Pets

Number of entrants in Sunflower Cluster Dog Show drops

Handlers and breeders Luke and Diane Ehricht shower their shih tzu Hallmark Jolei Austin Powers with affection after winning Best in Show at the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show at the Kansas Coliseum on Friday. (April 9, 2010)
Handlers and breeders Luke and Diane Ehricht shower their shih tzu Hallmark Jolei Austin Powers with affection after winning Best in Show at the Sunflower Cluster Dog Show at the Kansas Coliseum on Friday. (April 9, 2010) The Wichita Eagle

Fewer dogs are entered at this year's Sunflower Cluster Dog Show, but Wichita Kennel Club members aren't sure if the economy, a competing dog show in Colorado or "political correctness" is to blame.

Groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have made it unpopular to raise purebred dogs, said Pat Deschler, who owns miniature poodles.

At February's Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York, PETA members carried signs that said "Mutts Rule" and "Breeders Kill Shelter Dogs' Chances."

Entries are down at dog shows all over the country, said another club member, Kim Jenning, who thinks the economy is to blame more than anything else.

However, "It's kind of a sin to own a purebred now," said Jenning, who owns dalmatians. "If you don't adopt from a shelter, you are 'morally flawed.' "

The dog show — which continues today and Sunday at the Kansas Coliseum pavilions — usually draws between 2,000 and 2,500 dogs, but entries were down to about 1,330 this year, organizers said.

Lower numbers didn't mean some of the country's best dogs weren't in attendance on Friday, doing their best to impress.

Dogs representing more than 130 breeds competed in conformation, agility, obedience, rally, herding and lure coursing.

This was the first year the American Kennel Club opened the companion events — agility, obedience and rally — to mixed-breed dogs.

Dogs from the seven AKC groups — working, sporting, nonsporting, herding, hounds, terriers and toys — compete each of the show's three days in conformation, or breed judging, with the winners of each group facing off each day for Best in Show.

On Friday, judge Elliott Weiss assessed the finalists: a sleek, big-eared Pharaoh hound; a muscular fawn boxer with white feet; a shaggy, alert-looking Belgian Tervuren; a speckled, sporty German shorthaired pointer; a fluffy white bichon frise; a perky, bearded toy fox terrier; and a silky, glamorous shih tzu, the only finalist with a bow in its hair.

For Weiss, the shih tzu's coat, outline, proportion, "beautiful" face and "impeccable condition" came together in an "aha" moment that won the toy breed the title of Best in Show.

"You have a visual picture in your mind. Then you see it and you go, 'aha,' " said Weiss, who served as Best in Show judge earlier this year at Westminster.

"This shih tzu was a standout," Weiss said. "This dog could be, in my opinion, the standard bearer for the breed."

Handler and breeder Luke Ehricht said he spends two to three hours grooming the shih tzu, named Hallmark Jolei Austin Powers, for a show.

It was the seventh Best in Show win for 10-month-old Austin, who started showing in January.

Ehricht described Austin's personality as "exuberant, happy," a dog that loves everybody.

He and his wife, Diane, who live in Ohio, named the dog Austin Powers not because he's an international dog of mystery but because he makes them laugh.

"He's comical and energetic," Ehricht said. "He's wacky."

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Sunflower Cluster Dog Show

What: All-breed American Kennel Club dog show, with conformation, agility, obedience, rally, herding and lure coursing, plus "Art Show at the Dog Show"

Where: Kansas Coliseum pavilions, 85th North off I-135

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Sunday

How much: Admission is free.

For more information, call 316-660-1000 or 316-744-8400.

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