RAPID CITY, S.D. — Pampered, prim and proper, he's not.
But one Rapid City dog — named Partito, after the word "party" in Italian — has reached unprecedented success for his breed in the frou-frou world of competitive dog shows despite what his owner says is his couch-lounging, mustache-sporting, bird-hunting nature.
Partito, owned by Deb Davenport of Rapid City, won top honors among all Spinone Italiano pups, then advanced to the final eight of his group at the annual Eukanuba National Championship dog show in Orlando, Fla. last month. It was the furthest a dog of the relatively new breed had ever progressed in such a large show.
Davenport drove Partito to Orlando for the competition that attracts about 3,000 dogs and is known as one of the top three or four dog shows in the world. Backstage, many dog handlers and owners spend hours combing, teasing and blow-drying their dogs to obtain a look of perfection.
But not Partito, who is more of a family dog who just happens to be very close to his breed's standard, Davenport said.
"He's pretty much an everyday dog. He sleeps on the couch. He barks at the UPS man. He chases the squirrels out of the bird feeder," Davenport said. "He goes hunting with my husband, he goes back home and sits on the couch and watches TV."
Buried beneath his every-dog exterior is a true competitor. When Partito won best-in-breed at Eukanuba, it allowed him to compete with other breeds in the sporting group. Those dogs included Irish setters with their flowing manes and Labrador retrievers with their proud strut. But Partito stood tall and was picked as one of eight finalists in the group competition.
But he wasn't picked the competition's final winner. "I wish I could tell you we won the whole thing, but I can't," Davenport said. The Best in Show dog, chosen from the group winners, was Sky, a wire fox terrier from California.
Making the finalist group is a great stride for the Spinone breed. The breed was only recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2000, though the dogs were all-purpose hunting dogs in Italy for centuries.
"We're a little newer and maybe we're just not a fancy breed. We're not as flashy and showy as some. We're just an everyday hunting dog," said Davenport, who works at SECO Construction in Rapid. "They weren't an aristocratic dog. They belonged to the common man. They put food on the table for the family."
At the Eukanuba show in December, Davenport's 17-year-old niece Shannon Barchalk, who lives in Ohio, handled Partito. Davenport's whole family shows dogs and Barchalk has her own Spinone that she sometimes takes to competitions.
Showing a dog amid all the paparazzi and pageantry of a show takes poise and confidence, Davenport said. Barchalk exhibited those traits.
"She did not get intimidated by having the other people in there with a ton of experience," Davenport said. "At that level, all the dogs are beautiful."
Davenport even got a letter from a Spinone group in Italy congratulating her on the achievement at the competition, which took place Dec. 15 and 16. The show will air on ABC TV on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 12 p.m. MST.
The Spinone is not a common breed; Davenport estimates only a few thousand of them reside in North America. A town like Rapid City may have that many Labradors, she joked.
Spinoni typically sport a beard and mustache, which, though handsome, can easily soak up water from the water bowl or catch twigs, pine needles and thistles from shrubbery outside.
"They have huge feet, which also have a lot of hair on them, which work like giant dirt magnets," Davenport said. "They're long and they're messy."
Davenport said Partito is a typical dog in many ways, sometimes with a mischievous, manipulative streak.
"They get along with everybody. They get along with other dogs. They get along with old people, young people," Davenport said. "They're smart, quite possibly too smart for their own good."
Information from: Rapid City Journal, http://www.rapidcityjournal.com