For the first time in its 138 year history, the Westminster Kennel Club will allow the Chinook, NH’s official state dog, to compete in its annual "Best in Show" competition at Madison Square Garden. One of the four Chinook's vying to be top dog is Birr, from Londonderry. NHPR's Sean Hurley visited with Birr and his owners Kris and Chester Holleran, to find out more about the rare dog and the rarefied Westminster Best in Show pageant.
*UPDATE: A New Hampshire dog has won the first ever Chinook competition at the Westminster Dog show in New York. Birr, a 5 year old, and his handler Kris Holleran of Londonderry face off tonight against 28 other best in breed winners in the Working Group final. If Birr wins top dog in the working group, he’ll be in the running for overall best in show. Tonight’s action will be televised by the USA network and on CNBC.
Kris Holleran tosses an orange Frisbee across her snowy yard. Her three Chinooks, Birr, Huck and Tibbs chase it down near the river. Birr noses the Frisbee into the snow to hide it from the other two. Even if he didn't, the Frisbee wouldn't have been returned.
They're not really fetching dogs. They just chase after. Keep away is the big game.
The black masked tawny dogs could be triplets. But Huck is the oldest, his son Tibbs the youngest and Huck's nephew Birr, at five years old, the most celebrated. Winning the Eukanuba National Championship made Birr a Champion. And being a Champion earned him an invitation to this year's Westminster Kennels Club's Best in Show competition.
There's three new breeds being accepted this year. The Chinook. The Rat Terrier and the Portuguese Podengo Pequeno. I hope I said that right!
Because the breed is relatively new - the first Chinook puppy was born in 1917 - and because there are so few - the Guinness Book once listed them as the rarest dog on earth - the AKC has been slow to recognize them.
Well the breed actually originated in Tamworth, New Hampshire. There was a man by the name of Arthur Walden who lived there and went out for the Gold Rush to Alaska. And when he came back he wanted to develop a sled dog and he wanted a dog that was fast, could pull heavy loads and would be a good family companion. So he bred a Greenland Husky and a Mastiff type dog. And he got three puppies and one of them was exactly what he wanted and that was Chinook and that was the originator of the breed.
For a short time, Chester Holleran says, Chinook was world famous as the lead dog on Admiral Byrd's expedition to the South Pole.
The dog named Chinook, the founding dog, actually died on the trip to the South Pole, which was front page New York Times news.
Other feats and firsts would follow for the new breed and for Walden.
They were the first dogs to sled up Mount Washington and he really brought the sport of dog racing to New Hampshire.
Solidly hitched to New Hampshire history, the Chinook seemed an obvious choice for State Dog when it was officially declared in 2009. But it's nomination came from an unlikely source. A group of 7th graders from a middle school in Bedford.
The children did all the work for whatever it takes and actually got the Chinook recognized as the state dog of New Hampshire. So that was a group of middle schoolers that did that.
The Westminister Best in Show competition is essentially a beauty pageant - but with a more hands-on approach. In the stacking process, each dog undergoes a thorough physical examination. The judges evaluate teeth and body architecture, before sending the dogs off on a run around the ring to check their gait. In the end, the judges are searching for the dog that most exemplifies the structure, movement, and character of each particular breed.
Birr will face off against 3 other Chinooks in the breed ring. If he wins best of breed, he'll go on to compete against 28 other working dogs, from Malamutes to Rottweilers, in the Group Ring. If Birr is chosen best working dog, he'll face the winners from each group in the Best in Show finale.
Kris Holleran is not only nervous about her performance - handling the dog in the ring is an art in itself - but she's also worried about Birr's focus.
It can go south in a heartbeat. I mean you can have days where you're just like "What happened?" One of our big problems is deliciously fragrant girls are hard sometimes when you have a male dog. It can also be to your advantage, depending on whether they are, whether they're in front or behind you.
From the South Pole, to the top of Mount Washington, to the Guinness Book, our State Dog, the Chinook, with Birr as its foremost representative, is heading off for the Bright Lights and Big City to possibly become, as his forefather, the most famous dog on the planet.