o Known as "America's Dog Show," Westminster's history dates back to 1877, when the New York Bench Show of Dogs, given by Westminster Kennel Club, took place at Gilmore's Garden (later named Madison Square Garden) in New York City. It drew a field of 1,201 dogs.
o It is America's second longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby.
o CHS senior Lauren Weber wasn't the only Camas resident to compete in the Westminster Junior Showmanship division. Nicki Short, a sophomore at Camas High School, was a finalist with her Cardigan Welsh corgi.
o Known as “America’s Dog Show,” Westminster’s history dates back to 1877, when the New York Bench Show of Dogs, given by Westminster Kennel Club, took place at Gilmore’s Garden (later named Madison Square Garden) in New York City. It drew a field of 1,201 dogs.
o It is America’s second longest continuously held sporting event, behind only the Kentucky Derby.
o CHS senior Lauren Weber wasn’t the only Camas resident to compete in the Westminster Junior Showmanship division. Nicki Short, a sophomore at Camas High School, was a finalist with her Cardigan Welsh corgi.
A Camas teen and her Bernese mountain dog recently competed in the Super Bowl of dog shows — Westminster.
Lauren Weber, a 17-year-old Camas High School senior, and her 3-year-old, 86-pound Berner Gloree took part in the 139th annual Westminster Kennel Club event Feb. 16 and 17 at Piers 92/94 venue and Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Weber described the moment when she stepped inside the exhibit hall — at an event she had previously only seen on television — as surreal.
“You walk in and there’s the green carpet, there are cameras everywhere, and the Westminster logo is everywhere,” she said. “You look around and it’s like, Oh my gosh, I’m in heaven. It’s dog show heaven. It’s like you’re a kid in a candy store — What do I do first? Where do I go first?”
The story of how Weber earned the chance to participate in this prestigious event begins about nine years ago.
At the time, Lauren’s parents, Dawn and Bob Weber, were looking for a breed of dog that would be a good fit for their family. A friend recommended the Bernese mountain dog.
According to the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of America, Berners are working dogs with origins in the farm areas of Switzerland and named for the Canton of Bern. Historically, Berners were used as general purpose farm dogs for their large, hardy frames. Their calm-natured, people-oriented temperaments made them ideal for driving cattle, pulling carts to market, watching the farm and being farmers’ companions.
“We just fell in love with the breed,” Lauren said. “They are such sweet dogs. They want to please you, they want to be with you. They are really good family dogs. They love you unconditionally and will do anything for their owners — they are very protective of their people. They love to lay on the couch with you and lick your face.”
Their first Berner was Leia. After she joined the family, Lauren became involved in the Wiggles and Wags Clark County 4-H club. This fostered her interest in showing dogs and led to her annual participation in the Clark County Fair and other 4-H events, where contestants are judged on obedience and showmanship, and how they answer a series of questions.
“I go out and I show my dog the best I can,” Lauren said. “I have fun with my dog. Judges can see when you and your dog love each other, that you have a connection when your dog performs well for you, and you know how to show the breed according to their standards.”
Lauren travels with her mom to dog shows, which have given the teen the opportunity to have a variety of experiences.
“I love meeting the different people who share the same love of the breed that I do. I love forging a stronger bond with my dogs,” she said, gently nuzzling her face into Gloree’s shiny coat. “I have fun at dog shows. I love dog shows — even if I walk out without a ribbon. The dogs make it fun because they are so silly.”
Lauren’s first American Kennel Club show occurred on a hot September day four years ago in St. Helens, Ore. Just an eighth-grader at the time, Lauren was nervous, especially after watching another contestant trip and fall during the outdoor competition.
“It actually happens a lot,” she said. “I haven’t fallen down yet — knock on wood. I’ve lost a shoe though.”
Lauren ended up earning second place with her Berner named Zee.
“I thought I was so cool,” she said, smiling. “Looking back, I can’t believe I looked like that. I can’t believe I’ve shown my dog like that. I’ve grown so much as a handler.”
Leia died from cancer at the age of 5. But the Webers loved the breed so much they continued to add more Berners to their family. They now have five, including siblings, Link and Zee, 9, as well as Apple, 5, Gloree, 3 and Bruno, 2.
Over the years, Lauren participated in and earned ribbons at juniors competitions at AKC and 4-H shows.
Then in 2013, knowing it would be the last full year she could compete in the junior age division, Lauren decided to set her goal high. She wanted to qualify for Westminster.
“I have a harder breed to show because they are not as flashy; they have their own personality,” she said. “I wanted to try and see if I could do it with my dog. I raised all of my dogs from 8 weeks old. I train them. I do it entirely on my own. It’s a pretty big goal.”
To qualify for an invitation to the Westminster Junior Showmanship competition, youth who are at least 9 years old and younger than 18 must earn at least seven “Best Junior Handler” wins at AKC licensed shows between Nov. 1 and Oct. 31 of the following year. Juniors are judged based solely on how they show their dog, according to the breed standard.
“It’s very prestigious,” Lauren explained. “Only the best juniors are invited.”
Lauren trained one to two hours per week on her own and with her 4-H instructor, Kim Abbott, and competed at shows in Washington, Oregon and California.
She earned a total of nine wins with Gloree (registered name Champion Brechbuhler’s Goin’ For The Gloree V Autumn Hills) and Bruno (registered name Grand Champion Alpenblicks St. Bruno V Summers), accomplishing her goal and earning a ticket to Westminster.
That seventh, defining win came at the Lost Coast Kennel Club of California Dog Show in Ferndale, Calif., on Sunday, June 29, 2014.
“It was her dream when we started,” Lauren’s mom Dawn said. “With each win she got, it became more exciting. When she got number seven, because it was her dream and it was her goal, and it had finally come to fruition, it took a while before it set in. I even hugged the judge.”
Destined for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, Lauren, accompanied by her mom and dad, arrived in New York City at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 14. Lauren spent Monday bathing, blow-drying, trimming and grooming Gloree, and visiting Piers 92/94 to get the lay of the land.
On Tuesday morning, Gloree was freshly groomed once again, ready for display. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., handlers are positioned with their dogs in the benching area, giving show attendees the opportunity to look at and pet the canines, take pictures and ask handlers questions.
Lauren presented Gloree during the breed competition against 29 other Bernese mountain dogs and also against 22 other canines in the preliminary round.
“It’s such tough competition,” Lauren said. “I don’t like to walk in with expectations. I just go to have fun and whatever happens, happens. If it turns out in my favor, that’s great. If it doesn’t, I know I had fun with my dog and that’s all that matters.
“Gloree did really well,” she added. “I was really proud of how she did. She did what I asked her to do, and that is all I can ask of her. I didn’t trip. I didn’t fall down. I didn’t lose a shoe.”
In the competition against the best junior handlers in the nation, Gloree and Lauren didn’t earn any placement ribbons. But it was without a doubt the experience of a lifetime — nine years in the making.
“I realized that all of my work paid off — I am up here with these juniors who are top in the nation. It’s the dream come true.”