Fresno's Sun Maid Kennel Club show lets dogs strut their stuff

The Fresno BeeFebruary 2, 2014 

In drill after drill, Bentley -- a blue merle Australian Shepherd -- strode gracefully across the show ring Sunday at the Fresno Fairgrounds, seemingly unfazed by spectators or his competitors.

As the judge at the Sun Maid Kennel Club's dog show dismissed dog after dog, Bentley calmly waited by his handler, Megan Hof of Sacramento.

At the end, Bentley -- a lithe "Aussie" covered with black and gray patches with tan and white markings -- was the last dog standing, taking the title "best of breed."

"He's a dream dog," said Hof, who's been showing Bentley for about a year and a half traveling around California, Colorado, and Missouri. "He's a ball of energy, always on the go."

Hof said Fresno's dog show was Bentley's tune-up for next week's granddaddy of dog shows -- New York's Westminster Kennel Club show.

The Sun Maid Kennel Club's two-day event, which kicked off on Saturday, drew more than 900 entries and 125 breeds to the Fresno Fairgrounds. Saturday marked the club's 100th show -- Sunday was the 101st show. The club's first show was held in 1946, said organizer Barbara Gaffney.

"It's pretty exciting," she said. "This is also a good venue for people to come and see a variety of dogs -- from big dogs to lap dogs. It's all here."

A large number of professional handlers were present Sunday to groom the dogs and show them in the competition ring on behalf of the dogs' owners. Other competitors, like Lynda Tusoni of Angels Camp, competed as owner, breeder and handler.

Tusoni took Sierra, a fluffy white Samoyed, to compete in the show for the first time. To her surprise, Sierra won "best of breed".

"I'm shocked; I'm over the top," she said as she combed and fluffled, brushed and stroked Sierra. "We had really serious competition. I never expected that today."

The weekend show wasn't just for competitors. Dog lovers showed up, too.

Laura Slagle, 52, of Fresno went with her mother, Merry Derrick, 83, for the first time.

"I've always wanted to see a dog show in person because I've always seen them on TV," Slagle said. "I didn't realize it would be this big."

Jaime Delgado of Visalia took his family, including his 5-year-old son Sebastian who convinced them to go.

"It's so fun," Sebastian said.

Participant Donna Wright, who has a passion for training dogs, said there's nothing better than seeing them grow from a puppy to a dog.

"It's very rewarding to see them progress," she said. As companions, she added, "sometimes, dogs are even better than people."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6659, or @DianaT_Aguilera on Twitter.

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