Winner’s Circle

Some of the healthiest and most handsome dogs strut
theIr stuff at the Westminster Dog Show.
Here’s how their owners take care of them.

April 2012

By Allan Richter

A busy schedule of back-to-back press photo opportunities can be a daunting affair for anyone. But after a full day of meet-and-greets, including a trip to the Empire State Building observation deck, a chicken lunch at Sardi’s in New York’s theater district, a stop at a toy convention, and a visit with Donald Trump, Malachy, a 12-pound Pekingese who had just won Best in Show at this year’s Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, didn’t seem too overwhelmed.

Malachy, last year’s No. 2 dog, is an old hand at Westminster and the full, sometimes stressful, schedule that goes with it. So he seemed unfazed by his busy day of post-victory press visits, along with stops to pose with gawking New Yorkers who wanted a photo with the new champ. “He was a perfect dog for this to happen to because he’s so secure in himself,” said David Fitzpatrick, Malachy’s proud handler and co-owner. “He was a really good sport and took everything in stride.”

Back at home with Fitzpatrick in East Berlin, Pennsylvania, in the rural Susquehanna Valley, Malachy builds his strength with regular walks, free reign on a couple of fenced-in acres, and a nutritious diet of high-end store-bought dog food fortified by chicken that his owner boils. And though Malachy hasn’t needed them, his veterinarian offers homeopathic and complementary remedies such as acupuncture that some of Fitzpatrick’s six other Pekingese have been treated with when they’ve had sore muscles or a pinched nerve.

“He’s been a pretty healthy dog,” Fitzpatrick says of Malachy, who turned four in January. “He’s been on the road for a couple of years, and every once in a while he’ll get a case of the sniffles. The main thing I do at home is give him as much freedom as possible.”

To say Malachy and other dogs on the show circuit are doted on is an understatement. Westminster dogs are fluffed, primped and groomed in a ritual that rivals the treatment any regular is given at a human beauty salon. And the dogs are increasingly taking after their human owners, particularly those with a more naturalist disposition, when it comes to their healthcare.

Steeped in 136 years of tradition and judged by men in tuxedos and women in evening gowns, the Westminster Dog Show and the elite group of animals it attracts evokes a conservative image that doesn’t necessarily jibe with the unconventional image sometimes associated with alternative medicine, says Jeffrey Levy, DVM, CVA, a New York veterinarian who volunteers at Westminster.

On House Calls with a Vet,
Acupuncture Is the Treatment of Choice

It didn’t take long after Jeffrey Levy, DVM, CVA, entered the apartment on New York’s Upper West Side for its smallest resident, a 13-year-old Boston Terrier named Bo, to eagerly shuffle toward the familiar veterinarian, who visits weekly.

Dragging his almost limp hind legs behind him, Bo quickly became engaged in chasing a ball across the many small area rugs that his owner, Shirley Bakal, had strewn throughout the apartment. The rugs are there so Bo wouldn’t strain himself sliding on the smooth wooden floor. Even with the carpeting, Bo’s hind legs spread wide apart and lie flat when he tries to stand.

Bo has seen a neurologist, but because of his advanced age and a heart condition doctors could not examine him with an MRI or CT scan, Bakal explains. Levy suspects that Bo has degenerative myelopathy, a spinal cord condition.

Earlier Levy had paid a follow-up visit to a male cat with liver ailments for which the veterinarian is considering acupuncture and vitamin B12 therapy. Then he traversed Manhattan, visiting an arthritic Boxer with pancreatitis in Harlem, a small mixed-breed with an eye ailment in Chelsea and a Cocker Spaniel with a heart condition on the Upper East Side. He treated each with acupuncture.

Levy traces his interest in the Traditional Chinese Medicine practice to his youth, when his own dog, a Dachsund named Mushroom, died at age 10 with back problems that are common in the breed. “They’re all back; it’s a back waiting to be thrown out. Suddenly I developed an interest in pain management, and now I treat many frankfurter dogs,” he says, exposing his playful bedside manner.
After Bo’s spirits are lifted by the ball game,

Levy prepares his acupuncture needles. With Bo’s chin resting between his owner’s knees and his hind quarters on Levy’s knee, the veterinarian methodically places 26 1½-inch needles from head to toe. “I call this Pocahontas,” Bakal says, motioning to the two needles protruding from the top of her dog’s head as she gently strokes his forehead.

Bakal has had Bo since he was two years old, when he showed up as a stray during a family getaway in upstate New York. “My grandchildren were playing with him out in the snow, and they asked if he could come in to warm up,” Bakal recounts.

Within a minute of having the needles placed, Bo is fast asleep. Levy lets the needles do their work for about 20 minutes before removing them. When he does, Bo stirs and sits for awhile, calm and relaxed.

Bo’s demeanor is exactly what Levy is seeking. He makes house calls to give the animals an added level of comfort in their familiar surroundings.

“He’s got a great will,” Levy says of Bo.

The acupuncture treatments, which Bo has been receiving since last June, ease his pain
and improve his gait. “It helps his mood and energy,” Bakal says. “I find with the acupuncture that he’s really quite alert.”

After the treatment, Levy leaves
for his next patient, a 14-year-old female cat with an irritable bowel for which Levy is considering Reiki. —A.R.

Still, veterinarians such as Levy that Westminster keeps on hand in case emergencies arise are schooled in complementary approaches like massage and acupuncture (and other Traditional Chinese Medicine techniques). And, like people who are apt to employ these methods, some Westminster dogs take vitamins and eat raw foods.

Knowing which of these approaches to use means understanding your dog’s particular needs. For instance, larger dogs are susceptible to hip dysplasia, which stunts the development of hip joints and can lead to limping and lameness. So Paula Lacker gave vitamin C to her Entlebucher Mountain Dog Giggles, a Swiss herding dog, until the animal was two years old, when she was X-rayed and past the risk for developing the ailment.

Lacker also feeds raw turkey to Giggles and the other Entlebucher Mountain Dogs she breeds at her farm near Cincinnati. The protein builds their strength and beautifies their coats, Lacker says. The animals also get 1,000 milligrams of bee pollen twice a day for their coats and overall health, which Lacker keeps a careful eye on because of other ailments particular to the breed.

“They have ectopic ureter syndrome, which has to do with the ureter and kidney not connecting correctly. Generally the dog loses a kidney from that, and in very rare occasions they lose both kidneys and do not make it,” Lacker says.

Giggles garnered an Award of Merit, or third place, in her breed at Westminster this year.
Fitzpatrick knows that the Achilles heel of his Pekingese and other braciocephalic, or short-faced, breeds is hot weather. “During the summer months, I get up early and let him out. A lot of it is humidity, too. It can be 80 degrees and not very humid, and the dogs can run out for a while. You just have to get up earlier. It’s just like if you had children; you’re not going to leave your kids out in the hot sun.”

To Robert Dove, DVM, Fitzpatrick and Lacker are following what he says is one of the essential laws of dog ownership: know thy breed.

Dove and his wife Cecilia can relate to the exhilaration of victory—and the tumult that goes with it—that Fitzpatrick and Malachy are experiencing. The Doves own Hickory, a six-year-old Scottish Deerhound that won Best in Show last year. The couple, who met when Cecilia brought her Scottish Deerhound to his veterinary practice in Flint Hill, Virginia, breed the dogs.

Where a Rottweiler has a need to protect and will be motivated by a person’s violent movement, the Doves’ Scottish Deerhounds are more likely to be afraid. “My dog is turned on by something running away from them,” Robert Dove says.

“No matter what type of a dog you’ve got, as long as you understand what kind of a personality you’re dealing with you can safely say there are no bad dogs, only bad owners,” he says. “When I see a ‘bad’ dog in my practice, it’s usually because the owner has no idea what’s going on in the dog’s head, and he transmits incorrect signals.”

A case in point, not necessarily breed specific, is when a dog drifts too far from home. Owners will often yell the dog’s name to get it to return. When the dog comes back, however, owners will chastise it for running away—a scolding that the animal is likely to interpret as punishment for returning home. Conversely, owners can reward negative behavior.

Those confusing signals can add to a dog’s stress, especially in a show environment. “I see it as a pretty demanding schedule for the dogs,” Levy, the New York veterinarian, says of the show circuit.

“They come from far away, they travel, they’re in a new environment, and they sleep in a strange place. Some of them get worked up and have heat exhaustion. They’re high-performance animals.”

Like Levy, Dove treats his patients, as well as his own animals, with complementary approaches.
In addition to major dog food brands, Hickory is on a regimen of vitamin and mineral supplements, usually a multi-vitamin, when she is under stress: spending a long time caged up over a five-day showing schedule, for example, going through a heat cycle or having puppies, as she recently did.

“She’ll also get herbal supplements,” Dove says. “The herbals are a little more toward energy medicine, like acupuncture and homeopathy. We have a tendency to use herbals.” In some instances, “if she looks a little tense,” Hickory will get acupuncture along with massage therapy, Dove says.

“The acupuncture points are generally the same as humans, and located anatomically the same,” Dove says. “The acupuncture points are very similar in dogs. The points relate really well. The points don’t relate as well in horses.”

The Human-Canine Link

Acupuncture has its limits, however, if the human influence over a dog is not calming. There’s an old maxim on the dog show circuit: Dogs can read your mind though the leash. “Is it always loose or have you got them gripped by your side?” says Dove. “If you’re out walking and you see another dog and get apprehensive, you get a little tighter on the leash. Now you’re telling the dog that you’re apprehensive, so your dog might get apprehensive, too.”

That’s why owners like Dove carefully choose their dogs’ handlers. “For pet homes and show homes it’s all the same,” he says. “You don’t get a dog to behave like you see at Westminster just by chance. They behave that way because they trust the people they are with. It doesn’t require a heavy hand or a heavy voice. It’s just understanding how that particular dog thinks.”

Lacker, owner and handler of Giggles, the Entlebucher Mountain Dog, in part attributes the animal’s relatively strong showing at Westminster to her own peace of mind and sense of calm—acquired by losing 54 pounds before the show.

“I lost the weight because first of all I needed to. I didn’t have any health problems. I just knew I needed to lose the weight for myself, and I wanted to look good for Westminster. So I did it the old-fashioned way, with diet and exercise,” says Lacker, who walks her dogs on the pastures of her 47-acre farm.

“I’m definitely more confident,” she adds. “You hold your head a little higher when you lose weight. And when you’re more confident, your dog knows.”


Search our articles: