Before Halo sets one furry paw inside the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show's hallowed ring, the Samoyed will get the equivalent of a half-day spa treatment — pampering that most women would kill for on Valentine's Day weekend.
First, his owner, Lisl Dutterer from Perry Hall, will scrub his dense, silky coat with a brightening shampoo to bring out its whiteness. Then she'll blow-dry and fluff the pup for not one, not two, not even three — but four full hours. She'll brush his teeth, trim his nails, clip the fur that grows thick around his feet and keep up the primping until it's showtime Tuesday afternoon.
Then she and her boyfriend, Chris Moffett, will do it again.
While it's monumental for most dog owners to have one animal entered in the prestigious show that runs Monday and Tuesday in New York City, Dutterer, a relative dog-show novice, has two — Halo and his daughter, Easter.
It's double the work, double the stress but, conventional wisdom would have it, double the chance of taking home a prize. When there are only 26 Samoyeds entered in the show, and two of them are yours, the odds certainly improve.
"We always say, 'It's a dog show, anything can happen,'" Dutterer says. "They're going to like one of these two."
Dutterer, who's 51 and an adult education specialist, has been showing dogs for only five years. But she's loved the Samoyed breed ever since her father brought one home when she was a little girl. She's had one of the white wolfish dogs ever since — except for when she was first starting out in the working world, a time she found herself coming home from shopping trips with little stuffed animals, always white ones.
After she accumulated about nine of the plush toys, "My mother came over to my house, saw them and said, 'You need a Sammy. How much clearer could it be?' "
Now Dutterer lives with four of the furry beasts — three of her own and one that belongs to her mother. In the living room she keeps a little pillow embroidered with the saying, "No outfit is complete without dog hairs." Those outfits also include her signature piece of jewelry — a necklace with the bear-like face of a Samoyed carved in gold.
Samoyeds compete at Westminster as part of the working class, along with dogs including Siberian huskies, boxers, Great Danes and mastiffs.
This year Westminster officials are expecting 2,597 dogs from 49 states and 179 eligible breeds. Maryland has 79 entries.
Halo, a 4-year-old, will be experiencing Westminster for the third time, while it will be the debut there for Easter, not yet 3. Both become regulars and earned their champion status in regional shows — Easter has already appeared at about 25 of those.
Because Halo is big but graceful and Easter small and athletic, Dutterer hopes that she's got her bases covered to appeal to whatever the judge of Samoyeds is looking for.
But Wayne and Joyce Kirn, a Harford County couple and Westminster veterans, say even with the numbers in their favor, Westminster might not be so easy for Halo and Easter — no matter how fluffed they are.
The country's biggest dog show, the Kirns say, is a lot like the Oscars — the trophies tend to go to the entrants with the most buzz.
To get their dogs noticed, competitors at Westminster will buy promotional ads in dog magazines and hire the best-known handler. Dutterer hasn't bought any ads. And forsaking handlers, she and Moffett will take Halo and Easter into the ring themselves.
"If they do something, then good for them — I admire them and they have every right to be proud of themselves and their dogs," Joyce Kirn says. "They're all champions."
Traci Preto, a Baltimore handler who's been hired to show dogs at Westminster many times — she'll be taking two miniature schnauzers to the show this year — said it's impressive that Halo and Easter, a father/daughter pair, will appear at the show together. "That really shows quality," she says, "That you have consistency in the line."
But competing against 24 other dogs will still be a challenge, warns Preto. "It won't be easy," she says. "Not at all. But it's a passion. You have to love it."
Together, Halo and Easter have already won so many ribbons and plaques that Dutterer has stopped hanging them up. They overflow from a cardboard box that she keeps in the basement. It's gotten so that Halo has attracted something of a fan club — last year at Westminster, one smitten man actually composed a poem for the dog. "A gift from God on furry feet," the man thrilled, "A puff of fluff. An angel to please."
If her dogs win at Westminster, that would be Dutterer's greatest coup. But if they don't, she says that's OK, too. They'll drive home, where there'll be liver treats waiting.
"We'll come home happy," she says, "and we'll have had a great time."
The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show airs at 8 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday on USA network.