BEMIDJI -- "Fur-bulous" canines and their "paw-ssionate" handlers kicked off the first day of the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association’s 10th annual United Kennel Club all-breed dog show on Friday, Sept. 10, radiating enthusiasm to demonstrate their dedication to the complex sport in the ring.

Even that first morning, the Beltrami County Fairgrounds were alive with the hustle and bustle of a weekend full of competing: handlers did last-minute blow drying and brushing of canine coats; dogs took in some intermittent snoozes and cuddles between shows; and outdoor practice sessions and potty breaks were often.

Friday featured approximately 125 dogs competing in the event for Best in Show, Rally Obedience and Total Dog awards, organizer Kathy Lamping said.

Quinn, an English cocker spaniel with blue roan coloring, is groomed ahead of the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Quinn, an English cocker spaniel with blue roan coloring, is groomed ahead of the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

For some competitors like Amanda Robinson’s Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Thelma, it was their first time showing. The four-month-old pup from Pinewood, Minn., was the only one of Robinson’s spaniel bunch to attend, leaving Thelma without her companion, Louise. But the first-timer was happy to receive the extra attention from event-goers.

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“Thelma makes herself the center of attention at home,” Robinson said. “She’s an energetic little thing.”

Other competitors like Tammy Lodien’s Chinese crested, Asada, were seasoned champions in the ring. Lodien said one-year-old Asada has competed in AKC shows before, but the UKC event is new to them.

“I love carne asada tacos,” Lodien said of the inspiration behind Asada’s name. “There's no off switch on her and she sure has got a lot of mane.”

After experiencing a personal tragedy recently, Lodien, who is originally from Bemidji but lives in Princeton, Minn., said the show has been an opportunity to refocus her attention and reunite with local family and friends.

“I’m up here trying to forget about grief and have fun,” Lodien said.

Thelma, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, waits for her owner at the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Thelma, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, waits for her owner at the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

The free UKC dog show, which runs through Sunday, Sept. 12, gives spectators the opportunity to talk to specific breed experts, like show judge Gary Richards, about a variety of topics, ranging from training, grooming and the right breed for one’s lifestyle.

Richards, who is from Springfield, Ill., has been involved in dog shows for 50 years. He started out showing Great Danes and Shar-Peis, and then began judging in shows about eight years ago.

“When you get to a certain age, you realize that running around the ring is a little more than what you want to do, so you go into judging dogs,” Richards said. “I decided it was time to start judging and use my knowledge of the breeds.”

Jenga, a golden retriever, sits with her handler Oliver Hambley, 6, at the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Jenga, a golden retriever, sits with her handler Oliver Hambley, 6, at the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Richards judges about 15 to 20 shows annually and said proper judging comes from years of practice as well as repetition from reading and memorizing breed standards. He said he looks forward to discovering the dogs who most closely meet their breed standards this weekend.

“Every breed has a standard and you judge by the standard. I look at the dogs’ toplines, eye color, coat color, and all the different things that the standard calls for,” Richards said. “You don’t judge against other dogs, you judge against the standard.”

The day’s first event consisted of a junior division with children and adolescents showing off their canine friends. Oliver Hambley, 6, was the first to take the stage that morning with his golden retriever Jenga.

Judge Gary Richards, of Springfield, Ill., gives direction to Oliver Hambley, 6, and his golden retriever Jenga during the junior division of the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
Judge Gary Richards, of Springfield, Ill., gives direction to Oliver Hambley, 6, and his golden retriever Jenga during the junior division of the United Kennel Club Dog Show hosted by the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, at the Beltrami County Fairgrounds. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

“The junior division is the judges’ favorite,” said Ethan Larson, a member of the Paul Bunyan Dog Training Association and a handler in the dog show. “The juniors are the future of these dog shows, so trainers are glad to give advice and coach them. If a judge sees something wrong, they tell them in a non-critical way.”

The show marks Larson’s fifth time participating as a handler to his 10-year-old chihuahua, Hero. He said they were both excited to be back participating in the ring and interacting with others passionate about the sport, especially after dog shows were postponed last year.

“Hero is the most outgoing (of my chihuahuas) and likes crowds, so he enjoys showing the most,” Larson said. “His former owners wanted to show him, so I’m kind of crossing it off of their bucket list for them.”

The event continues Saturday and Sunday, with two conformation shows at 9 a.m. and a rally obedience competition at 10 a.m. each morning.