Westminster bound: Grady to compete in one of world's top shows

Friday, February 10, 2006
Grady, a 5-year-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi, posed for a photo Thursday along with his co- owner/handler Linda Williams prior to departure for the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City. Grady's other owner, Karen Freeman, lives in Gordonville. (Don Frazier)

Next week's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the most important event of the year in the dog world, and one local corgi hopes to be at the center of attention.

Grady is a 4-year old Pembroke Welsh Corgi ranked No. 1 in the country for his breed. He lives with his owner Karen Freeman and her husband Mike in Gordonville. Grady's professional handler, Linda Williams, lives in Mt. Vernon, Mo. and will be presenting the dog in New York. All agree that Grady is something special.

"He thinks he's a Great Dane," said Karen.

"No, he thinks he's a Mastiff," said Linda.

Mike, who breeds champion Great Danes, said he doesn't let Grady near the dogs anymore -- for the safety of the danes. "He's really too mean to the danes, he nips the back of their legs, he jumps up and grabs them by their lips and hangs on," said Mike.

Bred for herding and hunting in 16th-century Wales, corgis are known to outlast dogs with longer, more graceful body types out in the field. Breeders say the rotund-framed, stub-legged breed is a small dog with the heart and mindset of a bigger dog.

Grady seems to take that mindset into competitions. He competes in approximately 100 shows yearly and accumulated 1,160 points in 2005. Each point is equal to one dog defeated in the show circuit.

The Freemans place advertisements, often costing more than $450 in dog magazines, to raise the profile of the dog.

The group laughed when asked whether showing the dog is a profitable enterprise.

"No, it's a hobby. A very expensive hobby," said part owner and handler Williams. "You do it for the dog, in order to get recognition for the quality of breed-dog that he is ... mainly it's something you do for the love of the breed."

Prizes at the shows are inconsequential, said the Freemans. This largely means small cash prizes, crystal trophies or even ribbons. But Grady will soon start earning back some of the money his owners have invested. Having recently fathered his first litter, he can now be studded out for $700 per successful conception.

Show-Dog Qualities

Not every dog can make the leap from a "finished dog," (a purebred that has undergone competition training) to a "special dog," (a champion of its breed).

Grady, whose father is from Springfield, Mo. and was the No. 3 Welsh Pembroke Corgi in the country three consecutive years, has the genes and the ability, said his owners.

Williams said Grady's strengths go beyond the standards of a show dog which included the ability to strike a statuesque pose, demonstrate a proper gait and show patience and poise. Grady, she said, has certain intangible qualities.

"A special dog has to have a certain attitude because they have to be on the road a lot and they have to sparkle in the ring," said Williams. "Grady just turns it on instantly, once he gets attention, he loves it."

There is one aspect of showing where Grady is still struggling, however. After the dogs have done a circular lap at competition, they come in front of the judge before doing what's called a "down and back," run. During this time the dog is expected to stand at attention while the judge snaps fingers to get a sign of alertness from the dog. Grady, said his owners, only wants to keep running and often ignores the judges.

"Linda has tried everything, different bait, different toys, and he's good for about two weeks," said Karen Freeman. "But always after a little while, he's like 'I don't want to do this, it's time to run,' so you never really know what he's going to do until [the handler] gets to the end with him. Sometimes he'll pull up his ears, sometimes he won't and that's just part of the show."

Williams, who has trained dogs for 10 years, believes unpredictability is part of the beauty of the shows. "You can't account for what will happen. There are a lot of great dogs out there; some of them get beat and some of them don't," said Williams. "It's all an opinion, and you prepare for that judge's opinion on that given day. A lot of it is the dog, because one day they can be like a great singer and hit every note perfectly, but the next day, they're still a dog."

Westminster

When corgis are judged against one another, judges can objectively compare each dog to its breed standard for clipping, demeanor and bone structure. Objectivity becomes much more difficult, however, when multiple breeds are shown together as they are at Westminster. This is where outside influence plays a part, said Mike Freeman.

"It has moments where it's very political, you have the big powerful handlers who come in with dogs that aren't as good, but they still win," he said.

"Some judges judge the two-legged kind more than they judge the four-legged," said Karen.

But for the Freemans and Williams the competition is still just about fun, so they never prevent Grady from being what he is: a dog. On Thursday, he rolled around in the snow and yapped and played with the Freemans' other three corgis at their home.

"We don't want to take the dog out of him," said Williams referring to other owners who are known to treat the pets like breakable dishware.

Grady will compete against other Pembroke Corgis at 11 a.m. Tuesday. In order to be selected to compete in the night's "best in show," competition, he must be selected as the best of the 16 corgis. Corgis are the smallest of the herding dogs. Examples of other herding dogs are German Shepherds, Old English Sheepdogs and Collies.

The Westminster Dog Show, held annually in Madison Square Garden, will be televised on the USA network. Coverage of day one will air from 7 to 10 p.m. on Monday and coverage of day-two will air from 7 to 10 p.m. Grady will probably be announced under his registered name "Champion Crown's Pot of Gold."

The prize, awarded Tuesday evening, for "best-in-show," is a sterling silver bowl.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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