HARWICH — For football players, it's the Super Bowl. For dog lovers, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show has been the ultimate stage to showcase all breeds of dogs.
This weekend, Harwich resident Karen Smith will be fulfilling a lifelong dream as she leads her 2-year-old red Australian cattle dog Bizzie Bea into the ring for a chance to be named 2021 Best of Breed or Best in Show at the prestigious show.
Smith, a 1992 graduate of Harwich High School whose mother Pamela Perez was a dog trainer, grew up watching the show on TV. "I always watched and always hoped that I would one day have a dog that's that nice," she recalled. "And today I do!"
Smith learned to love the medium-sized short-coated red cattle dogs while living in Maine, giving a home to pups named Sydney and then Sophie. She returned to Harwich in 2012, and after Sophie died in 2015 Smith decided to keep an eye out for another cattle dog. She worked showing and training dogs, and in 2019 she was working in Bryn Mawr, Pa. when she learned that a 13-week old female cattle dog was available and decided the time was right.
"She was exactly my style," Smith said, recalling seeing her dog's brother for the first time walking confidently while still a puppy. "It was the best impulse decision ever," she said with a smile.
Bizzie's official Kennel name is "GCH JDI Bea's Waitin' to Party@the Cove CGC FDC TKN ATT." That's a mouthful, however, so Smith uses the simpler call name for her, Bizzie Bea. In selecting it, Smith recognized that the dog was busy and curious, hence Bizzie. She added the “Bea” in recognition of the dog's great grandmother. "She's the spitting image," Smith said.
Being accepted into the 145-year-old Westminster Dog Show is daunting. This year, due to COVID, the event will take place out of doors on the historic estate of Lyndhurst in Tarrytown, N.Y., instead of in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.
To be eligible for Westminster, a dog must be older than six months and must hold the coveted title of champion. Bizzie earned her Champion title last October at 16 months of age. She then proceeded to best three other Champions in competition to earn her grand championship in January.
Once the championship criteria is met, there is a lottery to determine who gets in since the show is limited to 2,500 dogs, Smith said. Bizzie Bea won the lottery, and her category includes 18 cattle dogs, 10 boys and eight girls. Smith, as she has for every competition, will be handling her for her two minutes in the ring at Westminster.
How does Bizzie Bea get ready for her two minutes of fame? A week before, her nails will be groomed to be sure they are nice and short. The day before she will get a bath and a blow out of her fur. On the morning of the event, "I may spritz her with water on Saturday morning and blow her fur out again," Smith said, but basically cattle dogs require very little grooming.
On Saturday morning just before walking in the ring Smith will put her custom-made pink leash on Bizzie, complete with a glass bead and pink bee. "That's an indication to Bizzie that it's 'showtime'," Smith said. And Smith has a little dried beef liver in her hand to encourage her to move as well.
The morning event will determine "Best in Breed." Bizzie's father Luke won Best in Breed two years ago, so she has good genes, Smith said. "I am very lucky with this dog." The events in the morning will be livestreamed on the Westminster Kennel Club app at 9 a.m. in ring three.
If Bizzie Bea wins in the morning, she will go on to compete in the Herding Group category which will be broadcast on Fox that evening. The Herding Group includes other breeds like corgis (both breeds) collies, shepherds and English sheep dogs. The winner of the Herding Group goes on to compete with all the other group winner dogs for Best in Show.
Smith and Bizzie Bea have trained extensively to get to this level. Smith is excited to be at Westminster at last.
"It's the first time for me too," she said, recalling watching the show on TV as a child. Her goal today is to travel the country and show dogs all over. "I'm happy to be chasing my dreams. "