Dora, a miniature smooth-haired dachshund from Stony Brook, at the...

Dora, a miniature smooth-haired dachshund from Stony Brook, at the 137th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. (Feb. 11, 2013) Credit: Nancy Borowick

Breeding champion dachshunds and competing at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is a hobby that strikes the soul, said Robin Gianopoulos of Stony Brook, who has raised the dogs for 60 years.

"They are soulful and they get right to your heart," said Gianopoulos, who has only raised prized dachshunds, many of which have become models and actors, including one trained at the Joseph Papp Theater for a performance of Shakespeare.

Other breeders make similar claims of their love for breeding and showing dogs at events like Westminster. Gianopoulos' latest show dog is Dora, a shiny-smooth dark dachshund that is only four points shy of becoming a champion.

"She is only 1 1/2," said Gianopoulos, who was happy Dora placed "winner's pitch for best female" at Monday's opening of the two-day 137th annual show. Nearly 3,000 dogs are competing for best in show, which will be named Tuesday night.

A new venue this year, at Pier 92 / 94 on the West Side Highway, offered a football-stadium-sized space for the precious prizewinning dogs, which pranced and trotted in a dozen judging rings to the delight of hundreds of spectators hooting and loudly applauding.

Spectators sighed with awe at the splendor of the standard-size poodles, which gaited into the ring with their curious soft, puffy designs of white, black and gray hair.

"They were actually functional when they were used as working dogs and went into the water to retrieve ducks. The extra fur on their heads and ankles kept them warm and their tails serve as flags," said groomer Julie Pantages, 34, of Gloucester, Mass., who primped Taylor's white hair for two days, including eight hours of combing his hair dry.

"No conditioner -- you want the fur crisp and dry," she said. "He's just a big marshmallow."

At the benching area, a dressing room of sorts for dogs, the public can freely roam and view the dogs representing 187 breeds, whose owners and handlers powder, spray and treat their darlings with filet mignon and turkey breast nibbles along with string cheese.

Alex Mace, 20, of Dix Hills, has been raising champion dogs since she was 11. "I love it. It's thrilling and it can be mesmerizing," said Mace, whose schipperke -- a small, thick black-furred fox-like dog -- has a Flemish name that translates to "little captain."

She loves to show, Mace said of Jetti, who is 21/2. "This is a hobby that I enjoy doing. And if I'm stressed about school, my dogs actually calm me down," said Mace, who is studying to be a physical therapist. This year's entrants have come from every state, as well as from Brazil, Germany, Croatia, United Kingdom, France, Japan and Mexico.

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