Evansville Obedience Club

Member Zach Newton

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Newburgh dog handler scores big at Westminster

Joan Hustace Walker/Correspondent

Thursday, February 25, 2010

NEWBURGH — Zach Newton, 29, of Newburgh, never intended to become a full-time professional dog handler. But Newton's showing last week at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New York City might change all that.

Newton, a concrete and masonry worker, handled a 2-year-old papillon — whose name is Ch. Majestic Joy Madame Butterfly (Katrina for short) — at Westminster. From a class entry of 27 dogs, Katrina not only made the final cut, but wound up ranked third among females.

Neither Newton nor Katrina had shown at Westminster before. In fact, the two have been a team for only little more than a half-year.

Newton had been handling Leroy, the 17th-ranked papillon in the country, for Robert and Gloria Meriwether of Paducah, Ky. In May 2009, he took on the Meriwethers' young female, Katrina.

"I finished her championship in seven shows," Newton said. "I've never done that with a dog before. I've had some finish in six to eight months, but never seven shows."

In the few months before Westminster, Newton and Katrina racked up multiple Best of Breed and Group wins. (Group is the competition among all breed winners within a variety of dogs.)

The road to Westminster, the most prestigious dog show in the country, was not an easy one ... literally. What should have been a 12-hour trip from Indianapolis to New York City took nearly 16 hours.

"It was snowing so hard, we were going 30 mph, and people were pulling off the road all along the way," Newton said. "It was bad."

Once in New York, Newton's wife, Stacy Harris, immediately proposed a shopping trip. Though shopping wasn't high on Newton's list, he acquiesced.

"I didn't want to stay in the hotel room, so I put Katrina in her carry bag and joined my wife and her friend," he said.

One of their first stops was Tiffany & Co. One of their first purchases was a necklace for the dog.

The final purchase was a light blue rubber necklace (made for people) with a sterling silver heart charm that was engraved with: "Please return to Tiffany & Co. if found."

As beautiful as the diamonds were at Tiffany's, it was Katrina who dazzled shoppers.

"I had to keep unzipping the bag and getting her out so people could pet her," Newton said. "We had a lot of people telling us they'd be watching and cheering for us at Westminster."

Newton and Katrina walked onto the famed green carpets of Westminster to a sold-out crowd. The floor was so crammed with spectators that Newton had to cradle Katrina as he shouldered his way through the throngs of people to the show ring.

Spectators were pressed 10 people deep against the purple velvet ropes that encircled the ring, and all were armed with cameras, creating a near constant shower of bright flashes. This alarmed many of the papillons, as did the sound emanating from the hollow floor.

"If you were heavy-footed, the floor made a loud clunk, clunk, clunk sound," Newton said.

The fact that the examination table was draped in velvet was enough to completely dissolve the dogs with less stalwart temperaments. Katrina, however, was fine.

Newton says he couldn't be happier with the way Katrina showed in the ring.

"To make the cut (final eight) with all these dogs, that was good," he said.

He conceded winning would have been nice.

"I will be talking to the dog's owners next week as to how they want to campaign Katrina (in 2010)," Newton said. "They are talking about hitting the big shows all over the United States this year. This may become my full-time job."

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