National Labrador retriever club holds show in Brooklyn

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Brooklyn - posted Tue., Oct. 18, 2011
Caren McWeeny with Jasmine came from Plympton, Mass. Photos by D. Coffey.
Caren McWeeny with Jasmine came from Plympton, Mass. Photos by D. Coffey.

Brooklyn Fairgrounds was overrun last week with more than 600 Labrador retrievers and 800 of their human handlers. The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. came to town for its national show, bringing people from as far away as South Korea, Florida, Alaska and California.

These owners aren't just fans of the breed; they are lovers of it.

The breed started in Newfoundland, when fishermen wanted a sturdy dog to swim in cold waters and help haul in nets, according to Tony Emilio, one of the coordinators of the week long event. The dog was taken to England and bred to be a gentleman's hunting dog, as content to lay near the fireplace as it was to be outside hunting and swimming. The result of generations of breeding led to the animals that graced the grounds and fields, as well as the rings of the fairgrounds: gentle, easygoing and quiet. During an hour-long visit to a specialty show on Friday, one bark escaped from the muzzle of a young pup at ringside. The dogs have proven themselves to be excellent hunting companions, service animals, and family pets.

Kris Wescoll came from Hampswell, Maine, to join her friend Peggy Lands, from Leominster, Mass. Both women breed Labradors to exacting standards. It isn't a hobby for the faint of heart, Lands said. When a dog is 2 years old it is subject to a battery of clearances to check that it will be a  good representation of the breed. Hips, elbows, eyes, and heart are checked. Genetic testing is done. And all this before a stud is found and paid for the service. Costs run into the thousands of dollars.

A good breeder will have an agreement with the dog owner for first right of refusal, if life changes make keeping the dog prohibitive. Lands has taken two dogs back from owners. One was the result of a divorce. The other was a dog whose owners lost their jobs and home. “It was heartbreaking for them,” Lands said. “They're in loving homes, and that's what we want.”

A Labrador from a reputable breeder will command $1,400 to $1,800, according to Emilio. These are not the dogs you find in local pet stores.

Caren McWeeny from Plympton, Mass., brought her dog, Jasmine, to the show. McWeeny had Irish Setters for 40 years before she discovered Labradors. “I wish I found them a long time ago,” she said. “They are easy to live with.” One of her dogs visits a nursing home regularly. “She goes wherever she wants. She knows how to approach people.” It's one of the traits that make the breed exceptional as assistance dogs.

McWeeny was also there to see the offspring of dogs she might consider as studs - sperm shopping, she called it. “It's about function,” McWeeny said. “The dog has to be able to jump in the water, carry birds, swim, have a thick coat.”

The National Show, which ran from Oct. 9 through Oct. 12, included hunting, tracking, agility, obedience and confirmation trials. Dogs competed in several different classes, including 6-9 months, 9-12 months, 12-15 months, Open, Black, Yellow and Chocolate classes. The winners of each class competed for winners dog or winners bitch. The Best of Breed went to Grand Champion Danbridge Henry J.

Emilio said the show was a chance for people from all over the country to learn about the breed, but also to have fun and enjoy the dogs. Educational seminars on physical therapy for dogs, proper exercise and genetic research were held. Speakers were scheduled through the week. “People were sitting around in their chairs at night. It's your own little world for a while,” he said.

Attendees took up all the space at two area hotels. Many stayed in RV's on the fairgrounds. Emilio said selling the concept of the lab village was good for the area in many ways. It brought in people from all over the country who had never been to the quiet corner. And he estimates that the event brought between $1,200 to $1,300 per person to area businesses.

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