Few people would pass up an opportunity to take a break from work and head to New York City, but OSU’s Kate Peterson had a pretty solid excuse for her absence in early February. She was in the city to watch her dog, Happy McGee, compete in the Westminster Dog Show, the most prestigious dog show in the United States.
Although Happy didn’t end up being top dog at the show, it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Peterson, a life-long dog lover, to experience the drama and excitement of the AKC show.
Nine years ago, Peterson wanted a companion dog that would be comfortable with an indoor life. She decided on a Norwich terrier, because the dog’s personality and compact size worked well with her lifestyle.
Her first Norwich passed away after suffering from a degenerative disease, and Peterson was heartbroken. Three years ago, her husband bought her a new Norwich puppy, Happy McGee. He turned out to be a show-quality dog.
“He just turned out to be a really excellent specimen, I guess you’d say,” she said. With Happy’s perfect form, it was a shame to keep him out of the ring.
It wasn’t the family’s first foray into dog shows. Peterson’s husband, Mike, is a veterinarian and a registered breeder of Lakeland terriers, and has been showing dogs since his childhood. The couple’s children also have learned to show dogs through 4-H.
But for Kate Peterson, having a dog of her own that was actually winning dog shows was something unusual. Peterson uses professional handlers to show Happy, because the family can’t take time to travel to far-off dog shows.
After a particularly successful year, Peterson was surprised to learn that Happy had been invited to participate in the Westminster Dog Show in early February. She said the American Kennel Club keeps track of how many points each dog in each breed earns in various competitions, and tallies them. The top five in each breed are invited to Westminster. Happy was ranked fifth in the nation by the AKC this year, after narrowly collecting more points than a Norwich owned by comedian Bill Cosby.
“I didn’t know it worked that way until I got the invitation,” Peterson said.
For the Westminster show, Peterson hired a new handler, Tracy Deloria, who was working with Happy for the first time. She wasn’t worried about them getting along.
“He bonds with everybody,” Peterson said.
But of course, Peterson wanted to witness Happy’s performance herself.
“This is probably the only time I’m going to go when my dog is in it,” she said.
Happy had a few challenges to overcome, including his first plane ride, his first taxi ride, and his first performance in such a huge arena (Madison Square Garden). He took it all with aplomb. Other than one bark during takeoff, he spent his flight asleep, and as for his behavior during the show, other than some high-spirited Norwich jumps, he was an angel.
“He was just so excited to be out of that crate,” Peterson said.
Sadly, Happy did not win over the judges, who passed him by in the ring. But Peterson was still thrilled to have been in New York City for such a big event. The night of the Best in Show competition was especially exciting, and Peterson was impressed with the way the audience vocalized their approval for their dog of choice.
And everywhere Peterson went, she was greeted with friendly faces, whether in the stands or walking Happy outside Madison Square Garden.
“There was this feeling of excitement to be there,” she said.
She doesn’t know if there’s another Westminster competition in Happy’s future, but if there is, she’d love to go back. Meanwhile, she and Happy are settling back into their everyday life. Which is fine with them both.
“We’re a real terrier family,” she said.
To see a video of the Norwich competition, click here. Happy appears at approximately 6:29 on the counter.
~ Theresa Hogue