Pet Connection: Show dogs dazzle outside the ring

02/11/2014 12:00 AM

02/10/2014 7:51 PM

Have you ever wondered what show dogs do in their down time? Well, they’re not lolling around on the sofa and eating doggie bonbons. They’re out there making therapy visits, helping kids learn to read, keeping an eye on their owners’ health and doing brain research.

For real.

Take a look at how some of this year’s Westminster competitors spend their off days.

Trooper, whose registered name is Grand Champion Loral’s Trooper, is a therapy dog who lives in Bolivia, N.C., with owners Lorretta and Allen Pyeatt. He makes regular visits to area nursing homes, where he spreads his own special brand of Rottweiler cheer. He’s also involved in the Bark for Reading program at a local elementary school. Reading to dogs such as Trooper helps children improve their vocabularies, comprehension and confidence.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore what dogs are thinking. The new and harmless methodology scans the brains of alert dogs to see how they respond to hand signals given by their people. One of their test subjects is Eli (Grand Champion Aislinn’s RR Elite Edition), a vizsla owned by dog trainer Lindsay Fetters of Decatur, Ga. Eli’s job is to lie perfectly still in the MRI machine while researchers measure his neural activity. When he’s not contributing to science, Eli trains for agility and field work and auditions for acting roles with Atlanta Dogworks.

When children are victims of or witnesses to crimes, having a dog to snuggle with can help them deal with the trauma. That’s where border terrier Ticket (Champion Otley’s No Parking) comes in. The victim/crime witness dog, owned by attorney D’Arcy Downs-Vollbracht of Golden Valley, Ariz., logs many hours at crime scenes and in court, serving as a steadying influence for children who have been caught up in crimes or must testify. Ticket’s work carries over to local junior high schools, where she participates in an annual domestic-violence education program. She also makes therapy visits to hospitals, hospice wards and schools.

Collie Kenzie doesn’t have an M.D., but her keen senses allow her to sense when owner Alicia Moore of Chesapeake Beach, Md., has low blood sugar. The rough collie, formally known as Moore’s Alainn Aoife, competed in Westminster’s first agility trial, but her most important job is serving as Moore’s diabetic-alert dog. “I have to be certain that my blood sugar is not low or going low, or she won’t run with me,” Moore says.

“Crime” does pay – at least for Debra Lazaro of Jackson, N.J., who owns and handles Westminster agility competitor OnTargets Prison Break. The striking mixed breed with its big personality has landed many show-biz roles, including appearances with Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins in the 2013 flick “Life of Crime” and with Willem Dafoe and Keanu Reeves in 2014’s “John Wick.” Crime also participates in herding events – fleecing the competition, no doubt.

Grant (Grand Champion Starfield’s Army Strong V Bulkley), a German shorthaired pointer owned by Steve Herman of Baltimore, Md., likes to take a long jump off a short bridge. His dock-diving record is 21 feet, 11 inches. Not content with making a splash in canine aquatics, Grant also holds Junior Hunter and Novice Retrieving Dog titles. You can’t say that dog don’t hunt.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs today from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on USA network.

The buzz

•  When 75-year-old Erna Pratt suffered a stroke in her kitchen, she was unable to move or call for help. Luckily, her 13-year-old cat, Trigger, witnessed Pratt falling. Trigger hurried down the hall, meowing loudly enough to wake Pratt’s daughter and get her attention. Thanks to Trigger’s quick action, Pratt was treated in time and was able to return home after a two-week hospital stay.
•  Researchers at Britain’s Cambridge University have traced the existence of a rare sexually transmitted canine cancer back more than 11,000 years. Each case of canine transmissible venereal tumor retains genetic signatures of the first host, giving researchers a better understanding of early canine biology as well as insight into the evolution of a cancer over a long period of time. The genes indicate that the dog, in which the cancer originated, probably had short, dark fur and resembled an Alaskan malamute.

– Kim Campbell Thornton


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