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Rare dogs are real champs

Beaverton Clumber Spaniel and Affenpinchser make names for themselves at Eukanuba Dog Show

Chloe - with her doleful brown eyes, her malleable white coat and her quiet insistence for scratches on the head - might seem like any other mid-size dog at her home in Beaverton.

But in the ring as Champion Flyaway Creswick's Coral Sea, she is the No. 1 Clumber Spaniel bitch in the United States.

The American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach, Calif., Dec. 1-2, marked Chloe as the best of her breed, beating out top dogs from around the country for the honor.

'It's thrilling,' said Julie Wickwire of Corvallis-based Creswick Clumber Spaniels, Chloe's breeder and co-owner. As her handler in the ring, Wickwire also won a breeder's award for Best Bred by Exhibitor.

Wickwire said Chloe was chosen over eight other dogs by judge Doug Johnson, who is widely considered the leading expert on Clumbers, his own having won the very first Best of Show for the breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1996.

'It was quite an honor to win under him,' Wickwire said.

Chloe lives with co-owner Helen Caldwell of Beaverton who said it was exciting to be invited to a show of 2,500 other dogs.

'It was fun because it was real festive,' Caldwell said.

Another Beaverton owner, Lucy Bitz, also celebrated the win of her Affenpinchser at the national invitational tournament. Champion Pramada's Naughty Natalie won Best of Opposite Sex for the second year in a row at the tournament, solidifying her position as the best bitch in her breed and in the nation as well.

Both dogs are relatively rare. The AKC reported Affenpinschers as 125th out of 155 breeds in the number of dogs registered, while Clumber Spaniels came in at 121st.

Affenpinschers are toy dogs, and the AKC describes them as: 'A sturdy, compact dog with medium bone, not delicate in any way,' which carries itself with 'comic seriousness.'

'That's Natalie,' Bitz said with a laugh. 'She's very solid; she's not a real delicate toy.'

Bitz said Natalie readily takes on bigger dogs and has even been known to bark right in the judge's face.

'She's very outgoing and very full of herself,' Bitz said. 'She does have a very good personality in the ring.'

By contrast, Clumbers are hunting dogs that the AKC describes as having a 'dignified' and 'pensive' air with an 'intrinsic desire to please.'

'That's what people like about them,' Caldwell said, '…besides their cute face!'

For Caldwell, Clumber Spaniels were love at first sight. She saw one walking by at a dog show several years ago and spent the rest of the day dragging her husband around trying to find the breed. Caldwell finally met Wickwire in the very back of the event hall and began a two-and-a-half-year process to get a puppy.

Now, she says, it was all worth it.

'Out of all the dogs I've owned … she's been my favorite,' Caldwell said. 'Not because of her prizes, but because of her personality.'

Because of the amount of work and expense involved in show dogs - and also the interest of breeders in insuring their dogs' quality is recognized - they tend to have several owners.

Bitz owns Natalie with her husband, Dean Gehnert, but is under contractual obligation to her breeder to show her, so the little black dog lives with her professional handlers, Tiffany and Shea Skinner of Stanwood, Wash.

Though the stoic young Clumber lives with Caldwell and her husband, Jim Gales, the Wickwires retain co-ownership of the dog and are largely responsible for showing her.

Both Chloe and Natalie are about 2½-years-old and the owners of both are planning to show them for another year before settling them down with litters of their own.

Wickwire said it's unusual for females to beat out the flashier males for the top spots in dog shows. But, she said while petting her champion, 'It was a girl-power day. Wasn't it, Chloe?'

The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship will be simulcast on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel, Saturday, Feb. 2 from 8 to 11 p.m.