MARQUETTE - The Marquette Kennel Club kicked off its 37th annual All-Breed Dog Show in Lakeview Arena Friday with nearly 300 participating dogs.
Champion I'm Special Guns and Roses (also known as Axel) was one of them.
"It's a good place to practice," said Glenda Szkrybalo, Axel's owner and handler of downstate Howell. "And when he retires, he'll have something to do."
Professional handler Sarah Krickeberg from Chicago practices with Elliot, a 3-year-old bull mastiff owned by Jennifer Shadoian of Birmingham. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
Axel, a Bouvier des Flandres, is 5 years old, and has won five best in shows.
MKC President Diane Culter said the event is a big draw for the area, bringing in dogs - and people - of all capabilities.
"We want to promote family events," Culter said. "We not only have adults showing - owners, breeders and also handlers - we also encourage youth to participate, and we have a lot of junior handlers."
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Nelda Wekwert was at the competition with her two grandsons, Andrew Wekwert, 10 and Stanley Wekwert Jr., 14. Both boys competed on Friday, but Andrew came out on top, winning a major (an award of anywhere between three to five points) in his first handling experience.
"Do you know how hard that is to do?" Nelda Wekwert said. "To have your grandson come in and take a major, it was fascinating. It's something for him to always remember. He was in his first show and he took a major."
A wide array of dogs were represented Friday, in not only the conformation shows - which are the traditional competitions that produce best in show dogs - but also in the obedience and rally competitions. A number of four-legged breeds were gearing up for Friday evening's fun match, which offered younger, less experienced dogs a chance to get familiar with the ring.
"It's good practice and it's fun for the dogs," Culter said. "This is a good place to start off a dog that's 3 months old. The socialization with other dogs, other breeds, and introductions to what they need to do, how fast they need to walk, placing them on the table if they're a small breed, and they also have a stranger, like a judge, touching them."
The obedience and rally competitions also offered the dogs a chance to strut their stuff, Culter said, as hours of hard work paid off for the dogs' handlers.
"Obedience and rally, it's all about the dog," Culter said. "It's all about the dog, how well he does. It means you've spent hours training them ... It's dog performance, 100 percent."
Nestled in among the more well-known breeds in attendance Friday, such as golden retrievers and Labradors, was Souldog, a Bergamasco sheepdog. Souldog stood out from the crowd because of his unusual covering - instead of growing fur, Souldog was sporting a full mane of dreadlocks.
"This is his first time ever in the ring," said Souldog's owner, Sirpa Nelson of Marquette. "His great-grandfather was a prize-winning show dog in Italy, so it's in his nature."
Bergamasco sheepdogs are originally from Italy and are a rare breed. Their unusual matted hair helps protect them from predators, as they were bred to be herding dogs out in the fields.
"We like to joke that he's Italian, but he thinks he's Jamaican," Nelson said. "He's just a superstar."
The dog show is open to the public and costs $2 to attend. Children 12 years of age and under are free.
The show continues through the weekend, running from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Sunday. For more information on the competition, visit the website marquettekennelclub.tripod.com.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is email@example.com.