DIXON – Sheldon is hitting the big time with a big bang.
The English bulldog, bred and owned in part by Connie Pankhurst of Dixon, took off Thursday for New York, where he will compete for the first time in that most prestigious parade of pooches, the 138th annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show. Pankhurst flew out Sunday to join him. The show runs today and Tuesday.
Like all big stars, Sheldon has a stage name: BISS GCH My Heart’s Bazinga. He and his six siblings were named after the TV sitcom the "Big Bang Theory." Pankhurst, who owns My Heart Bulldogs, also has Sheldon's sister, Penny, My Heart's Big Bang Nebraska Thang. Both are finished grand champions.
According to Wikipedia, a dog earns a championship with wins at a specified number of conformation shows, where a judge evaluates a dog's breed type and how closely it approaches the ideal represented in its breed's standard. A dog that completes a championship (called a finished champion) may continue to be entered in shows to compete for group (winner of its group) or Best In Show honors. That's what Sheldon is up to today.
At 22 months, Sheldon is consider a young ’un, Pankhurst said. He will will be competing against seasoned 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds.
"We are definitely the underdogs going into this show, but what he lacks in maturity, he makes up for in enthusiasm and heart," she said in an email. "He is a joy to watch show in the group ring ... the louder the applause, the more he struts his stuff. You can almost see him puff up and get his groove on.
"Outside the ring, he is actually a giant chicken – sweet, loving and playful. He loves to sleep in bed, play tug with the other dogs, and give hugs and high fives," she said.
At the urging of her parents, James and Connie Pankhurst, also of Dixon, the 49-year-old took to the dog-show circuit about 5 years ago.
"It's a very labor-intensive hobby," she said. "We have four dogs that live with us and multiple champions that live with other families throughout their show careers. With training, socialization, bathing and grooming, it's more than a one-man job."
That is why she has a small army of helpers: Sheldon is co-owned and handled by Brook Berth of Jackson, Wis. (who is driving him the 900 miles to New York), and Lucky and Donna Watson of Burleson, Texas. Pankhurst's son, William Foster, 20, helps with the day-to-day feeding, grooming and training at home in Dixon.
"My co-owners and handlers are just as important, since I can't be on the road every weekend," Pankhurst wrote. "They supply the love and stability that keeps Sheldon happy and well-adjusted."
Sheldon also lives part time with Neal and Ericka McNeal in DeKalb.
"We have placed several dogs with them to ensure that our home isn't overrun (lol) and to make sure that our dogs don't live in a kennel environment," Pankhurst wrote. "They sleep in beds or on couches and are members of a family ... or in Sheldon's case, members of multiple families!"
Show ’em, Sheldon
Sheldon will compete in the bulldog ring at 8:30 a.m. today. Breed winners go on to compete in the nonsporting group at Madison Square Garden: four groups will compete today and three Tuesday. The winner of each group will compete Tuesday evening for Best in Show.
CNBC will broadcast the first four groups live from 7 to 10 tonight; USA Network will broadcast the next three groups and Best in Show from 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday, also live.
Live streaming of all breed judging will be available on westminsterkennelclub.org and on the official 2014 Westminster Show app.
Go to www.westminsterkennelclub.org for results and all the details.
Go to www.myheartbulldogs.com or friend Connie Pankhurst on Facebook for more on her bulldogs.