Behind the Scenes: - Groomer to Groomer

The 140th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Behind the Scenes:

By Mary Oquendo

I remember the first time I went to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. I was a baby groomer and the school took us on a field trip. I was absolutely floored by the grooming.  And I had never seen so many well-behaved dogs at one time. That is until the min pins entered the ring. It was, in two words, awe inspiring. I think the only thing that could top attending Westminster would be to be invited as an entry.

I am not a breeder, nor do I have any plans to do so, but a good friend of mine, Leah Shirokoff is and she graciously allowed me to shadow her and Grand Champion Parson Russell Terrier, Gaitway He’s Finnomenal (AKA Finn.)

Leah’s interest in grooming was piqued as a teenager reading the mystery book Green Poodles and realized it was possible to earn a living in the pet industry. Then, a high school English teacher mentioned his wife owned a Poodle kennel. A 17-year-old Leah convinced this breeder to let her show one of their Poodles and has not looked back since.  Leah learned to breed and show before she was out of high school. By 19, she was co-owner of a grooming shop.

On her own, Leah showed and bred Poodles, then added Black and Tan Coonhounds, Irish Setters, and Brittanys. Leah currently breeds and shows Parson Russell Terriers.  The love of her life is Finn.

What does it take to get invited to the 140th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show?

Finn was qualified for entry as he is a Champion. Grand Champion is simply icing on the cake. Leah has spent many weekends at dog shows where Finn was evaluated on a point system according to breed standard. When he acquired enough points, Finn finished his championship.

However, it is very important to follow the rules to the letter when mailing your application, as it does not take much to scratch an entry.

How did Leah know Finn was the one?

Like many good breeders, Leah puts her heart and soul into her program. It’s more than choosing a good looking dog and bitch. There is health testing and extensive knowledge of the breed. When the pups are about 8 weeks of age, the evaluation process begins. Some are chosen for pet homes, while others are designated for show and future breeding. Just like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, they hope to choose wisely.

Making sure Finn does well and is comfortable in the show ring involves lots of socialization, practice classes with training, exposure to shows, and ensuring that Finn enjoys his time in the show ring. Finn’s coat must be perfect. His pre-grooming and the day of show bath include last minute combing, scissoring, and stripping.

What does Finn do for fun?

Finn loves dog shows. He wouldn’t show well if he didn’t. A dog’s show career can average between 1 to 6 years, depending if they are just going for a championship, or being “specialed”.  Specialed involves going for more wins and increasing breed point statistics, which lengthens their time being shown.

Finn lives in the mountains of CA. In addition to being a lap dog, Finn passes his time with other Parson Russell Terriers and a Brittany hunting various wildlife that dare show up in his fenced yard. Finn is not just a pretty face.  He excels at the job he was bred for. Finn is one leg away from a Barn Hunt Title.

So how did Finn pass the time at Westminster?

He arrived by plane and is small enough to fit under the seat. Leah packed his favorite ball. Westminster is much larger and louder than most shows. In addition to burning off some excess energy, the ball has the smells of home. It is his comfort item.

Leah and Finn arrived late on Saturday and missed the Meet the Breeds festivities. They did, however, participate in the Take Your Dog To Brunch to benefit the AKC Humane Fund. This worthwhile fund offers financial assistance to women’s shelters so that they can accept pets. Too many women do not leave

abusive relationships because their local shelters are unable to accept their pets. To learn more, visit

Leah enjoyed a lovely brunch and Finn received an awesome swag bag of goodies.

The night before, Finn was bathed, along with some minor tidy up as the breed standard calls for a natural, working field coat.

On Tuesday morning, we took the shuttle to Pier 92. Pier 94 was for the larger dogs. We shared our ride with a Miniature Schnauzer, Standard Schnauzer, Giant Schnauzer, Golden Retriever, two Siberian Huskies, two Labrador Retrievers, a Cane Corso, and two Australian Terriers. Oh, and their people as well. Finn was shown at 9am in Ring 2 where he went Select and has the pretty ribbon to take home with him.

I would like to thank Leah for allowing me the opportunity to be behind the scenes with Finn.  It was fun watching the skill and technique of the groomers and Lisa Leady still managed to teach me something new! Thanks Lisa.

I marveled over how well behaved the other breeds were. That is, except the min pins. They were still naughty. It was, in two words, awe inspiring.  ✂

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