The stage was set, the paparazzi were poised, and the stars were primping. The event? The biggest awards ceremony of the season, the canine season.
Forget the Oscars—the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was the premier awards show to be seen at this month.
And this year, the Wood River Valley's own champion show dog, Long Shot's Duchess, held the spotlight. Duchess, a wirehaired pointing griffon, won Best of Breed at the annual event in which 165 canine breeds and breed varieties competed for the title of Best in Show. Held in New York City, the two-day event was broadcast live by the USA network last Monday and Tuesday.
Duchess' breed win qualified her to compete against 27 of the world's top sporting dogs for the title Best of Group, Sporting Dog. She lost to eventual Best in Show winner, James, an English springer spaniel. James also beat out Duchess to the ultimate prize at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship last December.
Owned by Teena Hill and Ron Brans, of Timber Gulch in the mid-Wood River Valley, Duchess is a 3-year-old bitch. Hill, speaking while en route back to the Wood River Valley, was thrilled with their success.
"It was awesome," said Hill, a private mortgage banker for Wells Fargo in Ketchum. "It was our first time at Westminster, and it was unbelievable. There were 2,632 dogs there."
Hill and Brans thoroughly enjoyed their jaunt to the Big Apple. "We met lots of wonderful dog people," she said.
They also gained some exposure to the more quirky side of dog show participants.
"In the hotel lobby we came across a Bouviers des Flandres (a herding breed) wearing a pink tutu, and we saw a great Dane wearing a sheepskin coat and Uggs."
Despite the fashion-forward tendencies of would-be Westminster champs, Duchess was not inclined to dress up. After all, she is a serious hunting dog. "I don't think she would have stood for it," Hill said.
However, Duchess' Idaho-bred, down-home tendencies were put to the test when the New York Channel 7 news crew invited her to partake in a doggy massage for a story on pampered show dogs.
"She loved her massage," Hill said. "It really relaxed her."
So much so that she fell asleep while waiting for her big moment in the spotlight—the trot around the Best of Group ring in front of a packed Madison Square Garden. The USA network commentators found her little nap incredibly amusing. But Hill defended her charge: "It was very hot in there," she said.
However, Duchess did manage to maintain some canine dignity when introduced to the way East Coast show dogs do their toilet.
"On the first night at the hotel, we took her downstairs to the designated potty room—along with a gazillion other dogs," explained Hill. "She took one look at that room and refused to go in. She locked up her legs and stood firm. So Ron put her in a cab and took her to Central Park where she agreed to do her business."
You can take the dog out of Idaho ...
As to the big event itself, Hill burst with pride while recalling Duchess' performances in the ring.
"We were sitting way up in the balcony watching, and she looked spectacular. Ron has been exercising her on his bike for 45 minutes every day for the past three weeks. She looked better than ever. Her legs and butt are very defined, as are Ron's. He's lost 3 pounds."
Beyond the obvious prestige and joy of competing and winning at a national dog show, Westminster and its ilk are something of a doggy meat-market. Duchess, nearly 3, is at a very "marriageable" age.
"We were trying to find her husband, and the dogs were all very interested in her." It was not to their surprise, really, as the day before they arrived in New York Duchess came into heat.
"All the dogs were very excited. She was very popular," Hill said.
Hill left the show with her wallet bulging with cards from potential suitors.
"It was a great experience and so much fun," she said.
As for Duchess' take on all of this?
"It's old hat for her now. She just can't wait to go home and roll in the snow."