Fine coats of fur, dazzling neckwear and graceful models strutting their way across the stage – all were on display Saturday at the Washington County Fairgrounds convention hall. But there were no fashion models sashaying down a catwalk. In fact, “catwalk” probably would be a most unwelcome term. The centers of attention at the fairgrounds were competitors in the Three Rivers Shetland Sheepdog Club of Greater Pittsburgh dog show.
About 100 pampered pooches, along with their entourages of owners, breeders and handlers, performed in multiple competitions during the American Kennel Club-licensed event. Handlers entered canines in one of two categories: “independent specialty,” which was specific to Shetland sheepdogs, and “all-breed,” open to all AKC-recognized breeds.
“There was a big entry today,” said Jennie Hynes. “A lot of dogs had won other specialties, and the number competing was just more than average and fairly large.”
Hynes’ dog, Scout, won “best of breed” honors in the Shetland contest in the face of some serious opposition – eight former or current champions were in the lineup.
Hynes said she drove more than seven hours from her home in Wilton, Conn., in order to enter the contest.
“There’s people here from Virginia, North Carolina, Canada,” Hynes said. “All kinds of places.”
Hynes said the drive was well worth it.
“Usually, winning a specialty, which is specific to your breed, is more prestigious because there is more competition,” Hynes said.
Cathy Artis, Three Rivers Shetland Sheepdog Club president, said contestants paid $650 apiece to enter the competition, which offered no cash purse. For these contestants, prestige is the ultimate honor.
“We’ve been here since 6 in the morning,” Artis said. “Dog people start early.”
Artis said Shetland sheepdogs, also called Shelties, are a fantastic breed. The small to medium-sized dogs are known for their hard work and enthusiasm. The breed was originally raised to herd sheep and is a descendent of other herding canines like the collie. Some speculate that when they reached the Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland, natural selection caused the breed to miniaturize, much like the islands’ famous pony.
“They’re one of the most intelligent dogs in the world,” Artis said. “They’re ranked in the top three almost every year.”
Ginny Shultz of Upper St. Clair took home the medal for the competition in obedience with her Sheltie, Hoover. She said that in a league of intelligent animals, Hoover is a sophisticated standout.
“He’s been training for the past three years straight,” Shultz said, “from the time he was 8 weeks old until November.”
Shultz said Hoover’s talent makes him a natural. But like many other gifted professionals, Hoover knows he’s good.
“If you want to ask him, he’d tell you he’s a prodigy,” Shultz said. “He’s got a ton of drive.”