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Missouri Purina center launch aided by top dogs
GRAY SUMMIT, Mo. -- Uno the beagle and Stump the Sussex spaniel eyed each other and one of them seemed to snarl. Apparently, even the best of the purebreds aren't always on their best behavior.
The two dogs were among six former winners of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show -- the Super Bowl of dog shows -- who were in Missouri Wednesday for the launch of Nestle Purina's new $10 million event center.
"Boys will be boys," joked David Frei, the master of ceremonies of the Purina event who is best known as the voice of the Westminster show. "Sometimes you have to keep Stump and Uno on different sides."
Several hundred people turned out for the grand opening of what Nestle Purina PetCare-North America President Terence Block called a one-of-a-kind facility.
"There's nothing like this in the world," Block said of the 84,000-square-foot arena -- larger than the St. Louis Rams' indoor practice facility. "To my knowledge this is the first building built specifically for dog and cat shows from the ground up."
Most dog shows, even the big ones, take place in places such as sports arenas or auditoriums. The Purina Event Center offers dogs, cats and their owners amenities aimed at them -- rubberized floors for animal paws, space for 74 RVs for participants, showers and a 13,500-square-foot grooming area.
Block estimates the center will be in use 40 to 45 weeks a year for everything from dog and cat shows to agility shows to training. It is part of Purina's sprawling 350-acre site that already includes the Purina Farms petting zoo and an outdoor dog show arena.
Around the event center Wednesday, herding dogs showed off their skills by masterfully moving ducks. In another area, small dogs climbed, jumped and slid their way through an agility training area.
But the stars were clearly the six Westminster winners, who arrived in limos and walked the red carpet -- all but 12-year-old bichon frise J.R., who was carried by his handler but still delivered his famous double paw wave that charmed the crowd.
Most popular was probably Uno the beagle, essentially a hometown hero since the 5-year-old is from nearby Belleville, Ill. As people lined up inside for pictures with the top dogs, Uno frequently let loose by tilting his head back and going into a soulful baying.
Also popular was the most recent Westminster winner Sadie, a black Scottish terrier who sat patiently for one picture after another. Sadie won in February at Westminster, a show for 2,500 purebred dogs.
How does a Westminster winner spend her free time?
"She has a lot of fun," handler Gabriel Rangel said. "She loves people. She's all excited tonight. She loves all the attention."
Also on hand were Stump, a Sussex spaniel who won in 2009; James, an English springer spaniel who won in 2007; and 2006 winner Rufus, a colored bull terrier.
Purina said all six eat Purina Pro Plan dog food.