Dogs from Merrimack, Nashua, Londonderry (and their owners, too) to compete at Westminster

NASHUA – When Kristine Holleran, of Londonderry, first brought her Chinook, Birr, to a dog show when he was 10 weeks old, she never suspected that four years later, they would be headed to the Westminster Dog Show.

The breed, which is also the state dog of New Hampshire, wasn’t even recognized by Westminster until this year.

“I’m excited for people to get a look at the breed,” Holleran said.

Birr is the only Chinook from New Hampshire going to the Westmister Kennel Club’s 138th annual dog show, and he’s one of only four competing.

More than 3,000 dogs are entered, making this the kennel’s largest show in more than 20 years.

The show will be held Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Holleran said she’s honored to have been chosen to compete.

“I was really nervous for a while, but I think it passed,” Holleran said. “I’m excited.”

Holleran said the “intense athlete” also will be happy to be there. Birr is no stranger to the show ring, having won Best of Breed at the Eukanuba dog show in December 2012. He also has several other titles.

Holleran has three Chinooks and enjoys using them to promote the breed throughout the state. They travel to humane societies, winter carnivals and other events, and even offer sled dog rides.

Holleran said it’s a breed of dogs that “really love their people.”

“They’re an outstanding breed,” Holleran said. “They’re a dog you can have a lot of fun with.”

This is the first year that Westminster is holding an agility championship, and even though Birr isn’t entered, a few other New Hampshire dogs are.

More than 1,000 dogs were entered into the lottery for the agility event, and only 225 were chosen. One of those was Kaleigh, a 4-year-old Sheltie from Merrimack. Owner Lynn Thibodeau said she feels lucky.

“It’s phenomenal,” Thibodeau said. “Westminster is such an iconic name in the dog world.”

Kaleigh has won 31 titles with the American Kennel Club. Thibodeau said Kaleigh has no clue about the upcoming show, though, and has been training as she would for any other agility competition.

Thibodeau and her family own five Shelties and have been doing agility events for five or six years. She said she prefers agility over the traditional confirmation competition.

“Agility is more about the relationship between dog and human,” Thibodeau said. “In confirmation, it’s all about the dog.”

Thibodeau said aside from the “special bond” she gets to experience with Kaleigh, she also enjoys the athleticism of the event. She said Kaleigh’s nature and personality suit agility well.

“She is feisty,” Thibodeau said. “She’s a very want-to-please-you kind of dog.”

Patti Gagnon, of Nashua, has two Shelties competing in agility – Sparkle and her daughter Radiance are both going to Westminster.

At 12 years old, Sparkle is the No. 1 all-breed in the country, and Radiance, 5 years old, is the No. 8 Sheltie, Gagnon said. Gagnon started doing agility 14 years ago, and she said she’s thrilled it has finally made its way to Westminster.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Gagnon said.

“It’s the most popular and growing dog sport in the country.”

Gagnon has lived in Nashua for 40 years and travels a lot to go to agility events with her dogs. She said both Shelties have incredible energy and drive.

Gagnon described Sparkle as a “firecracker.” Gagnon said she and her dogs love the sport for many reasons.

“I like it because I’m getting to play with my dogs, and what’s better than that?” Gagnon said.

Laurie Wells and her dog Max will be taking part in the confirmation competition. Wells, of Merrimack, has been showing Alaskan malamutes since before she was 13 years old, and this will be her and 4-year-old Max’s second time at Westminster.

Last year, he took second place in best of breed, and Wells is hoping for a top spot this time around.

“I’m hoping he’ll go best of breed, of course,” Wells said.

“You want that TV camera on your dog.”

Wells said Max loves being in shows and gets excited when she starts packing the car for them to head out together. She said Max loves having all eyes on him.

“He’s like, ‘I’m beautiful, and you need to look at me,’?” Wells said.

Even though he is a grand champion, Wells
said Max is just a big goofball who likes to have fun.

“He’s a silly boy,” Wells said. “He’s got a head like a football.”

Wells has several malamutes, and she enjoys going to shows to show off her breeding program. Her mother was also a malamute breeder and is now an AKC judge.

Wells said her favorite part of showing is something much simpler than earning a title.

“I love winning, don’t get me wrong, but the compliments I get on my dog are the best,” Wells said.

Holleran said winning won’t be the No. 1 priority for her and Birr at the show.

“The big win was getting invited,” Holleran said. “Everything else is gravy.”

Kate Gardner can be found on Twitter: @katevgardner.