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DeKalb goes to the dogs at annual competition

DeKALB – Northern Illinois University is accustomed to housing Huskies in the Convocation Center, but not the hundreds of terriers, poodles, Newfoundlands, bull mastiffs and other breeds that pranced throughout the building.

The NIU Convocation Center hosted more than 1,000 dogs during the annual Kennel Club of Yorkville dog show on Saturday and Sunday. The two-day event was an all-breed show that featured competitions in seven different groups with those winners advancing for a chance to win best in show and a reserved place in the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York.

Competitors came from around the country, but it was a short trip for Glenview resident Sue Larkin, who is no stranger to long trips to win competitions.

Larkin has been a professional handler for more than 30 years and was at the Convocation Center event to show the No. 2 Great Dane in the country. She said the Crystal Lake family that owns the dog is one of many that hires her for handling services, which takes her from Kentucky to North Carolina on any given weekend.

"I love doing it, and you really need to love doing it because it's a lot of hard work," Larkin said of her schedule.

As a handler, Larkin runs the dog around the show ring and trains it to maintain posture during judges' inspections. It's one of many responsibilities that go into preparing a dog for competition – a process that usually requires three people.

From breeding, handling and grooming, costs can add up quickly for competitors. Wisconsin resident Linda Hattrem contributes in all three areas but also received help from three other people while showing Digger the American water spaniel Sunday.

Hattrem, who led Digger to become the all-time winning American water spaniel, said top-level champion dogs can cost up to $60,000 a year when costs such as travel are included.

"The day I don't get happy and excited to compete is the day I quit," Hattrem said. "It's a passion."

That passion has spread to a younger generation. Many competitors spend their entire life in the competition circuit.

Nick Waters, a 23-year-old from Cary, became involved with dog shows after taking his first family dog to a six-week obedience course. Since then, Waters has emerged as one of the top-ranked groomers in Groom Team USA and has started to learn the art of handling.

On Sunday, he was prepping a Doberman pinscher, Newfoundland, terrier and others for competition.

"Learning the different grooming techniques for different breeds is a lifelong process," he said. "You never stop learning when it comes to dogs."

While the love of dogs keeps most competitors coming back, 40-year veteran Bryna Comsky said competitors soon realize its the people they meet and friends they make that are the most rewarding.

Comsky, who served as chief ring steward, said people's common love for dogs breaks down language barriers and differences and unites those from all walks of life.

"I enjoy getting to rub elbows with people from all different cultures," she said. "It's really a wonderful world to be a part of."

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