By Tina Susman
4:14 PM PST, February 12, 2013
NEW YORK -- Fifi might not win best in show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, but she could win best-dressed.
The 4-year-old Doberman pinscher from Ohio won best of breed on Tuesday, taking away a purple-and-gold ribbon to complement the zebra-themed pink-and-black rhinestone-studded coat she wore as she waited to enter the ring.
“She’s always well-dressed,” said Jocelyn Mullins, who co-owns Fifi with Suzy Lundy and who is also the handler responsible for running the sleek Doberman around the ring. Mullins, who wore a necklace made of diamond Dobermans, made it clear that the colorful dog coat wasn’t just for show. Its lining was designed to keep Fifi cool as she waited to be shown, which is crucial when you’re trying to impress the judges with an alert, light-footed animal.
As the Dobermans went through their paces, Fifi clearly emerged as a crowd favorite, drawing howls and whistles of support that echoed through the cavernous Pier 94 on Manhattan’s West Side as she ran around the ring.
“She’s the epitome of what a Doberman is supposed to look like,” Lundy said of Fifi, whose Facebook page boasts about 7,000 fans and who was considered a strong contender for the big prize to be announced late Tuesday.
Kayla Bruner, a 20-year-old handler from Bloomington, Ind., is a fan of Dobermans and Great Danes. “I’m kind of an upright ear freak,” she said.
Bruner also is a fan of fashion in the ring for the handlers and wishes for the olden days, when female handlers wore flowing dresses instead of the prim -- some might say frumpy -- knee-length skirts, sensible tops and flat shoes that are common nowadays.
But this is not a job that lends itself to being fashionable. It involves running tight loops round and round, combing, spritzing, fluffing and cuddling the dogs as they wait to make their appearances, spraying their paws to prevent sliding, and squatting many times over to dish out the treats that encourage award-winning performances.
“They’re not going to prick up their ears for nothing,” said one vizsla handler before showing off the chicken, hot dog and liver slices in her pocket. Another vizsla handler and owner, Jay Diaz of Smithtown, N.Y., showed off his pocket treats: leftover London broil and barbecued pheasant for his entry, Miss Ellie.
“It’s a labor of love,” said Diaz, a retired banker in his 17thyear at Westminster.
On the sidelines of the competition, far from the competition rings and the fur-clogged purple carpet covering most of the show space, a mini-mall of sorts was doing a roaring business selling collars made of antique vintage ribbons from Europe, dog-themed jewels for humans -- “Go ahead, drool” read the sign at the jewelry stall -- La Pooch tearless puppy shampoo and other grooming products.
There were even special shears made of rare Damascus steel that sell for as much as $40,000, and products designed to make a dog’s fur glisten.
“Don’t tell him I said this, but my boss uses this on his hair,” said the young man behind the counter offering the La Pooch line.
A few booths over, Linda Dulye was shopping for collars for her pit bull, Bodie, and her greyhound, Wynton, at Heather Jaccoma’s Mackenzie accessories shop. It specializes in vintage collars priced up to $65.
So is there a style for certain dogs -- or at least their owners? According to Jaccoma, there is. Terriers, she explained, tend toward plaids. Irish breeds go for the green.
“Greyhound people tend to pick something very elegant,” she said as Dulye picked up a thick black collar with a gold-and-silver embroidered design. For the pit bull, Dulye chose a bright orange collar with pink flowers.
“People think of them as wearing spiked collars,” said Dulye, explaining what might seem an un-pit-bull-like choice. “I’m an ardent supporter of trying to change the public perception of pit bulls.”
And now a note on the two Los Angeles-area competitors we met earlier in the competition: the greater Swiss mountain dog, Luke, from Westlake Village, and the vizsla, Marlo, from North Hollywood. Neither made the finals Tuesday, ending their hopes of being best in show.
“That’s OK. We’re proud of him,” Luke’s handler, Stephen Cabral, said as he left the ring.
Copyright © 2013, The Los Angeles Times