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Westminster Kennel Club: Thunder rolls
By Jackie R. Broach
After more than a decade of breeding and showing dogs, Manon “Mo” Donlevy achieved a career highlight last month.
Her 4-year-old Shiba Inu, Thunder, won Best of Breed in the Westminster Kennel Club’s 135th Annual Dog Show in New York City.
A nationally televised event, the show is the biggest in the country and one of the most prestigious in the world.
“It’s very hard to get into; I’ve tried for many years,” said Donlevy, 55, a Pawleys Island area resident and owner of Coastal Kennel.
Thunder, a grand champion whose official name is Mo’s Grand Thunderstorm, was invited to compete in the show as one of the top five dogs of his breed. The top five in each of the 179 eligible breeds are the only dogs guaranteed slots in the two-day show. Thunder was the No. 1 Shiba Inu in the nation for 2010 and obtained seven Best in Group wins that year — more than any Shiba Inu has obtained in a year — and a Best in Speciality.
“I’m so proud of him,” Donlevy said, leaning down to pat him and let him bathe her face in canine kisses. “He’s such a good boy.”
In addition to being a nationally recognized champion, Thunder is her “house dog” and pet.
“He’s my baby,” she said, so there was no way she was going to miss seeing him compete for a major title.
The Westminster show took place Feb. 14-15 at Madison Square Garden and Donlevy flew to New York City for the event with her father, Guy Paul of New Orleans. Thunder left for the show earlier, traveling with his handler, Jeremy Hohman of Raleigh.
Donlevy was at the show to see Thunder win Best of Breed during the day, but she and Paul planned to watch the televised part of the competition from their hotel that night. Her father is 82 and the day’s events had tired him out.
Since Hohman would be in charge of Thunder during the show, Donlevy’s presence wasn’t required.
“We were in our PJs just relaxing,” Donlevy said. Then they found out the hotel didn’t have the channel that was broadcasting the dog show.
“I was in tears,” Donlevy said. She convinced her father to go back to the show with her, but they only had 10 minutes before Thunder and the other non-sporting dogs who won Best of Breed were called out for the Best of Group competition.
“I put my boots on, on top of my PJs, and put my jacket on over my PJs,” Donlevy said. Her father did the same and they took a cab to the show, arriving just in time.
Thunder didn’t win, but Donlevy said she’s still glad she made the mad rush to see him compete and couldn’t be prouder of him.
“He did his work,” she said.
Donlevy started showing Thunder only a little over a year and a half ago. He became a champion at his first show in June 2009 and won the American Kennel Club’s national specialty in October of that year.
Thunder has the perfect form for a Shiba Inu, with a compact, square body.
“The other shibas [at Westminster] were a little bigger and a little longer, and I think that’s why the judges went with him,” she said. “Yes, I’m bragging about you,” she adds to the dog as he approaches and put his paws on her knees.
Hohman, who has been showing dogs professionally for 15 years, called Thunder “the dream dog to show.”
With his win at Westminster, Thunder has earned his retirement and returned home a celebrity.
“I’ve been getting e-mails and phone calls from people I don’t even know saying they saw him on TV,” Donlevy said. “I wasn’t handling him, but when they saw his name and that he was from Pawleys Island, everybody knew he was one of my boys.”
This will be Thunder’s last year on show, Donlevy said, but she’ll continue to breed him.
One of his offspring, Lingling, officially known as Mo’s Perfect Storm, is showing signs of following in Thunder’s paw prints. Lingling is already a champion at 8 months old. Dogs have to be 6 months old to participate in shows.
Donlevy also breeds and shows miniature poodles and has shown Chinese cresteds, but she said she has a special fondness for Shiba Inus.
“As soon as I put my hand on that coat, I thought, oh God, I have to have one,” she said. “It’s such a great breed.”