COLUMBIA — With less than a week to the big show, the pressure is on. The judges will be looking closely at every detail, including hair, muscle tone and teeth. But for Vegas, a Standard Schnauzer and champion show dog who lives in Columbia, scrutiny and competition are nothing new.
Vegas, alongside owner Liz Hansen, will compete in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, taking place Monday and Tuesday in New York City. He is one of more than 2,500 dogs competing and one of 39 dogs from Missouri.
What: The 133rd annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, broadcast live from Madison Square Garden
When: Monday and Tuesday
How to watch:
- Vegas' first judging will take place at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Judging at this level will be viewable online later in the day at WestminsterKennelClub.com.
- Hound, Terrier, Non-sporting and Herding groups: USA Network, 7 to 8 p.m. Monday; CNBC, 8 to 10 p.m. Monday
- Sporting, Toy, Working (including Vegas, if he advances) groups, and Best in Show competition: USA Network, 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday
"It's the most prestigious dog show in probably the world," said Hansen. "It's like the Super Bowl for dogs."
Last year, Vegas — whose registered name is CH Sketchbook Neon Lights — took third place in his breed at the show, and Hansen hopes he will be able to place again this year. "I hope that Vegas can look his best and that we can put the best performance on when it counts," she said.
Uno, a beagle partially owned by a man from Boone County, won Best in Show at Westminster last year.
In addition to being ranked third in his breed, Vegas has other awards under his collar. In 2007, Vegas won his first Best in Show title at the Lake Minnetonka Kennel Club show in Minnesota, where his father, Seasar, also won his first Best in Show title in 2003. Seasar also won Best in Breed each year at the Westminster show from 2003 to 2006.
At the St. Joseph Kennel Club Dog Show last weekend, Vegas added three Best in Breed awards to his achievements and also placed second in the working group competition. "Every win counts," Hansen said.
Hansen, coordinator of veterinary information at MU, said most Standard Schnauzers see their best years of competition between ages 4 and 6. At just 3 1/2, Vegas is a young competitor.
“He’s really coming into his prime,” Hansen said. “You never know when they’re going to take off.”
Hansen and Vegas have trained for the coming show for months. Hansen said it is important to keep Vegas in top shape, just like an athlete. At the Columbia Canine Sports Center, the pair work nightly on the Schnauzer’s muscle conditioning.
Hansen begins the workout by walking Vegas for three laps around the complex. After warming up, Vegas hops on a treadmill and trots for about 15 minutes to maintain good muscle conditioning. At the end of a typical workout, Vegas balances on top of a large blue ball. Hansen said this not only gives Vegas a nice stretch but also helps strengthen his hind legs.
Obviously proud of Vegas — she smiles and laughs when she tells stories about him — Hansen hugs the dog and pats his head a lot and praises him throughout his workout. She has been showing dogs, mostly Schnauzers, since 1976. Because of their personality and intelligence, she said, "Schnauzers are the breed for me.”
Schnauzers were bred to be multipurpose dogs for farm work. Their long, visor-like eyebrows and their broom-like mustaches, for example, were originally meant to protect them from the rodents, in particular rats, they hunted.
Hansen said she's seen Vegas imitate her before, for example taking his paw and patting other dogs on the head as he's seen Hansen do. “Sometimes he is too smart for his own good,” she said. “He is like a 3-year-old who knows what to do but decides not to do it.”
Hansen said when she is trying to work on her laptop at night and Vegas is looking for attention, he comes over to her chair and forces his nose under her arm to steal her concentration from the screen. “He’s got a lot of personality,” she said.
Vegas and Hansen leave Friday for the drive to New York, and Vegas is set to take the stage early in the competition Tuesday. If he wins his breed and group, he will move on to the Best in Show competition.
Hansen is excited at the possibility of returning to the Best in Show competition again. “It was really a thrill to be out there with his dad,” she said. “Hopefully he (Vegas) can do it.”