Brooksville show has handlers primping 17,000 pooches

Published January 11

BROOKSVILLE Ė Under the imposing open-air pavilion, alongside the circus-style tents, the sounds abound of a dog show in preparation. Not the yap of a Yorkie or the bark of a collie, but the zzzzzz of clippers, the whir of blow dryers and the phttt of aerosol containers.

And the smells. No odor of wet dog, but the floral of hair spray, the camphor of nail polish, the soapiness of borax powder.

Newcomers to the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster dog show, continuing through Jan. 21 at Florida Classic Park west of Brooksville, registered surprise at the sounds, sights and smells. The coiffing and primping were akin to backstage on Broadway.

Some among the 17,000 pedigreed dogs prancing before judges during the two-week event will earn the equivalent of actorsí stars ó points toward champion status in their given breed.

"It is, in fact, an excellent practice session for Westminster," said show spokeswoman and local resident Pat Lombardi. The premier U.S. canine competition, the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Manhattan, is in mid-February.

"We get a lot of top dogs that come through here," Lombardi said.

Rob and Gina Cobussen of Spring Hill have shown their Border terriers at the Gulf Coast Cluster since the late 1980s, when the event opened the yearlong Florida dog show circuit in Sarasota. The Florida Classic Park show was established in 1999.

"Itís a great show for us because we get to sleep in our own beds," Gina Cobussen said.

Itís not so for many breeders, owners and handlers, who fill local motels and 300 RV slots at the show grounds. They come from throughout the United States, Canada, South America, Europe and Asia, as do many of the dogs.

Rob Cobussen, a native of the Netherlands, will have his wife show his Nederlands kooikerhondje, a breed recognized Jan. 1 by the American Kennel Club. His two-year-old female, Xenna, previously showed as a "miscellaneous" dog, but now is qualified in the sporting group.

Xenna lives up to the breed nameís translation, "little cager." She weighs 17 pounds.

The flashy orange-and-white pooch meshes well with the Cobussensí favored Border terriers, also active, agile and topping out at 16 pounds.

The two breeds share a unusual trait among show dogs: both are presented with a natural, untrimmed coat.

"Actually, at the show, it doesnít take us very long to prepare them," Gina Cobussen said. "All preparation is done throughout the year at home. It takes a year; itís a constant maintenance of the coat. Itís not necessarily hard, but it has to be done to keep a dog in tip-top shape for the ring."

Also in their care are a pair of Italian greyhounds for Micanopy owners and a pair of Cavalier King Charles spaniels for a Vero Beach owner. The spaniels were bred by Lori and Jack Bennett of Spring Hill.

The slick-coated greyhounds, Rob said, "just need their nails cut. Thatís all. Theyíre so comfortable to work with."

The Cavies, largest breed in the toy group, require only occasional grooming.

Nonetheless, the Cobussens are "fun busy," competing in 12 shows daily.

Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]