfhound is a connection to her own heritage. And she couldn’t imagine life without him.
“I wouldn’t be without a dog,” Norton said.
When it comes to the Dog Fancier’s Association, which breed you fancy is in the eye of the beholder.
Nancy Davis, also a dog owner in Haywood County, is eternally enamored with her four Shetland sheep dogs
“I like Shelties because they are incredibly intelligent, very trainable, and I like the size,” Davis said. “They are like potato chips — you can have more than one.”
The Western Carolina Dog Fancier’s Association is not just about sharing a common love of dogs. The group’s primary goal is to promote responsible dog ownership. The dog shows, which cater to spectators from the general public, do just that.
While 600 dogs under one roof may sound like mayhem, these well-trained canines are obedient and loyal companions.
“It hopefully allows the public to see what a well-trained pet acts like,” said Davis, who spent years running a boarding kennel and dog obedience school. “Dogs who jump on you and chew up the furniture and knock the food bowl out of your hand end up getting stuck in the backyard and they aren’t family members. They are just there. Basic discipline allows the animal to exist in a household as a family member.”
The first homework Davis gives dog owners in her obedience classes is to research their dog’s breeds. It can explain everything about their natural tendencies, like a beagle who can’t let go of a scent, a Shetland sheepdog who will bark warnings when a moth flies by, or a terrier who will dig to China if given the chance.
“I am a little bit of a purist. I have owned mixed breed dogs and loved them dearly, but for most of the folks involved in pure breeds, they appreciate the work that has gone into creating that breed,” Davis said.
Even the exotic way people groom poodles today dates back to their breeding as water retrievers, shaven clean to aid swimming, except for tufts of fur left at their hips, ankles and shoulders to keep their joints warm, Davis explained.
Davis notes that no matter their niche, all dogs were genetically bred to work with people in some form or fashion, and that makes essentially any dog trainable.
Along with hosting two dog shows a year at the Haywood County Fairgrounds — which incidentally is an economic boon to the area — the Western Carolina Dog Fanciers Association also supports canine causes. Last year, the group raised money to buy bulletproof vests for two K9s with Haywood County law enforcement agencies, and to equip volunteer fire departments with pet oxygen masks.