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It's a dog's life

February 18, 2006|By KAREN HANNA

karenh@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY -

A victory in the Super Bowl inspires some athletes to visit Disney World. For stocky, big-headed Joey, the triumph was just a stopover on the way to Canada.

Joey, a woolly Bouvier des Flandres owned by Washington County residents Sondra and Dave Riser, won best in breed at the Westminster Kennel Club's 130th annual dog show Tuesday in New York. Since the competition, which Sondra Riser calls the Super Bowl of dog shows, Joey has returned to Canada, where his handler lives.

"He's a fine example of the - what do I want to say - of the perfect dog. I mean, no dog is perfect, but he comes close," Sondra Riser said Thursday.

Joey, who is registered as Ch. VanLeighof's Havanna Joe, is one of two dogs with Washington County ties to take home best-in-breed honors this week at the country's biggest dog show.

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Ch. Beachbrook's Its Raining Men, an Afghan hound better known as Sprinkles, who is co-owned and bred by Tony Saia, won for the second straight year. Saia lives south of Hagerstown.

According to its Web site, the Westminster Kennel Club limits entry to 2,500 dogs representing 165 breeds and varieties of dog. Like Sprinkles and Joey, the competitors all bear the abbreviated title of champion before their names, meaning they have accumulated a certain number of wins at other competitions.

Best-in-breed winners go on to compete against other top dogs in one of seven categories. The groups are working, sporting, non-sporting, herding, toy, terrier and hound. Neither Joey nor Sprinkles won best in their groups.

Rufus, a bull terrier with an egg-shaped head, won the ultimate honor - best in show.

While Sondra Riser compared the competition to the Super Bowl, her husband said the selection of top dog brings to mind other sports analogies:

"Dog show judging is just like the last Winter Olympics figure skating competition. It's just so subjective, it can be political," he said.

At the Risers' Marsh Pike home just south of the Pennsylvania line, 2 1/2-year-old Alec - his registered name is Long Meadow Hot to Trot - repeatedly offered a massive paw to shake. His bulky head in a harness, Alec quivered with puppyish exuberance as Dave Riser tended to his coat.

According to the Westminster Kennel Club, the big bearish Bouvier des Flandres dogs originated in France and Belgium as farm dogs in the 19th century. They are powerful and intelligent dogs with two coats of fur and bushy beards.

Sondra Riser explained that Bouvier des Flandres owners must groom their dogs regularly, washing their legs and bushy faces. The dogs, though, do not require the primp and preening of some high-maintenance breeds, such as poodles, Riser said.

"It's because it's a rough-tussled top coat; you don't want the dog to look manicured. That would be a fault," Riser said.

Alec's father was the only other dog to earn best-of-breed honors at Westminster for the Risers, who have owned the animals 25 years, Sondra Riser said.

A third dog, 13 1/2-year-old Quiche's Quintessence, or Tessa, is a retired champion, she said.

"At Westminster, you get a ribbon and medal and the prestige that goes along with it," she said.

Joey's training in Canada includes running alongside his handler as she rides a bicycle, Sondra Riser said.

The Risers, who both are retired, still are chasing the ultimate honors. Dave Riser, the former owner of Cavetown Liquors, is planning to show some of the couple's 11 alpacas.

Sondra Riser, a former Winter Street Elementary School kindergarten teacher, said she believes Joey will continue to improve in the ring.

"That's what I'm aspiring to - best in show," she said.

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