Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dog gone to top dog show

By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer

A Temple dog has wagged his tail all the way to New York City, and come Tuesday, he just might be on TV.
The pup is a contender in this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. And his owner, Chris Chirdo of Temple, is very excited.
'The Westminster Dog Show is the most prestigious dog show in the world, and my dog Elmo is going to be there,' Chirdo said. 'I can hardly believe it. It's the first time for any of my dogs to make it.'
But he kept his enthusiasm in check.
'The day I care about the outcome of a dog show is the day I've lost all my people skills and have no life,' Chirdo said. 'It's an honor just for Elmo and me to be there. It's the experience that's wonderful, not the results.'
But Chirdo added that if Elmo happens to win, he'll have to go to an emergency room because he'll have lost consciousness.
His friend Amanda Malloy laughed.
'That's so right,' she said. 'He's a nervous wreck when he's watching his dog in a show. He's like a stage mom - err, dad - all nervous and paranoid.' 'That's right,' Chirdo said. 'It's like watching your kid. You get so worried about him.'
With Elmo in tow, Chirdo left Feb. 4 for New York. They both went by plane with Elmo's ticket costing $250 roundtrip.
Elmo didn't have to sit in a plane chair. He was transported in a Sherpa bag, which is a duffel-like bag made of net-like material.
'It's got tiny holes all over it so he can breathe,' Chirdo said. 'And the bag fits right under my seat, so I'm with him the whole time.'
Airplane rides like that aren't scary for Elmo.
'The sound of the engines are mesmerizing for him,' Chirdo said. 'He hears them and he goes right to sleep, out like a light.'
That behavior isn't uncommon among show dogs. They're trained to be relaxed by airplane noises.
Until it's time for Elmo to compete on Tuesday, Chirdo and Elmo will be staying with Chirdo's parents, enjoying some rest and relaxation.
'Tuesday morning we'll head over to Madison Square Garden, which is where the competition takes place,' Chirdo said. 'The competition starts at 9 a.m., and Elmo will be competing against 25 other dogs of his same breed.'
Elmo is a Chinese Crested, a breed noted for its small size and tendency to cling affectionately to its owner.
'That preliminary competition will probably last about six hours,' Chirdo said. 'Whichever Crested wins will get to be on TV Tuesday night.'
Labeled No. 19, Elmo will be competing under his registered name of Champion Solaris Tickle My Fancy Gingery.
Victor Helu of New York, the man who will be handling Elmo at the show, thinks Elmo has a fair chance at winning.
'Elmo's a beautiful dog, well put together and has wonderful attitude,' Helu said. 'He's not the favorite to win, but he has been competitive in the past, so he has a chance. He has a shot to be the underdog who takes the win.'
Helu has been a handler at the Westminster Dog Show since 1992.
'It's a lot of hoopla and excitement,' Helu said. 'It's a fun, fun thing to do.'
Helu shares equal ownership of Elmo with Chirdo and Arlene Butterklee of New York.
Chirdo lives with Elmo in Temple and pays for his vet bills and food, but when it comes time for Elmo to breed, Helu and Butterklee will have a vested interest in any resultant profits.
The three people met about three years ago at a New York dog show when Chirdo's interest in Chinese Cresteds was beginning to develop.
'(Helu) and (Butterklee), they're dog people. They've been showing for years,' Chirdo said. 'But I haven't. I didn't know anything about anything until I fell in love with my ex-girlfriend's dog. She had a Chinese Crested, and when we were dating, that dog would come over and love on me and be excited when I was there. And when we broke up, I found out I didn't miss the girlfriend but I really missed the dog.'
So Chirdo set on a mission of obtaining a Chinese Crested he could call his own. He adopted one named Phil from a rescue facility. That one's a house pet, not in the show business.
'I started reading and emailing people to learn about the breed,' Chirdo said. 'And then I bought another one from a pet store but it had a lot of health problems, and then I made contact with a breeder.'
That breeder was Butterklee. She was at a New York dog show that Chirdo had attended just for fun.
'We were talking chit-chat,' Chirdo said. 'But when she said her name, I knew her. So I said, 'Hey, I'm that guy who emailed you about where I could get a good Chinese Crested.''
She remembered and introduced Chirdo to Elmo who had just been born. It was the summer of 2006, and she had purchased Elmo from his Houston breeders.
'I picked him up, and he stuck his tongue up my nose,' Chirdo said. 'It was love at first sight.'
Butterklee served as Chirdo's dog show mentor. She taught him all about the hobby of showing dogs, and Chirdo thought he'd like to try.
By January 2007, Elmo had won his first competition, and by August 2007, he had earned the rank of champion - the prerequisite of being eligible to compete in the Westminster Dog Show.
'Dogs get points when they win dog shows,' Chirdo explained. 'The bigger the dog show, the more the win is worth and the more points that are given out.'
So any given dog must earn a total of 15 points to be considered a champion, and of those 15 points, two of the wins must have been worth three points each.
Chirdo will not be walking alongside Elmo in Madison Square Garden, that will be Helu.
'I can't do it because I'm the one who lives with him,' Chirdo said. 'He'll see me and want to hug and play, not pay attention to the contest so it's best that (Helu) is the handler.'
Even if that wasn't the case, Chirdo said he wouldn't want to handle Elmo because of stage fright.
'I'd be really nervous in front of a thousand people and cameras,'Chirdo said. 'And when the handler is nervous, that nervousness runs right down the leash to the dog.'
So Chirdo is content being Elmo's roommate.
When the two aren't practicing or grooming for an upcoming dog show, they're just hanging out.
Chirdo works full time as a nurse at Scott & White in Round Rock, and Elmo likes watching TV.
'Elmo's particularly fond of the Gilmore Girls,' said Malloy - a friend and roommate to Chirdo. 'And he loves the Bridget Jones movies.'
And Elmo loves trips to Lions Park, Home Depot and PetSmart.
'It's easy for Chinese Cresteds to get shy and nervous,' Chirdo said. 'So to keep his social skills strong, I take him out where there's going to be people. By now, he's famous around town. All the cashiers at PetSmart know him.'
Chirdo and Elmo have lived in Temple since April of 2007. Chirdo wanted to relocate to a warmer place so that his dogs could enjoy an outdoor yard.
In addition to Phil and Elmo, Chirdo has a third Chinese Crested named Aquila.
Chirdo also owns a Golden Retriever named Leroy. Like Phil, Leroy's a house pet, but he has a special job.
'Leroy's there to chase away the critters,' Chirdo said.

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