Midlands Chihuahuas taking national stage at Westminster

jholleman@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2014 

  • Tune in

    The 2014 Westminster Kennel Club dog show is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

    TV: Groups and Best in Show will be shown on CNBC 8-11 p.m. Monday and on USA Network 8-11 p.m. Tuesday.

    Online: Live streaming of all breed judging will be available throughout each day on westminsterkennelclub.org and on the official 2014 Westminster Show app.

Layla and Sir Galahad, a couple of long coat Chihuahuas with local connections, will be making their first appearances at the Westminster Kennel Club show Monday and Tuesday.

Their owners are beside themselves with anticipation, though neither plans to make the trip to New York. They’ll keep track of their dogs’ progress through handler Kacie Davis, a North Carolinian whose family is well-known in dog-handling circles, and through internet updates.

Sandi Murdock of Gilbert has been breeding Chihuahuas since 1999 and showing them since 2007, but Layla is her first entry in the Westminster show, considered the Super Bowl of dog shows.

“I’m so excited I can’t stand it,” Murdock said. “She is a beautiful, well put-together dog. It took me a long time to get the right dogs together for this one.”

Murdock said she breeds for disposition, and her dogs belie the notion of yippy little Chihuahuas. “When I tell them to hush, they hush,” she said of the nearly 20 dogs she keeps in her home and adjacent kennel.

Layla – her full name is Omegas Alayla Sourney – has a multi-colored coat, with light brown eyebrows standing out on her black upper head above a white jawline. And she’s not just another pretty face.

“Layla likes to show and is flashy on the ground,” Murdock said. “She prances around and shows herself. Some handlers have to make their dogs show. Layla wants to do it.”

Murdock believes Layla has what it takes to go far in the show world, but she’s new to it. She doesn’t have enough points to have qualified for Westminster in the past, but the rules were changed to allow newcomers who have been winners of major events. Layla earned that exemption by winning in a large field of long coat Chihuahuas at the Fayetteville Kennel Club in November.

Sir Galahad’s path to Westminster also is a bit unusual. Owner Lori Lessley of Columbia and her daughter picked him out from an online photo because he looked like he had show potential. But they didn’t get him until he was 2 years old, and he had never been on-leash and trained to that point. That’s late to start as a show dog, Lessley said.

But Sir Galahad – officially Sugar Baby’s Sweet Sir Galahad of Faerie Garden – took to showing like a veteran. He won in his first show in January 2013 and won best of breed at a show in Waynesville, N.C., in June. His golden coat and regal bearing have been a hit with judges, though how that will translate on the Westminster floor is hard to predict.

“This is our first time for a dog at Westminster,” Lessley said. “I know that those are the best dogs in the nation. If he placed, I would be amazed and I’d be thrilled.”

Lessley, who fell in love with small dogs while working with rescue groups, began breeding them five years ago. “I love all the small dogs, but the long coat Chihuahuas just melted my heart,” she said. “We joke that it’s not a dog, it’s a Chihuahua!”

Lessley and Murdock have become friends and will be rooting for each other’s dogs. But neither felt they could afford to make the trip to New York. Not only is the travel expensive, but it would take them away from their other dogs.

“I need to stay here and take care of my puppies,” Lessley said.

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