With a 50-foot-wide American flag hanging proudly from the rafters, about 2,000 people packed a dog show in Baltimore yesterday to ogle affenpinschers, browse the dog diapers and beef ear puffs, and watch 1,725 dogs compete for canine glory.
The Maryland Kennel Club's 92nd annual All-Breed Dog Show at the 5th Regiment Armory on Howard Street brought out vendors, pet fanatics, breeders, dreamers -- and schemers.
Beth Flierl, a housewife from Beaverdam, Va., brushed the coat of her 145-pound Irish wolfhound, Bran, as she explained her secret for crushing competition in the ring.
"I feed him a peppermint before we go out there to perform, because wolfhounds tend to drool, but the peppermint cuts down on the drooling," Flierl said. "The key is to remain calm through it all. Because if I'm nervous, it goes straight down the leash and he gets nervous."
Fred Askin, a volunteer from the kennel club who helped run the event, explained that breeders from New England to Florida were competing for a silver platter engraved with the words "Best in Show." The prize went to Coco, a Norfolk terrier from Lancaster, Pa., whose handler was Beth Sweigart.
But mainly, Askin said, people were there to enjoy themselves and learn about the breeding of healthy dogs.
"It's mostly for fun, and most of the people here are very dedicated to their dogs and very dedicated to their breeding," Askin said.
Marlene Fackett, 57, a veterinary receptionist from Dundalk, watched intently from a folding chair as three long-haired Yorkshire terriers had their teeth and tails examined by a judge before being led in a jog around the perimeter of a square pen.
"I used to show dogs myself at events like this, but now I just enjoy coming to see all the wonderful varieties of dogs," Fackett said.
Around the edges of a large room in the armory, vendors sold a kaleidoscopic variety of pet products. Citrus pet odor eliminators. A statue of Napoleon with a dog's head. Beef-flavored bagels. Reversible snuggle sacks.
The White Dog Bone Co. of Thomasville, Pa., which sells beef ear puffs and other dog treats, displayed bins with signs reading "Premium USA Pig Ears, $.60 each ... Large Sterilized Knuckle [of cow], $3.50 ... Large Meaty Knuckles, $3.50 ... Sow Ears, $1.00." Duane Hax, a salesman for the store, showed a visitor a platter with sliced salami.
"A couple of people have taken bites of that, because it looks so good, but then I tell them it's for dogs, and they get a funny look on their faces," Hax said.
Carol Baker, owner of Bacci Creations of Elizabethtown, Pa., sold dog "belly bands" at her stand for $4.50 each. She explained that they work like diapers, preventing pets from spraying furniture.
"It's a lot of fun," Baker said of the dog show. "We have a motor home that we use to go to all of the shows, camping out at night and then selling our products."