In the world of show dogs, lineage is of the utmost importance. A recent big win at the Eukanuba/AKC National Championship by a Spinone Italiano with local ties demonstrates that. But it's not the dog's lineage that we're talking about. It's that of his owner and his young handler.
Both owner, Deb Davenport of Rapid City, S.D. and handler, her niece, Shannon Barchalk of Mogadore, come from a dog show family. Deb's parents (and Shannon's grandparents), Bob and Joanne Davenport of Streetsboro, are well-known in the dog world, and especially in the world of Labrador retrievers. Their love of dogs has obviously been passed down to their children and grandchildren. However, somewhere along the way the love of labs took a left turn and in second and third generations ended up with Spinone Italiano, a large, wiry-coated, rough-bearded, all-purpose hunting dog originating in Italy and recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2000. Both Deb and Shannon's family have multiple Spinoni.
It was Deb's dog "Partito," or GCH CH Couchfield's Here For The Party CD, RE, that was shown at the Eukanuba, one of the most prestigious shows in America. The top 25 dogs in every AKC recognized breed and variety are invited to the show, held annually in Orlando in mid-December.
Although Partito was invited to enter, Deb said, "I didn't even consider going. It's a hellacious distance from South Dakota to Orlando."
But Adrienne Freyer, a friend who was going to show her Vizsla didn't want to drive by herself, so around Thanksgiving Deb agreed to make the trek. Staying at home to take care of the rest of the pack and to cheer from a distance was husband Brian Dail.
Shannon, the daughter of Pat and Jeani Barchalk of Mogadore, and her mom were quick to make plans to represent the Ohio contingent as "chief cheerleaders." That was with one small exception -- Shannon packed her "sparkly" show suit, just in case.
It was Adrienne who showed Partito to his Best of Breed win. Since Adrienne, an experienced breeder-owner-handler, had shown in group previously at both Westminster and Eukanuba, she asked Deb, "What do you think about having Shannon show him in group?" The two agreed it would be a "heck of an experience" for the 17-year-old to be under the lights and on the carpet in the filled arena as the big event was filmed for television.
Between the Best of Breed competition and the evening's group judging, the ladies spent the afternoon at the grooming areas, watching other breed judging and participating with Partito, which means "party" in Italian, in the Meet the Breeds event.
"When I got back to the hotel, Aunt Debbie was sitting in the lobby and she looked so excited. That's when she told me I would be showing Partito in Group," Shannon said. She had previously shown him at the Spinone National when he was six months old and has seen him yearly at the National.
How did she prepare for the big evening?
"After dinner I took a nap," she said. "Before we went in the ring we were playing in the lobby. "
Part of her poise comes from the fact that she was well-taught in handling by her grandfather. She grew up watching Bob show his Labrador retrievers. When she was ready to begin showing Bob went to run-thrus with her and helped her with handling tips.
"She is really easy to coach," he said. "She listens very intently and takes it to heart."
He added that the sometimes stubborn and sometimes clownish spinoni "don't put anything over on her."
The proud grandfather shared that Shannon has even been asked by a well-known professional handler to "apprentice" with him. However, college beckons the Mogadore High School senior.
When it finally came time to enter the big ring Shannon admits that she was a little nervous at first.
"In the holding area I thought, 'Oh my, there are some really good dogs here. I don't know how this will turn out'.
"So I decided to just go in and have fun with Partito. That's what my aunt told me to do.
"Then when I was in the ring I looked around and thought 'I know you. I know you and you.' There were a lot of handlers there that I'd shown with before, so I just relaxed."
Being relaxed and handling her handsome dog to perfection must have worked, because the judge pulled them out as he made his "cut" of the best-of -the-best from which he would eventually pick his Sporting Group winner. The seven group winners are the final dogs left to vie for the Best in Show honors.
"They made an amazing team," Deb said.
And who was the first person Shannon called to tell the good news? Grandpa, of course.
"It was a wonderful experience," Shannon said. "I never even imagined I'd be going to the Eukanuba."
She has definitely come a long way since she began showing the family's lab in juniors. "It was sort of a family effort," Shannon said. Her aunt remembers that from day one Shannon was "conniving" to get her own show dog.
Although Deb didn't show as a youngster she admits, "I just grew up going to dog shows as a spectator. My parents had four kids and weren't showing then. I was in high school before I knew that most people didn't go to dog shows on Sunday afternoons just for fun."
It seems that the pastime has served the family well, weaving a strong thread through time, distance and generations.
Deb, a Streetsboro native, has lived in South Dakota long enough that when asked if she was going to have a Eukanuba-watching party, replied, "You Bechta!" You can bet that the local Davenports will be having one, too.
The AKC/Eukanuba National Championship will air Saturday, (Feb. 2) at 2 p.m. on ABC.
LuAnn Stuver Rogers previously wrote a column about dogs for the Record-Courier. She has also written about dogs for numerous publications.