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Westminster Dog Show opens with Meet the Breeds, agility event

Spin, an Aussie Shepherd, competes in the agility

Spin, an Aussie Shepherd, competes in the agility competition at the 140th annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in Manhattan on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Hundreds of people searching to make a canine companion love connection descended on the Westminister Dog Show in Manhattan on Saturday to pet, hug and admire the purebreds featured in the iconic event next week.

“I like to see the dogs and learn about them. I look at their personalities,’’ said Kayla Duncan, 7, of Valley Stream, who was using her tablet to keep “a dog diary with pictures” of her favorites. “I want to know if they are active dogs, or good companions,” she said, adding that she was hoping to find a breed her mom will like and her brother will not be allergic to.

“It’s an educational experience for her,” said her father, Dameon Duncan, 38. “She can learn about the breeds and enhance her knowledge. We never saw a Mudi,” he said of the gray and white Hungarian herding dog with wavy, curly hair that got Kayla’s attention.

Saturday’s traditional “Meet the Breeds” event at Pier 92/94 was part of a combined event that included the 3rd Annual Masters Agility Championship showcasing canine athletes from around the country.

The events kicked off Monday and Tuesday’s Westminister Kennel Club Dog Show, which selects the top dog in its Best in Show competition. Nearly 3,000 dogs from around the world will vie to win ribbons in their categories, ranging from toy dogs to large working breeds. On Tuesday night those winners will compete in the Best in Show competition, where judges select the top dog at Madison Square Garden.

Catherine Cleary, 64, of Northport, owns and breeds Clumber Spaniels, the largest of spaniels. The hunting dog was bred to flush out birds in the Sherwood Forest region of England, said Cleary, whose 2 1⁄2 -year-old “Pie” is to compete Monday.

“She is a female and probably will not win. The judges pick large males that exemplify the breed. I just do it for the fun. We love them,’’ said Cleary, who owns five of the sturdy short dogs with dense silky coats. “They’re beautiful. The texture of the hair is soft and you can just brush off the dirt.’’

Cleary and dozens of owners showed off their dogs Saturday and answered questions about their breed from adoring admirers.

“People need to know what they are getting themselves into,’’ said Conny Bertino, 44, of Buffalo, who breeds and owns seven Newfoundland water rescue dogs from Canada.

A devoted companion, the male “Newfie” can weigh up to 150 pounds, Bertino said, describing her prized Newfoundland, La Cosa Nostra, who let himself be bear-hugged by dozens of visitors who posed for selfies with him.

“They are gentle giants. Look at how he lets himself be hugged. He never saw this woman before,” Bertino said, adding that despite their calm and easygoing temperament, the huge dogs need intense obedience training during their first two years of life.

“There is a lot of training involved — learning how to walk nicely on a leash; how to stay, lay down and to wait,” she said. “It’s not fun walking a big dog that pulls on a leash.” In return for the hard work, Newfoundland owners will receive “a nice companion that you can take with you almost anywhere because they behave.”

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