By Lisa Chamoff
NEW YORK — Eight years ago, Ashley Fischer was just learning the ropes of the dog show world, with little sense of what to expect as she led her pug Spike under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.
At the 137th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Monday morning, Fischer cradled Chloe, her 3-year-old pug, flashing a baby blue ribbon and pausing outside the ring after the 8:30 a.m. competition.
“Was she unbelievable, the way she showed today?” Fischer bragged to a well-wisher at Pier 92, the massive event space on the Hudson River in Manhattan, where the daytime breed judging was moved this year.
Fischer, who lives in Wilton, did double duty, hiring well-known handler Michael Scott to show off Chloe in the ring, while Fischer grabbed the leash of her other pug, Buster. Chloe snagged Select Bitch, an honor below the coveted Best of Breed.
Buster didn’t win anything. Fischer said Buster is not at her best in the morning.
“She was watching Jay Leno last night,” joked Fischer’s husband, Mac. “She didn’t get any sleep.”
Back in 2005, Fischer marveled at the spectacle that is Westminster, gaping at the crowds and the personalities that came together for the so-called Super Bowl of dog shows. These days, Fischer could pass for a character in the Christopher Guest dog show mockumentary “Best in Show,” logging tens of thousands of miles in her motor home to take her dogs to competitions around the country. She places vanity ads with her dogs in The Canine Chronicle, a way for the judges to get to know the animals, and akin to the “For Your Consideration” ads movie studios take out in the Hollywood trade publications during Oscar season.
“Last year, I was probably in the motor home more than I was home,” Fischer said.
Apparently, all the hard work has paid off — Chloe was the No. 5-ranked pug in the country last year.
“People know who I am and know who my dogs are,” Fischer said. “Before, they’d look at my dog and look at me and say, ’Who the heck is that?’ ”
That’s also one of the charms of Westminster. Aside from being the most well-known dog show, it brings together an assortment of people and their pets. Some are dipping their toes and paws into the ring. The more experienced competitors speak a language of their own, liberally tossing around words such as “bitch” and “semen.”
Carrie DeJan, a breeder and co-owner of Mac, a Pembroke Welsh corgi from Danbury who competed Monday morning, has been showing dogs for 20 years, breeding her first litter with her mother in 1990.
Mac’s co-owner, Hope Stefenson, doesn’t take responsibility for showing him, and usually doesn’t go to the competitions, but did watch a live stream of the breed judging on her iPhone.
DeJan, who lives in New Fairfield, said once Mac finishes competing, she will let Stefenson neuter him, but plans to collect his sperm and freeze it so she can continue his bloodline.
“She gives him such a good home,” DeJan said of Stefenson, who lives on a farm with ducks and goats and frequently takes Mac on long, 3-mile walks. “To me, it’s more important he has that kind of loving home.”
Lucy Hicks couldn’t be further from the show dog world. A Greenwich resident, she hadn’t seen her Boston terrier, Clementine, in a couple of weeks when the two were reunited after the 8:30 a.m. judging at Westminster.
Clementine had been traveling to other shows with her handler, Anibel Faria of Colchester.
Hicks purchased Clementine from the breeder mainly as a pet, agreeing to show her, saying the temporary separations have been a fine exchange for getting such a great-looking dog with a good temperament.
“This isn’t my life,” said Hicks, referring to the world of showing and breeding. “This is something I do to get a good dog.”
Though she didn’t have to get Clementine ready to show, Hicks traveled from Greenwich to New York City bright and early with her husband, Ken Hicks, the chief executive officer of Foot Locker.
While it was Clementine’s first time at Westminster — she’s only 2 ½ — Hicks had been there before.
“Twenty years ago I went to Westminster as a spectator and now I have a show dog,” Hicks said, laughing. “So, it could happen to you.”
At least two dozen Fairfield County dogs are among the more than 2,700 canines competing over two days at Westminster. Among the group is a Bernese mountain dog named Juliette, a therapy dog who was part of a team that worked with children from Newtown following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Twins Danielle and Rachel Meyers, of Southbury, are showing Juliette, also called Juju, on Tuesday.