Davidsonville dog is Westminster-bound

Elicia Brand-Leudemann and her Bernese mountain dog, Blanket Rocketship, are heading to New York for the Westminster Dog Show, Feb. 11-12.

This weekend, he'll be brushed in his Davidsonville home to remove loose strands. He'll get a special bath with custom-blended shampoo, then a blow-dry in Annapolis. Then he'll down a little motion-sickness medicine for his ride to New York.

Come Tuesday, Blanket Rocketship — named by preschool twins — will face the judges.


The 110-ish pound Bernese mountain dog is slated to compete in the 137th annual Westminster Kennel Club dog show. By 6 a.m., when the doors open, he'll have gotten a trim around the ears and good fluffing.

His owner said he's not a nose-in-the-air pampered pooch, but a family pet that loves a roll in the mud and a burger for a snack (hold the onions).


At about 11/2 years old, he's got a few wins under his collar. In fact, he's three points shy of the 15 points needed for champion status, said Elicia Brand-Leudemann, Blanket Rocketship's owner.

Brand-Leudemann said terms of buying him for $2,500 from a California breeder over Labor Day weekend in 2011 included the stipulation that she show the dog. But she hadn't thought about it, and she didn't consider herself a "ring mom."

She said she selected the puppy because he came from healthy lines and had the temperament she loved in her previous Bernese mountain dog, a therapy dog that died.

The breed originated in Switzerland's mountains as a working dog, and is recognizable from its tricolor coat of black marked with white and rust, according to the American Kennel Club.

"How funny it is that we went from being very nonchalant about it to this dog loving being in the ring," she said.

Three weeks before the Potomac Specialty show in Frederick a little more than a year ago, she got a call from the breeder and co-owner.

"She said, 'Did you get Blanket registered for the show?' And I said, 'Uh …," Brand-Leudemann recalled. "So we had to do it, but he was not trained for that."

Blanket Rocketship seemed instinctively to know what to do and warmed to his junior handler, Rachel Meyers, a Connecticut teenager who lavished him with love.


He won best male puppy. "We were floored. We have been showing him since then," Brand-Leudemann said. He kept bringing home ribbons.

"He is completely different when he goes into the ring," Brand-Leudemann said.

And he has a growing fan club.

"We're going to cheer him on," said John Mutlu, owner of Bark 'N' Bean, an Annapolis dog wash and coffee bar where Blanket Rocketship is groomed. Mutlu is part a small group of friends going to the Westminster show. He's gone before, but this is the first time he'll be rooting for a client.

If Blanket Rocketship wins anything in New York, where 24 "Berners" are competing, Brand-Leudemann said, she'll have a party at the store. But given the high level of competition and the youth of her dog, she's not expecting a win.

Brand-Leudemann, who owns a marketing and social media company, said that at home, Blanket Rocketship eats premium dog foods, and she brushes his teeth daily — vanilla mint is his favorite flavor.


In the house, he's the attention-demanding family pet who tries to curl up in Brand-Leudemann's lap, plays a hand-paw slapping game with her husband, David, a commercial lender at a bank, and snuggles with the couple's three youngsters.

He occasionally has a little gnaw on 5-year-old Parker's shoes and recently made off with a loaf of bread, Brand-Leudemann recalled.

His formal education began a month ago. Brand-Leudemann takes him to therapy dog training and plans for him to eventually be a therapy dog for hospice patients.

While Brand-Leudemann and her husband are at the Westminster show, members of the Kennel Club of Anne Arundel County will be watching at a Tuesday night party, cheering on another dog with a local connection.

A member of their club, breeder JoAnn Charnik of Severn, co-owns the 2012 No. 1 Akita in the country — the dog lives in Pennsylvania — and she'll be at the party cheering on the dog, 4-year-old Trader.