A breed apart: Rare Westminster dogs have ring to themselves

NEW YORK (AP) — Every dog breed has its day at the Westminster Kennel show. That day can start by facing off against dozens of dogs — or no others at all.

Outside the ring where as many as 48 French bulldogs vied on Monday to be best of their breed, Peter and Tracy Rousseau kept a sense of perspective about the field their Norwegian lundehund would face later in the day.

A member of the rarest breed in the American Kennel Club’s rankings, Eva was one of only two lundehunds at the nation’s most prestigious dog show. Last year, she was the only one.

“We’re trying to get people to understand this breed and have an opportunity to see” a small dog that is truly a breed apart, Tracy Rousseau said. Originally bred to hunt cliff-dwelling puffins, lundehunds have extra toes and extraordinary flexibility to help them climb.

“They’re very unique,” so much so that fanciers strive to make sure people realise the unusual feet aren’t a deformity, Rousseau said.

Yvore, a 10-month-old French bulldog, waits her turn to compete at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. – AP

To the Rousseaus, it’s worth travelling from Franktown, Colorado, to New York just to get attention for lundehunds at Westminster, where Eva had a memorable turn in last year’s televised semifinals. She stopped to scratch her ear and back while parading around the ring, drawing laughs from the audience.

On Monday, Eva’s only competitor, Pikku, won the breed and took a turn on TV. Owner Carrie Riley of Rockwall, Texas, said she’d like to see more people take an interest in lundehunds.

Rarity and super-popularity are both seen as mixed blessings in canine competition, and sometimes in the purebred dog world as a whole.

Less competition in the breed ring makes it easier to reach at least the semifinals, which at Westminster means getting on TV. But that means facing other breeds that judges may know better.

Points toward championship titles are based partly on how many dogs of the same breed a winner beats at a given show.