Don't Call Me Fido!

Dogs can do so many things: perform tricks, guide blind people, sniff out anything from dope to death, pull sleds, catch plastic flying discs, hunt, provide security, rescue people, write stimulating articles for major metropolitan newspapers and national magazines.

And if they should do something else -- well, rest assured that a team of young men is standing at the ready with mops and brooms. "You rarely see an animal make a 'mistake' on the floor of the arena," says Evelyn S. Shea, spokeswoman for the Greater Miami Dog Show, which takes place this weekend. "The boys will pick up anything that's dropped, in order to keep the other dogs away from it, to keep them from sniffing and smelling."

In this realm even bodily functions take on an almost transcendent significance. The 2000 dogs arriving from all over the hemisphere to compete in this show are the rock stars of the canine world, pampered, driven around the nation in RVs, adored by legions of devotees.

Even so, they are not above dog-type curiosity. Though immaculately trained and better behaved than most humans, these purebreds, Shea says, still "sniff at each other and look at each other." In defense of such behavior, Shea asks, "How could they not? Some of these dogs, you wonder where they came from. Like this Chinese something or other I saw. It looked like a four-legged chicken, with this little sprig of hair shooting from the top of its head."

"If you're married, take your wife," she instructs. "If you have kids, take your kids. You'll observe some of the wildest-looking animals that are purebred."

The 95th edition of the annual event, put on by the Greater Miami Dog Club, divides the competitors into seven categories: sporting class, nonsporting class, herding, toys, terriers, working breed, and hounds. The winner in each category then competes for best-of-show honors.

Everything is overseen by the American Kennel Club, and despite the doo-doo jokes and bizarre Oriental chicken dogs, it's all serious business. Because Miami's stop on the AKC show tour comes so late in the year, it can be critical for those hoping to pick up enough points to compete at Westminister, the Super Bowl of dog shows. Not surprisingly, then, top dogs show up to show.

"This is a major show, not something thrown together," Shea barks. These are judges who know what a good terrier is."

There are three aspects to a competition mutt's career: breeding, training, and handling. "You'll see a judge running his hand down the length of the dog," Shea says. "He's checking for the conformation of the animal: how his head sets, his ears set, eyes, nose, teeth. Judges also analyze how the animals walk, trot, respond, everything that breed is supposed to represent."

Beyond the main competition are obedience trials and an exercise in agility. And like other major sports, there is a senior league for retired champs itching to return to the game. "Most dogs only compete for two or three years," Shea explains. "They're on a tough circuit, living in trailers, and it drains them. The owners want to leave time for them to relax and enjoy life [in retirement]."

Money and adoration, Shea claims, aren't the only things that drive people to obsess over the show-dog biz. "The love of the animals is their motivation," she purrs. "You should see the faces [on the humans] when they lose. There was this one Great Dane bitch, my God what a beautiful animal! It made the finals but was passed over for best-of-show. The owner pulled her out and wouldn't show her again."

Champion dogs spend their postcareer lives doing more than relaxing. Most go to stud, which explains their motivation.

-- Greg Baker

The Greater Miami Dog Show opens at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, December 5 and 6, at the Fair Expo Center, 10901 SW 24th St. Admission is $5. Humans under age twelve are admitted free. Call 305-223-7060.

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Greg Baker