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Hernando's home of two top dog champions

BROOKSVILLE

DiOGi is mellow and unassuming. Stella is a hard charger, already pushing to win more laurels.

The owners of both dogs live near Brooksville.

And, remarkably, both dogs won awards as best of breed at their sport's most famous event: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show held last month at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

DiOGi, owned by Debbie Perrott and Shirley Knipe, won the award among a sporting breed called Spinone Italiano.

Stella is a bluetick coonhound owned by Charles E. Woods and Tena Kastner.

DiOGi — the name is his owners' take on the Italian translation of "dog" — showed only mild curiosity when a recent visitor rang the doorbell at Perrott's and Knipe's home on a wooded lot off Sunshine Grove Road: No jumping, barking or inappropriate sniffing.

When Perrott tried to get the 75-pound dog to sit for a picture, DiOGi repeatedly slid his front feet forward to lie down.

And when he eventually rested his snout on his paws as though settling in for a nap, Perrott stated the obvious about the breed:

"They're very laid back. They're very gentle. They're a wonderful breed because they get along with everybody and they are just so easy to live with."

Relaxed as the dogs are around people, they are dynamos in the field. Spinone can be trained to not only find game, but to point and retrieve; most sporting breeds perform only one of those hunting functions.

At first sight, though. Perrott, 76, wasn't so impressed.

She previously bred and showed German wirehaired pointers. When she first saw a lanky, square-muzzled Spinone at a dog show in England, she thought it was just a bad example of a pointer.

Its ears were set lower; its nose wasn't the required black and its head was set at a different plane.

"Then I saw the orange and white (coat) and I realized I was looking at a different breed. Everything was totally correct in the Spinone and totally wrong in a wire haired pointer." Adjusting to the different conformation, Perrott recognized the bitch's championship qualities. And, after hearing she'd been bred, put in a request to buy one of her pups.

DiOGi was the second pick of the 12-pup litter.

But in the five years since his birth, he hasn't had to settle for second very often.

He won his breed's national specialty shows in 2010 and 2011, in the most recent beating 52 champions. At the prestigious Eukanuba national in 2011, he bested 16 competitors, boosting him to the top ranking among Spinone in the country.

Because Perrott underwent hip repeacement surgery last year, DiOGi has appeared in fewer shows and slipped to No. 3. But at this Westminster competition, he beat out the first- and second- ranked dogs.

"It was pretty exciting," Perrott acknowledged, though he's currently tanking a break from competition and has started to attend classes as a therapy dog.

Woods, 73, co-owner of the other local champion, Stella, has been breeding show dogs for 35 years, with successes that include two champion miniature pinschers.

"It's a hobby," he said, "an expensive hobby."

He does not, however, like showing dogs. "I get a little bit nervous," said Woods, who lives outside of Brooksville.

So, he turned that job over to a professional handler, Shawn VonPressentin, who previously lived in Brooksville.

But he recently moved to Ocala and is often on the road with Stella and the other dogs he shows.

"Her rapport with the handler is fantastic," Woods said of Stella, who is 2 years old.

"It'll be a problem when she comes home, whenever that will be."

Maybe not for a while, considering how successful she has been: breed winner at Westminster in 2012, first bluetick ever to win best in show last year at the Arkansas Kennel Club Show in Little Rock, bests in Atlanta, Ga., and Harrisburg, Pa., best in her breed at the national Eukanuba invitational in 2012, "youngest to win everything in AKC (American Kennel Club) standards as a breed champion," Woods said.

"She's the top winning bluetick of all time," Woods concluded, adding that Stella ranked No. 1 in national show points among blueticks in 2011 and 2012.

Judges credit Stella's conformation and ideal size for her breed, 50 pounds and 25 inches at the shoulder. But what sets her above is "her outstanding movement," Woods said. "She gaits very well. She turned out better than we expected."

Kastner, who also lives outside Brooksville, played an instrumental role in selecting Stella for purchase. Kastner researched the breed, found the Michigan owner who bred Stella's litter, and led Woods to photos of the pups on the Internet. The duo took possession when the pup was 4 months old.

Stella will also live with Kastner when her show career ends and her own second career begins — as a breeder.

Beth Gray can be contacted at graybethn@earthlink.net.

Hernando's home of two top dog champions 03/14/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 9:31pm]
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