When it comes to dog shows dominated by dignified terriers and prancing poodles, you can’t blame a bulldog for walking into the show ring with a furrowed brow and that “sourmug” face.
The odds are often stacked against this jowly, low-slung breed.
But Philadelphia-area native Kara Gordon is a lifelong Eagles fan. She knows a thing or two about underdogs.
On Thursday, Gordon’s 60-pound bulldog, Thor, was introduced to a television audience of approximately 20 million people, taking Best in Show at the Kennel Club of Philadelphia’s National Dog Show.
The 2,080-entry, 196-breed competition was held on Nov. 16 and 17 at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Montgomery County, but the results were not publicly announced until it aired after the Thanksgiving Day parade.
“I’m absolutely thrilled. It’s a dream come true for us,” said Gordon, an attorney and former Society Hill resident who graduated from Abington High School and Villanova Law School.
Thor, a 2½-year-old white-and-tan bulldog who was born in Lima, Peru, had his work cut out for him at the competition. But he thrived in the spotlight, waddling playfully across the blue carpet, his jowls flapping like a canine reincarnation of Winston Churchill out for a jog.
He captured the hearts of the crowd — and the on-air commentators.
“Sometimes, up against an Afghan or some beautiful furry thing, it can be tough,” Gordon said of bulldogs. “But Thor is so structurally sound, when he moves — it’s funny to imagine, but he sort of walks on air. Even when I walk him at home just around the corner, he walks like he’s in the show ring.”
David Frei, an American Kennel Club-licensed judge and expert analyst for NBC during the Philadelphia dog show, said Thor is now among the favorites to win the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show title at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February.
“What makes it tough on a dog like Thor is when you put him in the ring with an Irish setter that’s big and pretty and flashes around the ring,” Frei said in an interview. “You got to make it look like you’re happy to be out there and own the ground you stand under. It’s about showmanship at the end.”
Frei said Thor, who came into the competition with seven prior Bests in Show, lived up to his name.
“I hadn’t seen Thor before in person,” Frei said. “I liked him from outside the ring. Then when I put my hands on him in the ring after his win, I loved him. He’s a beautiful hunk of a dog and has a great temperament. He moves in a special way that we rarely see in a bulldog. He’s got a lot of things going for him.”
Thor’s handler, Eduardo Paris, a native of Peru, described Thor as a “sweet dog and very athletic.”
“You should see how high he can jump,” Paris said. “He loves to play with his kennel mate Chihuahuas, and he has beautiful construction. I think that’s why he won.”
Gordon, a compliance lawyer for the oil and gas company Baker Hughes, lives in Houston. She had previously lived in Philadelphia while working for Rohm & Haas. She was in Dubai during the dog show, so she didn’t get to see Thor’s performance until it was televised Thursday.
For about 15 years, she rescued bulldogs in Philadelphia and South Jersey.
“I would take in the three-legged, diabetic, blind or deaf dogs,” Gordon said.
She later got into purebred bulldogs and began looking into dog shows. Now, her dog is the No. 1-ranked bulldog in the country.
“He’s a funny, charming, lovable dog and people react to him,” Gordon said of Thor. “I guess that’s why he had the edge.”