CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Monday morning, 2,721 competitors and their handlers will take the field in one of the longest-running championships in the country: the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
This year marks the Kennel Club's 137th annual show. For diehard purebred canine lovers and the people who spend much of their free time showing dogs, the Westminster Dog Show is the World Series, the Super Bowl.
Charleston resident Kim Rowley understands that she's not the first West Virginian to take a dog to the Westminster Dog Show. She's not even the only local to be taking a dog this year.
"But there are only seven from West Virginia going this year," she said. "And George is the only toy fox terrier from West Virginia."
George is Rowley's dog. Going to the show in New York is a first for both of them, though it's been a longer road to get there for Rowley.
The 46-year-old said she's a lifelong dog lover and a huge fan of the Westminster show, but didn't get into training and showing dogs until she was in her 20s. Aside from taking animals to shows, Rowley also did obedience training and trained dogs to detect human remains.
She said she worked with a variety of breeds over the years.
"I got started with Dalmatians, then decided to go small."
The reasons, she pointed out, are obvious. Dalmatians are larger dogs, require larger equipment and just take up more space, which would be a consideration in her modest West Side house.
However, she said, it wasn't easy to get away from bigger dogs. Because she was known to work with Dalmatians, people sometimes came by her house to drop off rescue dogs.
Her husband, Mark, said, "We had a police officer knock on our door and told us he had a Dalmatian in his car."
Still, Rowley said she had to give them up.
George isn't the first dog Rowley has tried to get to the Westminster show, but she acknowledged circumstances have lined up better. Partly this has to do with getting George qualified to compete.
Getting qualified involves racking up points and awards at other dog shows, which Rowley said George did early on.
"I finished getting him qualified before he was a year old," she said. "We've spent the past six months or so cooling our heels and waiting to go."