Hey, dogs get their Olympics too

As I sit here watching the Winter Olympics -- tough start, lots of guys plunking on the ice -- I realize that others need their chance in the spotlight ... especially dogs. Now one cable channel has its Barkfest, another has the Westminster show. I had a chance to talk to two interesting dog owners; here's the story I sent to

By Mike Hughes

Sports fans know the
story: You have years of work and worry; at the end, you get a trophy
or a scholarship or a big paycheck or ... well, a ribbon.

“A 40-cent
ribbon,” said Brandi Ritchie.

That's the prize for
the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, which is the centerpiece of a
doggy week on cable. Owners might get other rewards – especially
good breeding fees for a winner.

Still, Remy
Smith-Lewis said, this isn't something to do for profit. “It
doesn't come out. (You figure) the time that we spend, the travel. I
don't think I even share that with my fiancee. She'd probably kill me
if she saw the receipts.”

Smith-Lewis and
Ritchie both have dogs in this year's show and are featured in a
“Road to Westminster” documentary. Both of them – a black man
from California, a struggling mom from small-town Texas -- counter
the dog-show image of wealthy WASPs from New England.

They also contrast
with each other. Smith-Lewis is a front-runner; his dog, Manly, is
the No. 1-rated water dog, making his final trip to Westminster after
twice being runner-up. Ritchie is an underdog; after decades of dog
shows, she's finally landed her first trip to Westminster.

“My parents
dabbled in dog shows when I was young and I was in the ring at 5
years old,” she said. “It was a passion that really grew inside
of me. It was like a fire.”

That fire would face
steep odds, especially when she was a single mom who could only
afford to enter one or two shows a year. Now she's 38, married, with
a kennel business and sons (21 and 17) who are almost grown. She can
go to shows, but has to do the grooming and handling herself; a
couple years ago, when she was 5-foot and 252 pounds, that became too

“It's very
taxing,” she said. “I told my husband, 'I can't do it any more.'
I was crying.”

The answer was
gastric bypass surgery. Today, 101 pounds lighter, she seems vibrant;
so does Donkey Kong, her Chinese crested dog.

Smith-Lewis didn't
grow up with a dog, but he was fascinated. “We'd be playing T-ball
in the park and I would drop the bat and go pat a dog.”

He was intrigued by
the fact that Bill Cosby had a dog in shows. Then his mom took him to
one “and I was just blown away.”

Remy-Lewis began
working at kennels and meeting the handlers, especially Bill
McFadden. “When I was 12, I needed a ride to a dog show. I
cold-called his wife.”

A relationship – a
mixture of mentor, parent and friend – was forming. Now Remy-Lewis
has day jobs (he has a spa business and a jewelry business ) and is
co-owner of Manly; McFadden is the handler.

Usually, both are
there. Remy-Lewis grooms, encourages ... then paces like a nervous
stage mom. “We work hard all week and then you have this 20
minutes,” he said. “And then it's all over.”

Yes, it's stressful.
“For those couple of minutes in the ring, it's everything,”
Ritchie said.

But both insist that
they – and their dogs – are enjoying themselves.

“It's happy, fun,
treats, love,” Remy-Lewis said. “Manly is my dog. He sleeps on my
bed; he runs in my backyard .... Win, lose or draw, I think we are
still winners. We get to take these dogs home.”

Lotsa dogs (all
times ET)

-- Westminster
Kennel Club Dog Show, 8-11 p.m. Monday (Feb. 12) and Tuesday, Fox Sports 1;
reruns, at 8 and 11 p.m. Thursday and Friday, NatGeo Wild.

-- The daytime
portion of Westminster is on NatGeo Wild, from 1-4 p.m. Monday and

-- That's part of
the NatGeo “Barkfest.” A “Road to Westminster” documentary is
8 and 9 p.m. Sunday (rerunning at 11 p.m. and midnight) and 6 and 7
p.m. Friday.

-- Doggy doings start at 5 p.m. Friday (with the new "Science of Dogs" at 8 and 11); 7 a.m. Saturday (with a Dr. Pol marathon at night); 7 a.m. Sunday (with "Road to Westminster" at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Monday (with
“A Dog Saved My Life” at 8 and 11 p.m.); noon Tuesday (with a
Cesar Millan marathon from 4 p.m. To 2 a.m); 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m.
Thursday; and noon Friday.