In less than a year of competing in local and regional dog shows, Abingdon resident Vickie Venzen and her 2-year-old Cane Corso named Face have racked up a number of top prizes.
Next week, they will be up against more than 3,000 of the top dogs from around the world at the 139th Annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show in New York City.
"It's one of the things that, you're excited but you're nervous, all at the same time," Venzen, 35, said Wednesday.
Face is competing under the full name GCH (Grand Champion) CH (Champion) Apex's Time to Face the Truth CGC (Canine Good Citizen), a name that reflects the top prizes he has won and his breeder.
"To me, he's just Face," Venzen said.
A Cane – pronounced can-nay – Corso is a breed of Italian mastiff. Venzen acquired him from the Whiteford breeder Apex Cane Corso. His coat is blue brindle and he weighs about 125 pounds.
He is the puppy of Apex's Tuff, who is a supreme grand champion.
"I'm very proud to be able to have one of his pups, for sure," she said of Apex's Tuff.
Face will be competing with about 20 other dogs in his breed at Westminster.
"It's such a busy event, high profile," Venzen said.
While many people who enter their dogs in shows hire a professional handler, Venzen has always handled Face herself, and she will handle him during Westminster.
She cited the cost and the potential loss of a one-on-one relationship with her dog while in the show ring as reasons not to hire a handler.
"When he wins I win," she explained. "We win as a team."
The competition begins Monday and continues Tuesday. Daytime breed competitions will be held at Piers 92 and 94, and then the finals will be broadcast live on television from Madison Square Garden Monday and Tuesday nights.
The Monday finals will be on CNBC from 8 to 11 p.m., and the Tuesday finals will be on USA Network, also from 8 to 11 p.m., according to the Westminster website.
Venzen said her dog is scheduled to compete at noon Tuesday.
"It's pretty awesome," she said.
Venzen began entering Face in dog shows last May. Their first show was in Timonium, and they have been in shows in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania. They also went to a competition in Chicago earlier this year.
"He did so well when we weren't even trying, because we were just having fun," she said.
Venzen, a married mother of three who works as a civilian environmental protection specialist at Aberdeen Proving Ground, did not have dogs who competed in shows before she got Face as a puppy.
She also has two other dogs and a cat.
Venzen explained that, whenever she took Face out for walks, people would stop and ask about him.
"He got so many compliments, no matter where I went," she said.
As she got more and more compliments, she considered entering him in dog shows.
"I'm going to give it a shot and see if he has what it takes," she recalls telling herself.
Venzen took a dog handling class, and then she and Face began competing.
"He did extremely well in a short amount of time," she said.
Venzen said Face has an "easy going" personality and he is "a family dog."
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"He's good with the kids, I have two other male dogs that he's fine with, we have a cat," she said. "At the same time, Corsos are protection dogs, so he's protective of his family and wary of strangers."
Venzen also described the dog as "a little bit of a goofball."
"He's 100 percent mama's boy," she said.
Venzen said Face is usually underfoot, and he likes to snuggle his bulk up next to her.
"When you have a mastiff, there's no such thing as a dog just curling up next to you," she joked.
Venzen added: "They're great family dogs, they really are."
At last year's Westminster show, Grand Champion Blackrock Jungle Juice RN, or Mufasa, as he is known to his owners, the Greenwood family of Bel Air, took home the Best in Breed among Bernese mountain dogs.