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Kennel club striving to put on best of shows

The Hernando County group hopes to move up in the dog show category to earn a national license from the American Kennel Club.

Published December 23, 2003

SPRING HILL - Golden retrievers, standard poodles, Staffordshire terriers, mastiffs, collies, Shetland sheepdogs, Dobermans, shepherds, pugs, cairn terriers, dachshunds, Australian cattle dogs, Great Danes, Boston terriers, basset hounds, English setters, beagles, chihuahuas.

"Is that enough?" asks Elaine Gelderman as she rattles off some of the breeds represented by the Hernando County Kennel Club's 50 or so members. The only membership qualification is ownership of a purebred dog.

The 8-year-old organization recently caught the attention of the American Kennel Club when in November members staged their first A Match, a step up toward attaining the coveted AKC license.

The club already is recognized by the national organization, but licensing will put it in the big leagues, said club spokeswoman Gelderman, who raises golden retrievers with her husband, Lee.

With a license, the club will be allowed to stage a sanctioned Point Show, a major production and a magnet for breeders. During a Point Show winning dogs earn points leading to the designation, "Ch," or champion, on their dogs' certificates of registry.

An annual Point Show in January at Classic Park, east of Brooksville, sponsored by the kennel clubs of Tampa, Inverness and Pasco, traditionally attracts some 2,500 show dogs, said Lee Gelderman, 60, a director of the Hernando club, who has been around purebreds for more than a decade.

When a dog attains his "Ch," it's akin to a professor earning a Ph.D.

"Then your stud fee goes crazy," he declared. As a result, putting on a Point Show could be a financial boon to local dog breeders, he said.

While the Hernando club has fielded competitive shows once or twice a year at Classic Park, they were "junior varsity" events, Lee Gelderman said.

The A Match, which attracts the more serious breeders, professional showmen and handlers as opposed to hobbyists, was "varsity."

A kennel club must produce two A Matches before it can host a Point Show.

About 25 dogs competed in the A Match, compared to the 100 or so dogs that usually compete in the unranked shows. But those 25 were a cut above, the Geldermans said.

The club's primary mission is to promote purebred dogs to championship status and to educate the public about responsible canine breeding, Elaine Gelderman explained.

But she also loves canine therapy - taking the dogs to visit nursing home and hospice residents.

"Patients kind of perk up when we come in," Elaine Gelderman said.

As to educating the public, Lee Gelderman said the club aims to attract dog lovers to its meetings and to ask questions about buying sound canines.

For example, he said, he bought a golden retriever puppy for $1,800. It came with a complete physical examination report. Someone might buy a puppy for $300, he said, but the buyer might not know if the dog's eyes, hips and other anatomy were examined and X-rayed.

"It can cost you $2,500 to have a hip replaced," he said, pointing out that hips are a problem area on large dogs.

The club educates its own members with guest speakers during meetings on the third Thursday of each month at Lakehouse, formerly the Spring Hill Community Center, on Kenlake Drive.

But the club is about more than owning and showing off purebred dogs. Members use their trained canines to bring comfort and cheer to the elderly and to the ill.

Doris Burr of Brooksville owns three cairn terriers that have completed their breed and obedience competitions and gone on to be certified by Therapy Dog International. At least once a month and sometimes more frequently, Burr and her dogs visit nursing home residents.

"Oh, they love it," Burr said of those who encounter the unconditional attention of a dog. "Some Alzheimer's patients, who have not spoken or shown any emotion, smile and maybe talk. Some of the people want (the dogs) in bed with them or they want to hold them."

Some recognize the cairns from The Wizard of Oz, she noted, and call them "Toto" dogs, from the name of the impish canine in the classic film.

And then there are the collies, or Lassie dogs, equally famous from the original Saturday Evening Post serial, movie and television series that launched a nationwide love of collies for their devotion and courage.

Gayle Guthman, a club director who arranges the nursing home visits, leads the collie pack with Teddy, a smooth-coated tricolor. Teddy has 237 documented visits, 37 more than needed to qualify him for the highest honor a therapy dog can attain, his owner said.

Although six years ago he was rescued from neglect and had never set foot on a carpet, was afraid of the television and the ceiling fan, Teddy has been taught to walk up to wheelchairs, walkers and oxygen machines without a fuss.

And Teddy will have company on his rounds to area assisted living facilities at Forest Oaks, Timber Pines, Crown Point, Tangerine Cove and Evergreen Woods.

Last week, Guthman's dogs, Fancy, a blue merle collie, and Slugger, a mahogany sable and white collie, earned their therapy dog certification, which means that they have sound temperaments and can walk into unfamiliar situations without being frightened or intimidated, Guthman said.

For information on the Hernando County Kennel Club, call 688-0554 .

[Last modified December 23, 2003, 01:33:41]

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