Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Show Dog with Something Extra

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

A Show Dog with Something Extra

Article excerpt

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a superficial affair -- judging based on physical appearance and conformity to the breed's standard. But among the many well-coifed contestants from around the world at the 140th Westminster will be a North Jersey standout, Wyatt -- officially shown as GCH CH Rambo's Gunfight at the OK Corral JC -- a Rhodesian Ridgeback from Wyckoff.

The 7-year-old Ridgeback is more than a well-bred pretty face. He is a service dog to his owner, Janice Wolfe, who has a seizure disorder, works with special-needs children and is a disease- detection dog. Specifically, Wyatt sniffs for cancer, screening thousands of people each year. He detected cancer in his owner twice.

"He's just a cool dog," said Wolfe, who bred the litter that gave her Wyatt, with his one white paw and seemingly preternatural skills and compassion. He seemed to anticipate and react to Wolfe's health issues at only a few weeks old and, unlike the other dogs, appears to react emotionally when he finds disease in a person he is screening.

"He's just different," she said. "My mother says he's a fur- covered human."

Wyatt will join more than 3,000 dogs, including Wyatt's sister and brother, and seven breeds competing for the first time -- Bergamasco, Lagotto Romagnolo, Berger Picard, miniature American shepherd, Boerboel, Spanish water dog and Cirneco dell'Etna.

As in years past, dogs will stand on a table while handlers make final fixes to their coat and judges check them out from teeth to tail. The dogs will trot in a circle as crowds cheer and judges scrutinize their appearance in relation to the standard for each breed.

'Bucket list' activity

But there's more to many of these dogs than simply having the proper musculature and a good hair cut. Some also participate in agility or obedience competitions. Others, like Wyatt, are therapy or service dogs when not on the dog show circuit.

This will be Wyatt's fifth Westminster appearance, but the first with Wolfe as his handler. She typically hires professional handlers for her dogs.

"It's just one of those things on my bucket list," she said of being on the floor with Wyatt.

Wolfe found her love of dogs from her father, who bought a descendant of the 1967 Westminster winner, a Scottish terrier, as the family's pet. Wolfe and her dad would go to the Brooklyn Armory to dog shows and he would tell his daughter, "Who knows maybe someday you'll be running around in there."

Her father died 14 years ago, but her love of dogs and working with them helps her feel close to him. She thinks of him each year she is at Westminster and this time she will be doing what her dad predicted -- acting as the handler, not just the owner and breeder. It's extra special for her with Wyatt, a dog that has distinguished himself from a line of impressive dogs that includes his mother, Willow, who won Best of Opposite Sex in her breed at Westminster in 2007. …

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