CORTLAND – One Cortland resident is steps away from taking center stage with her dog at Madison Square Garden on national TV.
Lynn Kullman and her dog, Gatlin, will compete Tuesday in New York for a finalist spot at the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show later that night, which will be broadcast live from Madison Square Garden on the USA network.
Kullman, a veterinarian technician at an animal clinic in Naperville, has been an amateur dog handler for years but never reached the most famous competition until teaming up with her Gordon setter. The Gordon setter is similar to the more well-known Irish setter, Kullman said, but black and tan like a Doberman instead of red.
Gatlin and Kullman punched their ticket to the Big Apple last year when Gatlin finished seventh out of 104 Gordon Setters in national grand championship rankings for the breed. While only the top-five automatically qualify for Westminster, Kullman got the call that her dog was invited after spots opened.
“I was on cloud nine,” Kullman said. “I knew it was possible, but I didn’t know what to expect so I was just so excited when I found out.”
The big stage seemed inevitable for Gatlin, who at 7 months old, won best of breed at the Chicago International Dog Show. By the time he was 18 months old, he already accumulated enough points on the American Kennel Club circuit to win a championship.
Still, Kullman knows Tuesday will be a difficult challenge. As an amateur handler, she said judges do not always view her and other amateurs the same way they do professionals who are at events every weekend.
Each judge also looks for different qualities in dogs, she said, noting a recent competition in Florida where Gatlin won best of breed one day but came up empty the other three days against the same competition.
“I have had some judges say Gatlin is the perfect Gordon Setter and others don’t even look at him,” Kullman said. “It all comes down to the judge ... and that can be frustrating.”
But Kullman also knows Gatlin is not perfect. She said many factors go into judging from the physical appearance to the gait of the dog. Gaitlin has a desirable steady, low-to-the-ground stride, she said, but will sporadically lean forward into his shoulders and slouch.
“It’s like people,” she said. “Sometimes you just need a reminder to stand up straight.”
There are 187 breeds competing in groups including Hound, Toy, Non-Sporting, Herding, Working, Terrier and Sporting – which Gatlin will compete in.
Regardless of the outcome in Tuesday’s competition, Kullman said she knows she will have a special inspiration.
Because of the high costs associated with showing dogs, Kullman said she co-owns Gatlin with a friend at work. That friend, she said, lost a four-year-old grandson in October who became great friends with Gatlin.
“We’re really hoping something great happens [Tuesday],” Kullman said. “I know a little four-year-old angel will be following me around the ring.”
When Gatlin is done showing, Kullman said he would be free to enjoy time as a “normal” dog just like her competition horse, which is now 20 years old and more than 10 years into retirement.