NEW YORK (AP) — It’s a love story that all starts with Spuds MacKenzie.
And this tale of puppy love — and human romance — gets a new chapter under the TV lights at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show Tuesday night. It’s the first time there for a bull terrier named Vinny with owner Grace Thomas handling him.
“I guess when you’re passionate about it, it works,” said Thomas, who’s among a minority of people showing their own dogs at Westminster who haven’t made a career of dog handling.
The gregarious Vinny was chosen Monday as best colored bull terrier (all-white ones show separately), an award he also won last year with a professional handler. He gets to try Tuesday night for top terrier, and if he succeeds, he’ll have a shot at the best in show crown.
The story goes like this: Thomas fell for bull terriers after seeing Spuds, the party animal of late-1980s Bud Light ads, but it was some time before she acquired one. When she eventually did, in 2001, the breeder pressed her to show the pup.
Thomas didn’t know what showing would entail, but she was game to try. So she watched, asked questions, learned the ropes.
“People think it’s all fun. It’s a lot of work,” said Thomas, of Napa, California. She said it takes lots of conditioning and bond-building to get a dog to sparkle in the show ring.
“Owner-handlers” are often overshadowed at Westminster by star professional handlers, some of whom started competing as children.
“It’s hard to have confidence when you go out there with a group of professionals, but you can do it,” Thomas says. “A lot of people feel that only professionals can win, and it’s not true. If you have a good dog, your dog’s going to win.”
For all the professionals’ polish and experience, she and some other owner-handlers feels they bring something of their own to the show ring: their dog.
“The ribbons are nice, but it’s the journey that you’re on with your dog,” Diana Gerba of Menlo Park, California, said Monday after showing her Tibetan spaniel, Marco, at Westminster. “The bond is really strong between him and me.”