Monday, February 20, 2012

At Westminster Dog Show, a Havanese that has it all

Reo, who lives in Cobble Hill, outside Victoria, took the best-of-breed prize for Havanese at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show. Chad Hipolito photographs for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
February 20, 2012


The princess strode with her tiny head held high, her shiny coat swaying above the carpet like a veil of chiffon.

Spectators clapped and whooped, though she ignored the ovation, instead fixing brown eyes on her companion, 15-year-old Emily Dorma, a Grade 10 student from Vancouver Island.

It was show time for toy dogs on the green carpet inside Ring 7 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Westminster Kennel Club was conducting its 136th annual dog show, which it describes as a combination Super Bowl and Academy Awards for “canine athletes.”

A six-year-old female Havanese, named Mistytrails Double Stuf’D Oreo, or Reo for short, was presented by the high schooler. The dog had travelled from Cobble Hill to Manhattan, where she shared a bed in a room in the New Yorker Hotel. The art deco wonder which made available for four-legged guests grooming stations, Jog a Dog treadmills, and indoor potty areas covered by Perfect Turf synthetic grass.

On judging day, those who qualified to be inside the ring showed impeccable grooming. They had been scrubbed and cleaned. Nary a hair was out of place.

The dogs, too, looked their best.

The Havanese, a toy breed known for a gentle disposition and kewpie-doll cuddliness, were rated by Sari Brewster Tietjen, of Rhineback, N.Y., a stern-faced adjudicator.

Looking on the scene was Bev Dorma, a longtime dog breeder and Emily’s mother. She fretted that the appraiser was overlooking Reo, Canada’s reigning female Havanese champion.

“The judge ignored Emily the whole time,” she said. “We figured we weren’t going to win.”

Indeed, in a video of the judging posted by the kennel club, the judge barely glances at Reo, instead surveying the other little dogs with an unblinking gaze.

“She had poker face on,” Bev Dorma said. “Later you realize she was looking for her second-, third- and fourth-place winners. After her first going over and watching (the dog) move, she knew Reo was her winner.”

Indeed, the judge chose Reo as the show’s best in breed, a decision popular with the crowd.

“When she pulled Reo out of the front of the line, my whole body went into this shaking, oh-my-goodness mode,” Bev Dorma said. “Am I really seeing this? You’re so overjoyed. I don’t know who I was prouder of, my daughter or the dog. Both.”

A crying mother and stoic daughter celebrated with an embrace across the velvet rope, little Reo the meat in their hug sandwich.

Now back home, a proud mother sings the praises of her daughter.

“She wasn’t down on the ground like all the professional handlers. She did not have to keep Reo in a death grip for the judge to see her. Emily had the complete package. Not only did she have a perfect dog, but she presented herself and that dog to a T. She nailed it.”

The Havanese judging lasted nearly an hour, an eternity for even the best behaved pooch.

“The hardest thing is keeping your dog sparkling. And looking up. Looking happy and not bored for 45 minutes.”

Earlier, mother and daughter visited a Manhattan delicatessen to pick up chicken livers and hearts as bait for a dog’s undivided attention. On judgment day, Reo had to skip breakfast, a temporary sacrifice.

“She was a trooper,” Ms. Dorma said. “Solid as a rock. None of it bothered her. She didn’t get stressed.

“Her tail never stops wagging, she loves everybody, and she knows she’s special. She smiles and sneezes, smiles and sneezes.”

Reo was a home-raised pup. She obeys commands to stand, stay, sit, come, go, and heel. As a purebred, her lineage can be traced back farther than that of some families. She was born on March 6, 2006, sired by Pocotesoros Los Gabatos, known as Zorro, out of Mistytrails Catreeya Byemmy. (Catreeya, a champion brood bitch, now lives in a Victoria suburb, where she is a familiar figure teasingly known as the Queen of Sidney.) Reo’s grandmother still lives at the Dorma home.

On the return home, flight attendants permitted Reo to leave the crate to sit on the lap of her human companions, fitting status for a four-legged champion.

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