Haywood County became the Westminster of Western North Carolina this past weekend as more than 1,000 dogs and their owners flocked to the area to compete in the first AKC-sanctioned dog show ever held in the far western region.
The parking lot of the Haywood County Fairgrounds was crammed with RVs, trucks and vans from all over the Southeast, many bearing signs that warned other vehicles to “Stay back — Show Dogs in Tow.” The lot and the barn on site were transformed into a temporary staging area for 131 breeds to be groomed, clipped, and kept cool for the competition.
The show was the first official American Kennel Club event offered by the Western North Carolina Dog Fanciers association. Members of the club were astonished by the turnout.
“With the economy and this being our first event in a site unknown, we hoped and prayed for a turnout of 600 to 800,” said Nancy Davis, president of the WNC Dog Fanciers Association.
The sheer number of breeds was quite a site to behold. They ranged from more common — 14 border collies, 24 boxers; and five basset hounds, for example — to rarer breeds like Portugese water dogs, Pyrenean shepherds, and Salukis.
Starting at 8 a.m. Saturday morning, the first round of competition — best in breed — kicked off the show. Groups of dogs competed for top honors, trotting along the rubber red carpets set up in a series of show rings. In one ring, large standard poodles pranced in a circle with their owners, showing off their gait. In the next ring over, a judge inspected a group of impeccably groomed Malteses for flaws under their coats.
According to Davis, “Dogs are judged against a written word picture of what the perfect example of what a pug, sheltie, or whatever breed would be.”
To succeed in the confirmation round — i.e., best in breed — “You should have a good example of what a breed should be,” said Davis.
Nearby, a large Newfoundland named Timber Knolls Westpoint Sylvanus (or Thayer, for short) had just been crowned best in breed and was waiting with his owners, Mike and Glenda Garrett of Asheville, to get his picture taken. The Newfoundland’s glossy, thick coats are often the ticket to snatching a top prize. Thayer’s owners attribute his gorgeous coat to a good diet of expensive dog food and supplements, but nothing too out of the ordinary, aside from extensive grooming, is involved.
“We kill a couple vacuums a year,” in the grooming process, proclaimed Mike Garrett.
Thayer would go on to compete in the working group competition. For that portion of the show, dogs are split into six groups. Thayer is in the working category — his breed was bred to work for humans due to their strength and webbed feet, which make them strong swimmers. Newfoundlands were originally ship dogs.
Other categories are toys (bred to be companions, like Malteses); terriers (bred for ridding farms of vermin); herding; non-sporting; and sporting (such as golden retrievers and Irish setters, which are bred to retrieve or flush game).
Whether their dogs won or not, owners were thrilled to find an AKC-sanctioned event in Western North Carolina. That was the case with Candler residents Noreen Atkins-Atwell and James Atkins, who brought their two Irish wolfhounds — Champion Summerhill Ulstermyst Crash and Summerhill Abbey Vale Xanadu.
“We’re so happy they’ve started to give shows closer to home,” Noreen said.
Many came to support a new regional competition, like Kari Hill from Greenville, S.C., who stood outside grooming her Scotty, Lorelei Charhill Sea Siren.
“We definitely came specifically to support the new club,” Hill said.
Participants in the show took a piece of Western North Carolina home with them. The prizes were pieces of pottery handcrafted and donated by Sylva potter Gloria Stockton.
And the show is almost certain to attract some return visitors to the region.
“We had a lot of positive comments about our area and how beautiful the site was,” Davis said. “There were some challenges, but people were overall impressed and said they want to come back.”