By Rick Armon
Beacon Journal staff writer
TALLMADGE: Ernie and Linda Biermann can't believe their luck.
A few years ago, they were interested in getting a dog. Not anything special. Just the kind that would run around their Suffield Township yard and provide some companionship because the kids had moved out.
They settled on a briard, a big, long-haired French herding dog. Friends convinced them to take their pet to shows. So they did.
Now, one of that dog's puppies — the one they kept out of a litter of 10 — is a Briard Club of America national champion and invited to next year's Westminster Kennel Club show in New York City. Their dog, Chantilly Lace, was chosen as the best briard and best in the herding group Sunday at the Agathon Kennel Club annual show at the Summit County Fairgrounds.
''Obviously we kept the right one,'' Ernie Biermann said, laughing.
Chantilly Lace was one of more than 850 dogs competing over the weekend. The Agathon club, based in Massillon, held two different shows Saturday and Sunday.
The indoor arena was filled with 133 different breeds from all over the country. There were six fenced-off judging areas, and vendors selling dog-related products ranging from shampoo to beds to leashes.
The Biermanns aren't full-time dog professionals. He's a contractor and she works at an adult daycare. But both said they enjoy showing their dog because it allows them to take weekend trips.
Linda Biermann also said it's a thrill to receive an invitation to Westminster, comparing it to a horse owner getting his horse to race in the Kentucky Derby.
''She was just the dog jumping in the pond,'' she said.
Ernie Biermann said his friends sometimes give him a hard time about their hobby, especially since winning dogs get a ribbon instead of cash prizes. Dog owners spend thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, to travel the country and compete.
''That's all you get is ribbons. No money,'' Ernie Biermann said, laughing. ''My friends and I will be sitting there having a beer and they say, 'What'd you win?'
''I'll say, 'The dog won a ribbon.'
'' 'No, what'd you win?'
''I say, 'Shut up, quit asking that question.' ''
Many dog show participants take part because they love the social aspect of the sport, as well as competing.
''It's just fascinating to learn about the breeds, the grooming, and seeing friends at ringside and getting to know them and their dogs,'' said Gracey Burger, a Medina resident who owns a hair salon and has been showing dogs for two years. ''I really, really enjoy it. It's always better if you win, but if you don't that's OK because your friend's dog will probably win.''
She brought her Chinese crested hairless named Zora to the competition. Despite the word hairless in the breed's name, Zora, a tiny dog with a big mane and long hair around her paws and tail, looks like a combination of the Cowardly Lion and a Clydesdale.
The Agathon show also provided an opportunity to view a rare breed in the United States. Several Pyrenean shepherds, which are French sheep herding dogs, were there.
Patricia Princehouse, a Chardon resident and Case Western Reserve University professor, estimated that there are only about 500 in the country. She should know.
Princehouse is credited with helping to get the breed recognized by the American Kennel Club last year. She also breeds the dogs.
''They are wonderful little dogs for the right people — people who want an extremely active dog, very bossy, very pushy,'' she said.
For more details about the Agathon Kennel Club, go online to: http://www.agathonkennelclub.com.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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