BROOKSVILLE — More than 16,000 pedigreed dogs from around the world and as many as 5,000 owners, handlers and visitors are descending on Hernando County over the next two weeks for the Southeast’s largest dog show, the Florida Gulf Coast Cluster at Florida Classic Park, east of Brooksville.
Coming from only a couple miles away with her much beribboned giant Schnauzers is Anna Stromberg. The native of Sweden moved here two years ago from Westchester, New York, "because of the Florida dog show circuit."
Stromberg is described by show officials as one of the top dog handlers in the country. She will step into the show ring with 12 to 15 dogs each day, her own and others’, from Jan. 11 to 21 in American Kennel Club sanctioned judging.
"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.
The Brooksville show opens Jan. 6 with two days of agility trials. It is a major tourist event and local economic boost, with many people arriving in RVs for overnight stays. Specialty competitions for terrier breeds, great Danes and akitas follow on Jan. 8 and 9.
New this year are so-called speed-and-lure ability tests. Dogs, from pedigreed to mutt, follow lures around courses in these speed events.
"It’s something a lot of spectators like to watch, a new sport that the AKC has," Lombardi said.
Jan. 16 is set aside for a giant flea market of dog-related items and a golf outing at nearby Sherman Hills Golf Club. All events run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Stromberg is well acquainted with the whirlwind calendar. She grew up with her parents’ kennel of Afghan hounds in Stockholm, but her mother refused to let her show dogs until she was 13. At her first show, she won first place.
Her mother’s response? "Well done. You’re allowed to do that again."
Anna has been winning for 34 years since then, from Sweden to Finland, Norway, Denmark, England, Chile, Canada and throughout the United States. With worldwide recognition, it’s no surprise that among the dogs she’ll handle at the Gulf Coast Cluster are a pair of giant Schnauzers from Japan and a duo of Afghans from Beijing.
Stromberg’s mother figured yet again in her daughter’s career when she thought it would be a good experience for Anna, at 21, to spend six months with an Afghan breeder in Millbrook, New York.
The young Stromberg came to the U.S. and stayed. At 47, her hobby has turned into a dog-handling career.
Stromberg, and her husband and groomer, Ben Franboso, care for and train competition dogs at their home. The couple’s homestead rang lively last week with a trio of females calling from the rec room, a quintet of males taking over a guest bedroom and a pair of retired champions — a giant Schnauzer and a whippet — lazing on a living room couch.
A handler can influence a show dog’s success.
"One dog can shine with one person and just look good with another person," Stromberg said. "A handler must have the ‘magic hands’ to present the dog to its ability."
Conditioning, nutrition and grooming also are important. The goal, Stromberg said, is an athletic dog in full muscle and full coat.
"The best handler is an invisible handler," she said, "the one you forget about after, because you remember the dog."
The Gulf Coast Cluster show, sponsored by the kennel clubs of Tampa Bay, Hernando, Pasco, Clearwater and Manatee, includes dog product vendors and a food court.
Contact Beth Gray at [email protected]