Lakeside Run's Little Bear - Birr to his friends - is a Chinook, New Hampshire's official state dog. The Chinook is one of three breeds competing for the first time at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City next month, and Birr will be representing his breed and his state at the big show. (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM/UNION LEADER)
New Hampshire's state dog, the Chinook, is ready for prime time
By SHAWNE K. WICKHAM New Hampshire Sunday News
New Hampshire's official state dog, the Chinook, will bound onto the national stage next month, one of three new breeds competing for the first time at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
So it seems only fitting that a real New Hampshire Chinook will be representing his state and his breed at the prestigious event.
Lakeside Run's Little Bear - aka Birr - is one of three Chinooks owned by Kristine and Chester Holleran of Londonderry. Birr will show off his athletic build, outgoing personality and soulful expression at the world's most famous dog show in New York City on Feb. 10 and 11.
He's one of 32 dogs from New Hampshire competing in the 138th annual show.
First held in 1877, Westminster is America's second-longest continuously held sporting event, behind the Kentucky Derby. Each year, the prime-time live broadcast from Madison Square Garden draws millions of viewers.
Being a star doesn't seem to faze Birr; his owners say the friendly 70-pound dog enjoys being an ambassador for his breed, whether giving sled rides to children at Tamworth's winter carnival or greeting visitors at Mack's Apples in his hometown.
True to his nature and heritage, what he really loves is pulling a sled - or a bike (it's called "bikejoring") if there's no snow at hand, according to Kris Holleran. He also does agility and lure-coursing, which involves a dog chasing a mechanical lure.
For a look at Birr "bikejoring," click the video below:
For a look at the Chinooks sledding, click the video below:
And while he's not thrilled with the posing part of being a show dog, she said, Birr loves to move and he loves meeting the people who come to dog shows. "They're pretty social dogs, so they really like that," she said.
While Chinooks love their outdoor activities, they're also happy to be "couch potatoes," she said. "As long as they're with you, they're happy dogs." Holleran fell in love with the breed almost six years ago, when she got her first Chinook, Huck, Birr's half-brother. Now Birr's nephew, Tibbs, rounds out their trio. The Chinook is named after a dog bred in 1917 by Arthur Treadwell Walden, a sled-dog driver, author, explorer and innkeeper from Wonalancet.
"What Walden wanted was to breed what he called a gentleman's sled dog," Holleran said, "that could pull heavy loads but could be a good family pet."
Today's Chinooks are descended from that original Chinook.
In 2009, at the urging of middle-school students from Bedford, lawmakers voted to make the Chinook New Hampshire's official state dog, and Gov. John Lynch signed it into law. The American Kennel Club's board voted to recognize the Chinook in 2012, and this is the first year it will compete at Westminster, in the working group. It's a triumph for a breed that nearly disappeared; in the 1960s, there were only 11 breedable dogs left. There are about 1,200 Chinooks in America today, and about 100 puppies are born each year, according to Holleran.
Another Granite Stater
Another new breed at Westminster this year is the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno, the smallest of a trio of Portuguese hunting hounds. And here, too, a New Hampshire dog will help introduce the world to his kind.
Debbie Kahla of Manchester is showing Ketka's Benchmark Pendragon - Ollie - at Westminster. Ollie, who weighs 12 pounds, is only 18 months old and needs just one more "major" win (a dog show is a major or minor based on the number of dogs entered) to earn his championship.
He's the only one of the seven Pequenos at Westminster that will compete as a "class" dog; the other six are champions, Kahla said.
That makes Ollie a real underdog.
Kahla, an AKC judge, used to raise and show golden retrievers. But after knee surgery, she decided to try a smaller breed, and the Pequeno won her over.
Despite its diminutive size, this is not a lapdog, Kahla said. It was bred to hunt rabbits in Portugal and competes in the hound group.
"They are a working breed," she said. "They require a lot of exercise, a lot of training."
Ollie's favorite thing? "Socks," Kahla said. "No sock is safe around him."
He doesn't actually eat them, but likes to carry them around, "talking" all the while, she said. "He'll stuff three or four in his mouth."
Lucille Jordan, president of Nashua Community College, is bringing her 2-year-old female yellow Labrador retriever to Westminster. Like many champion show dogs, her AKC registered name is a mouthful - Tampa Bay's Gusta Sea Salt @ Snobo - but her friends call her ChaCha Bear or Charlee.
It's a family affair: Charlee will be competing against her brother, father and grandfather at Westminster, Jordan said. It's a tough challenge for the young dog, since males are often favored by judges.
But Jordan said Charlee has a lot going for her. "She loves the ring. She's sassy as can be," she said. "She puts herself out there so that the judge looks at her."
If Charlee finds herself in a corner during the judging, Jordan said, "she just kind of steps out there and puts her head out there and they see her. She loves it."
Charlee may be a champion show dog, but she's also a family pet, Jordan said. "I want a dog that has a good temperament, that is good with kids and people, that will hang in the house and go snowshoeing and hiking, and she does all of that. And most important is for them to be happy dogs."
Jordan sometimes brings Charlee to campus with her, especially during finals week, to visit with students. "They'll come in and they'll pet her and just hang out, and it's calming for the students," she said. "Everybody loves her."
Hatch and Gus
Emily Elliot of Errol is bringing two of her dogs - Charlee's brother, Tampa Bay & Snobo Batten Down the Hatch (Hatch) and the dogs' father, Grand Champion Belquest Fergus N Trouble@Snobo (Gus) - to Westminster.
Elliot said in an email that Gus "enjoys life in a very small town in Northern New Hampshire where everyone knows his name."
There's another New Hampshire Labrador retriever going to Westminster this year: Celtia's Riverdance, aka, River. His owner, Kathleen Coleman of Swanzey, said her 5-year-old black lab is competing in the "open" class and could finish his championship with a win at Westminster. Labs are the most popular breed at Westminster this year, with 76 entries. Still, Jordan thinks it's possible that one of the New Hampshire dogs could win the breed and go on to the sporting group that night. "I know Charlee has beaten the dog who won breed last year ... and I think Hatch may have beaten him once," she said. "There's a chance."