Kennel Club hosts a rare breed of dog show

Emma Rogers, 9, of Mansfield, N.J., takes her Great Dane, Miyera, for a run during the junior showmanship competition.
Emma Rogers, 9, of Mansfield, N.J., takes her Great Dane, Miyera, for a run during the junior showmanship competition.
Posted: November 18, 2013

Tango is great with kids, but he'll kill their pet guinea pig if you're not careful. He'll break a squirrel's neck and leave the dead animal on the porch for you, too.

Low to the ground and boasting dexterous, horselike ears, Portuguese Podengo pequenos like Tango were bred centuries ago in Europe to catch rats on explorers' ships.

They are born hunters with type A personalities, at least most of the time.

"You move the furniture around and they're mad at you for a week," said Tango's owner, Stacy Faw, of Indiana.

Portuguese Podengo pequenos have been in the United States for a little more than a decade. On Saturday, they debuted as one of three new breeds at the National Dog Show, an event sponsored by Purina.

The more than 100-year-old show, hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, is one of the few dog shows left during which champion dogs and their owners are accessible to the public.

Part of the show - which will run through Sunday at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks - takes place on a glitzy television stage set with soft lights and flowers as owners parade their dogs before judges. NBC broadcasts much of it on Thanksgiving Day.

The other part, where the public can meet the dogs, "is kind of what it's like when you go to the state fair," said Matt Youngman of Wynnewood, a spectator.

Hundreds of these kinds of shows dotted the nation a century ago before their decline began in the 1960s because people became less interested in spending an entire day at a dog show, said Wayne Ferguson, president of Kennel Club of Philadelphia.

After the Detroit Kennel Club canceled its show this year, the number of such competitions has slid to four.

Harking back to a different era, these shows are about educating the public as much as they are about competition. They are also a swift rebuke to the puppy-mill culture.

"They're not here to sell puppies so much as explain what we do and why we do it," Ferguson said.

Faw, Tango's owner, added: "If someone walks up to me and gives me cash and says, 'I want a puppy,' it's like: 'Oh, no. I want to see references. I want to see pictures of their home.' "

Another dog breed that made its debut this year is the rat terrier, another rat hunter. American farmers in the early 1900s began to breed a dog whose ancestors included beagles, basenjis, whippets, terriers, and others to create the perfect "ratter," according to Stacy McWilliams, a breeder and exhibitor from Telford.

By the 1920s, and particularly during the Great Depression, some men would make a living renting out these dogs to farms. But the dogs fell out of use when farmers started using exterminators. Rat terriers, however, are gaining some attention from organic farmers, McWilliams said.

Yet another dog at the show was the Leonberger, an animal that weighs more than 100 pounds.

They love children and are very protective, said Susan Durmin of Lansdale, the owner of Spartacus, a grand champion. But their long fur can be a nuisance, she said.

"What you do is learn to live without carpet," she said. "You have leather couches. You learn to live fabric-free. But it's totally worth it. All the love and affection is worth any maintenance you have to do."

The winners of the competition will be announced during NBC's national broadcast of the show on Thanksgiving Day.


bfinley@phillynews.com

610-313-8118

@Ben_Finley

www.inquirer.com/bucksinq

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