Shiphrah peered up at her owner through her shaggy bangs before plopping down on an empty space of floor in front of a performance ring. Happy and panting, the Newfoundland was tuckered out Friday afternoon, her second day performing in the Carolina Foothills Dog Show.
About 2,300 dogs of all ages and sizes wagged and trotted their way through the Greenville Convention Center from July 25-28 for the 80th anniversary of the largest dog show in the Southeast, which Shiphrah and her owner, Pam Sauerman, traveled from Chicago to attend.
Shiphrah, whose name is Hebrew for “beautiful,” is the first dog Sauerman decided to show. At 4 years old, her large build and vibrant black-and-white coat attract the attention of friendly passersby — although she’s considered small for her breed.
Shiphrah has competed in 15 dog shows in the two years since she entered the circuit, but Sauerman said she’s a household pet first — the shows are just for fun.
“The relationship that you build with your dog, and you really can see the relationship, the twinkle in their eyes and the desire to work, it’s just a lot of fun,” Sauerman said.
The Carolina Foothills show attracts handlers from all over the United States, with about 175 different breeds this year throughout the four shows at the four-day event.
Kris Harner, who has been chairwoman of the event for the last nine years, said the purpose behind dog shows is a desire to preserve the breeds.
“Every breed has a purpose, and the whole premise of the dog show is to continue to be able to reproduce dogs that can still do that purpose,” Harner said. “So we consider ourselves preservation breeders because we’re preserving a breed. Some breeds might be out there to help a hunter retrieve a duck, or to protect a man, or to sit on a lap and keep it warm.”
A show determines how close a dog is to the breed’s standard, along with how well it does in performance competitions — such as agility, obedience, and rally. Each breed falls into one of seven categories — working, herding, sporting, hound, toy, terrier, or non-sporting. The process to become a judge for shows is strict and complex — for American Kennel Club sponsored shows, such as the Carolina Foothills, a judge must have 12 years of experience with the breed, bred five litters, and had at least four champion dogs, among other requirements, and even then, they are allowed to judge only the specific breed they meet the qualifications for.
Harner said the term “breeder” often comes with bad connotations — conjuring images of someone who churns out puppies to make money.
“Most of us don’t make money — it’s not about the money, it’s about preserving the breed,” Harner said. “That’s the big thing about your responsible breeders — they’re not in it for the money, they don’t have litter after litter after litter.”
At the Carolina Foothills competition, the most common breed is the golden retriever — this year, there were 150 golden retrievers at the shows. Harner said she isn’t sure which breed is the least common, but there are several you don’t see often — such as pumis, which are Hungarian sheepdogs.
While some dog handlers who compete in shows are breeders, many of them are not. The shows typically don’t result in cash prizes, and it often costs handlers to train, prepare, and travel to the shows.
“It’s an expensive hobby,” Harner said.
Jeri Peterson brought her five-and-a-half-year old golden retriever, Buck, to the show from Hendersonville, North Carolina. As a child, Peterson wasn’t allowed to own a dog, so after she graduated from college, she got a Welsh corgi and starting taking it to shows.
“I used to do it many, many years ago, and now that I’m retired, I thought it would be a fun hobby to take up again,” Peterson said.
Peterson takes Buck to local shows only every two or three months — she’s not focused on the other competitors or even winning. Her primary goal is to see Buck carry out the tasks she works with him on at home and build on their bond.
“A judge that’s an older gentleman, he said to me one day, ‘What sport or pastime could you have more fun at than being with your best friend all day?’ And I thought that was really a cool thing to say,” Peterson said.