Champs take a bow wow at National Dog Show

If you take away only one thing from from the National Dog Show, it’s that people absolutely love their dogs.

“There’s no profit,” said Judy Sarkisian, who’s owned and bred dogs since the 1970s. “It’s a labor of love.”

However, a love of the game doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high. There are dog dynasties, with names dignified enough to go along with them.

More than 3,000 dogs competed in the show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, and six of them were Sarkisian’s.

Five of Sarkisian’s dogs are Grand Champions, and her prize-winning black cocker spaniel has a full registered name of Grand Champion Kisian’s Royal Gala. Her mother, Evelyn, was the No. 1 female cocker of all time. Very impressive, indeed.

Judy Sarkisian gets a kiss from her grand champion cocker spaniel, Kisian’s Royal Gala, at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Still, a great deal of business goes into the breeding and maintenance of some of the country’s best looking companions. Alexis Schlott has gone all-in on making a name for herself as a groomer.

“My grandparents had a business and I wanted to work with horses, but I’m too little,” said Schlott. As an alternative, her parents found her a job working at a kennel when she was about 12 years old. Now 19, her focus is entirely on dogs. Working as a groomer and an amateur handler, she’s saving up to attend college in the hope of growing her own business.

Alexis Schlott clips her kerry blue terrier, Adele, by hand at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa. When she was younger, Schlott wanted to join her grandparents business working with horses, but was told she was too small. Instead she turned to dogs and now at 19, she has her own grooming business and is an amateur handler.
Alexis Schlott clips her Kerry blue terrier, Adele, by hand at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Among participants, there’s certainly a competitive spirit, but many develop close bonds. Showing so many times together throughout the year, they warm to those around them. Justin and Cheslie Smithey even built a family around these shows.

Justin Smithey reacts to the announcement that his 3-year-old whippet, Whiskey, won Best in Show at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa.
Justin Smithey reacts to the announcement that his 3-year-old whippet, Whiskey, won Best in Show at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

“My mom showed and bred dogs before I was born,” said Cheslie Smithey, who started showing with her mother, but now shows with her husband, whom she met on the circuit. “A lot of people at dog shows end up meeting there and getting married,” said Justin Smithey.

“We have our own families and then our dog families,” said Cheslie Smithey. But their dog family went on to take top prize.

To the Smitheys’ surprise, their 3-year-old whippet, Whiskey, won his 20th Best in Show, beating out a wire fox terrier to take home the cup.

Does Whiskey know that he won? Probably not, but he did get to enjoy some kibble for being such a good boy.

Whiskey, a 3-year-old whippet, enjoys a victory meal after winning Best in Show at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa.
Whiskey, a 3-year-old whippet, enjoys a victory meal after winning Best in Show at the National Dog Show in Oaks, Pa. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

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