NH's top dog Birr taking his new-found world fame in strideBy SHAWNE K. WICKHAM
New Hampshire Sunday News
February 15. 2014 8:35PM
Fresh from his triumph in the Big Apple, New Hampshire's top dog is back home enjoying the abundant snow - and the admiration of his fellow Granite Staters.
Ch. Lakeside Run's Little Bear - Birr to his friends - won Best of Breed at the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show last week. It was the first appearance at Westminster for the Chinook, bred as a sled dog here in the 1920s and New Hampshire's official state dog since 2009.
It seemed only fitting that it was a New Hampshire Chinook chosen to represent his breed and his state at the world's most prestigious dog show.
And last Tuesday night, there was Birr and his owner/handler Kristine Holleran, a Londonderry High School science teacher, on national television.
Holleran said it was kind of a whirlwind experience for her.
But Birr took it all in stride from the moment they arrived in New York City.
With her husband, Chester, at the wheel, she said, "we went through Times Square and we opened the back window in the truck, and Birr was like 'little dog in the big city.' His eyes were big, his tail was going, he's looking out of every window. His nose was going a mile a minute."
Birr wasn't intimidated in the least, she said. "He was just very excited by it all. We got him into the hotel and you would have thought he was a scent hound: nose to the ground.
"By the time we left, he was more chill - head up, tail up," she said. "I think he found the sounds and scents very, very exciting."
They rode a courtesy bus from their hotel to the Piers, where the breed judging was held. "He sat right up in the chair next to me," Holleran said. "Before we know it, he's talking to the people behind, talking to the people in front."
Meeting the public
Westminster is a "bench" show, meaning the show dogs are on display for the public to meet when they're not competing in the ring. And that was great fun for Birr, who's used to appearing at public events in New Hampshire as a sort of ambassador for the breed, Holleran said. In fact, many Granite Staters who were in town for the big dog show stopped by to meet Birr.
Birr competed against three other Chinooks Tuesday afternoon for Best of Breed. When the judge pointed to her, Holleran said, "you have that moment where you're not quite sure that you heard it right."
There were plenty of Granite Staters who had gathered to watch the breed judging, and a big "Go New Hampshire" cheer went up when Birr won, she said.
Fear sets in
Tuesday night, it was show time in Madison Square Garden, where Birr competed in the Working Group, which also includes Rottweilers, akitas, Great Danes, boxers and mastiffs.
Holleran said she was pretty nervous. But it wasn't being on TV that she was worried about.
Instead, it was "either that I'm going to trip and fall flat on my face - or he's going to poop in the ring."
Neither happened. The pair trotted smartly before the cheering Madison Square Garden crowd, and the judge quietly told Holleran, "Nice job."
It was a gracious gesture, she said. "He knew, I'm sure, from the moment I stepped into the ring that I was a rank amateur, and he was really very helpful. He cued me a couple of times on what to do. It's wonderful to show under a judge like that when you're already a little dazed."
Holleran said she was deeply aware of the historic nature of their Westminster moment.
"This is a breed I love and this is the first time in, and I'm representing them. And I'm representing the state dog of New Hampshire. You feel a bit of pressure not to screw it up, not just for yourself, but for all the friends and family that are watching."
Enjoying the moment
Once their big moment was over, Holleran said, she relaxed a bit and watched the other dogs and handlers. She never expected to make the judge's first picks, so she wasn't disappointed when he called out other breeds, and eventually the Portuguese water dog as group winner.
"We were thrilled to be there," she said. "We were thrilled to represent the state."Birr slept all the way on the drive home Wednesday. He was thrilled to be reunited with the couple's other two Chinooks, Holleran said.
And she was happy to get snow days on Thursday and Friday to recuperate from their trip.
So what's next for New Hampshire's newest star? This weekend, Holleran said, "I think we would like to get a little sledding in."
Becoming a Westminster champ hasn't changed her lovable pup - except for one thing: "Because we let him sleep with us on the bed while we were gone, he sort of thinks that's his spot."