University of Colorado Hospital inpatient operating room nurse Scott Stelmach and his wife Aubyn Stelmach are going to the big show. Not Super Bowl 50.
They are headed to the 140th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show (WKCDS), held Feb. 15 and 16 in New York City. For some dog owners, the WKCDS is the Super Bowl for dogs.
The Stelmachs’ Rottweiler, Wilson, was invited to attend this prestigious competition because he won the 2015 American Rottweiler Club National Best of Breed, and because he was ranked the number-three Rottweiler in the nation, according to points he accumulated throughout last year’s dog show circuit, which is tracked by the American Kennel Club (AKC). All dogs that win the National Best of Breed competition as well as finish among the top five AKC-ranked dogs in a specific breed are invited to participate in the WKCDS.
Scott Stelmach, RN, an inpatient operating room nurse at UCH, works out on a stationary bike while his dog Wilson trots alongside him on a treadmill.
“We got two formal invites from Westminster, basically a double invite,” Aubyn said proudly.
Getting Wilson to this place was not an easy task. The world of dog show competition is a unique and time-consuming hobby. But both Scott and Aubyn seem ideally suited for this pastime. With their three Rottweilers (two others in addition to Wilson), one Chihuahua, one cat and one llama, the Stelmachs are devoted animal people, and they always have been.
Aubyn, who has been a vet tech for 26 years, currently works at VCA Mountain View Animal Hospital, and has been showing dogs for the last 18 years. Scott’s father was a veterinarian.
“When I was young there was no Humane Society in town so my father took in stray animals, which resulted in me raising everything from a squirrel to a great blue heron,” said Scott.
On the road
In order for Wilson to get to his current competitive level, the Stelmachs entered him in about 115 shows over 36 weekends last year. The shows were held all over the country.
“[Wilson] travels more than most people you know,” joked Scott.
Prizes consist of plaques and ribbons. Entry fees and travel expenses, as well as the cost of the handler who shows the dog, come out of the owner’s pocket. But as Aubyn points out, it’s probably about the equivalent of what many parents pay to support their child’s sport of choice, whether it’s field hockey, soccer or lacrosse.
“I get some money from his breedings,” she said. “He’s sired three litters so far. But it’s a hobby. Most people [who are] into showing dogs are just into showcasing the quality of that breed.”
Scott’s wife, Aubyn Stelmach, and Wilson strike a pose.
Scott is thrilled with Wilson’s success and helps to keep the dogs fit, but Aubyn is the real dog show enthusiast. She transferred her childhood love of riding and showing horses to showing dogs after she graduated college.
“Once I was out of high school and my parents weren’t paying for my horses, I found dogs to be more affordable to show so I got into that out of college,” she said.
Her first Rottweiler, Chuck, a gift from her brother, did not show. Her second one, Auggie, made it all the way to Westminster. But at that time 16 years ago, Aubyn was in the midst of planning her wedding to Scott and did not join the handler at the competition. Although she’s had five other show dogs over the years, Wilson was the first one that had that “something special” to make it all the way to Westminster again, she said.
The way the WKCDS works is that about 2,800 dogs compete in 192 different Best of Breed competitions. The winners of those Best of Breed contests then go on to compete for seven different group titles: Working, Toy, Sporting, Hound, Terrier, Non Sporting and Herding. Rottweilers fall into the Working group, along with Boxers, Great Danes, Akitas, St. Bernards, and 25 other breeds. The winners of those seven groups compete against each other in the big Best in Show competition at Madison Square Garden.
If you’ve ever seen the 2000 mockumentary “Best in Show,” a send-up of dog shows and the people who flock to them, then you have some idea of what these competitions are like. The movie is a favorite of both Scott and Aubyn. They found the movie hilarious and admit that it got some things right, but to a very exaggerated degree.
To prepare Wilson (whose show name is Baar’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go”) for the big competition, Aubyn keeps him cleaned, groomed and fit. But since it’s winter and not conducive for outdoor hikes and runs, Wilson runs on a treadmill alongside Scott. Yes, a regular treadmill.
“He can run and play ball a little, but to get that constant exercising that we call ‘roadwork’ to keep his muscles in shape, he gets on the treadmill and runs 2 miles at least every other day,” Aubyn said.
Wilson (big guy in the middle on the right) and his friends watch the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on TV.
What’s in a name?
Wilson’s real name came from the movie “Castaway,” after the Wilson volleyball that became the friend and constant companion of the stranded Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks. His show name, which is required for all competing dogs, although neither Stelmach could explain why, comes first from the breeder’s kennel name, which is Baar. Because Wilson came from the “o” litter – the breeder names her annual litter by the alphabet – the Stelmachs chose a fun quote from Dr. Seuss to go with Baar. Aubyn further explained that the Dr. Seuss quote worked well for the advertisements they created for Wilson that appear in dog magazines.
“You promote your dog to the breeders and judges in these dog magazine advertisements,” she said. “We played off the Dr. Seuss theme and used other quotes for these ads.”
Both Scott and Aubyn are very much looking forward to their upcoming trip to New York City and, especially, to see the Best in Show competition, whether Wilson makes the cut or not. Either way, Aubyn feels that winning the nationals is really the most coveted prize.
“Of all the shows you can win best of breed, most people would say the nationals would be the show they’d want to win, even more so than the Westminster show,” she says.
Whether Wilson wins any awards at Westminster or not, Aubyn plans to limit his “conformation” shows – which judge how closely the dog “conforms” to the breed standards – and train him for “working” shows like obedience, herding, and carting competitions in 2016.
Wilson, with his handler, gets admiring looks from a judge at a competition.
Tune in to the WKCDS competition Feb. 15 and 16 to root for Wilson. Click here to find out the schedule and where to watch it.
Joelle Klein. Klein is a regular contributor to the UCHealth Insider. To comment on this story, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com