A certain big-time, A-list celebrity is secretly living in Columbia. His prints aren’t set in concrete in front of Mann’s Chinese Theater, and he’s not up for an Academy Award — but he’s certainly winning judges’ acclaim.
This star enjoys a good scratch on the belly, a nice afternoon nap on the floor and a chuck under the chin from passers-by.
Call him Seasar. A 5½ -year-old standard Schnauzer, he’s the best there is.
Seasar’s official name is Champion Scarlights Seasar TD NA and, for the past two years, he’s won Best of Breed at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York. It is the most prestigious dog show in the United States. Next week, he will vie for the crown once again.
The Westminster Kennel Club, in essence, invented American celebrity dog-showing. The history page on its Web site says Westminster is the first kennel club in the United States and sponsored the first dog show, in 1877. It is the country’s second-longest continuously held sporting event, the slightly younger brother of the Kentucky Derby.
Seasar was 14 months old when he finished his first championship, a distinction earned after winning a prescribed number of points in competition. At 2, he began his official bid for the rank of top dog.
Since then, his resume has grown to be quite impressive. He has a tracking title and an agility title, won Best in Show at other dog shows three times, won the National Standard Schnauzer Specialty, spent two years as the top standard Schnauzer in the nation and took Best of Breed at the Westminster show in 2003 and 2004.
“He’s a once-in-a-lifetime dog,” said Liz Hansen, Seasar’s owner and handler. “He walks into the ring like he owns it, and he’s got such personality that he just asks for it. He loves it out there.”
Robin Nuttall, a friend of Hansen’s and one of Seasar’s fans, said his wins are thrilling.
“She worked so hard for it,” Nuttall said of Hansen. “They’re such a great team.”
Once in a while, Seasar accompanies Hansen to her job as a research assistant at MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He has his own spot underneath a table next to her desk; when he’s not the center of attention, he sleeps on a towel he won once in a show.
A towel is a fairly common prize, but Seasar has stranger additions to this trophy bank. For example, there are a 14-inch crystal sailboat and a DVD player.
Nuttall said Seasar loves life. He certainly loves people. If they aren’t paying him much mind, he bonks them with his nose. Hansen said he flirts with the judges and, when their backs are turned, plays around with the other dogs.
Hansen fell for dogs long before Seasar came into her life. As a teenager, she got her first dog from a friend of a friend and promised her parents she’d take it to obedience classes. She began competing for obedience titles in 4-H Club and said she thought “it looked fun to compete in other aspects as well.”
She soon got her first standard Schnauzer, a rare breed bred to be “the poor German farmer’s all- purpose dog,” Hansen said. They could herd the sheep and the cattle, kill the rats in the barn and guard the farm, she said.
Once she found the breed, it all came together. She’s been showing dogs ever since.
“I enjoy having the dogs around, and if I could never go to a dog show I’d still have these dogs.” Hansen said. “It’s not that I have dogs because I show dogs. I have the dogs because I enjoy them. Competing with them is an added bonus.”
Almost every Friday, she and Seasar drive late into the night to Minnesota or Ohio or Illinois, wherever the next big gig is, to arrive in time to walk in the ring early Saturday morning. Last weekend, it was two shows in Arkansas, where Seasar twice won Best of Breed and twice placed second in the Working Group Ring.
“I’m kind of spoiled,” Hansen acknowledged.
But Hansen, it seems, is a rare breed herself. She’s an owner and handler in a world “dominated by handlers who do it for a living and owners who spend thousands of dollars a month just in advertising,” Nuttall said.
“Liz worked the hard way,” she said. “Seasar’s gotten where he is because of his merit as a dog.”
When Hansen and Seasar enter the ring at Madison Square Garden next week, they will face dogs they’ve met, and beaten, before.
“You never know what’s going to happen,” Hansen said. “I know what I’ve got, and I think he should win, but it’s up to the judge to decide. We’ll just do our best and look our best and hope for the best.”