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A ringer in the mix at dog show in Oaks

There were 2,000 purebred dogs at the National Dog Show on Saturday, but one winner had to be honored in absentia.

Gabriel Hassinger, 18 months, of West Chester, greets Chauncey, a komondor owned by Denise Wilczewski of Wall Township, N.J. With Gabriel was his mother, Lauren. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Gabriel Hassinger, 18 months, of West Chester, greets Chauncey, a komondor owned by Denise Wilczewski of Wall Township, N.J. With Gabriel was his mother, Lauren. APRIL SAUL / Staff PhotographerRead more

There were 2,000 purebred dogs at the National Dog Show on Saturday, but one winner had to be honored in absentia.

Instead of padding into the spotlight of the best-in-show ring at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks to claim the "Rally to the Rescue" honor for most compelling tale involving a rescue animal, Pudding sent his owner to collect the award because, well, Pudding is a cat.

Representatives from Purina, which sponsors the show, said Pudding was the first feline to snag the award since the program started seven years ago.

"We're happy to share the love with cats," David Frei, canine expert and analyst for the NBC special broadcast of the National Dog Show, told the ringside audience.

Amy Jung of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., Pudding's owner, credits the hefty orange-and-white cat for saving her life when he swatted her face, bit her nose, and, when that failed, fetched her son after she fell into a diabetic coma while sleeping, only 10 hours after adopting Pudding from the local Door County Humane Society.

Jung was presented with a framed portrait of her long-haired, 8-year-old cat and the Door County Humane Society was given pet-food coupons.

Apart from Pudding, the show's first day was all dog. Terriers. English setters. Alaskan malamutes. French bulldogs. Giant schnauzers, too.

In all, 170 breeds are competing in the two-day event for best-of-breed and first-in-group awards as well as the coveted best-in-show prize. Some 6,000 dog lovers turned out Saturday to watch the show, which dates to 1879 and is one of the oldest and most notable in the nation. The annual event is hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia and sanctioned by the American Kennel Club.

Wayne Ferguson, president of the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, told attendees the National Dog Show was among the country's oldest sporting events. Only the Kentucky Derby, he said, has been around longer.

Families crowded close to smaller rings to watch as bassett hounds and Russell terriers were put through their paces and groomed for judges.

The Russell terrier, a breed the American Kennel Club recognized this year, is the shorter-legged version of what used to be known as the Jack Russell terrier, Frei said. Russell terriers are 10 to 12 inches tall.

The dogs frequently appear on TV and in movies: Think Uggie in this year's Oscar-winning The Artist.

Melissa McCloskey, 17, and her mother, Cheryl, had traveled from Jackson, N.J., with their beloved Brittany spaniels, Winston and Val, who were to compete in the show.

"I enjoy everything about this," said Melissa, a junior handler, as she brushed Winston's glossy coat. "Grooming. Traveling. Showing."

The National Dog Show is one of only five left in the country that follows a "benched format," with the dogs on display and their handlers available backstage throughout the day for one huge meet-and-greet.

NBC will show Saturday's proceedings from noon to 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving after its broadcast of the annual Macy's Parade.

TV personality John O'Hurley will host the special with Frei. On Saturday, O'Hurley autographed copies of his book, Before Your Dog Can Eat Your Homework, First You Have to Do It, about being a dog owner and new father, and read aloud Hooray for Reading Day!, a children's book by Margery Cuyler.

The National Dog Show continues at 8 a.m. Sunday, with best-in-show judging scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center at Oaks, 100 Station Ave. Admission is $14 for adults and $7 for children 4 to 11.

To see events

at the National Dog Show, go to www.philly.com/dogshowEndText