Behind the spotlight

Longtime dog show participants are retired, but will be helping others in the big event.

By BETH N. GRAY, Times Correspondent
Published January 11, 2008

BROOKSVILLE - Compared with her husband, RuthAnn Reilly is a near novice when it comes to showing Kerry blue Terriers at dog shows. She's only been at it for 40 years. Dr. Ralph Reilly has been walking the walk for more than 60.

He's even writing a book on the breed, Understanding the Kerry Blue Terrier. He said a couple of publishers are nibbling.

With the Super Bowl of Florida dog shows getting under way in their back yard this week, however, the Reillys will be on the sidelines. Both have retired from the ring, albeit with a championship on the shelf.

That doesn't mean they won't be involved in the festivities of the Florida Classic Clusters AKC All-Breed Dog Shows, the largest such event in the state and one of the biggest in the United States.

With more than 18,000 show dogs and their owners expected to swarm into Hernando County through Jan. 20, hotel rooms are at a premium. All the contestants won't be on site at one time but will come for about a three-day stint of their breed's showing.

Enter local families like the Reillys, who are opening their homes to competitors and their primped and pampered pets.

The couple will host Kerry blues terriers from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Florida in the coming days at their Brooksville home. Reigning over their four-legged house guests will be the Reillys' 7-year-old Kerry blue, who won Best in Show at the All-Terrier Specialty Show in Chicago when she was a mere babe of 2.

In the ring, she is called Elan's Makin Magic. Back home, she answers to Julie Mae.

The dogs and their owners will be hunting awards and championship points at a show recognized by the American Kennel Club as one of the top 20 events in the southeastern United States. They show is sponsored by the Clearwater Kennel Club, Inverness Florida Kennel Club, Manatee Kennel Club, Pasco Florida Kennel Club and Tampa Bay Kennel Club.

Though retired from the pressures of show ring preparation and campaigning, the Reillys can't keep their hands off the regal Kerry blue terriers, who get their names from the tinge of blue in their dark, curly coats.

The Reillys' furry guests, who will compete next weekend, will be clipped and poofed and practiced on leads by their hosts. "I help everybody else," said an enthusiastic RuthAnn Reilly, 71.

One of their guests will be a novice owner-handler who expressed butterflies about being prepared. RuthAnn assured her, "Honey, we'll be ready before we leave home."

But, as classic spokeswoman Mary Manning pointed out, "It's not just a beauty contest." The dogs' bone structure, conformation and demeanor are all evaluated along with their appearance.

Dr. Reilly, 80, a retired orthopedic surgeon, is intrigued by the Kerry breed's elongated upper arm bone, up to 20 inches at the shoulder, which gives it better body support and greater stride.

His wife focuses on the Kerry's regal bearing. Clipped from their natural shaggy look, they transform into distinguished dogs with stocking leggings and square beards on upright, alert chiseled heads.

The Kerrys have multiple behavioral attributes, the Reillys noted, such as keen hunting instincts, an attraction to children, a protectiveness toward people they know. Oh, and they love playing with a soccer ball.

The Florida Classic Clusters event features more than competitions. On tap are obedience trials, demonstrations and lectures titled Dog Show 101 on how dogs are judged.

Rescue Row will have dogs ready for adoption, while some 50 vendors will be on hand, hawking dog health and beauty aids, toys and treats, attire for canines and their human supporters, crates, leashes, leads and more.

"Really," said show chairwoman Diane Chiucchi, "everything you can think of for dogs."

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.


If you go

What: Florida Classic Dog Cluster Show, sponsored by five Tampa Bay area kennel clubs.

Where: Florida Classic Park, 5360 Lockhart Road, east of Brooksville, south of State Road 50. The turnoff will be identified with flashing directional signs.

When: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Jan. 20, with canine competitions today through Monday and Wednesday through Jan. 20.

Admission: Free, parking $5 per vehicle.

More information and daily schedules: Check www.floridaclassicpark.com or call 813-361-8402 or 813-215-3580.