Four Siberian huskies popped their heads up in unison as two of their owners pushed open the door to the garage they call home. They laid in their kennels, sprawled out as they relished the cool air from the industrial fans blowing their way.
The owners leashed up Lyric, a 3-year-old female, and walked her to the backyard, where she wagged her fluffy tail and eagerly jumped onto a grooming table.
Owner Katie Fleming said northern dogs, such as malamutes and huskies, interpret being at the highest elevation as being the leader of the pack, and Lyric’s happy place is on top of the grooming table while the rest of the dogs stay on the ground.
“If I have a boy on the grooming table, she’ll hop up and say, ‘Give me some attention and cookies,’” Fleming said.
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Fleming and her husband, Reid, who live in Lexington, see the table as an integral tool not only for grooming but for training as Lyric prepares for her first Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the longest-running dog show in the country, set for Feb. 15-16.
Reid Fleming nudged Lyric’s legs to make her stand in a show position and checked over her form, as a judge would in feeling for body mass, muscle tone, structure and teeth.
“I have to present her in the most presentable way that looks the best against all other Siberians,” he said.
Katie Fleming said they also have the advantage of belonging to the Great Columbia Obedience Club, which has facilities so their dogs can practice inside of a real ring.
Dog shows are more than canine beauty contests, she noted, as obedience training and conditioning are essential.
“They have to be muscled, they have to behave, they have to be rock solid if you’re going to climb to the top of the ladder,” she said.
Lyric, who lives with the Flemings but also is owned by Georgia residents Liz Demartino and Lindsey Morin of Trillium Blue Kennels, stays in top shape by running on a treadmill or pulling someone on a bicycle with a harness.
Her typical daily routine starts off with exercising in the yard, which means running and playing in the backyard with the other dogs. Lyric and the other dogs then get put in outdoor kennels and receive a toy filled with venison before their nap. The dogs each get a turn on the grooming table. The Flemings will spritz their fur with cold water and go through it with a comb, followed by a 30-minute run on the treadmill. Their day ends with another nap, dinner and then another play session in the yard.
Huskies are in the working group, and they are judged based on the job they were originally bred to do. They should ideally single track, or run with one foot in front of the other, and be in shape.
She said many judges prefer males because they are bigger and are believed better-suited for pulling sleds, though Lyric was able to rank as the country’s No. 6 dog of the breed and No. 3 female of the breed recently.
The Flemings never planned to keep Lyric, as they had not had a female husky before. Her breeders asked the couple to temporarily look after Lyric as a puppy, and their initial hesitation died down once they got to know her.
“She came, we loved her, she never left,” Katie Fleming said.
Lyric was initially not the pick of the litter. She was shorter and her ribs were more “well sprung,” she added.
“She looked liked she was short and pudgy, and yet you’d look at her and she had that glint in her eye,” she said. “... She has surpassed everybody’s expectations.”
Her resume includes honors as select female at Eukanuba National Championships for Siberian huskies, a National Specialty Award of Merit and bronze level Grand Champion.
“She’s taught us a lot,” she said. “... They’re entirely different. They’re wicked smart, unlike the boys.”
Leading up to Westminster
An injury sidelined Reid Fleming from the show ring for much of the past year, so handlers Jamie Clute and Haley Whitcomb of Williamston will make the trek to New York City for Westminster after stopping in Indiana for another dog show.
The Flemings will drop her off at Clute’s home Tuesday as the couple wants to avoid “the confusion that is New York.”
Once at Westminster’s dog show, they will bathe and dry her, make sure her nails and pads are trimmed, then wait for her turn to shine. Katie Fleming said at other national dog shows, the days can start at 5:30 a.m. and last until 10 p.m.
“It’s crazy, it’s chaotic,” she said.
Katie Fleming said one challenge that Siberian huskies come with is they shed their fluffy winter coat in the warmer months, as Lyric was not able to compete due to her short coat from May to September last year.
“They look like a coyote,” she said. “It’s pitiful.”
Though huskies are known to shed, Katie Fleming said they drop their coats once a year and actually are clean and have no odor.
She said they can be stubborn at times but are intelligent, healthy and social.
The Flemings said Lyric stands out because she is expressive and elegant, as she floats around the ring.
“You can put a tray of silver service on her back, and it would never move.”
The Flemings have their fingers crossed about this year’s show.
“If she wins best of breed, we would just be over the moon, or best of opposite if it goes to a male,” Katie Fleming said. “From the short, pudgy little puppy girl, she grew up to be the best of the litter, for sure.”
But if she makes it to “Best in Show,” she will be privy to a freezer full of treats.
“Venison, steak, half a chicken, whatever she wants,” Reid Fleming said.
Other S.C. dogs
Here are some South Carolina dogs competing in other 2016 Westminster Week events, including agility, obedience and conformation :
Abbi-Gale: Aiken, Tibetan Terrier, owned by Janet and Harold Slothower
Benne: Mount Pleasant, Dogue de Bordeaux, owned by Pam Smith and Vic Smith
Boo: Lake City, Keeshonden, owned by Beth Blankeship
Emily: Hilton Head Island, Russell Terrier, owned by Lisa Maloney
Geddy: Rock Hill, Basenji, owned by Kim Noel and Russella Bowen
Gia: Bluffton, Greyhound, owned by Melanie Steele, Amy Phelan, Rose Tomlin and Rindi Guadet
Ice: Trenton, standard Schnauzer, owned by Robert Knight
Mack: Bluffton, Lagotto Romagnolo, owned by Melanie Steele and Rindi Gaudt
Parker: Aiken, standard Schnauzer, owned by LeAnn Shank and Cindy Brown
Reid: Elloree, Yorkshire Terrier, owned by Kathryn Roberts
Reuben: Hollywood, longhaired Dachshund, owned by Catherine J. Martine
Wilson: Goose Creek, bichon firse, owned by Charles Dean Cooke
Wyatt: Mauldin, Labrador Retriever, owned by Catherine Perry