By JIM MERRITT
It's anybody's guess whether Capulet's Dream Girl, a personality-plus black and white English springer spaniel from Kings Park who likes to show off in the ring, will win Best in Show this year at Westminster.
But building upon her success with judges at other dog shows during the past two years, she has an excellent chance of coming home an American Kennel Club champion, says Tracey Monahan, co-owner with her husband, Don Snyder.
D.D., as she's known around the house, is one point away from earning the 15 points in competition that it takes to add CH, for champion, in front of her formal name, Monahan says.
The final point "can be earned at any other competition, but it's definitely prestigious to finish at Westminster," Monahan says.
About 70 dogs from Long Island are entered in The Westminster Kennel Club 139th Annual Dog Show on Monday and Tuesday in Manhattan. Getting there has involved many hours of conformation classes and practice shows, as well as championship points scored by beating dogs in other, lesser-known shows. For their owners and handlers, it has meant hours spent training, grooming and otherwise preparing their dogs for the big show.
If you dream of one day taking your own dog to Westminster, it's unlikely that you will find your raw material inside a cage at the local pet shop or animal shelter, experts say.
"You should buy a puppy from a breeder who shows dogs," says Cathy Iacopelli, president of the Long Island German Shorthaired Pointer Club in East Meadow. "The dog shouldn't have an overbite or a glaring fault."
A CANINE INVESTMENT
Show dog ownership is costly, with expenses beyond the regular veterinarian and grooming bills. There's premium dog food, travel to shows and -- with certain breeds -- special grooming products and tools, Iacopelli says. Entry fees to shows on Long Island range from $30 to $35. It costs $100 per entrant at Westminster.
You may also want to hire a professional handler "to present the dog in the right light, the way it should be presented," says John Marinos of Huntington Station, one such handler who has shown at Westminster and runs classes at Maximum K9 Service in Deer Park.
Wendy Kellerman, a full-time professional handler who lives in Hauppauge, charges $80 for local shows. Kellerman, who is showing two dogs at Westminster this year, says handlers generally charge from $350 to $1,200 at Westminster. The price depends upon the handler's record, the breed and other factors. Dog owners may also be asked to cover travel and hotel expenses and boarding fees if the dog lives with the handler.
Before entering your dog in a show at which championship points are awarded, take it to a match show, experts say. No points are given at these practice events, but you may get tips from a judge. "If you are doing something wrong, the judge may take the dog from you and show you how to do it," says Bob Eisele, point show chair of the Suffolk County Kennel Club.
At shows like Westminster, judges award points based upon how well the dogs meet the breed's "standard," a litany of mental and physical characteristics (colorings, gait, proportions) that make up the ideal dog.
However, Eisele cautions against a winning-is-everything attitude. Showing dogs, he says, "is a sport and a family activity. I know people whose dogs hardly ever win, but they get out and get to do something with their dog . . . It's not always about winning."
RULES OF COMPETITION
To compete in an American Kennel Club-sanctioned events, your dog's parents have to be AKC-registered purebreds, which means they have a documented bloodline, according to spokesman David Frei. They also must be at least six months old, and can't be spayed or neutered. "The concept for dog shows and the purpose is to evaluate potential breeding stock, so if they are altered then they are unable to fulfill that part of the deal," Frei says. This year, Westminster entries were limited to 2,800 dogs, with preference given to the top dogs in each breed.
Maximum K9 Service: 6-7 p.m. Tuesdays, 521 Commack Rd., Deer Park
Info: 631-940-1511, maximumk9service.com