By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer
April 08, 2009
When Laurie and Hank Schueler bought a puppy four years ago, it was with the noble goal of raising a therapy dog.
Little did the Northwest Akron couple know they had a champion on their hands.
Augie, registered with the Leonberger Club of America as Champion Bevard's Augustus, was crowned national Best of Breed on Saturday at the LCA's 2009 National Specialty Show in Wisconsin.
Laurie Schueler, director of media relations for Akron Children's Hospital, said she had seen a relatively rare, lion-like, therapy dog years before that pulled a cart like Petey the Pony, a therapy horse from Bath Township.
''That's when I decided that when I was looking for another dog, it would be a Leonberger,'' she said.
After an exhaustive search, the couple found a breeder at Bevard Kennel in Medina Township.
''Can you imagine? We had looked all over the country,'' Laurie Schueler said.
Leonberger puppies aren't cheap. They range in price from $1,800 to $2,200 for a show-quality pup, said Bev Wright, who co-owns the kennel with her son, Arden Wright. There are only about 3,300 Leonbergers worldwide, she said.
Potential owners must undergo a vigorous background check, including home visits, Wright said.
''Many people say I'm worse than the CIA,'' she said.
Unfortunately, a few months after the couple brought the puppy home, it became apparent he would not fit the therapy-dog mold.
He was deemed ''too friendly,'' Schueler said.
''That was really a blow to us,'' she said.
But Augie still needed socialization skills, training and exercise — lots and lots of exercise, said Hank Schueler, the director of physician services for Summa Health Systems and Augie's handler.
''It's a daily chore to keep him in good condition, but the benefit is I get to stay in shape with no gym membership fees,'' he said.
A full-grown, male Leonberger can tip the scales at 170 pounds. Augie who now weighs 155 pounds, needed to learn to be the ''gentle giant'' that befits the breed's reputation. The Schueler family, which has grown by two daughters, ages 31/2 and 17 months, still refers to Augie as ''their No. 1 son,'' Laurie Schueler said.
The Leonberger, developed in the mid-1800s in Germany, is a cross-breed of three large breeds: Newfoundland, Saint Bernard and Great Pyrenees. Following World War I, Leonbergers almost died out, and only five suitable dogs could be found to re-establish the breed.
The Leonberger has been recognized by the American Kennel Club and soon will be represented in the working dog group, Hank Schueler said.
''Westminster, here we come,'' Laurie Schueler predicted.
Bev Wright, who bred Augie in her kennel's first litter, said she decided at the last minute to go to Wisconsin to see him compete.
''We've never had a national best in show. This was a breeder's dream,'' she said.
Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or email@example.com.