The 146th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show came to a close last night, and one local family is riding high after their reading therapy dog placed at the longest-running canine competition in the United States.
Bearded collie Dunhill Scott Sophie’s World (known as just Sophie, to family and friends) was awarded Best of Opposite Monday at Westminster.
“That’s the first time she was shown in Westminster. That’s like the Super Bowl of dog shows,” said Sophie’s owner and proud dog mom Kathy Harrington, of Peters Township. She’s a young dog. We were thrilled with her performance. ”
Sophie is three-and-a-half years old and, before wagging her way onto the show scene, the sweet pup served as a reading therapy dog alongside her award-winning father Zack (a Grand Champion who in 2017 won Best in Breed at Westminster under his stage name, Dunhill Steelers Nation).
“They go into schools with me,” explained Harrington, a retired Pine-Richland principal who once served as interim principal at John F. Kennedy Catholic and South Fayette. “I do a little thing about pet safety. Sophie is sweet. She’s got the sweetest temperament.”
That sweetness is what drew Harrington and her husband, Ray, to the breed. Harrington wished for a dog, but the Mt. Lebanon condo she and her new husband shared wasn’t large enough. When they purchased their first home, Ray told Kathy, “You can get a dog.”
The educator began researching breeds. She wanted a dog that would make a good companion, one she might incorporate into her resume. Bearded collies are known for being sweet, and the Harringtons fell in love with the breed when they visited a dog show at the then-Civic Arena.
The couple adopted a puppy named Bentley who, unknown to them, was the offspring of a show dog.
“The person who owned the stud dog … said, ‘Bentley’s a nice dog. Can we show him?’” Harrington said.
Harrington’s co-worker bred dogs and taught the pair to groom Bentley. Ray, Kathy laughed, is competitive and threw himself into the world of dog shows.
The Harringtons also dipped their toes into breeding. When they happened upon 10 acres in Peters Township, they founded Dunhill Bearded Collies, which has bred championship dogs since 1982.
“Any good breeder’s ultimate goal is to breed a really nice dog that is the best representation of what that breed really is,” Harrington said. “My husband is very particular about our breeding program. He feels very responsible for breeding really good dogs. Not just show dogs … a fabulous companion.”
The Harringtons’ show dogs do make great companions. They’re all special, but one pooch in particular helped Kathy through a tough time.
“The doctor who saved my life was Dr. Joseph Kelley,” said Harrington, a uterine cancer survivor. “I named one of my dogs (after him). My doggies were a big part of my recovery. It forced me to get out and walk when I didn’t feel like it. Joey was a champion.”
A champion metaphorically, for aiding in Harrington’s recovery, and literally. He won recognition at American Kennel Club shows and caught the eye of a Columbian breeder, who offered to purchase the purebred bearded collie.
“I wanted to keep Joey because he had special meaning to me,” Harrington said.
So she worked out an agreement: Joey would head to South America and stud for the breeder before returning home to Southwestern Pennsylvania. Life had other plans.
“Joey is a world champion,” Harrington said, noting he has competed and won accolades in England, Columbia and elsewhere.
Sophie has the makings of a champion, too. Ella’s great-grandmother was an excellent show dog and her father, Zack, has sired several champion dogs.
Competing comes naturally to Sophie. Harrington said when she and Ray realized what a special dog they had in her de ella, the couple sought a trustworthy handler to train Sophie. They met with Katie Bernardin, who as a junior handler was recognized at Westminster and now runs Bernardin Show Dogs in Chaplin, Conn.
“Katie works with (Sophie) a little bit every day. These show dogs are athletes; she trains like athletes,” Harrington said. “She eats very healthy. She goes for walks. She goes to a show every weekend, so she gets practice.”
At home, Sophie is silly and sweet, a fan favorite among students at educational events hosted by Harrington.
“When she goes in the ring, she goes to work,” Harrington said.
“She loves the claps. She just loves to show.”
Though they had faith in Sophie, the Harringtons didn’t set the bar terribly high for her first Westminster appearance. They were just happy to be on the “quaint” grounds of the Lyndhurst Estate.
“The first time at Westminster, it’s overwhelming,” Harrington said. “You want to win the breed, but that wasn’t really on my radar. We just really wanted her to do well.”
And well, she did. Sophie was pulled by judges Monday, and awarded Best of Opposite, given to the best dog who is the opposite sex of the Best of Breed winner.
“I did get tears in my eyes when I saw her at Westminster. That was magical for me and my husband,” Harrington said. “When you see them compete and do their work, and then they are recognized in any capacity, you’re thrilled to death. I was thrilled to pieces.”