Dog heaven

By: Jennie Miller | C&G Newspapers | Published February 29, 2012

 Don Leonard of Grass Lake with his Irish wolfhound McDe’s Queen Etain, at a past show.

Don Leonard of Grass Lake with his Irish wolfhound McDe’s Queen Etain, at a past show.

File photo by Andrew Potter

DETROIT — Prep your paws for a whole lot of petting as the annual two-day celebration of all things dog arrives March 3 and 4 with the annual Detroit Kennel Club Dog Shows at Cobo Center.

More than 2,000 dogs representing 167 breeds will be on hand to interact with the public, demonstrate their skills and compete for top prizes.

“We have so many different types of things for people,” said Erik Bergishagen, president of the DKC, which is holding it’s 108th and 109th dog shows. He estimates that anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000 people pass through Cobo over the course of the weekend.

“We’ve always termed this as a family affair for the entire family to come down and see all the different dogs,” Bergishagen said.

The shows are benched, which means that breeders and owners will be on hand through the entire course of the weekend to meet with visitors, show off their dogs, and educate the public about breed characteristics, temperament, care, health, grooming, history and other issues.

The DKC shows are among only five remaining benched American Kennel Club shows in the U.S., which is a huge draw for many of the patrons. But the event also includes many other features, in addition to the competitions and rows upon rows of dogs waiting for hugs.

“We have a group of what we call ‘rare breeds’ that are going to be there; we have terrier races and duck herding (and) sheep herding,” Bergishagen said. “We have our poster dog, a German shepherd by the name of Bullet, he works with the Macomb County Sheriff’s Department.”

Bullet will demonstrate the work of a K-9 officer. Therapy dogs and their handlers will also be on hand, sharing the experience with the public of visiting nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

The Rock-N-Roll K-9 Performance Team is sure to make jaws drop with high-jumping, flyball, agility demonstrations, tricks, Grand Prix racing and even a limbo contest.

Beth Widdows, 65, of Troy is among the members of the team, along with her Westies, Molly, 14, and John Jacob Jumping for Joy, 6, who she simply calls “Jake.”

“It’s an organization of people who like to play with their dogs,” Widdows said. “We put on shows, and we take our dogs out. We do things that are based on agility, a lot of jumping and running and tunneling. We also do relay races. We pick kids out of the audience to race the dogs.”

The obstacle course used by the Rock-N-Roll K-9s is made up of musical-themed props, including old 45 records, musical notes and guitars.

Members of the performance team audition to take part in the group. Widdows, who is single and doesn’t have any children, considers her Westies to be a part of her family, and sees it as a fun and different opportunity to spend time with them.

“Training is very interactive,” Widdows said. “I just think it’s a great way to really have a relationship with your dog, to make it more than just a pet in the backyard.”

Also in attendance at this year’s shows, for the very first time, are representatives from seven purebred rescue groups, including Joni Cavanaugh of Sterling Heights, the Michigan state coordinator for the American Bull Mastiff Association Rescue and Bull Mastiff Rescuers Inc.

“We want to educate the public about the breed and about purebred rescue groups,” Cavanaugh said. “A lot of people may want a particular breed of dog that they want to help and rescue, but they aren’t aware that just about every breed that exists has a rescue group that focuses on that particular breed.”

Purebred rescue dogs will be on hand to interact with the public, but won’t be available for adoption at the event, as event organizers want to ensure that the decision to adopt is not one of spontaneity.

Tickets to the shows are $15 for adults, and $8 for seniors and children ages 3-12. Family packs for up to two adults and three children are available for $40. Dogs will be on display to the public, and demonstrations will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Best in Show will go into the ring at approximately 6 p.m. each day.

For more information, visit www.detroit or follow the Detroit Kennel Club Dog Shows on Twitter and Facebook at DCKDogShows.