For Mazsi, a 4½-year-old Mudi or Hungarian herding dog from Coventry, the road to Westminster Week 2019, which includes the 143rd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and agility and obedience competitions in New York City this weekend, began with a bit of pampering.
She recently had a massage and visited a veterinarian who specializes in chiropractic care.
While most people might be more familiar with the Best in Show judging at the nation's most famous dog show, Mazsi is competing in the 6th annual Masters Agility Championship on Saturday, which is part of the event.
That means she'll have to navigate such things as jumps, turns, ramps, weave poles, and tunnels on an obstacle course in a race against time while her owner, Erika Kiss, runs alongside her signaling the course.
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Mazsi will be among 139 dogs from Connecticut and 2,800 from the U.S. and around the world competing in a variety of categories in the dog show and the agility and obedience championships. The famous dog show is set for Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 11-12, at Madison Square Garden and at Piers 92 and 94 on 12th Avenue, while the agility championship and the meet the breeds event are Saturday. The obedience competition is Monday, Feb. 11, all at either Pier 92 or 94.
While Mazsi will be a novice at Westminster, she's competed in numerous local events and the American Kennel Club European Open Agility Team tryouts, where she won a spot on the team in 2017, Kiss says.
Kiss and Mazsi have spent three hours a week training in preparation for the challenging courses they'll have to run on Saturday. She describes Mazsi, who's mostly black with small white patches of fur on her chest, as fast and energetic, perfect for agility competitions.
"We love the sport. We love the feeling of conquering a difficult course together as a team, running it connected to each other," says Kiss, 56, a director of management information at an insurance company.
While Kiss wants Mazsi to do well and run the courses cleanly, she's already very proud of her dog. Mazsi was recently ranked No. 8 in the country for combined speed in one of the AKC's agility height classes, she said.
Coach, a 7-year-old male Shetland sheepdog owned by Guylaine Doyon of South Windsor, is competing for the fifth time in the Masters Agility Championship at Westminster.
The tri-colored Sheltie, who's mostly black with patches of tan and white fur, is described by her owner as a happy, charismatic, and agreeable dog. Coach has been competing since he was 20 months old, having developed a love for agility competitions, Doyon says.
After more than five years of competitions, Doyon, 51, says she and Coach have developed an extrasensory sort of bond, not needing words or hand gestures to communicate.
"We've created this kind of bond where he looks at me, and I look at him. I know what he's thinking, and he knows what I'm thinking," Doyon says.
Having spent several months training for the competition, Doyon says Coach is ready to give 110 percent on the agility courses.
Despite never having advanced to the next round in the agility championship at Westminster — a dog has to run two obstacle courses without mistakes to do that — Doyon says she knows Coach is ready to go at it again.
Before he competes Saturday, Coach will have been pampered, brushed, and spritzed, and yes, he's already been to the chiropractor for any needed adjustments.
When it's finally time for the duo to run the course, Doyon will look at Coach and ask if he's ready, and "he gives me that sparkle in his eyes, as if to say, 'Let's go.'"
At the end of the run, as he always does, Doyon expects Coach to jump into her arms, barking with pride, as if he knows they've done their best.
For Margaret Boisture of Windsor, her 2½-year-old Portuguese Podengo Pequeno named Tia is once again competing at Westminster in the Open Bitch class, which any female dog can enter.
Boisture, 47, who works as a director of administration for an engineering company, also breeds Portuguese Podengo Pequenos, described by the AKC as alert, quick, intelligent dogs of ancient lineage.
It was after Tia's debut at Westminster last year that Boisture met Philip Boyce, 44, of Pennsylvania, who shows dogs professionally. She recalls Boyce saying to her, "This is a fabulous dog," before asking if he could work with Tia as her handler, eventually turning her into a star.
In the time since Boyce began working with Tia, she's gone from being a class dog to a silver-level grand champion.
Tia has a pre-show routine more akin to a professional athlete or supermodel than what one might expect of a dog show contestant.
Her prep begins in the week before the show, Boyce says. Tia will visit a chiropractor to make sure her joints are loose, and she'll also receive a massage ahead of her big day. A few days later, she'll be bathed and have her nails done.
On show day, Tia will be treated to warm towels for 20 minutes, and then undergo a stretching routine.
In addition, she also gets brushed for 20 minutes, which Boyce says is a daily occurrence for her, but on show days she's brushed an additional time one hour before the competition.
Since last April, Boisture has spent a total of about $10,000 maintaining Tia for dog shows. In a year, according to Boyce, Tia probably undergoes about 400 hours of grooming.
To Boisture, it's all worth it to promote Tia's breed, which she says is the perfect breed for any potential dog owner.
"By doing the shows, not only am I promoting the breed, but I'm also making sure I stay within the standard" for breeding, she says.
While Tia is a performer through and through, it doesn't mean she's any different from most dogs.
"She's a happy, fun dog," Boisture says, adding that Tia is energetic and "smiling all the time."
Dawn Bradshaw, 49, of Ellington, knew early on that her pup, Renegade, was destined to be a show dog.
Renegade, a 2½-year-old German shorthaired pointer, was bred to be a hunting dog, but by the time he was 8 weeks old, Bradshaw knew he had the body type to compete in dog shows.
Though this will be Renegade's first time at Westminster, it will be Bradshaw's fourth time showing.
Bradshaw says Renegade stands out at shows because unlike most pointers, he's a solid liver color, which is rare for his breed.
"To go to Westminster, for me . is a little girl's dream come true with one of my best friends, Renegade," Bradshaw says.
Renegade has a complete AKC Championship and is halfway to earning a Grand Championship, both of which are based on point systems.
Renegade will compete for a Best of Breed title at Westminster. If he wins, he'll earn more points to go toward a Grand Champion title.
Renegade has also made a name for himself in hunting trials, and Bradshaw is hoping he'll become a dual champion in the near future.
Preparing Renegade for Westminster is far less involved than other dogs because he's a short-coated breed, says Bradshaw, who shows him herself.
Renegade gets bathed the night before the show, then his nails are done, his teeth are brushed, and his ears cleaned. Next, olive oil is rubbed on his toenails, effectively rendering any scuff marks from the nail clipping invisible.
"That's really it for him," she says. "They're a wash-and-dry kind of beast."
There's more to Renegade than his statuesque appearance and predisposition for hunting, however. He can be mischievous.
"He loves to take my couch cushions off my couch and run through the house with them. If I don't take him in every room with me, he will grab a couch cushion and bring it to me," she says.
"He is such a big goof before we get into the ring," Bradshaw says, describing him as a 62-pound bull in a China shop.
Because Bradshaw handles Renegade herself at shows, the cost of showing him and all of his preparations are no more than what someone might spend on a Friday night out, she says.
"I can do four shows in one weekend and it's $120," she says.
The real investment in Renegade is the amount of time she spends taking care of him, along with her six other dogs and two horses.
"It takes a lot of dedication and time and planning," says Bradshaw, who works full-time as a paralegal for an estate planning law firms.
"When you like something, you don't really realize how much time you put into it," she says.