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Duluth poodle judged top female in breed at Westminster

Kaili, a 3½-year-old miniature poodle from Duluth, was judged the top female in her breed Monday at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City. Submitted photo.

True to form, Kaili, a well-received silver miniature poodle from Duluth, turned heads today at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.

The 3½-year-old dog was judged the best female of her breed at the prestigious competition, but she was edged out of the top honor by a male.

Dawn Strumbel, Kaili's owner, had no complaints.

"She showed fabulously," said Strumbel of her dog.

Despite the crush of people and the glare of lights at Madison Square Garden, Kaili kept her cool, according to Strumbel.

"To be honest, I think it's more stressful for us humans than for the animals," she said.

Beth Collins, a nationally acclaimed dog groomer from Cloquet and a Westminster veteran, described the scene as crowded and hectic.

"There are spectators like you wouldn't believe," she said. "It's very congested."

In addition to participating in the judged contest, all the dogs at Westminster also must continuously remain available for viewing between the hours of 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. in what's called the "benching area" -- with each animal and its handler assigned an 18- by 36-inch space. The only exceptions are a one-hour allowance for pre-show primping and grooming and bathroom breaks.

Kaili entered the contest as one of the favorites, having been named the 2009 No. 1 miniature poodle in the U.S. As such, she received an automatic invitation to the show.

Simply to participate in the competition is considered an honor, Collins said. "Part of the thrill is just trying to get in," she said.

Strumbel referred to Westminster as Kaili's "semi-retirement show." She plans to use the dog for breeding future show dogs. Strumbel owns and operates a specialty kennel in Duluth called Horizon Poodles.

"She went out with style," Strumbel said.

The show isn't hard work for Kaili, according to her owner.

"She feeds off all the attention," Strumbel said.

Prizes are all well and good, but Kaili was due to receive a more tangible reward tonight in honor of her showing: a dog treat.

Strumbel predicted that after all the excitement of the day, Kaili's most welcome benefit might be a simple pleasure.

"Sleep will probably be her biggest reward," she said.