No Doggin’ it When Getting to Westminster

 MSNBC.com

Competing dogs travel in luxury, style from as far away as England

By Sandy Robins

updated 6:28 p.m. PT, Thurs., March. 2, 2006

 

Getting to New York City to attend the 130

th Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Gardens on Monday and Tuesday is quite an odyssey for many of the top dog contestants.

They travel by plane, in car convoys and in specially kitted-out vans. Others arrive in limousines, customized RVs and even 18-wheelers that can transport pooches and all their paraphernalia in comfort and style along with their entourages of handlers, owners and well wishers.

This year, 2,500 top dogs representing 165 breeds and varieties from all over the country as well as international destinations will descend on the Big Apple and book into top hotels to be pampered and entertained before, during and after this premier two-day event.

For Judith Ryan and her two huge Irish wolfhounds Rooney and Rocksy, it’s a five-day, 3,000-mile trip from Palm Desert, Calif., to their destination, the Pennsylvania Hotel on Seventh Avenue in New York.

“I spend a large part of my life in my van driving these guys across America to different shows and then back to our other home in Ontario, Canada,” says Ryan, who only last month drove from California to Tampa, Fla., to take part in the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship.

“I take the seats out of the back to give them lots of space and pile the luggage upfront with me. We stop every three hours to take a walk. They love going through the drive-though at McDonalds for snacks.

“The dogs are a huge attraction in small towns along the way. I am forever being asked if they are horses and do I put saddles on them.”

“We save our frequent flyer miles so that we can fly first class,” said Sue Gardner of Palmdale, Calif. “Only the best for Tutti Fruitti.”

The well-coiffed champion Chinese crested loves traveling.

“She knows when we are going to a show because she gets groomed beforehand,” Gardner said. “The pile of suitcases is another clue. She’s been to New York before and loves meeting up with friends we’ve made in previous years. She also loves shopping with me at Macy’s near Madison Square Garden.”

For Correen Pacht and Marc Ralsky of Toronto, the upcoming show is special because Niklas, their Siberian husky, will be retiring from the show ring after the event.

The dog that currently holds a record 85 Best in Show titles won at various events is also seasoned traveler.

“He’s stayed in more top hotels than most people get to visit in a lifetime,” Ralsky said.

“When he’s taken off the plane in his crate, he immediately starts barking as if he’s trying to tell us all about his flight. He’s probably complaining that we travel first class and he has to go cargo class.”

In past years, the couple has hired a stretch SUV to pick them up at the airport and transport them to their hotel, and this year is no exception. Niklas loves to sit in the back and people watch.

Breeder Laurie Hardman of Seattle has special permission for Jonah, a Portuguese water dog who is trained as a mobility support dog, to travel with her in-cabin.

“He’s supposed to lie at my feet, but hopefully if the plane is not full, the airline staff will allow him to sit next to me on a seat,” says Hardman, who requires assistance to stand and walk. Jonah is trained to understand commands like “brace” to help her stand and “pull” to get her mobile.

 

Lorna Hastings, who lives in Kent, England, will be bringing her Canaan dog Blaze to Westminster for the first time.

The dog has his own pet passport and travels regularly to European countries to take part dog shows.

“It’s far more economical to fly from Brussels,” Hastings said. “So we are driving from England through the Eurotunnel to catch our flight. Hopefully when we get to New York, I’ll find a dog-friendly taxi to transport us to the hotel.

“While in the city, I’d love to take Blaze jogging in Central Park and perhaps go to a doggy gym if there is one nearby.”

Tom and Barbara Peach of Oahu, Hawaii, bought a quilted winter coat so Hoku, their Rhodesian ridgeback, will cope with the cold New York weather.

“We plan to do all the sights together,” said Barbara Peach. “It’s going to be fun to show a small town dog a big city.”

Colleen Grady of Tacoma, Wash., is heading for New York by plane with her Old English sheepdog, George.

“He’s a real mellow fellow and a wonderful traveling companion,” Grady said. “We’re looking forward to exploring China Town. George loves Chinese food. After the show, he’s traveling to Germany for six months to take part in dog shows there.”

“I’m flying with my Neapolitan mastiff named Strider,” says Joyce Wolfe of Beverly Hills, California. “The dog weighs 170 pounds and his crate is the size of a Mini Cooper, so we have to check in at the oversized baggage counter. It’s costing me $400 to fly him to New York and the ground transport service wants nearly $250 to ferry him to and from the airport!

“When he gets nervous he pants and when he pants, he farts. It’s going to be quite a ride.”

Sandy Robins is an award-winning freelancer writer based in Irvine, Calif. Her work has appeared in numerous publications in the United States and internationally.

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