Lovable dogs turn serious in show ring

Kizzy the Newfoundland is a loyal companion to owner Marci Smilanich, content to take a swim on Grand Mesa or rest her 120-pound frame on her master’s feet in their Loma home.

Put her in the dog show ring, though, and she’s ready to go to work.

“Her tail wags and she commands the floor,” Smilanich said.

Kizzy’s presence in the ring earned her the title of best of breed at the American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship in December, making her the top Newfoundland in the nation. The show aired on Animal Planet last month.

Kizzy, whose official name is Champion Oceano’s Reflection on Sundust, also competed at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in mid-February. She won an award of merit for her breed in that competition.

Smilanich began showing dogs in 1976, starting with Dalmations and then moving to Newfoundlands. She picked the breed for its love of water and the outdoors as well as its friendly and docile nature. Newfoundlands also are easy to train, she said, although a lot of work goes into keeping up with grooming, weekly bathing, exercise, proper diet and teaching the dogs how to meet and greet people and sit on a grooming table from the age of 6 weeks.

Showing Newfoundlands has become “a way of life” for Smilanich, who works as a nurse at Family Health West.

“I come home and work and count the days until the next show,” she said.

Smilanich owns 3-year-old Kizzy plus a 6-year-old male Newfoundland named Keegan, who has retired from showing, and a 2-year-old female named Mara that Smilanich said is on her way to becoming a champion. Championship status requires earning 15 points in various competitions.

Smilanich bought Kizzy from Kim and Gigi Griffith in California after meeting Kim Griffith at a show in Missoula, Mont., where Keegan was competing. Smilanich went to California to pick up Kizzy and kept in contact with the Griffiths as the puppy was growing up. With twice as many shows going on each year in California as in Colorado, Smilanich and the Griffiths agreed to try having Kizzy live in California part-time to see whether she could take her career to the next level.

“She went to California and started kicking butt,” Smilanich said.

The Griffiths and Smilanich brought Californians Joyce Rowland and Pamela Morgan into the mix as financial partners. Bringing a dog up to Kizzy’s status can cost anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000, Smilanich estimated.

Kizzy will return to the ring, but for now she’s preparing to become a mother. She’s not pregnant yet, but her puppies have already been earmarked by people from across the country and in Mexico, and interest in the future generation of champions has come from as far away as Italy and Spain.

Smilanich said she plans to keep one of the puppies at her home in Loma. If that dog is a natural in the ring, she’ll be ready to train it, as she has done with her other three dogs.

“Dogs are my passion,” she said. “That’s all I really want to do.”


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