Champion show dog Lukas knows the taste of victory, and he likes it.
When judges sort the top finishers from the also-rans and hand a ribbon to Lukas’ handler, the sleek German Pinscher starts prancing.
“He can tell,” says his owner, Judy Vandervort, of Olympia. “He gets his little attitude going. Sometimes he jumps up and down. He’s happy. He wags his tail.”
Vandervort hopes Lukas will be among the winners at this week’s 134th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City’s Madison Square Garden. She’s among at least a half-dozen South Sound show-dog enthusiasts who will proudly show their pooches at what’s essentially the Super Bowl of canine competitions.
The top five dogs – as determined by points earned in the past year’s competitions around the country – in each breed recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) are invited to compete at Westminster. Other slots are filled by lottery among lower-ranking champions applying for entry.
The so-called “conformation” competition evaluates dogs based on how closely they conform to the judge’s image of the perfect dog in the dog’s breed. They’re judged on their physical features, gait, and attitude – the latter meaning whether they have a “showy, look-at-me” attitude, explained Vandervort.
Lukas has the look. He received one of the coveted invitations for earning the most competition points of any German Pinscher in the country in 2009.
Lukas, who turns 3 years old on Feb. 20, competes nearly every weekend throughout the country. Vandervort “handles” – or leads the dog in the show ring – at some contests but hires professional handler Luke Baggenstos to take him to many of the out-of-state shows. Her job as a judicial administrative assistant keeps her from making too many long- distance trips.
Lukas competed at Westminster last year without Vandervort – and without winning a ribbon. But now he has another year of experience under his chops, and this time will have the company of both Baggenstos and Vandervort, who’ll be anxiously watching.
“I can’t wait to see all the other dogs, the competitions and group shows,” said Vandervort, who’s making her first trip to Westminster. “I’ve heard the shopping is great as far as breed items.”
Think: crystal sculptures, jewelry, ornaments and other goods with the name or shape of hundreds of individual breeds.
Puyallup resident Angie Reed, her 14-year-old daughter Jessica and their 155-pound dog Bruiser are making their first trip to Westminster. They’re traveling with another Westminster contestant, Bruiser’s sister Indy and Indy’s owner Cheryl Ozbirn of Gig Harbor.
The dogs are Dogue de Bordeaux. That’s the breed made famous by Hooch, the drooling canine in the 1989 Tom Hanks’ movie “Turner and Hooch.”
It’s only the second year the breed has been eligible to compete in AKC shows, including Westminster.
Yet Puyallup library users may recognize Bruiser for his community service. Reed takes the 21/2-year-old and Bruiser’s mother Scarlet to sit with youngsters who read to the dogs in the library’s “Reading with Rover Program.”
“This breed is very, very gentle. He has such a gentle spirit,” Reed said. “He just loves everybody.”
Though both Lukas and Bruiser are show dogs, they’re also family pets. At home on his Olympia farm, Lukas romps in the pasture with horses and female German Pinscher Hades. At night, he sleeps in Vandervort’s bed.
Bruiser is among four Dogue de Bordeaux who live in the Reeds’ house, which Reed says, is equipped with plenty of drool towels. She says the dogs are like giant bear rugs. “They get up and follow you around. This isn’t a breed you can throw in the backyard. They thrive on companionship.”
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694