By CARRIE ANTLFINGER | Associated Press
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Hunting dogs are on display at two canine gatherings this week. One is in New York at the famed Westminster Kennel Club show, where judges look for perfection in the breeds' appearance, the shape of an ear, the size of a tail.
The other is in Milwaukee, where bird hunters will celebrate the canines that point out, scare up and retrieve fowl, while attending sessions on topics like training dogs to retrieve antlers.
Seventy to 100 dogs representing about 40 breeds are expected at Friday's parade that kicks off the National Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic, a trade show geared toward hunters whose prey includes quail, pheasant, grouse, woodcock and prairie chicken. The event could not be more different than the one in New York, except for one thing: Both groups have a fanatical love for their dogs.
While hair dryers, clippers and combs abound at Westminster, there will be little primping going on in Milwaukee. At most, the dogs will get baths, their nails clipped and their ears cleaned.
"The dogs that are in the show competitions are bred both for their abilities in the ring and in the field, while the dogs in the bird dog parade are just that, bird dogs," said Rehan Nana, a spokesman for St. Paul, Minn.-based Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever. "And the parade may be their only time in the show spotlight."
Only Westminster has more sporting-breed dogs participate than Pheasant Fest, Nana said.
Entrance in the parade is free, and 70 to 100 dogs are expected to take part. In contrast, it costs $100 to show at Westminster, with a limit of 3,000 dogs (this year, 2,845 will take part).
Typically parade organizers limit the parade to four or five dogs representing each breed, with fewer of rare breeds like Deutsch-drahthaars and L'epagneul Bretons. More common hunting breeds include different types of retrievers, pointers and setters.
All draw oohs and aahs from the 1,000 or so people assembled to watch and listen to the history and characteristics of each breed.
"It's just so much fun to have a chance to kind of stretch your stuff in front of the crowd that really appreciates these dogs," said Joe Strang, a pheasant hunter from Cascade, Iowa, who walked with his dog in all seven previous parades.
Two Clumber spaniels will walk in the parade this year, including 2-year-old Marlo, owned by Helen Marshall, of Ottawa, Wis. Since Clumbers are so rare, they usually attract a lot of attention, she said.
"They will get a warm welcome," she predicted.
Marshall and her husband, Otto, who own six Clumbers, began pheasant hunting in 1998 because their dogs love it so much. Marshall won best of breed at Westminster with her Sussex spaniel in 2006 and considered taking Marlo there this year, but chose Pheasant Fest instead. Marlo's too young to have the adult coat of fur needed for top level competitions at Westminster, Marshall said.
While Westminster draws dogs from around the nation, most at Pheasant Fest come from the Midwest.
Over the weekend, the event includes dog-related vendors and talks on topics like basic obedience and training dogs with a GPS.
Strang, 61, and his dogs will spend the weekend at a canine-friendly hotel. The dog Strang brought to past events, Gordon, passed away last fall, but some of Gordon's descendants will walk in the parade with their owners.
Strang expects the event to be emotional.
"I plan to bring Gordon's collar tags and I will probably bring a few of his ashes to carry with me," he said.
Strang hosts a separate event called Gordonfest, inviting Gordon's nearly 400 offspring and their owners to eat, mingle and listen to live music. The fourth Gordonfest will be held this fall in Iowa.
Nana said the dog owners are somewhat sentimental and pointed to his nearly 2-year-old, 40-pound red setter, who clearly has the run of the place, saying: "Annie has slowly migrated from her kennel, to the foot of the bed, to under the covers, to pushing me towards the floor."
AP Sports Writer Ben Walker contributed to this story from New York.