Local goes from watching to ribbon at dog show

Kathy Rhodes and Zhako enjoy some down time after attending the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 11. Zhako returned home with a Best of Winners ribbon.
Kathy Rhodes and Zhako enjoy some down time after attending the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on Feb. 11. Zhako returned home with a Best of Winners ribbon. Photo by Lauren M. Wilson.

When Kathy Rhodes was watching the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show from home last year, she had no idea she would be in attendance at the show in 2013.

Not only did Rhodes attend the show in 2013, she was present as owner of an entered dog - her Pyrenean Shepherd, Zhako (pronounced Ja-co).

Zhako won Best of Winners and came home from New York City with a purple ribbon.

His breed is fairly new to the American Kennel Club (AKC), recognized as an AKC breed only since 2009.
Currently, the AKC recognizes 175 dog breeds.

Rhodes says when she was watching the dog show on television last year, she was looking for a dog that would be good at agility and heard the commentators say Pyrenean Shepherds are good agility dogs.

"I wanted to get in shape," she says, and wanted a dog as a fitness buddy.

So Rhodes decided to find a Pyrenean Shepherd of her own, and ended up finding breeder Patricia Princehouse through Internet searches.

Rhodes says Princehouse is the "number one breeder" of Pyrenean Shepherds.

Princehouse is located in Chardon, OH, a city outside of Cleveland and about four hours from Huntington.

Rhodes met with Princehouse last March, about a month after she started her dog search. She met Zhako and decided that he was the dog for her, but Princehouse had other ideas for the pup - and Rhodes.

Rhodes explains that she now owns Zhako through a co-ownership agreement with Princehouse. She says this means for all intents and purposes Zhako is her dog - he lives with her and she cares for him.

But Princehouse is able to ask Rhodes to take him to show, which she did for the first time in October 2012.
Rhodes says her first show was in Aliquippa, PA, a very small town about 20 miles from Pittsburgh.

She says they followed up that first show with two shows in Ohio, one in Tallmadge and another in Delaware.

Then Rhodes and her canine companion traveled to Florida for the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship on Dec. 15 and 16. Zhako took Best of Winners, which qualified him for the Westminster show earlier this February.

Rhodes says that, at the Florida show, she realized that she and Zhako needed training before they went to New York City.

She took Zhako to the Canine Companion training center in rural Huntington, where Rhodes and Zhako trained with Sarah Story, a dog trainer who has been working with Canine Companion since 2003.

Zhako learned how to "stand, stack and pay attention," Rhodes says.

Rhodes also learned that to show a dog, you must "train the owner instead of the dog."

"I'm not great at showing him," she says.

During the first round at Westminster, Zhako was shown by Elizabeth "Lizzy" Edgerton, who she connected with through Princehouse.

"When I look at the photos now I can see that Zhako was pacing when I was showing him ... he was trotting with Lizzy."

But, they are still new to the game.

"I am as much of a novice as he (Zhako) is," Rhodes says.

She says Zhako has caused her to be more active and he is her "companion."

Rhodes and Zhako take a walk once a day during the winter months, unless the weather is severely cold.
She says in the summer months, they would go walking twice a day.

He is "just a normal dog," she says.

"He is into everything," she adds.

"This morning I was in the shower, and when I came out he had shredded the toilet paper all over.

"When I take him to show, people say ‘This dog is just spoiled rotten!'"

Pyrenean Shepherds are in the herding class of dog, native to the Pyrenees Mountains in southern France and northern Spain. They worked with Great Pyrenees, who acted as the flock guardian.

Rhodes says Zhako is a rough face "Pyre Shep" - a term Rhodes says is used at shows to shorten the name Pyrenean Shepherd.

She says he needs little grooming, and his body type is described as sinewy.

Rhodes says she doesn't know if she will return to Westminster next year, as it is up to Princehouse to decide when Rhodes shows Zhako.

Rhodes says Zhako is taking her to places she has never been before, and that isn't limited to dog shows.

She says she had never been to New York City before attending Westminster, so she spent time sightseeing when she wasn't busy with her dog show-related responsibilities.

She visited NBC's "Today Show" and met Al Roker, NBC weatherman; strolled through Times Square; enjoyed Broadway production, "Nice Work If You Can Get It," a Tony Award winning musical comedy staring Matthew Broderick; stopped over at Rockefeller Center; and caught of glimpse of the 9/11 Memorial.

There was other excitement as well, as Rhodes and Zhako drove into NYC at 4 a.m. - the morning before Winter Storm Nemo hit the East Coast.

Rhodes says she drove straight from Huntington to New York City to beat the storm, and got there just before the blizzard began.

She says the streets were cleared overnight and the snow was cleaned off the sidewalks the next day. Rhodes says there was so much snow in the city, they were forced to use dump trucks as snow plows and needed to dump the excessive amounts of snow into the Hudson River to dispose of it.

Another natural disaster affected her trip - Hurricane Sandy. Due to damage from the storm, the Statue of Liberty was closed and Rhodes was unable to visit. However, she says she did get to see the statue from afar.

Rhodes also saw the Empire State Building, which was lit with the Westminster colors.

Now that their adventure at Westminster is complete, Rhodes and Zhako will wait for their next call from Princehouse. Until then they will lead their normal lives, at home in Huntington, as dog, and usual dog owner.

And they won't forget to celebrate Zhako's first birthday on Feb. 28.