Winning all around: a Gilroy girl and her dog

At the risk of offending all the dog lovers out there, I must
confess I felt a bit of trepidation about going to interview a
10-year-old about her award-winning show dog, being more of a cat
person myself.
At the risk of offending all the dog lovers out

there, I must confess I felt a bit of trepidation about going to interview a 10-year-old about her award-winning show dog, being more of a cat person myself. What would such a young girl who competes in dog shows be like? Would she be one of those super competitive pushed-by-their-parents types of kids who are not very fun to be around?

As I pulled into the driveway of Hailey Webb’s house, I saw the small round face of a young girl and the short wrinkly muzzle of a pug peering out at me from behind the curtains of a window. They ran to the door to greet me and led me down the hall to show me their room, which was completely filled with pug photos, stuffed toy pugs and a plethora of pug memorabilia. Ribbons from dog shows festooned two walls in cork board rainbows of yellow, pink, lavender and green.

Hailey and her 3-year-old purebred pug named Teddy competed against 155 top junior handlers and their dogs from around the country in the Dec. 13 American Kennel Club/Eukanuba National Championship in Long Beach. Even though it was Hailey and Teddy’s first time there and Hailey was one of the youngest competitors, she was chosen to be one of only 12 finalists and won an astonishing second place overall.

Hailey and Teddy have also qualified for the prestigious invitation-only Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, to be held at Madison Square Garden in New York City Feb. 9-10.

“When I was 6, I saw the Disney movie, ‘Milo and Otis,'” Hailey explained when I asked how she got the idea for a pug. She loved Otis, the pug featured in the movie, and saved up money for a year to buy her own pug. She began taking classes in dog handling and has been showing him in dog shows since she was 7 years old. She had to wait what seemed like an eternity to her – until she reached the age of 9 – before she was allowed to enter contests demonstrating handling ability.

Hailey has learned to set goals and work diligently toward them. She has learned a lot of patience also, since some shows are bench shows, which means Hailey must sit with her dog all day answering questions in Meet the Breed sessions. Through this, she learned about the history of pugs, as well.

“They were bred as lap dogs to be companions for Chinese royalty,” said Hailey, a fifth-grader at St. Mary School. “They fit inside the long sleeves of their robes.”

Pugs are one of the oldest breeds, documented in ancient China as far back as 1600 B.C. Pugs are even-tempered, playful, clever, mischievous and affectionate. They are very sensitive to the tone of the human voice, she said.

“They want to be with you all the time, at your feet, leaning against you, touching you or following you around,” she added.

“Teddy is solely her dog,” Hailey’s mom, Shelley Webb, said. “She bathes, grooms, feeds, trains and shows him in the ring.”

Hailey named him Teddy because he’s cuddly like a teddy bear. He sleeps on her bed, although she had to get used to his loud snoring – a common trait for pugs, whose muzzles are restricted by folds of skin.

“It’s show time!” Hailey said suddenly, and Teddy ran with excitement to be put on the lead he wears when he competes. As Hailey communicates with Teddy, telling him to “sit,” “lie down,” “leave it” (he has to resist eating a treat), “stay” and “come here,” it is obvious that he loves demonstrating his ability and that they are an amazing team.

“Teddy spins when he wins,” Hailey said.

They demonstrated it for me, his little pig-shaped tail coiled in a perfect curlicue as he turns in 360 degree circles. He had a great sense of fun, and I was beginning to see why pugs are sometimes called the comedians of the dog world, and are known as the “clown dog,” referring to their wrinkly folds of skin about the neck, as well as their big expressive eyes. Before I knew what was happening, Teddy was snuggled beside me on the bed, snoring contentedly, his head resting against my leg. I was shocked – this had never happened to me when I’d met dogs before.

In just one year as a junior handler, Hailey has become expert at showing off Teddy’s obedience and agility, winning many first place awards, as well as $1,500 in scholarship money.

“Competing in dog shows has taught her confidence and to be a good sport,” Shelley Webb said. “Hailey roots for her competitors. She wants everyone to have a chance at winning. The most important thing is taking care of Teddy – and having fun.”

Working with Teddy has inspired Hailey to volunteer at the local animal shelter. She is willing to clean kennels, groom and give attention to the animals – whatever is needed. She already donates the toys and dog food she receives at dog shows to animal shelters.

“What does Teddy mean to you?” I asked Hailey before I left.

“Everything,” Hailey said.

“What would you most like people to know that you have learned from working with pugs?”

“Some people don’t like how Teddy looks; they think he’s ugly,” Hailey said, referring to the flat face characteristic of the breed. “Some of my friends, well, not my really good friends, but some of the other kids, especially the boys, make fun of Teddy. Just because they look different, people shouldn’t make fun of them. I’ve learned that looks don’t matter.”

I drove away thinking that Hailey is wise beyond her 10 years, thanks to a little pug named Teddy.

Watch Hailey Webb in the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship, airing on Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel Jan. 31; check local listings for air times.

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