- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 28, 2002

Lauren Delodovico aimed an electric shaver at her puppy's muzzle, gunning for the prickly white whiskers.

"Hold still, Smooch," she implored. The puppy, a silky, speckled English setter, struggled mightily. A couple of extra hands reached in to steady

Smooch, also known as Ambush Black Tie Kiss This, so her 17-year-old handler could ready the puppy for the ring.

Smooch was competing in the 18th annual Specialty Show and Obedience Trial, hosted recently by the National Capital English Setter Club at Nottaway Park in Vienna. She and approximately 60 others of her breed had been brought there from many points east and as far north as Toronto to be pitted in friendly competition.

The small parking lot at the Fairfax County park was lined with campers and sport utility vehicles. Show dogs all English setters, but each surprisingly distinctive lay quietly in shady crates or fussed against the confines of small pens assembled on the grass.

Handlers paced back and forth with their leashed, straining setters, awaiting their turns to compete.

Back in the staging area, Ms. Delodovico entered the ring with Smooch. Several minutes later, the pair emerged, the teen-ager happily clutching a pink first-place ribbon.

She said she has been showing dogs since age 5 perhaps prompted by her mother, a professional dog groomer. Ms. Delodovico said she does one or two shows a month with her mom, often showing a couple of the family's seven purebred dogs.

"It's fun because I love to travel and be with other people who like dogs, too," she said. "If you're a big dog person, it's a really great sport."

The United States is full of dog people, if American Kennel Club statistics are any indication. The AKC, which is the mother organization of purebred dog fanciers, reports that more than 15,000 competitive events are held annually under its auspices. These events are divided into three categories: conformation; obedience, tracking and agility trials; and performance events. Canine participants can win points toward championships and titles.

For those who appreciate a beautiful dog, these events often free to spectators present a unique way to spend the day.

"If you like dogs, it's the best way to see every breed you can imagine," said Marti Lawrence, corresponding secretary of the National Capital English Setter Club, as she trotted Trixie, aka Mahogany's Trix O' the Trade, back to a holding pen after a rather disappointing effort in an obedience class. She took a few minutes to elaborate on the appeal before she began to prepare Ozzy, or Champion Mahogany's Easy Rider, for his Best of Breed event.

"And if you're thinking about a specific breed for your family, it's a good time to talk to the breeders, put your hands on [the dogs], see what you're looking for," she said.

Purebred dogs don't come cheap, however. A pet-quality English setter can cost upward of $500, Ms. Lawrence said. A show dog can cost even more.

She should know. Ms. Lawrence, who lives with her husband and three sons in Nokesville, Va., owns four English setters and three clumber spaniels, "and five are in the house at any given time." Her children, several of whom are junior handlers, "used to like to go to shows when they were smaller because of the food vendors and cool things to buy at the bigger all-breed shows."

Dog-show people are a hardy breed themselves, she said. They show in all kinds of weather. They have to have lots of patience and perseverance and they have to be able to accept disappointment.

"You have a lot of hopes with the breeding," she said, "but then the tails come out too short. Your coats might not be what you want."

Importantly, she said, real dog-show people are not as eccentric as those portrayed in the recent film "Best in Show," a comedy about passionate dog lovers preparing their dogs for an important national competition.

"Yes, the stereotypes exist," she said, "but we know these are dogs. They have to be cleaned up after and brushed out. They slobber, and they drool."

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