When Betsy Michels, a Town of Fredonia dog handler, took Relic to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York earlier this month, she expected big things.
After all, Relic was a reserve best in show champion, had won multiple best in show specialty awards and was a silver grand champion, while just starting his show career.
Relic is a 2-year-old Chinese Shar-Pei, one of those dogs that people tend to describe as so ugly they’re cute, thanks to their amazing array of deep facial wrinkles.
Michels, Relic and the dog’s owner Joy Lockery of Kaukauna arrived Saturday, Feb. 14. Relic’s bench show was on Monday.
The bench show is a five-and-a-half-hour event at Piers 92/94, where Michels and Lockery were given a 4-foot-by-4-foot space to show the dog.
Dogs have to be available for people to view and pet the entire time, according to show regulations.
Relic came through. He didn’t get his few minutes of fame because he just missed being chosen for the televised portion of the show, but he placed second in the Shar-Pei class.
“What an honor to go to Westminster and get a ribbon,” Michels said, noting the dog was invited to the show because it was ranked No. 4 in its breed.
Relic’s official American Kennel Club name is BluRubEin Aged to Perfection. It was his first trip to Westminster, as it was for Michels and Lockery.
“Relic loves to show,” Michels said. “He’s already accomplished so much in a short period of time.”
The dog’s honors include reserve best in show at the Oshkosh Kennel Club and an award of merit at the Chinese Shar-Pei Regional Specialty Show in Lawrence, Kan., last year.
Michels began showing Shar-Peis in 1999 after many years showing horses. She bought her first dog from a breeder in Muscatine, Iowa.
“I showed professionally for many years and I wanted to try something different,” she said. “I wanted to see what I could do on my own.
“Shar-Peis are a different, unique breed. I didn’t want the same old, same old.”
For the past 16 years, Michels has traveled around the country on weekends showing dogs. She doesn’t get paid one cent for it.
“It’s a fun hobby for me,” Michels, who works for the United States Postal Service, said. “It gets tiring after awhile, but when you see the results, it never gets old.
“A lot of people have told me I should be a professional handler, but I don’t want to. When it becomes a job, it’s not fun anymore.”
Michels said she trains dogs 10 minutes a day and takes them to Cedar Creek Pet Resort in Jackson for classes twice a week.
“We practice having the dog ‘stand stay’ with all four legs underneath its body,” she said. “The body has to be square.”
He was a champion after just five shows.
“To keep him from burning out, we usually take him to one show a month,” Michels said, noting the dog’s next appearance will likely be in March at the Northeast Wisconsin Dog Show Classic in Manitowoc.“You have to keep the dog used to the show atmosphere, practice sleeping in the motel and playing with other dogs.
“If it’s not fun for the dog, they aren’t going to show well.”
Michels owns four Shar-Peis of her own — Kiwi, 13, Reggie, 10, Cheddar, 7, and Lacy, 16 months — at Legends Kennel Club in the Town of Fredonia.
“Once they’re done showing, we don’t just sell the dogs,” she said. “I stand behind my dogs. When they get older, we do fun stuff like agility racing.
“Or they just stay at home, get lots of attention and just be a dog.”
Reggie is named after legendary Green Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White, while Lacy is named after running back Eddie Lacy.
“The name of the first dog I bought was Legends of Lambeau, so that’s how I got the theme,” Michels said.
Her boyfriend stays at home with the dogs when she travels to shows.
“I live out of a suitcase,” Michels said. It’s hard. But if you want to be on top, you have to keep going or else the next person will pass you.”
Relic, a Chinese Shar-Pei, and his handler Betsy Michels took a playful break at the Waukesha Kennel Club Dog Show in July. Photo by Lynda Beam