BETTENDORF -- Weighing 235 pounds, standing 31 inches tall and hailing from La Selva Beach, Calif., the English mastiff, The Big Cheese, looms large to his canine competitors in more ways than one.
Named as the nation's top mastiff two weeks ago at a dog show in Newark, N.J., The Big Cheese and his imposing hangdog expression was among nearly 600 dogs from around the country in this past weekend's Scott County Kennel Club Merry May Show at the Waterfront Convention Center.
Terri Smith, of Little Rock, Ark., the mastiff's professional handler, said Sunday he competes every weekend of the year, and his best category is conformation -- which measures a dog's form in motion. "The dog moves really well," she said of The Big Cheese. This was the first time she has showed in the Quad-Cities, which has had annual dog shows since the 1940s.
Ms. Smith was between shows in Indianapolis and Joplin, Mo. "I enjoy the relationship with the animal," she said, noting she's worked with hundreds of dogs. "It's hard to let 'em go. After three years, you get a new one. It's kind of tough. You got to know that ahead of time."
The highly groomed dogs, representing 140 breeds, competed in the categories of conformation, obedience and rally, which is a less structured kind of obedience, show chairman Chris Walkowicz, of Sherrard, said. This was the first time in 12 years the show actually has been held in Scott County (last year was at the QCCA Expo Center, Rock Island). The club's 100 members live throughout the Quad-Cities.
"It's great. It's just a nice competition, a great competition," Ms. Walkowicz said. She judges more than 40 shows per year, since 1995, and first started showing dogs in 1965. She has had bearded collies and German shepherds and got into showing after getting a German shepherd who needed training. "It just grew from there into a great hobby," Ms. Walkowicz said.
"It's something that's great because men and women are judged equally -- kids, adults, senior citizens," she said. "We had a man celebrate his 90th birthday at an agility trial. The dog was old, too, like 15.It's great because everybody's pretty much on an equal footing.
"There are over 400 breeds of dogs. There's one to suit everybody," Ms. Walkowicz said. "Another nice thing about it, you can do as much as you want. If you have $5,000 or I have $150,000 to spend on this, whatever it may be, you make up your mind where you go and how far you travel."
"My husband and I, we've gone to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Colombia -- Sweden I'm going to next year," she said.
Tori Behm, 16, of Peoria, competed Sunday with her smooth fox terrier, Jack, who's 12 years old. She's been showing dogs since she was 4, and her grandmother lives in Taylor Ridge. Tori's grandma got involved in showing Belgian sheepdogs, and her mother has been involved many years and got her interested in it.
"I enjoy hanging out with the dogs 'cause I get to see some of these dogs just at dog shows," Tori said. "I like to see different kinds of Belgian breeds because there's actually four."
When she was little, she started showing Belgians, and she recently showed Chloe, a 4-year-old Belgian she trained, at a Belgian national in Oconomowoc, Wis.
"We have some top dogs in the country here, and nobody knows about it," Kennel Club member Lisa Warner, of Davenport, (who was volunteering at the show) said. "We have some really cool dogs here."
"It's a good chance to come out and talk to breeders," she said of the show. "A big thing for people is to adopt shelter dogs, but I think there's something to be said for people buying a well-bred dog, and maybe they wouldn't buy a dog that didn't fit with their lifestyle."
At home, she has a Boston terrier and two pugs, and she joined the club to get them trained. "I've come to a time in my life, 50-something years old, I really want to tell someone to do something, and they do it."
"This is a great venue, much better," Ms. Warner said."I like just looking at all the dogs."
"There's a lot of nice people around," said Jim Wyatt, owner of a 2-year-old shar-pei, competing from Springfield. He said he does several shows per year, mainly in the Midwest.
Bonnie Noll came Sunday with her mother, Dorie Landon, from Letts, Iowa, an hour's drive, just to watch. It's been a Mother's Day tradition for them for years.
"We've done this since I was a child. It's what we do every Mother's Day," said Ms. Noll, who noted she never has shown a dog. She has owned German shepherds, and now has a 2-year-old bulloxer -- a bulldog and boxer mix -- named Frankie.
"I just always liked dogs. We've always been for dogs that don't have a home. We've found strays that come around," she said. "We've done this dog show for years. They're all interesting."
"They put on a good show," Ms. Landon said.
The Kennel Club meets the second Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at 626 W. River Drive, Davenport. For more information, visit scottcountykennelclub.org.