About midway through last month, I realized it was that time of year again.
No, it wasn’t pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training that piqued my interest — although I’m 100 percent on board the “Crazy” Carl Everett bandwagon.
And while noticing the days getting longer was a joyous occasion, reminding me that Bellingham’s two weeks of summer are fast approaching, that wasn’t my big February event either.
It was the Westminster Kennel Club dog show that threw my month for a loop. That one Monday night, during each February for the last 12 years, when I tune into the USA Network expecting to see my stories on big-time rasslin’ and instead am treated to judges combing over Lassie, checking out her teeth, muscles and gait.
I know, I know, the indignity of it all.
Despite putting a crimp in my evening, I rarely change the channel, though.
I’m down with the pageantry, the hard work, dedication and competition. Plus, the parallels to the comedy “Best in Show” are always good for a laugh.
And this year, with local pooch Ch. Chuckanut Party Favour O’Novel, a golden retriever owned by Rumors Cabaret owner Ken Matthews and Coldwell Banker real estate agent Wayne Miller, vying for the Best in Show trophy, I, like millions of others around the world, was hooked.
Remembering that Anne Kneesh, owner of Artesano’s in Fairhaven, was a 30-year veteran of the dog-show circuit, who primarily showed borzois, or Russian wolfhounds, I had to learn more about this fascinating world of tension, excitement, pride and heartache.
Indeed, confirmed Kneesh, the dog-show circuit is a world not too well known by casual dog lovers.
At the heart of dog shows, she said, is a love of animals.
In getting started, people will usually buy one of their favorite breeds.
For Kneesh, she picked Russian wolfhounds because they’re quiet and laid back.
“They’re sight hounds,” she said. “If you threw a ball, they’d run over and look at it, but when it stopped bouncing they’d say, ‘Hmm,’ and walk away. They’re not for kids who want a dog to bring a ball back. They just like to lay on the couch.”
Once an owner has a dog they understand and enjoy spending time with, they learn about proper grooming and presentation techniques and then enter small events.
When a dog’s owner or exhibitor gets their first taste of victory — validation of their countless hours of care — they can experience a high that’s unrivaled, and then look to move up the dog-show chain, buying or breeding more dogs to compete in larger competitions.
With wins, the dogs, too, Kneesh believes, recognize they’re extraordinary.
“Oh yeah, they know when they win,” she said. “Some dogs love being shown. There are some groups that say, ‘oh, it’s so cruel,’ but, with my dogs, I could hold up a leash and they’d try to stick their heads through. They like to be special, and fluffed and brushed.”
“It’s a different kind of life,” said Kneesh, who began showing dogs in her 20s, in Texas, shortly after graduating from college in Oklahoma. “Some people have drugs; I had dogs.”
Within a few years of buying her first dog, Kneesh was fully engaged in the world of dog shows.
Because her property in Houston was too small, she had to move to the Texas countryside, where her 14 dogs would have enough room to breed, live in kennels and romp around.
Nearly every weekend took her to a dog show in different parts of the country and, over the years, Kneesh’s kennel, Keshari, produced dozens of champions.
Several years ago, though, when she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, after 30 years of dog shows, she felt she’d accomplished enough and gave up the sport. Most people, she said, only do dog shows for about five years.
Looking back, said Kneesh, who now lives in Bellingham, it’s hard to comprehend the cost of showing dogs, which for some owners can be more than $100,000 a year, including food, transportation to events, medical costs, and owning enough land for the dogs to live on.
While she still loves dogs, Kneesh said her new life as a business owner is allowing her to do things she was never capable of in the past.
“I finally feel like I’m free and can do what I want to. When you have large dogs, you have to live on a lot of property and you have to have a large vehicle to haul them in,” she said. “I’ve always had trucks and SUVs. Now I own a Miata, because I’ve always wanted a sports car, and live on a small lot, with a normal back yard. And I have three cats and one dog.”
J.J. Jensen is a reporter at The Bellingham Business Journal. He can be reached by calling 647-8805, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.