Terriers ready for their close-ups at kennel club show at Cal Expo

04/13/2012 12:00 AM

04/19/2012 12:50 PM

She's a rare beauty, with her long, silky tresses and elegant gait.

But does Tillie, the Skye terrier otherwise known as Gold River As You Like It, have what it takes to be a winner?

Her owners and handlers, Karen and Bill Sanders of Gold River, think so.

After all, Tillie's father, Webster, is one of the top Skyes in the country, Karen Sanders pointed out as she brushed and fluffed Tillie before her turn in the ring Thursday at the Sacramento Kennel Club show at Cal Expo.

But at just 16 months, Tillie is a relative newbie to the show circuit, Sanders pointed out. Plus, she had some fierce competition, namely Flora, a champion Skye owned by Carol and Jan Simonds of Novato.

"It's a big show, and she's just starting out," Sanders said. Best of breed would be a long shot.

From diminutive Norfolks to grand Airedales, Tillie and other terriers of all sizes and descriptions vied for liver treats, ribbons and glory Thursday in a specialty show dedicated to their breed. Shows featuring all breeds will run today through the weekend.

Competition aside, the event offers an entertaining glimpse into the subculture of show dogs and their owners, handlers and judges.

"It's a different world," with a style and language all its own, said Jan Robbins of Sacramento, accompanied by her wire-haired fox terrier, Champion Winston Sheffield of Wilhaggin.

At Thursday's event, owners debated the merits of "humane chains" and discussed the characteristics of the perfect "tail set." They wore jewelry imprinted with images of their pooches, and sensible soft-soled black shoes perfect for spending long hours on their feet grooming and showing.

Some arrived in trailers packed with dog crates, trimming equipment and other supplies to get them through the weekend.

Judges are stern and serious as they evaluate canine competitors. Anne Katona, who was evaluating terriers Thursday, said she compares each canine competitor against the American Kennel Club "standard" or blueprint for the breed.

Katona inspects each dog's head, mouth and teeth, the length of its body and its gait, among other things.

"A judge never compares a dog to another dog, but to the standard," she said.

Some breeders and owners disputed that assertion, arguing that cuteness and "personality" play well. They declined to be quoted for fear of alienating judges.

Julie Gleeson entered her cute-as-a-button Norfolk terrier, Miracle, into the competition even though she was at a distinct disadvantage. Unlike the classic Norfolk, Miracle sports a curly tail.

"She almost died as a baby, so we didn't dock her tail," said Gleeson, of Walnut Creek. "By the time she was better, we had fallen in love with it.

"Of course it's not the perfect Norfolk tail. She hasn't won a darned thing. But I'll keep putting her out there because I know she's a good dog."

Robbins, on the other hand, is winding down Winston's successful career.

"I'm not really sure he likes getting all dressed up and standing on a table for hours," she admitted as he pulled at his leash, eager to connect with a passing Welsh terrier. "He'd rather be chasing a squirrel."

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